Workshop "The role of modern civil protection systems and the new global challenges - From the Hyogo framework for action to real time response”, Geneve
On 25 June 2008 in Geneva, a meeting was held between the Civil Protection units of different European and non-European countries, together with representatives from United Nations Agencies, international humanitarian organisations, the European Union and permanent representatives from different countries, to discuss future challenges deriving from natural, climate and political changes and the initiatives taken to deal with them. These changes multiply opportunities for international collaboration measures. In fact, in all countries worldwide, the demand for civil protection has increased in recent decades, following both increased information on crises and disasters, as well as the rise in critical and emergency situations, leading citizens to consider help and protection as almost a right.
New challenges for the civil protection
The role of civil protection in global challenges
The added value of civil protection in international emergencies
Nowadays, modern systems of civil protection have become important actors in the field of the global humanitarian response to natural and manmade disasters. Under the direction and coordination of the United Nations – which represents an internationally recognised point of reference – all countries are developing their own models of civil protection to prevent, predict and manage crises. These experiences – which are the fruit of lessons learned and local experiences – have different characteristics, limits and potential, yet are built on a common ground, with a shared language and perspectives.
Modern systems of civil protection are not alternatives to traditional humanitarian instruments; they offer complementary resources and methods that can bring added value to the global humanitarian response during all of the stages of the emergency cycle. Undoubtedly, to avoid overlapping and to promote the rational use of human and financial resources, modern systems of civil protection put great hopes in the coordinating role that the United Nations system can play in this sector.
In recent years, “civil protection” - namely the system of response to disasters caused by the impact of natural or manmade risks - has undergone significant changes, both on a practical level as well as in terms of public opinion. These changes are the result of a new cultural approach to catastrophes that underlines the responsibility of governments and populations faced with emergencies, not so much in terms of a response to the same, but rather in terms of insufficient prevention and possible delays in relief operations.
Analysing the evolution of the main systems of civil protection worldwide, there is proof of a recent shift from an approach to civil protection understood as a “response” to the occurrence of an emergency, towards organisational models that invest resources into “prediction” and “prevention” activities.
This shift has been mainly determined by three related factors:
1. the greater frequency of phenomena, both natural and manmade, with destructive consequences,
2. greater awareness that, in many cases, a preventive approach to crises, not just in terms of infrastructures and planning, but above all organisation and operations carried out to guarantee the safety of the population, is the most effective approach,
3. The availability of technical-scientific tools, which allow expected risk scenarios to be investigated, analysed and predicted with a high level of accuracy and reliability, unconceivable up to just a few years ago.
This change in the concept of “civil protection” has coincided with the growing complexity of the emergencies faced. These require the use of new means, methods, procedures, resources and know-how for the function of civil protection systems.
This is the case for crises caused by industrial accidents, electrical blackouts and lengthy heat waves that put people’s heath at risk. In all these new fields of activity and intervention, civil protection systems are called upon to come up with new methods as well as new cognitive and intervention tools.
In particular, climate changes are modifying the “old” sources of risk, introducing new ones, and, as a result, modern systems of civil protection have had to reorganise their procedures to tackle the impending hazards.
When facing international risk-related challenges, it is necessary to make a distinction between civil protection policies and long-term management policies with regard to, for instance, the environment, territory and climate.
National long-term policies that deal with environmental problems, such as territorial planning, depend on the capacity of governments to create a consensus among the population on their decisions, as well as the capacity to guarantee their implementation. These types of policies, which in many cases are based on international synergies aimed at finding solutions on a worldwide scale, cannot be considered the responsibility of civil protection.
The role of civil protection in this context can be of a participatory nature with regard to a large number of actors (ministry of the environment, ministry for planning, etc..). It can also be that of promoting a realistic estimate of the time necessary to identify and implement policies to reduce the level of risk, and to push governments to strengthen their civil protection systems, so as to deal with the growing threat of hazardous situations that affect the populations and their quality of life.
In meeting these challenges, participation – or coordination – by the civil protection of a National Platform will facilitate the elaboration and implementation of similar policies, encouraging the commitment of the government. This strategic role means understanding the complexity of disaster risk reduction, an interdisciplinary subject by its very nature and which requires political commitment, public understanding, scientific knowledge, speedy alert systems and disaster response mechanisms. Furthermore, the evolution of the perception, understanding and the role played by the Civil protection in dealing with risks has strengthened the possibility of contributing to the risk reduction in a consistent way nationwide.
Prediction, warning, preparedness and emergency management are specific activities that require the development of decision-making processes, coordinated units of available ”resources”, human skills and technological tools. These activities must be managed independently and organised according to prompt intervention criteria, with objectives that can be measured in terms of losses avoided or reduced, particularly in terms of human lives.
If “civil protection” is understood in this way, it offers great potential to governments, who would be able to overcome the anti-historical and negative tendency to consider mainly the costs, ras opposed to the positive aspect of the benefits. It also presents a way to successfully and effectively deal with the growing demand for “safety” expressed by public opinion in all countries, particularly due to the growing threat of terrorism on a worldwide scale.
This dual role of the Civil Protection, promoting a state of preparedness and response, as well as participating/coordinating to reduce disaster risks, is reflected in the distinction between tasks and responsibilities: the development of national policies to deal with climate changes or to beat terrorism cannot be the responsibility of the civil protection, as it is just an addendum to other risks – natural and manmade – that affect the insecurity of public opinion. On the other hand, the elaboration of risk scenarios that require crisis management in real time, the dissemination of accurate information among the public and a real capacity to manage the processes and stages of an emergency, are contributions which civil protection units can make on a highly specialised level and which cannot be replaced by any other decision-making and operating structure.
The added value of civil protection in international emergencies
In recent history, numerous episodes have supported the analyses made above. For example, it is surprising that, following the tsunami of 2004, a tsunami alert system is still absent in Southeast Asia, as well as the “training” of the population in civil protection intervention plans or in the appropriate use of the territory. In fact, in many cases, reconstruction work has not respected the coastal safety buffer area.
It is not difficult to understand the reason why this has happened, Once the emergency phase had ended, after the first response to the catastrophe, issues of safety and defence of the population from natural risks lost credibility and consensus, getting lost in the mire of complex work agendas, where priority levels are barely maintained. However, one single, simple measure according to the international civil protection rationale, would have guaranteed the “completion of the relief and rescue work”, thanks, for example, to the implementation of measures of risk prediction and prevention for the benefit of the affected population.
The implementation of an international system with the methods, tools and mentality of the “civil protection” is still an objective that has not been achieved, yet is possible. The knowledge and the technical-scientific support are all available and make this an achievable challenge, which, in the context of a national platform, would help to stimulate international synergy.
The experiences of international interventions in the event of catastrophes are fairly numerous, enough to offer a common ground for best practices, since destructive phenomena may require greater knowledge and resources than what is available to each single country.
Numerous recent experiences confirm this theory. Requests for international aid mean resources in the field must be strengthened, as major emergencies increase every year. In different countries in southern Europe, air intervention for forest fires is considered necessary by governments. The experience of Hurricane Katrina showed that not even the world’s largest economic power can do without international aid when faced with catastrophes of such major proportions.
The experience of scientific experts working between different countries to devise specific risk strategies shows that the network of collaboration between national civil protection systems can have positive effects that go beyond the limited scale of a single emergency. This is the case for volcanic activity or other situations that underline the value of international technical-scientific research programmes applied to specific “civil protection” problems, as occurs on a European scale. These experiences also involve the prediction and prevention aspect of the activities and embrace the different phases of the “emergency cycle”.
It is just as necessary to manage and satisfy the growing demand for “safety” by offering the establishment of a culture of individual participation in personal protection, and not just in our own countries. This can be achieved through participation in collective and specialised “civil protection” activities, insisting on team training, emergency planning, improved investigation tools, prediction and prevention, as well as on public education and information campaigns about typical “civil protection” issues.
Together, it is possible to learn the best practices and launch a process of mutual aid, aimed at understanding the risk and the type of response needed. A comparison between systems and available tools can lead to a significant leap ahead, learning from failures and successes to create a global civil protection system capable of offering a consistent and coordinated response to catastrophes. This challenge can be faced by working together on common procedures, optimising operations on a worldwide scale, planning new interaction methods on an international level and on the exchange of know-how and skills. This will allow all countries, even those that do not have a structured, organised civil protection system, to meet the requirements of our complex and difficult modern times.
International Conference Centre Geneva (CICG) - Room I
25 June 2008
8.30 – 9.30: Registration of the participants
Morning session 9.30 – 13.00
H.E. Amb. Blaise Godet (Swiss Permanent Representative to the UN) - welcome address
Mrs. Helena Molin Valdes (Deputy Director UN/ISDR) – introductory remarks slides(458 Kb)
Mr. Salvano Briceno (Director UN/ISDR) – introductory remarks (video message)
Sir John Holmes (USG/ERC): opening statement
Presentation of Civil Protection Systems:
Dr. Guido Bertolaso (Under-Secretary of State to the Presidency of the Council of Ministers - Head of Civil Protection - Italy) (speech 147 kB)
Min. Sergey Kuzhugetovich Shoygu (Minister for Civil Defence, Emergencies and Elimination of Consequences of Natural Disasters of the Russian Federation)
Dr. Willy Scholl (Director of Swiss Federal Office for Civil Protection) ((2380 Kb)slides )
Dr. Hervé Martin (Head of the Civil Protection Unit – DG Environment, European Commission) (slides)(2834 Kb)
11.00 - 11.20 coffee break
Dr. David Passey (US Federal Emergency Management Agency) (slides )
Préf. Henri Masse (Director General, French Department for Civil Protection) (slides(2834 Kb) )
Major General Hussien Mohamed Saeed Abdelaziz (Manager of General Administration of Civil Protection - Ministry of Interior, Egypt)
H.E. Amb. Gabriel Marcelo Fuks (Ambassador-President White Helmets Commission - Argentina) slides(5482 Kb))
H.E. Evgeny Vasiliev (Deputy Secretary General of ICDO - International Civil Defense Organization) (slides(4253 Kb))
Mrs. Pia Ovelius (Director EU Affairs - Department for Crisis Coordination, Ministry of Defence, Sweden) (slides(245 Kb) )
Major General Gamini Hettiarachchi retd (Director General for the Disaster Management Centre, Sri Lanka) (slides(12066 Kb) )
13.00 – 14.30
Buffet – reception hosted by Swiss Government
14.30 – 18.00
H.E. Amb. Ferdinando Salleo - summing up of the morning presentations and kick off of interactive debate
Dr Thomas Gurtner (Director, Coordination & Programmes Division IFRC) - Remarks
Open debate moderated by Amb. Salleo
18.00 – 18.30
Chairman’s conclusions - Mrs. Helena Molin Valdes
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