This article has two main topics: First a short overview about the organization of the disaster prevention in Germany. The second part of this article is about the consequences of a national blackout and how to prepare for this disaster.
Today the word „disaster” is often used in our live. Used to describe the latest failed exam or the result of the German football team at the last world cup. But in the view of e.g. a member of the German Red Cross a disaster is something different:
The World Health Organisation  defines a disaster as follows:
Situation or event, which overwhelms local capacity, necessitating a request to national or international level for external assistance (CRED).
A disaster is usually classified into one of the following three categories:
Always when extreme weather events lead to a disaster, that’s called natural disaster. Examples for a natural disaster would be a flood, an earthquake or extreme heat with following drought.
If a technical error leads to a disaster. Examples are all kinds of accidents from trains to a nuclear power plant.
When a disaster is caused by an intentionally or unintentionally action, it is called a man-made disaster e.g. a terroristic attack or a wildfire caused by a dumped cigarette.
1.2 Disaster prevention
In the German law a disaster is a situation, which the normal rescue forces can’t handle anymore, e.g. because of a high number of injured. In this case specials laws start to apply, and the responsible disaster authority now coordinates the rescue actions.
In Germany every community can declare a disaster to start this process. If more than one community is affected the next disaster instance takes over command, e.g. the government of the federal states the affected community belongs to. The German government takes command if disaster threats the hole country, or if the disaster prevention needs to be coordinated with other countries.
Germany has special structures to deal with disasters.
2.1 Civil protection
Disaster prevention isn’t organized centrally in Germany. Caused by the federal structure of Germany every federal state in Germany has its own disaster prevention laws and forces. Although in special situations the German government is responsible.
|Federal states||German government|
Disaster threating only the specific federal state
Emergency care/supply (on federal levels)
Disaster threating several states
Emergency care/supply (in case of international events (war, pandemic, etc.)
2.2 Involved Organisations
A lot of different organisations are part of the disaster prevention. Most members of these organizations are volunteers. That is quite special since no other country in Europe has that much volunteers involved in their disaster prevention strategy. Another particularity is, that there are several organizations, which sometimes have the same tasks. Followed by this, in case of a disastrous situation the coordination becomes more difficult, because there is not just one organisation for all tasks, but several organisations splitting the responsibilities. On the other side these different organizations are common with their local areas.
Some of the involved organizations are:
- German Red Cross
And there is a third point, which is remarkable: Most of this organizations are registered association, so they are partially funded by donations and are forbidden from generating economic profit.
2.3 Critical Infrastructure
Besides the disaster authorities and these aid organisations there is another important member of the German disaster prevention concept: The providers of critical infrastructure like hospitals, water supply, power plants but also gas stations. All these facilities are important for the life of the people and need to function in case of a disaster. Because of this, the providers of such facilities have strict official instructions to secure their infrastructure and to prepare to run autonomous over a certain period.
In the opinion of a lot of experts a national blackout would be the worst-case scenario for Germany. The consequences would hit the people hard, especially the financially least secured. Because of the lack of energy, the following problems will occur and could become quite dangerous:
Without electricity the digital telephones couldn’t work, as well as the technique to root a call. Smartphones have batteries, but they will also lose their power after a certain time. The only possibility for an authority would be to inform the people over radio, but then one with an external power source (batterie, solar, etc.).
No public transport
Also, the public transport like trains need electricity to run. The driver of cars will also get in trouble because the traffic lights for example also run with electricity. And only a few number of gas stations are prepared to run self-sufficient without electricity. So, the people will run out of petrol as well.
The public water system also need electricity to pump the water into the households.
Only a small number of households in Germany have stored enough durable foods at home, to sustain themselves over a longer time. Without electricity it is impossible to cool food, so a lot of things will become uneatable after a short time.
No medical care
Hospitals are facilities which are prepared to handle a period without electricity, but their measures also don’t work over a longer time. And hospitals will get in trouble without water, like mentioned before. Trash could also become a problem, because someone needs to carry it away. Otherwise hospitals will run in big hygienically problems.
Hard to bring electricity back
It could last weeks to bring electricity back to every citizen in Germany. The problem is, that most power plants need electricity to start. Only a view number of them have the possibility to start themselves. With these power plants, small “energy-islands” would be created to bring the big power plants back to life. Because of the complexity of the German electricity-system this process could last a long time.
So, the consequences of a blackout would be horrible for the people in Germany. But the biggest problem is, that nobody is prepared for the scenario. A study of the Allianz assurance company shows, that most people just trust in their local government and don’t make any private preparations to get more independent from the rescue force. These people forget, that the rescue forces also need electricity to work over a longer period, so after a certain time also the rescue forces become victims of the blackout.
In 2010 the German government released new laws and recommendations for the German people. In these laws there were also some hints how everybody can prepare himself better for upcoming disasters. The goal was to become independent from the public infrastructure for two weeks, until help come.
Everybody should store the following supplies:
|Corn, bread, potatoes, noodles, rice||4.9 kg|
|Vegetables, legumes||5.6 kg|
|Fruits, nuts||3.6 kg|
|Milk, milk products||3.7 kg|
|Fish, meat, eggs||2.1 kg|
|Fat, oil||0.5 kg|
Besides supplies the following things everybody should have to be prepared for a disaster:
- Radio (battery driven)
- Important medicine
- Hygiene products
- Candles, flashlight
- Gas cooker
- Important documents
- Possibility to heat
- Respiratory protection
To be prepared with food and equipment is quite important, but also knowledge about the correct behaviour in a disaster-situation could save life:
- Behaviour in an extreme-situation
- Basic survival skills
What are the consequences for the disaster prevention, if the number of volunteers will continue to decline?
Like mentioned before a huge part of the disaster preventions in Germany is done by volunteers. In the last years the number of people, who are willing to spend their free time in an association in Germany has sunken. But without these people is it not possible to provide the protection of the people in Germany in case of a disaster. So new possibilities must be found to motivate people to participate in the disaster prevention in Germany or the number of paid people in the rescue organizations must be arise. But who will pay for this?
How to sensitize people about possible disasters or self-help in case of a disaster?
A study of the Allianz shows, that most people in Germany don’t care about disasters respectively they trust in the German government to protect them from the consequences of a disaster. The reasons for this behaviour are various. Maybe it is the fact, that most people just know disaster from their TV. But even if the disaster prevention is working, the rescue forces need some time to reach everybody and in this time every citizen must survive alone. So, referring to the chapter “Self-Help” people should have a small number of water and food and other equipment to supply themselves. But like mention in the question, most people don’t prepare themselves for this situation.
Is the disaster-prevention-organization in Germany ready for a big disaster?
The organisation of disaster prevention in Germany is quite complex, so it is questionable, if this organization with 16 federal states really is prepared for a big disaster. The Allianz assurance company has the opinion, that there is a fix number of injured people, which the system can still handle. But this is just a result of a study. Luckily there have never been such big disaster in Germany to check the system.
Is the disaster prevention still working while in a lot of important facilities like hospitals people lost their jobs to save money?
Besides the mostly volunteer operation rescue organizations there are other facilities in Germy like hospitals, which also have problems with small numbers of staff. To save money hospitals for example only run with the necessary number of people especially in the night and on the weekend. This situation offers the question if these hospitals can handle a suddenly huge number of injured people in case of a disaster.
Is the privatization harmful for the supply of the people in a disaster-case?
To earn some money several cities and communities sell their critical infrastructure to private companies. These companies want to earn money with this infrastructure and so they are also interested in reducing the cost to run it. This could lead to a reducing of the operational capability of this infrastructure. Indeed, there are rules and laws, which the provider of critical infrastructure has to follow, but is this enough?
Is the digitalisation and the associated centralisation a threat for the disaster prevention in Germany?
To optimize the work in some infrastructure in Germany, provider starts to digitalize and centralize these infrastructures. This leads to a higher risk of hacking attacks, because digitalization often is associated with the connection to the internet. Digitalization often also means centralization, which leads to several knot points in an infrastructure. Meaning these points are a worthier target for attacks and are also more endangered in case of an accident or a human error.
 http://www.who.int/hac/about/definitions/en/ (4.07.18)
 Katastrophenschutz auf dem Prüfstand (German Source): https://www.bbk.bund.de/SharedDocs/Downloads/BBK/DE/FIS/DownloadsInformationsangebote/DownloadsKritischeInfrastrukturen/DownloadsProjekte/Katastrophenschutz%20Studie.pdf?__blob=publicationFile (4.07.18)
 Experten: Flächendeckender Stromausfall wäre nationale Katastrophe mit vielen Toten (German Source): https://www.focus.de/politik/deutschland/zivilverteidigungskonzept-experten-flaechendeckender-stromausfall-waere-nationale-katastrophe-mit-vielen-toten_id_5856252.html (07.07.18)
 So schlecht ist unser Stromnetz vorbereitet (German Source): https://www.focus.de/immobilien/energiesparen/regenerative_energie/blackout-so-schlecht-ist-..unser-stromnetz-vorbereitet_id_7821522.html (07.07.18)
 Katastrophenmanagement: Katastrophenschutz in Deutschland (German Source): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glrX-t79gm8 (07.07.18)
 Blackout – Deutschland ohne Strom (German Source): https://www.zdf.de/dokumentation/zdfinfo-doku/blackout-deutschland-ohne-strom-108.html (23.07.18)