Workshop : The role of modern civil protection systems and the new global challenges

2008-06-23 12:47:55
Monday 12:58:17
June 23 2008

Workshop : The role of modern civil protection systems and the new global challenges

Workshop “The role of modern civil protection systems and the new global challenges - From the hyogo framework for action to real time response”, Geneva 25th June

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by Guido Bertolaso Dear friends, The Civil Protections of several European and non-European countries will meet in Geneva on June 25th, together with representatives of United Nations Agencies, of International Humanitarian Organisations, of the European Union and of Permanent Representations, to think about future challenges and the initiatives that have been undertaken to face them. The reflection process is especially important and urgent considering that the new challenges, deriving from natural, climatic and even political changes, multiply the occasions for international co-operation intervention involving us all.In all countries worldwide, the demand for civil protection has increased over the last decades, because of both greater information about crises and disasters and the increase in critical and emergency situations, almost creating, in the expectations of the citizens, the right to be helped and protected. In a large number of countries, the reply to this increasing request has been the creation of systems and organisations specifically dedicated to disaster forecasting and prevention, and to the prompt mobilisation of resources in favour of the people struck by disasters caused by natural and anthropic events.Civil protection systems learnt to dialog, to better know each other, to exchange methodologies and procedures, to mutually copy in a virtuous manner operational and organisational procedures allowing them to obtain the best results in the various fields where their activities are performed.The co-operation experiences between Civil Protections of different countries occurred up to date, both on the theoretical, the training and operational level, convinced us that civil protection systems represent an important strength in all those situations where a prompt and significant mobilisation of men and assets is indispensable to face emergency situations. We intend to make this strength more visible, to increase the knowledge about it, to make it available to the United Nations Agencies and to International Humanitarian Organisations. Civil Protection organisations and systems are a new actor, capable of operating in the international scenario without competing with other currently active subjects, according to a method based on co-operation and open participation. This new presence can integrate and complete, with peculiar and specific characteristics and a significant added value, the range of operational instruments available for relief interventions in emergencies of any type and nature.The Geneva meeting is, in our opinion, an extremely important appointment, with an ambitious agenda: to summarise what has been done so far, to brainstorm together about the paths to follow in order to accelerate the international co-operation processes. Furthermore to present to those that operate in the area of humanitarian aid and of emergency intervention worldwide, and in particular to the United Nations and International Organisations, the co-operation and intervention forms we are already capable – today – to provide on the basis of the large experience gained by every Civil Protection Agency as regards to prompt and effective action in complex situations.It is an occasion for sharing, promoted by the Italian Civil Protection together with the Russian colleagues and with the Mission of Italy to the International Organizations, realised thanks to the attention and helpfulness of the authorities of the Swiss Confederation and to the co-operation of the Civil Protections from France, Switzerland, Argentina, Egypt and other countries, who co-operate with us from a long time. I hope, and I extend this hope to all participants, that this meeting can be a day rich in results and in new perspectives for each one of us.Concept paperToday modern civil protection systems have become important actors in the framework of the global humanitarian response to natural and man-made disasters. Under the guidance and coordination of the United Nations - which are the recognised reference point at the international level - all countries are developing their own models of civil protection to avoid, foresee and manage possible crisis situations. Those experiences - which are the result of lesson learned and local experiences - have different characteristics, limitations and potentials but they are built on a common ground, common language and perspectives. Modern civil protection systems are not alternative to classical humanitarian instruments, they offer complementary resources and methodologies, that can bring added value to the overall international humanitarian response during all phases of the emergency cycle. Indeed to avoid duplications and to promote rational utilization of human and financial resources modern civil protection systems have high expectations of the coordinating role that the United Nations system can play in this sector.New challenges for civil protectionDuring recent years, "Civil protection”, the response system to disasters either caused by the impact of natural hazards or man made, has undergone considerable changes, both at operational level and in terms of public opinion response. These changes are the result of a new cultural approach to catastrophes, which highlights the responsibility of emergencies to Governments and populations, not so much in terms of response, but rather in terms of insufficient prevention and possible delays in relief operations.By analysing the evolution of major civil protection systems at the global level, there is evidence of a recent shift from an approach to civil protection as the "response” to the outbreak of an emergency to organizational models investing resources in "forecasting” and "prevention” activities.This shift has been mainly determined by three related factors:1. the increased frequency of natural and man made phenomena with destructive consequences, 2. the increased awareness that in many cases a preventive approach to the crisis, not only in terms of infrastructures and planning, but above all in terms of organization and operations carried out to ensure the populations safety, is the most efficient approach, 3. the availability of technical-scientific instruments which allow to survey, analyse and forecast expected risk scenarios with a high level of accuracy and reliability, unthinkable even just a few years ago.This change within the concept of "civil protection” happened along with the increase in the complexity of the emergencies dealt with. These have demanded new means, methodology, procedures, resources and know-how for the functioning of the civil protection systems. This is the case of crises determined by industrial accidents, power black outs, long lasting heat waves endangering peoples health conditions. For all these new fields of activity and intervention, the civil protection systems are called to elaborate new methodologies, as well as new cognitive and intervention instruments. Climate change in particular is modifying the "old” risk sources and introducing "new” ones, and as a consequence modern civil protection systems had to reorganize their procedures to face the outcoming dangers.The role of civil protection in global challengesIn addressing international challenges related to risks, a distinction must be made between civil protection policies and long term management policies dealing for example with environment, territory and climate.National long terms policies addressing environmental problems, land use planning for example, depend on the ability of Governments to create consensus within the population about their decisions as well ensuring implementation. This sort of policies, which in many cases are based on international synergies aimed at finding global scale solutions, cannot be considered a civil protection responsibility. Civil protection role in this context can be of participatory nature within a broader set of actors (ministry of environment, ministry of planning etc..). As well as to stimulate a realistic evaluation of the time needed to identify and implement policies to reduce the level of risk and to push Governments to reinforce their civil protection systems, in order to face the growing threat of hazardous situations affecting populations and their quality of life.In addressing these challenges civil protection participation – or the coordination – of a National Platform will facilitate the elaboration and implementation of such policies stimulating government commitment. This strategic role implies understanding the complexity of disaster risk reduction, a cross-cutting theme by nature, which requires political commitment, public understanding, scientific knowledge, early warning systems and disaster response mechanisms. Further, the evolution in the perception, understanding and role played by Civil Protection to address risks has enhanced the possibility of contributing to disaster risk reduction in a coherent way at the national level. Forecasting, warning, preparedness and emergency management are specific activities, which require the development of decisional processes, coordinated structures of available "resources”, human competencies and technological equipment. These activities have to be managed autonomously and to be organized according to criteria of immediate intervention, with targets that may be measured in terms of avoided or reduced damage, particularly for human lives.If "civil protection” is conceived this way, it offers great potential to Governments, who would be able to overcome the anti historical and negative tendency of considering mainly costs, rather than the benefits. It also presents a way to successfully and efficiently face the increasing demand of "security” expressed by the public opinion in all countries, particularly since the arising threat of terrorism globally.This double role that Civil Protection plays in leading for preparedness and response and participating/coordinating to reduce the risk of disasters, is reflected in the distinction between tasks and responsibilities: developing national policies for climate change adaptation or the defeat of terrorism cant be a civil protection responsibility, since it is only an addition to the other risks - natural and man made - affecting the public opinions insecurity. On the other hand, the elaboration of risk scenarios, calling for real time crisis management, accurate information spreading to the public opinion and real management capacity of the processes and phases of an emergency, are contributions which civil protection structures can provide at a highly specialized level and which may not be replaced by any other decisional and operational structure. The added value of civil protection in international emergencies In recent history, episodes have supported the analysis given this far. For example, it is surprising that after the 2004 tsunami that a tsunami alert system is still missing in South East Asia, as well as "training” the population in civil protection intervention plans or appropriate land use. In fact, in many cases the reconstruction did not respect the safe coastal buffer zone.It is not difficult to understand the reason why this happened: once the emergency phase was over, after the immediate reaction to the catastrophe, the issues of the populations safety and defence from natural risks lost credibility and consensus and entered the realm of complex agendas where levels of priority can hardly be maintained. Instead, just one intervention within the "civil protection” logic, on an international scale, would have guaranteed the "completion of the relief task”, for instance through the activation of risk forecasting and prevention measures in favour of affected population.Implementing an international system with the methods, instruments and mind set of "civil protection” is still an unachieved goal, but remains possible. Knowledge, as well as technical and scientific support are all available and make this a feasible challenge that in the context of a national platform would contribute to stimulate an international synergy.International intervention experiences in case of catastrophes are quite numerous, enough to build a common ground for best practices, since destructive phenomena may require more knowledge and resources than those available to single countries.Numerous recent experiences confirm this thesis. International aid requests needed to strengthen the resources on the field in case major emergencies become greater every year. In different Countries in Southern Europe the aerial intervention on forest fires is considered necessary by the Governments. The Katrina Hurricane experience has showed that not even the planets greatest economic power can give up international support when dealing with such large scale catastrophes.Experience on exchanging experts from different countries for the elaboration of specific risk strategies show that the collaboration network between national "civil protection” systems may have positive results, and beyond the limited scale of a single emergency. This is the case of volcanic activities or other situations that stress the value of international technical scientific research programmes applied to specific "civil protection” problems, as it occurs on the European scale. These experiences also involve the forecasting and prevention realm of activities and encompass the different phases of the "emergency cycle”.It is also necessary to manage and satisfy the growing request for "security”, by proposing, not only in our Countries, the establishment of a culture of individual participation towards personal protection. This may be achieved with the participation to the collective and specialized "civil protection” activities by insisting on team training, emergency planning, perfection of survey instruments, forecasting and prevention, as well as public education and information campaigns on the typical themes of "civil protection”.Together, it is possible to learn from best practices and set off a virtuous process of mutual help, aimed at understanding risk and the kind of response to be given. Comparing available systems and instruments may bring to a rapid leap forward, learning from mistakes and successes will allow to the creation of a global civil protection system offering a coherent and coordinated response to catastrophes. This challenge can be faced by working together on common procedures, on the rationalization of operations on a global scale, on planning new methods of interaction at the international level and exchanging know how and competencies. This will allow all countries, even those who do not have a structured and planned civil protection system, to respond to the demands of our complex and difficult present times.---Guido Bertolaso Under-Secretary of State to the Presidency of the Council of Ministers Head of Civil Protectionphoto: © 115 vigili del fuoco di sassari Italy

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