Croatia: Calls to set up emergency management agency

News Article ID: 2999


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.

Damage after 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 emergency.

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 disruptions.

Damaged water 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 knowledge.

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 situations.

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 these situations.

Fire in a hazardous waste incineration plant in Zagreb, August 2002

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

What remained 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.




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