Civil protection and crisis management
- Volunteers: The backbone of Germany’s emergency response system
- A "new strategy" for civil protection
- The federal equipment strategy
- Act on Federal Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (ZSKG)
- Civil protection at European level
Within this system, the Federation, which is responsible for civil protection, and the states (Länder), which are responsible for disaster protection, work closely and effectively with aid organizations and fire services.
The national emergency response system is not only effective but also capable of growth and innovation. It adapts to new types of threats. One example is the new Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (BBK), which went into operation on 1 May 2004.
By creating this new agency, the Federal Government sent a clear political signal of the new significance of civil and disaster protection as a security task in Germany. The BBK was created as a result of the experiences of 11 September 2001 and the flooding in summer 2002.
Volunteers: The backbone of Germany’s emergency response system
Germany’s emergency response system is based on volunteer commitment: more than 1.2 million volunteer fire-fighters, five volunteer organizations (the German Red Cross, ASB, DLRG, the Johanniter Unfall-Hilfe, and Malteser Hilfsdienst) with another 500,000 volunteers, together with the 76,000 volunteers of the Federal Agency for Technical Relief.
Germany’s emergency preparedness and response system would be unthinkable without the commitment of so many volunteers. Their efforts make an important contribution to security.
Providing greater support for volunteer activity is therefore an important political priority of the Federal Ministry of the Interior and the entire Federal Government. With this in mind, the German Bundestag passed legislation on 6 July 2007 improving the framework conditions for civil engagement: Volunteers may now deduct income of up to €500 received as compensation for part-time charitable work. The new law also specifically recognizes promoting fire, disaster and civil protection as promoting the common good. This provision will significantly expand the number of those eligible for the tax allowance.
A "new strategy" for civil protection
Germany’s emergency response system works. It can also handle extraordinary threats and damage, as demonstrated by the flood disasters in recent years.
However, the experience of these flood disasters raised the fundamental question as to whether the structural framework of Germany’s two-track system of emergency preparedness still functions: on the one hand, civil protection as a federal responsibility, a kind of annex to federal defence tasks; on the other hand, "peace-time" disaster protection as a responsibility of the states.
For this reason, the Federation and the states developed a pragmatic new framework strategy primarily aimed at the following:
- better coordination between existing resources at federal (in particular THW) and state (fire services and aid organizations) level;
- new tools allowing the Federation and states to work together more efficiently, especially in the area of information management and in tracking scarce resources;
- the development and practice of a shared understanding of management.
Some of these activities – and thus the contribution of the Federal Ministry of the Interior as part of this "New Strategy for Protecting the Population" adopted at the conference of federal and state interior ministers in June 2002 – are described in the following:
Since autumn 2002, there has been a new tool for federal–state cooperation on major threat situations: the German Joint Information and Situation Centre (GMLZ). As one of the most important lessons learnt from the flooding disaster of summer 2002, the GMLZ was created to serve as the central point of coordination, nationally and internationally, for volunteers and material resources ranging from technical equipment to sandbags.
The GMLZ relies largely on the German emergency preparedness information database known as deNIS. The main task of this new database is to pool information needed to manage major disasters. Federal, state and local agencies and private organizations have a wealth of information at their disposal; these resources are now being linked intelligently.
Above all, the deNIS database will offer information about the disaster itself, about options for averting threats, and most importantly, about the location of high-risk facilities such as refineries and storage tanks near the disaster site. The database also contains information about which federal, state and other resources are available nearby: first and foremost fire services, THW, aid organizations, Bundeswehr and Federal Police. But all other information needed to manage crises and large-scale disasters and emergencies, such as the latest information from the German Meteorological Service, is also being integrated into deNIS.
The initial phase of deNIS went online in May 2002 as a public information portal where individuals can call up a broad range of important information on civil protection issues, including background information on civil and disaster protection and above all recommendations on how to prepare and what to do in case of emergency.
The cornerstone of all disaster protection is the ability to warn the entire public rapidly and appropriately of imminent threats. Since a new federal satellite warning system went into operation on 15 October 2001, it is now possible to send official warnings via public and private radio broadcasting companies within seconds.
Every disaster confirms the same conclusion: Professional crisis management requires training and constant practice. That is the purpose of the Federal Ministry of the Interior’s Academy for Crisis Management, Emergency Planning and Civil Protection. The academy is to be expanded into a centre of competence for joint federal and state crisis management, a forum for research exchange and place for national and international experts to meet and share ideas.
But every civil protection strategy must also help individuals prepare and protect themselves in case of disaster or emergency. Encouraging first-aid training is therefore an important part of civil protection.
The new federal–state strategy also led to an important structural change: Since May 2004, federal services related to civil and disaster protection have been consolidated within and centrally provided by the Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (BBK). In this way, civil protection has also been elevated as a key component of the national security system.
With its wide variety of offerings, the new office sees itself as a federal service provider for agencies at every government level and for organizations involved in civil protection tasks. It takes into account all aspects of civil protection and connects them into an effective system to protect the population and ensure that its basic needs are met.
The term "civil protection" expresses this interdisciplinary approach and has been consciously chosen to replace the earlier term "civil defence", more narrowly associated with the task of national defence.
The term "disaster assistance" points to another priority for the federal task of civil security: federal support for the states’ crisis management in the event of large-scale threats of all kinds, especially by providing information and coordination, managing scarce resources and carrying out crisis management exercises.
Along with the BBK, the Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW) is a key element of the new strategy. The THW serves as the Federal Ministry of the Interior’s own operational organization, with roughly 6,500 vehicles, to provide direct disaster assistance in Germany and abroad. With its close involvement in local threat prevention efforts and its friendly cooperation with aid organizations on the one hand, and the inter-state capacities of a federal agency on the other, the THW plays an important role in the overall system.
The federal equipment strategy
As part of its emergency preparedness, the Federal Ministry of the Interior contributes to disaster protection at state level through equipment and training. In 2007, the Federal Ministry of the Interior and the conference of federal and state interior ministers agreed on a new equipment plan for supplemental disaster protection. The main elements of equipment are intended to help manage mass casualties and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) threats. To this end, the plan includes medical task forces and analytical task forces (CBRN threats). The Federation plans to provide a total of 5,036 vehicles to the states.
The new equipment plan is an example of the new profile of federal services in the national emergency preparedness system. Federal resources are no longer oriented only or primarily on a classic national defence scenario, but are being revised to reflect current threats. Certain efforts that were purely oriented on national defence, such as bunker construction, are now only rudimentary or have been discontinued entirely. Others are being revised in line with the new threats.
Act on Federal Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (ZSKG)
The states have expressly and repeatedly welcomed the new orientation of federal services. At the same time, they have asked that, in addition to its responsibility for civil protection during a state of defence, the Federation should be given legal authority to assist the states with civil protection also in case of terrorist attack, natural disaster and emergencies affecting the territory of more than one state.
The Federation has followed up on this request: On 9 April 2009, the Act on Federal Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (ZSKG) entered into force, putting civil protection in Germany on a new and modern footing. The Act ensures effective federal support for the states in the form of material resources and planning in case of major disaster or emergency, as expressed in its title: “Act on Federal Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance”. The federal resources held in readiness in case of the need for civil protection during a state of defence are now available to the state for their disaster protection tasks. The states can count on these resources in their emergency preparedness planning. This applies in particular to equipment originally intended for federal civil protection tasks, such as operational vehicles, which the Federation is contributing to the states’ disaster protection resources. But it also applies to the federal satellite-based warning system and federal tools for information, situation and resource management, such as the GMLZ and the deNIS database provided by the BBK. Further, the act enables the Federation to carry out central coordination for the first time, while the states retain the right to direct operations. Even in highly centralized countries such as France and the U.K., the central government does not have the right to direct local operations.
Basic and advanced training provided at federal level has also been put on a modern footing; in particular, the successful series of interstate crisis management exercises, Lükex, has been put on secure legal footing. The act governs the exchange of data between the federal and state levels during preparation for and management of large-scale disasters and emergencies. Plans also include a nation-wide risk analysis produced by the Federation in cooperation with the states, a federal advisory and support role for the states on critical infrastructure protection, and the development by the Federation in consultation with the states of standards and framework strategies for large-scale disasters and emergencies. The act recognizes and supports volunteers as the foundation of civil and disaster protection.
Civil protection at European level
But protecting the civil population is not only a national concern. Major disasters do not stop at national borders. The international dimension, above all civil protection at European level, is becoming increasingly important.
As a security community, the EU must have the capacity to assist rapidly and efficiently in case of disasters in Europe and beyond. Germany’s EU Presidency in the first half of 2007 made important progress:
- The negotiations on the amended Community civil protection mechanism led to political agreement. Created in 2001, the Community Mechanism to facilitate reinforced cooperation in civil protection assistance interventions had already proved its effectiveness. Experience gained in recent years, especially following the South Asian tsunami, led to drafting and implementing proposals to optimize operations.
- The EU funding instrument for disaster protection negotiated under the preceding presidency was formally adopted under the German Presidency in March 2008. It provides the financial basis for the Community Mechanism and will allow some Member State expenses, such as transport costs for aid operations, to be paid for from Community funds.
Both initiatives still need to be implemented in detail; the Community Mechanism is primarily about rapidly activating national resources to assist in case of major disasters in neighbouring countries. On the German side, operations under the Community Mechanism as well as bi- and multilateral operations are carried out by the THW, fire services, aid organizations and Federal Police.
Overall, the Federation can point to a positive balance in its area. The THW, BBK, Federal Police and support from the Bundeswehr make up the federal contribution to Germany’s civil security preparedness.