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Tuesday, 20 March, 2001, 12:18 GMT
Germany takes no risks with Mir
Mir space station
Mir is expected to land in the Pacific Ocean
By Rob Broomby in Berlin

The Mir space station is spinning towards the earth and the fact that it is supposed to plunge down somewhere in the Pacific hasn't stopped the safety-conscious Germans from planning for the worst.

Even though it is apparently less likely to fall on Germany than you are to win the lottery every Saturday for 28 years, the authorities are nonetheless prepared.

Otto Schily
Otto Schily: Basement advice
The Home Affairs Minister, Otto Schily, confirmed it was very unlikely to come down on Germany but he then told Bild newspaper - presumably with a smile on his face - that people should prepare a place in the basement just in case.

Jokes aside, there is already a permanently staffed national co-ordination centre and as with all foreseeable tragedies, there is an action plan reflecting a series of scenarios.

Asteroid risk

The fire brigade is expected to raise the alarm but the first fire tenders are not expected to reach the scene of the hypothetical blaze for up to 10 minutes.

Brandenburg Gates
Berlin believes it's better to be safe than sorry
The disaster planners allow for up to 200 firefighters to combat the likely blaze backed by specialists from nearby airports.

Various grim scenarios are worked through from 38 deaths to as many as 1,000 at the very worst.

When America's Skylab space station crashed to earth in 1979 preceded by a similar wave of anxiety, the only casualty then was apparently an Australian cow.

But planners in Germany are quite rightly not going to be caught unprepared.

Less fatalistic

If the situation requires it, the law even permits regional home affairs ministers to proclaim a state of emergency.

Audi A6
Mein Audi? Nein!
People could be removed from their homes, police could cordon off whole areas and to cries of "Nein mein Audi", even cars could be commandeered by the authorities.

That crisis managers plan for the worst whilst admitting to themselves it is unlikely to happen is all well and good.

Journalists will be the first to ask why the authorities weren't prepared if something did happen.

Other nations take a more fatalistic approach to the idea of hot metal falling from space, but in Germany there is a plan for everything, and more or less everything is neatly planned - even the unexpected.

Provided that is the surprise doesn't come after lunchtime on a Friday.

This letter from Berlin is one in a regular series of letters from Europe on the BBC World Service's Europe Today programme - see the programme's website for more.


Fiery descent

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See also:

20 Mar 01 | Science/Nature
16 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
15 Mar 01 | Science/Nature
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