An increasingly hostile Civil Protection Environment
Interview with Christoph Unger, President of Germany’s Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (BBK), on current challenges in civil protection and options for dealing with them.15 Aug. 2019
Mr. Unger, what are the big challenges in civil protection today?
Civil protection is getting more and more challenging as a result of the increasingly hostile environment we are operating in. We are now seeing extreme weather events as a result of climate change. International terrorism is expanding its arsenal of tools and methods – just think of last year’s attempt by one individual to build a ricin bomb.
We’ve seen cyber attacks on critical infrastructure – attacks like the one on Ukraine’s power grid that resulted in a blackout. And, once again, we are talking about the importance of an holistic approach to statewide and nationwide defense. These are all issues that require action – by us as civil protection specialists, obviously, but also by society generally.
What are the central messages that the BBK is hoping to get across at INTERSCHUTZ?
One key message is that these challenges are complex and require an all-of-government if not indeed an all-of-society approach. Modern technology of the kind we will be presenting at INTERSCHUTZ is an important part of this, but so too are the people who will need to use this technology.
In our national civil protection system here in Germany, those people are the front-line personnel in the fire services, the Federal Agency for Technical Relief and other first-responder organizations. In our federal system, responsibility for civil protection is split between central, state and municipal government. Private-sector organizations also play an important role. In order to respond to crises and disasters effectively, all of these agencies, organizations and parts of government need to collaborate – and ideally that collaboration should be established before the crisis or disaster in question happens.
This is what we in the civil protection community mean when we talk about an "integrated emergency response system" and "overall defense".
What are you hoping INTERSCHUTZ will achieve for civil protection?
Civil protection is something that affects us all, and each of us needs to give it the attention and personal commitment it requires. Our civil protection system is very good by world standards, but we can’t take it for granted. We must continue to work hard to ensure that it remains equal to the new challenges it is facing.
And that also means we need to invest in it, so that we can do things like purchase new equipment and develop new technologies. Germany’s civil protection model is regarded very highly internationally and has therefore become an important instrument of our country’s foreign policy. This makes sense because international cooperation is an increasingly important part of civil protection, given the global nature of the challenges facing us.
That’s one of the messages we will be conveying at INTERSCHUTZ. We will use the show to profile our international cooperation projects and to offer them as a model for further projects.
What role do international events like INTERSCHUTZ play for first-responder organizations and stakeholders in the civil protection space?
For us at the BBK, INTERSCHUTZ is the main platform when it comes to profiling our activities to a multiplicity of stakeholders from the broader civil protection community. It is also an opportunity to talk to these stakeholders, particularly the ones from other countries, and to share ideas with them and learn from them.
One final question on something highly topical: Is the current heightened interest in the climate crisis also raising people’s awareness of the need to work on their disaster preparedness?
In our experience, people are generally reluctant to plan ahead for the potential consequences of war, crisis or disaster. Their thinking is that the chances of, say, a Ukraine-style blackout happening in Germany are remote, so why should they bother preparing for the catastrophic consequences of something that is unlikely to happen?
So it is actually really hard work getting the general population to understand the importance of being prepared. In fact, our recommendations over the years for people to maintain emergency food stores were ridiculed as "inciting panic buying" in the media coverage that followed the government’s adoption of its national civil defense strategy in 2016. Ultimately, people’s level of preparedness will probably depend on their perception of whether and how the planned-for disaster or crisis will affect them personally.
Hence, as the consequences of climate change start to bite – consequences like torrential rainfalls, major heat waves and extended droughts, which we have been focusing on for years and for which we have prepared concrete preparedness recommendations – people will start taking their emergency preparedness more seriously. Our aim is to help them with this.
More about civil protection at INTERSCHUTZ .
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