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Germany - Disaster management structure

Vademecum - Civil Protection

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Germany consists of 16 constituent states (Länder, singular - Land); Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bayern (Bavaria), Berlin, Brandenburg, Bremen, Hamburg, Hessen, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania), Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony), Nordrhein-Westfalen (North Rhine-Westphalia), Rheinland-Pfalz (Rhineland-Palatinate), Saarland, Sachsen (Saxony), Sachsen-Anhalt (Saxony-Anhalt), Schleswig-Holstein and Thueringen (Thuringia). Note: Bayern, Sachsen, and Thueringen refer to themselves as free states (Freistaaten, singular - Freistaat).

Germany is a federal republic and each constituent state has its own parliament and government, and a high degree of autonomy.

Most states are divided into administrative districts (Regierungsbezirke), and each district is divided into administrative counties (Landkreise) and county boroughs (kreisfreie Städte). The local self-government (municipalities "Kommunen") administrates inter alia local transport and road construction, electricity, water and gas supply, sewerage and daily life protection.

According to the respective laws of each "Land", the first authority in charge during a peacetime disaster is the cognizant rural district, county or municipal authority. The director of administration for each of these authorities manages the local response to emergencies and disasters. According to the needs of the situation, a staff composed of the officials of his own administration, representatives of other authorities and services as well as other organisations involved in disaster management assist him in carrying out his administrative duties. For the technical and tactical execution of the required measures, he appoints a director of operations, who is assisted by a staff that includes the representatives of the organisations and units participating in the operation (e.g. the police, fire departments, non-governmental organisations and private enterprises). When a disaster affects several districts or exceeds the capabilities of the local government, the next highest hierarchical authority ensures the coordination.

The federal government supports local and regional authorities and the states with their own operational forces (e.g. the Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW), the federal police, and, with certain limitations as regards the use of weapons, the Armed Forces) when asked for assistance, and with services provided by the Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (Bundesamt für Bevölkerungsschutz und Katastrophenhilfe – BBK).

In times of war, the federal government is overall responsible for the civil defence.

A distinction is made between civil protection as a national (federal) task in times of war and peacetime emergency management and planning. This leads to two independent areas of law and administration:

  • Emergency Planning in peacetime – the competence of the states
  • "Extended" Emergency Planning in case of war – the responsibility of the federal state.

Moreover, civil protection in Germany is carried out at each administrative level according to the tasks laid down in the respective laws. The operational organisations perform tasks ordered by civil protection authorities. When conducting operations on site, the competent authorities are supported by fire-fighters, private relief organisations and NGOs (at federal level).

Germany has different authorities according to their legally stipulated competences:

  • The Federal Ministry of the Interior (Bundesministerium des Innern). The Federal Ministry of the Interior is assisted by the following authorities according to their legal basis:
    • The Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (Bundesamt für Bevölkerungsschutz und Katastrophenhilfe)
    • The Federal Agency for Technical Relief (Bundesanstalt Technisches Hilfswerk)
  • 16 Ministries of the Interior of the states
  • Administrative districts (where applicable)
  • Counties and county boroughs
  • Municipalities.

The overall objective of German civil emergency planning is to protect the State and its citizens. The operational responsibilities for the protection of the population in times of emergency lie with the constitutional states as representatives of the federal government. Federal preparedness for the protection of the population during war or imminent threat of war is regarded as “extended” civil emergency planning and the responsibility of the federal state. All civil protection authorities contribute in the form of planning, administration and material resources to the prevention of disaster management during and recovery from all kind of disasters and emergencies and during armed conflicts.

An inter-ministerial coordination group may be set up within the federal Ministry of the Interior when the catastrophe exceeds the ability of a "Land" to cope with it or has spread beyond its territorial boundaries. In such cases, the federal Ministry of the Interior, in liaison with other federal ministries and the other states, ensures the coordination of assistance to the "Land" affected by the disaster.

In case of a military crisis, 13 different ministries are responsible for civil emergency planning within their own respective areas, while the Ministry of the Interior has an overall coordinating function. Federal planning for civil emergencies consists of taking measures to ensure the continuity of social functions in times of emergency. These include the continuity of Government, civil protection, supply of goods and services and support of the armed forces.

At each level the coordination among organisations is ensured by the respective competent authority.

According to the German Constitution, the states are responsible for the management of all kinds of disasters in a peacetime situation. There are no structural differences between the different kinds of disasters.

Organisational chart

Legal basis

At national level

From Germany’s 1949 Constitution (Grundgesetz) follows that protection of the population in peacetime is the responsibility of the 16 constituent states. Federal responsibility and legislation is only applied to protect the population in case of war or if the Parliament (the Bundestag) has determined that a state of tension exists (e.g. a preliminary stage of war). Therefore, the responsibility for emergency planning and operational preparation in peacetime lies with the states and their structures (agencies, procedures, and organisations). The states therefore have their own laws regulating the measures for urgent medical assistance and fire fighting, as well as procedures for disaster management. The federal government supplements the states' equipment with wartime resources, e.g. special NBC-vehicles, which can be used during peacetime as well.

The local authorities within their respective territories, as agents for the federal government, carry out federal prescriptions concerning measures necessary for civil protection during a war. The attacks on 11 September 2001 and the disastrous floods of 2002 led to the development of a new strategy for protecting the people of Germany, which was agreed upon by the Federal Minister of the Interior and his colleagues from the states. A joint and coordinated approach by the federal authorities and the states concerning the crisis management of nationally significant disasters and damage situations characterises this new strategy. Without changing the laws concerning the traditional allocation of competency, the federal government increased its coordination of services with the states by setting up a new Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (Bundesamt für Bevölkerungsschutz und Katastrophenhilfe) in May 2004.

The competences and tasks at federal level have thus been recently revised and laid down in the 2009 German Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance Act.

At ministerial level

See above (national level).

At regional (Länder) level

According to the traditional allocation of competency, the legal basis for the states to respond to disasters or emergencies has been laid down in a number of state laws.

Essential provisions have been stipulated in the legislation on fire prevention and fire services, which assign local governments the duty of removing fire and explosion hazards, fighting fires and providing adequate technical support in case of other accidents or emergencies. Fire prevention and fire-fighting, rescue and disaster management may be covered by separate legislation, as in Bavaria (the Bavarian Disaster Management Act, the Bavarian Fire Services Act and the Bavarian Act Regulating Emergency Rescue, Ambulance and Rescue Services); or they may be covered fully or partly by a single law as in the Act on Emergency Response Assistance for the city-state of Bremen and the state of Hesse’s Act on Fire Prevention and Fire-Fighting, General Aid and Relief and Disaster Management.

At local level

The competencies at local level have been laid down in the federal as well as the states' legislation.

Private sector

The private sector will be involved according to the different legislation.

Volunteers / NGOs

Volunteers and NGOs will be involved according to the different legislation.

At international level

UN conventions and EU-based legal acts.

Bilateral agreements

Germany has signed bilateral agreements on mutual disaster assistance with the following countries:

  • Belgium
  • Denmark
  • France (the 1977 Agreement between France and Germany)
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg (the 1978 Agreement between the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and Germany)
  • The Netherlands
  • Austria
  • Poland
  • Russia (the 1992 Agreement between Russia and Germany)
  • Switzerland
  • The Czech Republic (the 2000 Agreement between the Czech Republic and Germany)
  • Hungary (the 1997 Agreement between Hungary and Germany).

The agreements are available for downloading at:

Regional agreements

Bilateral agreements allow concluding regional agreements.

Human and material resources

No information available.


Private sector

In the field of the protection of Critical Infrastructures (CIP) as a part of civil protection, Germany closely cooperates with critical infrastructure providers on sectorial as well as on cross-sectorial issues, usually in a less formalized way. Theses providers represent different CI-sectors (e.g. provision of electricity/ energy transmission, rail traffic, financial services, water supply (for further information see: National Strategy on CIP.

Close cooperation exists in the field of the protection of IT-infrastructure (CIIP, see also For more information about the private sector, please contact: the CIP contact point (


In total, around 1.8 million volunteers are serving in the various emergency and civil protection services. The total number of employees in this area is unknown.