“We need to do more”
An interview with Albrecht Broemme, President of the German Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW), on climate protection, disaster resilience and optimism.19 Aug. 2019
Mr. Broemme, what are the key messages that your organization would like to get across next June at INTERSCHUTZ?
We have two messages. First, people need to know that, while they can absolutely rely on solid civil protection in an emergency, they also need to take responsibility for their own disaster preparedness.
And the other message?
Our other key message is that the civil protection sector has not been paying enough attention to the implications and benefits of digitization. I’m hoping INTERSCHUTZ will change that.
What, exactly, is lacking? What needs to be done, and by whom?
We need to do more – especially on the research front. There needs to be more cooperation on research between researchers, technology users and technology providers.
We need more frontline civil protection people to engage with research – people who are familiar with existing processes and who can pinpoint the areas where we need to do better. At the moment there are a lot of opportunities going to waste.
Can you give some examples?
Emergency control centers. Let’s say you call in an emergency from your cell phone.
The very instant you make that call, the control center staff should be able to tell from your phone who you are and where you’re calling from. And they should be able to do an initial appraisal of the emergency or disaster location using your phone’s video function. It’s all technically feasible, so we should be doing it already, but we’re not.
OK, let’s talk now about climate change. It’s an issue that’s been very high on the public agenda since the extremely hot and dry summer of 2018. What’s your view of the situation?
I think there is a good chance we’ll see a major re-think now, and if it’s driven by young people, then so much the better, in my view.
The choice is actually very clear: if we humans don’t want the consequences of climate change – flooding and droughts and the like – then we need to take responsibility and do something about it.
Yes, but what should we do?
Leave the car at home and cycle to work. Or walk even. These are small steps, but they add up.
The consequences of climate change are already here. How should people deal with them?
People need to understand that in disaster situations, we can’t help everyone right away. In that sense, civil protection is like emergency medicine: we don’t have infinite resources, so we have to prioritize. And that means people need to be able to help themselves in the first instance.
They need to be able to cope on their own until we can get to them.
Do you think there has been any progress in terms of disaster resilience?
Here, once again, I think it’s best to give an example. After the Elbe flooding in and around the town of Grimma, it was pretty clear that we should stop installing oil heating systems in basements. And yet we have continued to do precisely that. Obviously we can never be totally prepared for the unknown. But failing to learn from our mistakes? That’s just sad.
But do you still think there’s hope?
Yes. I’m an optimist – it goes with my line of work. Which is why one of my great dreams is to one day be able to once more sit at a café on the market square in Aleppo and drink a peppermint tea.
More about civil protection at INTERSCHUTZ .
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