Croatia's civil defence system ground to a
halt in 1994 and it is proving difficult to
persuade senior political figures that it is
time to re-establish an organisation that will
protect the people of Croatia from natural and
man-made disasters, including terrorism and war.
In this article, Dr. Sc. Branimir Molak,
dipl.ing and Mr Sc, Tomo Sugnetic, MD, make a
direct plea to the President of the Republic of
Croatia to help rebuild the system.
the attacks on Vukovar in 1991 - the remains of the
Baroque Grand Hotel.
There are many hazards - natural and manmade -
which can endanger people, goods and the
environment. In the homeland war about 14,000 people
were killed and around 30,000 injured in Croatia.
Direct damages caused by this war are estimated at
about US$30 billion. Croatia also suffers peacetime
damages of around US$300 million a year due to
natural phenomena. The extraordinary experience of
war, and the everyday influence of nature and
technology have demonstrated that it is necessary to
have good emergency management. Terrorism is one
subgroup in a vast array of threats, which include
hazardous materials releases, fires and explosions,
radioactivity, break of supply and dam failures.
The authors say that the persecution of
intellectuals and scientists in Croatia is in full
swing, especially if they were defenders in the
homeland war. Important institutions are beyond
public control. Many things are no longer ordinary
and chaos is a possibility. This type of situation
may increase the need for civil safety and rescue
services for the population in times of crisis or
In Croatia, drought causes the greatest damage
(42 per cent), followed by hailstorms, rainstorms,
snow and ice (26 per cent) and earthquakes (17 per
cent). Fires (six per cent) and floods (five per
cent), although earning greater media attention, are
actually only a small proportion of total damage
costs. Losses due to technological disasters
(excluding RTAs) are significantly less than those
incurred by natural disasters. However, the poverty
and dissatisfaction of the general population may
lead to a drastic increase in the incidence of some
types of emergency situations due to internal
tower after the homeland war in Croatia.
During the war, in 1993 in particular, the
Croatian Ministry of Defence built a modern and
effective system of civil safety and rescue for its
population, material assets and the environment in
emergency situations (in war and peacetime). This
was organised upon the American example and was
promoted at that time by NATO.
This system was then destroyed with the supposed
transfer of responsibility to the Ministry of
Internal affairs. The central organisation of the
civil defence system was dismantled and its most
experienced personnel were scattered. Those
remaining were allocated to other positions, which
were unsuitable with regard to their training,
experience, professional qualifications and
The civil defence system has not been restored.
Despite these events, some individual disparate
segments still manage to achieve occasional positive
outcomes. There would certainly have been fewer
problems - in post-war rebuilding and the return of
refugees - if the entire civil safety and rescue
system had not been destroyed, and a comprehensive
methodology of recovery and rebuilding had been
applied. Damage due to peacetime emergencies would
also have been less.
From the time of the dismantling of the civil
defence system until today, there has been no
adequate analysis of risk undertaken at State or
regional level within Croatia. This includes all
types of natural and technological disasters, and
the possibility of war.
There is no adequate legal system in place that
would define the roles and responsibilities of all
those participating in the provision of civil safety
and rescue services and there is no organisational
structure in place to manage such a system. There is
no management structure for all the participants in
the system and there is no single established system
of communications. There is no resource base that
incorporates all the available resources in the
civil safety and rescue system and the appropriate
conditions for their use. There are no bodies under
state administration that are responsible in the
event of a disaster. There is an absence of higher
education or any other training in this areas.
For all the given reasons there is a lack of
planning for emergency responses in crisis
We cannot hope to re-establish a system of crisis
management in emergencies while certain conditions
persist. We must first establish the reasons why our
system was dismantled.
What is disaster management?
The essence of crisis management is the ability
to act appropriately between times of emergency.
Emergencies are cyclical phenomena and their
management is dependent on recognised phases:
mitigation, preparedness, action and recovery or
rebuilding, when it becomes necessary to undertake a
range of safety and rescue activities.
Successful recovery from an emergency situation
is possible, but numerous obstacles exist that
prevent better organisation of the civil safety and
rescue of the population. We know what needs to be
undertaken in the area of organisation, in risk
analysis, in law-making, in resource management, in
fostering information and communications, and in the
development of plans and readiness and action for
Fire in a
hazardous waste incineration plant in Zagreb, August
A civil defence system could be rebuilt along
similar lines to those in the most developed nations
of the world, and based on our own experiences
obtained during the homeland war. Numerous
operational organisations should be given equally
important obligations and rights to be able to
operate efficiently. These include health services,
firefighting services, humanitarian organisations,
the armed forces and police, water resource
management, energy resource management, forestry
management, and other public services and
organisations. Also included are traffic control,
industry, numerous government ministries and
departments, hydro meteorological and seismological
services, public information services, organisations
of surveillance and reporting, ancillary public
organisations, schools and others.
What needs to be done
We propose the following course of action: The
President of the Republic or Parliament should
establish a state body for the management of
emergency situations. This group would need to:
- Develop a proposal for a law that would
regulate the organisation of civil safety and
rescue, as well as its functioning.
- Define the organisational structure of all
operational participants in civil safety and
rescue, and determine how to monitor and manage
available resources most efficiently.
- Prepare a range of guidelines for the
activities of the organisation at a local level,
including crisis management, analysis of risk,
public awareness, assessment of damage,
mitigation strategy, planning for readiness and
disaster response, the re-establishment of vital
community structures after a disaster, etc.
- Assess costs and revenue sources for an
efficient working system, which would underscore
its establishment, and monitor the funding of a
comprehensive safety and rescue system.
- Develop a proposal for a comprehensive plan
for the education and training of personnel for
such a service (at levels of tertiary education
and other levels).
Despite the fact that experts have proposed the
re-establishment of a disaster management system for
years, politicians have shown no interest. Whenever
a disaster has occurred in Croatia, there has been
an outcry. But afterwards there is little or no
change. Effective work still continues in this
field, but it is usually the result of the
endeavours of a few enthusiasts, not of an organised
state activity. This is not nearly enough.
The reasons for this state of affairs are many,
but most are due to a lack of concern and knowledge
by the decision-makers. The consequences are
obvious, but they may potentially become much worse.
An oil refinery
plant on fire after attacks in 1991
after the fire
Damage after an
attack on an oil refinery plant and electrical
thermal power plant
In his role as Director of
Management of Emergency Situations in the Republic
of Croatia (HQ Commander for Civil Defence, Republic
of Croatia), one of the authors of this paper was
opposed to the dismantling of the Croatian system of
civil safety and rescue in 1994. He informed the
then Minister of Internal Affairs, the Prime
Minister of the Republic, and the President of the
Parliament of his concerns. The first two did not
respond. The third person expressed a willingness to
stop this action but was soon replaced in his
position as Parliamentary President. This man is now
the President of Croatia. The authors say that it is
high time that through his decision-making, the
President helps to bring the civil safety and rescue
system back to life after eight years.