Adaptation: Field of Action Civil Protection

Jackets and helmets of the professional fire brigadeClick to enlarge
Extreme weather events endanger people and their provision with goods and services.
Source: C. Benjamin Nolte/

In order to adapt to the impacts of climate change, civil protection organisations can revise their internal structures and processes in particular. Also new means of communication and education regarding potential hazards can help to reduce negative impacts of climate change and raise awareness for climatic changes.

Further development of tasks of civil protection

The effects of climate change bring with them new challenges for disaster prevention and disaster management, to which civil protection must adapt. New requirements arise primarily from the expected increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather situations and weather conditions and their associated consequences.

Even under these circumstances, civil protection should be able to fulfil their tasks reliably. This includes protecting the lives and health of citizens and preventing material damage in the event of disasters and serious emergencies. Another central concern is to ensure the availability of the so-called "critical infrastructures", which include energy and water supplies, transport and traffic, and telecommunications and information technology. Here, prevention is often the best protection and is the responsibility of the respective state and private actors.

In the German Adaptation Strategy, civil protection is treated as a cross-cutting issue that is primarily linked to the fields of human health, water and energy management, transport infrastructure and spatial planning.

Even if civil protection shows itself to be well prepared for future challenges, additional measures may be necessary. This requires the systematic processing of data for civil protection and the consideration of possible consequences of climate change based on a reliable risk analysis.

Comparable data must be collected for efficient monitoring of extreme weather events and relief organizations' operations. A harmonization of data in this area beyond individual organizations and federal states would be an important first step towards preparing civil protection and disaster relief more effectively for future challenges.

In addition, existing systems and measures can be further developed, for example, severe weather warning systems, special civil protection planning, training programs for dike wardens, early detection of forest fires and the use of special resources such as vehicles, equipment and materials. Equipment that is becoming increasingly necessary due to the changed climate conditions includes emergency drinking-water supplies, emergency power generators and fire departments with pumps and power generators.

Effective strategies and measures for both institutional and individual heat prevention require - as do those for flood or strong wind prevention - a knowledge-based and forward-looking approach to climate change, heat and drought in politics, administration and (urban) society. Strategies and measures in urban areas should take into consideration both the local urban climate and possible pollution factors such as air quality and noise, as well as possible extreme weather events and future, often barely perceptible climatic changes. Municipal climate, heat and drought prevention is therefore a cross-cutting task that requires coordinated strategies and measures in different municipal fields of action and by different players.

Longer and more frequent deployments can be managed more effectively by civil protection organizations if different players also cooperate across disciplines. The working group "Climate Change and Adaptation in Disaster Management" consists of nationwide active relief organizations, voluntary and professional fire departments, the Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW) and the Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (BBK). The BBK, the German Environment Agency (UBA), the German Meteorological Service (DWD), the Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development in the Federal Office for Building and Regional Planning (BBSR) and the THW are already working actively together in a strategic alliance of authorities to integrate the consequences of climate change into the practice of civil protection.

Maintaining the operational capability of civil protection

The consequences of climate change do not only affect the tasks of civil protection. The organizations themselves can also be burdened by the changed climate conditions and must therefore adapt. For example, heat stress can push relief workers to their limits. This must be taken into consideration when planning the work. Measures such as longer breaks and increased rotation of the emergency personnel can help. The working environment can also be adapted, for example by cooling rooms and vehicles.

If critical infrastructures fail due to extreme weather events, this can also affect civil protection itself. Adaptation measures can help to ensure the operational capability in such a case. Not least, this includes a systematic overview of the own dependencies on critical infrastructure. This can be the basis for a comprehensive assessment of where problems could arise and in which areas emergency care is required. Based on this, measures ranging from technical solutions to emergency plans can be developed to ensure long-term operational capability.

Self-protection of the population

The population's ability to protect itself is an important component of civil protection. Self-protection is the sum of individual measures taken by the population, authorities and/or companies to avoid, prevent and help themselves, that is to cope with events. By behaving correctly in emergency situations, citizens can help to protect themselves and their fellow human beings and improve general safety.

An important adaptation measure is the improvement of risk communication. Information and contact points can raise awareness of the problems and contribute to self-help. Timely and effective warning of extreme weather events can significantly increase the protection of the population. In the case of extreme weather and weather-related events, it can take considerably more time for rescue forces to arrive in sufficient numbers.

On the one hand it is important to develop and maintain general skills, for example, by first aid courses. On the other hand, information material is offered by the authorities. On the federal side, the Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Relief is the main source of information on the correct behavior in the event of a disaster. Nowadays, accurate information on flood hazards, geological hazards such as mass movements and landslides, and storm damage risks is provided, in some cases precisely to the parcel.

With the "Compass of Natural Hazards" on the Internet, the German Insurance Association offers an address-exact assessment of the natural hazards of flood, storm and hail, lightning and overvoltage for Germany. Some offers tailored to specific needs already complement the general consulting services: these include information sheets and checklists on adapted behavior and protection options, internet portals and knowledge platforms, notices and apps as well as SMS warning systems that address specific target groups such as building owners, children or hospitals. For example, in the NINA warning app (Emergency Information and News App of the Federal Government), citizens can subscribe to warnings on civil protection, severe weather warnings from the German Weather Service and flood information from the interstate flood portal.