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Training to Deal With Crisis

Sandra Ketterer (sp)December 29, 2003

German rescue specialists are trained to react swiftly to natural disasters such as earthquake and offer expertise on the ground. The “Academy for Crisis Management” has experience in dealing with the worst.

A German Red Cross worker perpares an emergency response unit near Bonn for delivery to Iran.Image: AP

Barely 24 hours after a massive earthquake flattened the city of Bam in southeastern Iran, 30 earthquake specialists from Germany’s Federal Relief Organization (THW) were on a plane bound for the crisis zone. Equipped with sniffer dogs, telescope cameras, drills and other hi-tech tools, the team set about looking for survivors trapped under tons of fallen debris.

Überlebende hausen auf der Straße
After the earthquake in BamImage: AP

They were assisted by workers from other aid organizations such as the German Red Cross, who flew in with almost 33 tons of medicine, tents, blankets, jackets and water-purification plants. Coordinated by the foreign ministry in Berlin, the massive German search and rescue operation in Iran which involved nearly 70 specialists, was up and running within hours of the teams’ arrival in Bam.

Learning to cope with crisis

The speed and the efficiency of the aid operation could be pinned to the Germans’ fabled skills for organization and precision. But the main reason behind Saturday’s well-executed rescue maneuver lies in the town of Ahrweiler, near the city of Bonn. There, in a former German army base, lies Germany’s "Academy of Crisis Management, Emergency Planning and Civilian Protection."

As the name suggests, the institution trains heads of various aid and relief organizations in dealing with natural and man-made catastrophes such as earthquakes, floods, terror attacks and war.

The academy offers around 400 seminars a year as well as advanced training for all those who need to organize professional help in the event of crisis. That includes police, fire-fighters, soldiers and civilian employees and ministry staff, who, for instance, are responsible for providing electricity and drinking water.

Learning to think fast

With the help of invented horror scenarios, participants in the academy’s seminars learn how to think and react quickly to a number of different crisis situations. During a recent course on flood management, for example, a class comprised of heads of various private aid agencies and federal emergency services discussed the best way to achieve a coordinated and smooth relief effort involving the fire engine department, the THW and non-governmental aid organizations.

One of the participants, Rainer Blumrath, who works for the fire department and attends several courses at the academy on "heading technical deployments," told DW-RADIO that the seminars and courses were especially important for meeting colleagues from other German states and swapping experiences that could provide important insights .

Coordination the key

Dietrich Läpke, Head of the "Academy for Crisis Management" underscored coordination as the all-important factor when it comes to reacting to disaster, particularly since the borders between protecting the civilian population and providing disaster relief had become increasingly blurred.

Ein Soldat hilft einer Frau aus dem Wasser
A German solider helps a woman out of the water during floods in eastern Germany last year.Image: AP

In Germany, the two fields are divided among the federal government and the 16 federal states: while the government is expected to protect citizens if a war breaks out, the states are responsible for handling natural catastrophes. However, recent experience, such as last year’s floods in eastern Germany (photo), have shown that such deployments can rarely be carried out alone.

"Protecting civilians and providing disaster relief will change further and become more international in the future," Läpke said. "The Academy expects further work in this regard because natural catastrophes seldom let national state borders stop them."

Close cooperation between army and aid agencies

Frank Jörres, a member of the German Red Cross, also stressed that the army and aid organizations need to work closely together when disaster strikes and emphasized it was important that both sectors know the other’s working methods and functions.

Jörres offers preparatory seminars at the academy on the cooperation between civilian and military organizations abroad. Subject matter usually includes the work of the United Nations, its special affiliated organizations and aid programs. In addition, participants learn how aid organizations like the International Committee of the Red Cross fulfill their tough mandate or how the European Commission finances such efforts.