The Swiss Seismological Service (SED) at ETH Zurich is the federal agency for earthquakes. The SED is responsible for monitoring earthquakes in Switzerland and neighbouring countries and for assessing Switzerland’s seismic hazard. The role of the SED – to warn the population and inform the authorities – was defined in the context of both the Federal Council ruling on the optimization of early warning and alerting of natural hazards (OWARNA) and the revised ordinance on issuing warnings and raising the alarm (Alarm Ordinance).
In order to perform these fundamental national tasks, ETH Zurich receives financing via the federal financing contribution, pursuant to Article 34b of the FIT Act. The SED regularly applies for funding from promotion agencies such as the Swiss National Science Foundation or the EU framework programs in order to carry out scientific research projects. In addition to this, the SED also acts as a partner to various public bodies (federal offices, cantonal and local authorities) in conducting seismic risk analysis and monitoring projects that are partly regulated and financed by specific mandates. The SED’s expertise means it is also frequently requested to act as a partner on certain projects in the private economic sector.
The broad spectrum of the SED’s activities includes services to society, academic teaching and research, transfer of knowledge, and specialized advisory services for authorities and the private economic sector. This wide range of functions is based on both the SED’s role as the official federal agency responsible for monitoring earthquakes and as the leading research institute in this field, and is consistent with the tradition and aims of ETH Zurich. However, as well as advantages and synergies, this also involves the potential for conflicts of interest and accusations of bias. Both the SED and ETH Zurich have implemented the following measures in order to avoid any potential role conflicts wherever possible. These are aimed at defining and, where appropriate, limiting mandates clearly, presenting these transparently, and communicating them openly.
The SED provides information about all its mandates, and the understanding of its role in these mandates, in a transparent manner. All data acquired is made available for public access. The SED provides extensive information, proactively and without limitation, in the event of any potentially perceptible seismic event, and also provides background information.
Relevant findings are published in scientific journals and as such are subject to a peer review process. This means that all statements made by the SED are based on published and scientifically accountable findings as far as possible.
The SED is a nondepartmental entity according to Article 61 of the Organization Ordinance of ETH Zurich (RSETHZ 201.021) and reports directly to the ETH Vice President Research and Corporate Relations (VPFW). An advisory board made up of carefully selected professors supports the VPFW in determining the strategic focus of the SED.
The SED primarily gives support to the national, cantonal, and local supervisory authorities. Services are only provided to the industrial sector if these do not impact the independence of the SED in any way. If in doubt, the director of the SED will consult the VPFW and the SED advisory board. The director of the SED is an appointed full professor of ETH Zurich; the director and his/her employees are subject to the regulations of ETH Zurich regarding integrity and ethics in study and research – in particular, the Guidelines for Research Integrity and Good Scientific Practice at ETH Zurich (RSETHZ 414).