After the flood disaster in Germany, criticism of the disaster control was loud. But how does civil protection work? And who is in charge in the end?
After the storm disaster with more than 160 deaths, the question arises whether in some places the danger was warned too late and evacuated. A look at the distribution of tasks in German civil protection makes it clear that there is no central responsibility here. We plan, warn and organize from the bottom up.
In Germany, there is the Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Aid (BBK) for civil protection in the event of war. But when floods threaten or the forest burns, when toxic fumes escape from an industrial plant or when an aircraft bomb from the Second World War is defused, coping with the situation is the task of the federal states and municipalities. The state laws on fire and disaster protection regulate how they perform these tasks in detail. There are some differences here.
The federal states can request help from the federal government
In general, if their own strengths are insufficient, the federal states can receive support from the federal government, for example from the federal police, the armed forces or the technical relief organization (THW). With the Nina warning app, the BBK also provides the federal states and municipalities with a platform with which they can send warning messages to citizens in their region. In addition, the BBK trains employees from district offices and other actors in disaster control for their tasks at its academy in Ahrweiler. A second location for the Federal Academy in eastern Germany is planned.
A few months ago, the BBK, which is subordinate to the Federal Ministry of the Interior, launched two funding programs with a view to the more frequent extreme weather conditions, drought and forest fire hazards caused by climate change: The federal states are to be supported with 88 million euros in setting up and upgrading sirens. The federal government is providing them with 53 million euros for emergency drinking water wells. These are wells that also have their own emergency power supply. They can be used when the supply of drinking water is restricted to the critical infrastructure due to floods, an earthquake, a military attack or, for example, a cyber attack.
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Districts and urban districts must decide
The public media as well as all district administrators and mayors receive information about approaching storms and flood risks via the German Weather Service, which is subordinate to the Federal Ministry of Transport, and the joint flood portal of the federal states. On this basis, those responsible in districts and urban districts, as lower disaster control authorities, must then decide when, in which way and with which recommendations for action to alert the population to dangers. The decision about which locally available emergency services – such as the fire brigade – are set in motion and whether additional forces are requested from other parts of the country, is also made here.
In the event of the threat of heavy rain, practitioners consider it unrealistic to define a general nationwide threshold above which evacuation must take place immediately. Because not only the amount of rain decides about possible floods, the question of how the soil is made and whether it is a mountainous landscape also plays a role here.
The higher disaster control authority belongs to the respective state interior ministries. She is the contact person for the district administrators in larger damage situations and can request additional help from other countries via the joint reporting and situation center of the federal and state governments, which is located at the BBK. In the past few days, ambulances, care personnel, containers and camp beds from Baden-Württemberg, Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony have been sent to the disaster areas in the west in this way and via the federal associations of aid organizations.