The federal structure of Germany is reflected by its national disaster management system of shared responsibilities between the Federation and the federal states.
“Civil protection” in the general sense of “protection of the population” (“Bevölkerungsschutz”) is an overarching term and comprises 2 different elements: “Katastrophenschutz” and “Zivilschutz”.
According to the Constitution, the federal states (“Länder”) are responsible for disaster management (“Katastrophenschutz”) in times of peace. They have enacted respective disaster management laws, defining - inter alia - the responsible disaster management authorities and delegating several administrative and operational tasks to the regional and local level.
In the case of defence, e.g. in times of war or armed conflict, the Federation is in charge of civil protection (“Zivilschutz”), as laid out in the Federal Civil Protection and Disaster Relief Act (ZSKG).
For some of its tasks in civil protection, the Federation draws on Länder resources and complements these if needed (integrated emergency response system). The Federation provides additional equipment, supplies and training to the Länder and may support them in case of disaster upon request (disaster assistance).
The Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community (BMI) is the superior federal government authority for civil protection. It coordinates interministerial collaboration and is generally responsible for national/internal security. The BMI supervises the 2 national civil protection agencies:
- The Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (BBK): it carries out specific tasks of the Federation concerning civil protection, such as risk management, warning of the population, information and resource management, chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defence (CBRN) and health protection, protection of critical infrastructure and cultural property, research, international cooperation, etc. The BBK´s experts develop strategies, conduct crisis management exercises and raise awareness among the public to enhance self-protection.
- The Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW) is a governmental non-profit organisation. As a technical and operational agency, its tasks include technical relief and assistance in a large number of emergencies, within Germany and abroad.
The operational basis at the local level relies on the volunteer potential of e.g., the fire services, local disaster management authorities and participating relief organisations and the THW. More than 1.8 million volunteers constitute the backbone of the system, which is reinforced by professional full-time staff.
Civil-military co-operation, due to the shared responsibilities in times of peace or conflict as described earlier, is particularly relevant in Germany and is carried out at all administrative levels and includes planning, training and exercises. At a national level, the BBK and the Joint Support Command of the Federal Armed Forces (Bundeswehr) coordinate civil-military activities.
Identifying risks and contributing to disaster prevention by reducing risks requires a cross-sectoral approach. Both on a national and sub-national level, preventive elements are embedded in legal and conceptual frameworks of different sectors such as environment, health, agriculture, water management, critical infrastructure, urban planning, education, development cooperation and consumer protection, etc. Examples at national level include:
- The German strategy for adaptation to climate change (DAS)
- Implementation of the EU Floods directive; “Flood Protection Programme” (NHWSP, 2015-2027+)
- The National Strategy for Critical Infrastructure Protection.
At the regional and local level, the competent authority may likewise consider preventive aspects in the sector concerned, involve the respective disaster management authority and thus contribute to a concerted approach.
Following the Federal Civil Protection and Disaster Relief Act, the Federation carries out a nationwide risk analysis for civil protection. They do it in collaboration with the Länder.
In the interest of following a holistic approach, the risk analysis will be supplemented by more specific risk analyses conducted by the Länder and local authorities in their respective area of competence.
At a national level, the following risk analyses have been carried out since 2012:
- Floods (2012)
- Extraordinary epidemics (2012)
- Winter storm (2013)
- Storm surge (2014)
- Release of radioactive substances from nuclear power plants (2015)
- Release of chemical substances (2016)
- Drought (2018)
- Earthquake (2019).
The findings of a risk analysis contribute directly to adopting an integrated action plan, defining flexible, efficient and effective actions in case of an incident. Risk analysis is considered a partial aspect of comprehensive risk management comprising ongoing risk identification, analysis, evaluation and management.
Risk management planning
Risk management planning is a key element of disaster management. There is a close connection between risk analysis and capacity-based planning and, consequently, between risk management and crisis management.
The National Focal Point for the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR) was established at the Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance. It is embedded in an interministerial working group and is mandated to coordinate and facilitate the implementation of the SFDRR in Germany.
Risk communication and awareness raising
Risk communication is a strategic tool with a long-term orientation. It aims to raise awareness amongst the public of possible risks and to promote self-protection and self-help.
There is a large number of institutions and organisations that ensure the availability and dissemination of general information and data in different sectors, especially climate and environment, thereby contributing to raising public awareness of disaster risks (e.g., Deutscher Wetterdienst, Bundesamt für Strahlenschutz, Umweltbundesamt, Robert-Koch-Institut, Deutsches GeoForschungsZentrum or Helmholtz Association etc.).
The Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance, as the responsible national executive agency for civil protection, offers a wide range of information, guidelines, and recommendations on disasters and risks.
The aim is to improve the level of self-protection and self-help amongst the public, targeting both youth and adult population (e.g., “Disasters Alarm - Guide for Emergency Preparedness and Correct Action in Emergency Situations”, “How to cope with stressful events”, “Recommendations in case of flash floods” etc.).
Training and exercises
Based on the Federal Civil Protection and Disaster Relief Act (ZSKG), the Federation supports the education of the population in self-protection by providing advice and guidance, and supports other actors in the field of civil protection. These include fire services, the Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW), local disaster management authorities, and participating relief organisations in their duty to provide information to the population.
The Federal Academy of Civil Protection and Civil Defence (BABZ), as part of the Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance, is the central educational institution of the Federation for civil protection and crisis management. It serves as a forum for scientific exchange, both nationally and internationally.
The THW combines basic training at its local sections with additional specialist and management training and the training of experts for missions abroad at its training centres. THW cooperates with external educational institutions and sends its staff to international training (EU, UN). Exercises are implemented on various levels (regional, national, international) to apply and deepen the acquired knowledge.
The Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance and the Federal Agency for Technical Relief also carry out training courses on an international level, e.g. within the Union Civil Protection Mechanism or for the UN.
Since maintenance of efficient fire services is one of the compulsory tasks of municipalities and towns, fire brigade education and training follows a primarily municipal approach and differs according to the type of fire brigade.
The different relief organisations run their own training programs.
Regular “Interministerial and Interstate Crisis Management Exercises” (LÜKEX, coordinated by the Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance) allow the Federal Government and the Länder to jointly prepare for (extraordinary) incidents and provide them with an opportunity for putting existing plans and management concepts to the test.
In addition, the Länder carry out their own training exercises in the field of disaster management.
Early warning systems
Germany’s national meteorological service (Deutscher Wetterdienst, DWD) is responsible for weather forecasting andissue of official warnings for weather phenomena posing a potential danger to the public or having high potential to cause damage.
Flood forecasts and assessments are carried out by the flood forecasting and control centres of the Länder and in cooperation with the Federal Waterways and Shipping Administration.
Seismological monitoring is ensured within the Länder, whilst the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR) collects a major amount of data.
The Federal Radiological Situation Centre (GRS) becomes active in the event of a radiological emergency.
The German Joint Information and Situation Centre (GMLZ) within the Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance is a central interface to improve the sharing of knowledge and cooperation between the Federation and the Länder.
As a specialist situation centre in the field of civil protection, GMLZ (i) prepares situation reports and prognosis, (ii) coordinates information and resources at the federal level, and (iii) serves as the national point of contact for a range of national and international information and warning procedures for the Federal Republic of Germany.
The authorities of the Länder (at the local level) are responsible for warning the population in case of an incident. Possible types of communication channels include radio announcements, written information material, the internet or social media platforms, loudspeaker announcements from emergency response vehicles, "door-to-door" information or the use of sirens.
The Federation has set up MoWaS, a satellite-based modular warning system, for defence and crises that is available to the Länder as a central warning and information system. A smartphone application called NINA, developed by the Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance, is one of the possible channels used to disseminate warnings.
In the case of defence, the Federal Government is responsible for recording threats from aerial warfare and large-scale radiological hazards. For this purpose, a warning centre and two civil protection liaison cells (CDLC) are maintained. The CDLC’s are co-located to NATO aerial warfare command posts (CAOC and CRC).
In times of peace, the Länder are responsible for disaster management. According to the disaster management laws of the Länder, some administrative and operational tasks are delegated to the regional and local levels. Primarily, the districts are responsible for disaster management (within the multi-level system of disaster management authorities).
They have to ensure that a command structure for disaster control is set up, which is adequately staffed and trained. Furthermore, they are in charge of developing disaster management plans.
In case of an incident, the fire brigades and relief organisations form the operational and tactical units for immediate technical and medical assistance at the local level.
When asked for assistance, the Federation may support the local and regional authorities and the Länder with their own operational forces (e.g., the Federal Agency for Technical Relief, the Federal Police, and, with certain limitations regarding the use of weapons, the Armed Forces) and with services provided by The Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance.
According to its legal mandate, the Federal Agency for Technical Relief provides technical assistance within the framework of the Civil Defence Act, i.e., in major disasters, emergencies and accidents, upon request of the responsible authorities as well as abroad on behalf of the Federation.
Cross-border, European and international cooperation
The Federation may engage in international disaster relief operations based on bilateral assistance agreements or within the framework of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism or the UN's humanitarian aid in line with the principles of subsidiarity and voluntary participation.
Germany has signed bilateral agreements on mutual disaster assistance with all of its neighbouring states and the following states: Belgium, Denmark, France, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria, Poland, Russia, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary.
In several partner countries, the Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance and the Federal Agency for Technical Relief are engaged in projects to assist other states in strengthening their own civil protection capacities and capabilities (e.g., Tunisia, Jordan and Ukraine).
The Bundeswehr Territorial Tasks Command (KdoTerrAufgBw) is the central coordination and control command for the provision of host nation support in Germany. It coordinates and organises the provision of infrastructure required for the reception, staging and onward movement process (RSOM) as well as the transport support from German ports of debarkation to the RSOM areas. Itis the 24/7 contact for all nations in transit through Germany and for all NATO or EU operations-HQs entrusted with RSOM.
Facts & figures
General contact point with regard to Prevention & Preparedness projects:
Bundesamt für Bevölkerungsschutz und Katastrophenhilfe
tel: +49 22899-550-0
tel: +49 22899-550-3700
- Legal basis: Federal Civil Protection and Disaster Relief Act (ZSKG)
- Legal basis: THW-Law from 22 January 1990, adapted 11 June 2013
- Legal basis: Disaster management laws of the Laender
- List of bilateral and regional agreements on civil protection
- Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community (BMI)
- Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (BBK)
- Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW)
Last updated: 24/08/2021