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Italy - Disaster management structure

Vademecum - Civil Protection

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Italy is divided into 20 regions, 110 provinces and about 8,100 municipalities. Provinces are administrative sub-divisions of regions.

The regions are the first-level administrative divisions of the State. There are twenty regions, of which fifteen with ordinary statute and five with special statute (regions with special statute are marked with an asterisk): Abruzzo, Aosta Valley*, Apulia, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Emilia-Romagna, Friuli-Venezia Giulia*, Lazio, Liguria, Lombardy, Marche, Molise, Piedmont, Sardinia*, Sicily*, Tuscany, Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol*, Umbria and Veneto.

Since the constitutional reform of 2001, regions have had legislative as well as administrative powers. The regions have exclusive legislative power with respect to any matters not expressly reserved to state law. Yet their financial autonomy is quite modest: they keep 20% of all levied taxes.

The five regions with special statute are granted by the Italian Constitution home rule in relation to legislation, administration and finance. They keep between 60% (Friuli-Venezia Giulia) and 100% (Sicily) of all levied taxes. In return, they have to finance themselves the healthcare system, the school system and most public infrastructures. Sicily and Sardinia get additional resources from the Italian State in order to finance all services. Heads of the administrative units are elected by the local population.

Civil protection in Italy is not a structure, but an integrated system that allows the coordinated use of all available state and private resources. The operational structure set-up in case of major disasters takes into account the administrative organisation of the country.

The general mission of national civil protection is, both at central and local levels, to protect the lives, goods, properties and environment from damage or threats caused by natural and technological disasters and other calamities.

The "National Service of Civil Protection" was institutionalised by Act no 225 adopted on 24 February 1992. As stated in its first article, the Act is drawn up by the state administrations, both central and peripheral, the regions, the provinces, the municipalities and the mountain communities, the national public and local institutions and all other institutions or organisations, both public and private, present on the national territory. Together, they constitute the National Service of Civil Protection with designated components and operational structures.

The responsibility to decide civil protection policies is assigned to the president of the Council of Ministers, or to the Minister of the Interior appointed by him.

The coordination of the national service and the promotion of civil protection activities are undertaken by the Department of Civil Protection (Dipartimento della Protezione Civile - DPC) under the office of the president of the Council of Ministers. The Department of Civil Protection is thus the operative arm of the president of the Council, when it comes to coping with the protection of the country's people and goods.

The DPC is managed by a Head of Department and is divided into eight main offices, where each one is managed by a General Director. Each office is furthermore divided into two or more "Services" carrying out specific tasks.

In general, when a disastrous event occurs, the Department of Civil Protection is able to define within very short time, the significance of the disaster and to assess whether local resources are sufficient to face up to them. In case of necessity, support to provinces, regions and municipalities will be guaranteed. In the most serious situations, the Department of Civil Protection takes on the overall coordination of the operations, while all concerned authorities at regional, provincial and municipal levels perform their specific roles.

Civil protection activities are defined according to three basic categories:

  • Forecast and prevention: According to the type identification and the distribution and probability of risk occurrence.
  • Rescue and assistance to the population involved: This phase requires fast and immediate intervention following the breakout of an emergency and requires immediate response by the civil protection.
  • Overcoming the state of emergency and recovery of the socio-economic system: Refers to the phase providing welcoming structures and assistance to the affected population, the recovery of essential services, structures and productive activities in order to guarantee as far as possible the return to ordinary living conditions.

The above activities are implemented by the national service of civil protection components and national operational structures, i.e. the National Fire-Fighters Corps, the police and the armed forces, the State Forest Corps, the Italian Red Cross, the National Health Service, the National Alpine Rescue Corps, the volunteer forces, the state administrations, the regions, the provinces and municipalities, the technical-scientific experts and private institutions and organisations. Intervention activities involving rescue operations are coordinated by the Operational Committee including the administrations and institutions involved at national and local levels.

This structured plan represents the ground for a series of intense activities essentially designed to improve, on the one hand, the ability to respond to emergency incidents, starting from the local level by use of ordinary tools through the availability of extraordinary tools and measures from the state resources' and, on the other hand, to improve the ability to mobilise and organise relief/rescue operations.

The regions' responsibilities in the field of civil protection have recently been increased. As part of an ongoing process, the aim is to stimulate regional and local institutions’ competences and responsibilities, while safeguarding the State's role of overall guidance and coordination. Many regions have their own civil protection organisation and structure, which they use in case of disasters that do not overwhelm their capacities. This process has given regional governments the possibility to build up civil protection structures matching their territorial specificities.

For this reason, the regional governments may activate the most appropriate civil protection structure based on territorial and risk characteristics pertaining to the region's specificity, still abiding by the fundamental principles of civil protection defined by the State.

In the Italian system, the responsibility for implementing civil protection measures falls with the lowest possible administrative level. The mayor is for this reason the primary civil protection authority within his/her municipality and thus responsible for planning and rescue operations. In case of large disasters, the responsibility escalates progressively through the provincial and the regional levels to the state level (national disasters).

Hence, the regions are responsible for defining risk forecast and prevention programmes; the provinces are responsible for defining and implementing the related emergency plans; and the municipalities are responsible for the draft municipal emergency plan and the coordination of relief operations on their respective territories.

In case of concrete emergencies, coordination and operational activities are carried out through a multi-level hierarchical organisation. This consists of the Municipal Operational Centres (C.O.C.) at the municipal level, the Mixed Operational Centres (C.O.M.) and Rescue Coordination Centres (C.C.S.) at the provincial level, the Regional Operations Centres at the regional level, and the Command and Control Direction (DI.COMA.C.) at the national level. Even though the DI.COMA.C represents the national level, it is physically set up on the disaster site or close thereby.

Furthermore, the Department of Civil Protection has institutionalised the National Situation Room (Sit.I.) at its premises, ensuring the 24 hours' presence of the National Service of Civil Protection's main operational structures representing the permanent monitoring and control centre of incidents occurring throughout the national territory and determining risk situations endangering the population, goods, buildings and the environment while guaranteeing the coordinated intervention on behalf of a number of institutions or administrations.

Organisational chart

Operational organisation

disaster management structure Italy

Legal basis

At national level

The National Service of Civil Protection was institutionalised by Act no 225 adopted on 24 February, 1992.

The Legislative Decree 112/98 has redefined the tasks of each component, considering civil protection all the more as a subject having mixed competence (the State, the regions and the local authorities).

The Legislative Decree 112/98, while respecting the general structure set by Legislative Decree no 225/92, which is still the legislative core of the system, has sensibly renewed the distributions of functions between the different levels of Government towards a stronger decentralisation and reinforcement of local powers, and assigned new tasks to the regions and local authorities (both provinces and municipalities).

At ministerial level

Art. 107 of Legislative Decree no 112/98 lists the national tasks that forcibly belong to the State and are implemented by the Department of Civil Protection, which is part of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers.

The national tasks are:

  • Orientation, promotion and coordination of the various activities of the state administrations (at different levels), of the territorial and public authorities, and of any other organisation and institution, including private entities, that exist on the national territory in matters of civil protection
  • Deliberation and annulment, in agreement with the regions concerned, of the state of emergency following type C incidents (extraordinary incidents) as referred to in Art. 2 of Legislative Decree no 225/92
  • Issue of orders for the activation of emergency interventions in accordance with the regions concerned, to avoid dangerous situations or additional damage to persons and properties and to facilitate the recovery of normal conditions of life in the areas hit by disasters where a state of emergency declaration is in force
  • Establishing general criteria concerning forecasting and prevention, emergency planning and relief coordination
  • Laying down general rules on security for various activities (industrial, civilian and commercial)
  • Establishing a set of specific operational activities, among which the guidelines for prevention and forecasting programmes, emergency plans in accordance with the local authorities concerned, technical urgent relief, aerial prevention and extinction of forest fires, periodical exercises, promotion of studies on forecasting and prevention of risks.

Some of these tasks are carried out in accordance with the local authorities at the Unified Conference (State, regions and local authorities); others are directly implemented in accordance with the regions concerned.

The national tasks, in the framework of the functions attributed to the State level, are the same tasks as those laid down in Art. 81 of Legislative Decree no 300/99 to the civil protection agency, i.e. the Department of Civil Protection.

Inter-ministerial cross-cutting coordination

The inter-ministerial coordination in case of national emergencies takes place primarily within the Operational Committee, which meets under the direction of the head of the Department of Civil Protection.

At regional level

The functions ascribed specifically to the regions by Legislative Decree no 112/98 are described in Art. 108, which defines how to address emergencies and planning and operational functions, such as the activation of urgent interventions in case of crisis (e.g. by using the Fire-Fighters Corps), the extinction of forest fires and so on.

The most important regional tasks can be summarised as follows:

  • Making regional programmes for risk prevention and forecasting
  • Launching interventions through the National Fire-Fighters Corps in case of a crisis caused by an emergency or an imminent danger
  • Formulating the guidelines for the drafting of emergency provincial plans.

At local level

The provinces are mainly responsible for the forecasting and prevention activities. Their functions are summarised below:

  • To carry out, at the provincial level, forecasting and risk prevention activities established by regional programmes and plans through the adoption of the necessary administrative acts
  • To draft provincial emergency plans on the basis of the regional guidelines
  • To control how the provincial structures of the emergency services are set up by the civil protection, including the technical services to be activated in case of disasters.

The functions ascribed to the municipalities by Art. 108 of the Legislative Decree no 112/98 concern particularly the prevision and forecasting activities (emergency preparation, setting of plans) and the operational activities (activation of first relief service to the population and urgent interventions), while confirming - without significant innovations- the important role assigned by Legislative Decree no 225/92 to the municipality, and particularly to the mayor as the local authority of civil protection.

The functions of the municipalities can be summarised as follows:

  • To launch, at the municipal level, forecasting activities and risk prevention interventions established by regional programmes and plans
  • To adopt all decisions, including those concerning the emergency preparation, necessary to assure first emergency relief in case of disasters at the municipal level (type A)
  • To draft municipal and inter-municipal emergency plans in the form of association or cooperation and through the mountain communities to control that these are implemented on the basis of regional guidelines.

Private sector

According to Art. 6 of Legislative Decree no 225/92 also the private and institutional organisations can participate in the implementation of civil protection activities. For this purpose, the national and local structures of civil protection can stipulate conventions with public and private subjects.


Act 225/92 recognises the volunteers' organisations as part of the National Service of Civil Protection, being a "national operational structure" and fundamental public component of the system, as well as the other institutional components such as the National Fire-Fighters Corps, the armed forces, the police force, the National Forestry Corps and others.

The volunteers’ organisations of civil protection keep growing thanks also to a very foreseeing law (Framework Act no 266/91) recognising the added value of organised volunteering as an expression of solidarity, participation and pluralism, while supporting its organisational development.

Another important piece of legislation to regulate the activities of the volunteers’ organisation within the National Service of Civil Protection is the Decree of the President of the Republic no 194/2001, which regulates the participation of the volunteers’ organisations in the civil protection activities by establishing a national register.


See above, the volunteers’ organisations.

At international level

The types of international missions that the Department of Civil Protection can carry out were firstly defined by Act no 49 of 1987, which states that the Italian cooperation with developing countries aims at maintaining "solidarity among people and full realisation of the fundamental human rights, inspired by the principles enshrined in the United Nations' charter and by the conventions between the European Union and the ACP countries", and at "fulfilling primary needs". Among the operations mentioned, there are "extraordinary interventions to face disasters occurring as a result of famine and poor health conditions, which severely affect the survival of the population". The Act subsequently states that "extraordinary interventions" refer in particular to:

  • Relief operations, distribution of goods, material and food as well as bilateral funding
  • Interventions devoted to building basic infrastructures, in particular in the field of agriculture and health, which are indispensable for guaranteeing fundamental human needs in areas hit by disaster, famine and hunger and characterised by high mortality rates
  • Local realisation of systems for collection, transport and distribution of goods, material and food
  • Employment of means and personnel necessary to achieve the above-mentioned objectives, based on agreements with the involved ministries, local institutions and public institutions
  • Direct involvement of NGOs or funding of NGOs programmes in agreement with the General Direction for Development Cooperation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The DPC competence is determined by Article 11, which highlights that the interventions following disasters or extraordinary events can be carried out in agreement with the Head of the Department of Civil Protection.

This legislative framework, however, has been substantially neglected throughout the years so that the need for a new legislative framework was felt. In 2005, Act no 152 was adopted, underlining that the DPC is competent for operating in international crises in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Act further highlights that the President of the Council of Ministers or the Head of the DPC ad hoc delegated can issue emergency ordinances aimed at avoiding dangerous situations or further damage to people and goods abroad. This is an extremely important feature, which permits the DPC to exercise the same powers as for emergencies occurring on Italian territory.

Bilateral agreements

Agreements with European and Mediterranean countries: Albania, France, Malta, S.M.O.M. (Sovereign Military Order of Malta), Russian Federation, Swiss Confederation and Cyprus.

Agreements with third countries:

Argentina, Armenia, China and Venezuela.

Regional agreements

  • PPRD-South (EUROMED): Southern Europe, Northern Africa and the Middle East
  • EU Civil Protection Mechanism: The European Union
  • FIRE 5: Italy, France, Spain, Portugal and Greece
  • AII (Adriatic-Ionic Initiative): The Balkans and Southern Europe.

Human and material resources

Civil protection expenditures: 0.009% of the GDP (EUR142m out of EUR1,572,243m)


Private sector

  • Public transportation companies
  • Water, gas, electricity and telecommunication companies
  • Waste and sewage management companies
  • Roads and highways management companies
  • Special service providers (e.g. shelter, heavy-duty machinery etc).

Any other organisation or company. whose assets and/or services can be employed to face an emergency.

Volunteers and NGOs

Currently, 3,878 voluntary organisations are recognised by the national registry of civil protection on voluntary organisations. Regions and municipalities also maintain their respective registries.