The main role of the Community Mechanism for Civil Protection is to facilitate co-operation in civil protection assistance interventions in the event of major emergencies which may require urgent response actions. This applies also to situations where there may be an imminent threat of such major emergencies. It is therefore a tool that enhances community co-operation in civil protection matters and was established by the Council Decision of 23 October 2001 . A Recast of this Council Decision was adopted on 8 November 2007.
In accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, it can provide added-value to European civil protection assistance by making support available on request of the affected country. This may arise if the affected country’s preparedness for a disaster is not sufficient to provide an adequate response in terms of available resources. By pooling the civil protection capabilities of the participating states, the Community Mechanism can ensure even better protection primarily of people, but also of the natural and cultural environment as well as property.
So as to enable and ensure an effective delivery of assistance, teams working in emergencies need to be mobilised rapidly. Moreover their work needs to be well co-ordinated while requiring flexibility. In order to achieve this, the Mechanism has its own tools that help to ensure this.
The Community Mechanism for Civil Protection has a number of tools intended to facilitate both adequate preparedness as well as effective response to disasters at a community level.
The Emergency Response Coordination Centre(ERCC) is the operational heart of the Mechanism. It is operated by DG ECHO of the European Commission and accessible 24 hours a day. It gives countries access to a platform, to a one-stop-shop of civil protection means available amongst the all the participating states. Any country inside or outside the Union affected by a major disaster can make an appeal for assistance through the ERCC. It acts as a communication hub at headquarters level between participating states, the affected country and despatched field experts. It also provides useful and updated information on the actual status of an ongoing emergency. Last but not least, the ERCC plays a co-ordination role by matching offers of assistance put forward by participating states to the needs of the disaster-stricken country.
The Common Emergency and Information System (CECIS) is a reliable web-based alert and notification application created with the intention of facilitating emergency communication among the participating states. It provides an integrated platform to send and receive alerts, details of assistance required, to make offers of help and to view the development of the ongoing emergency as they happen in an online logbook.
A training programme has also been set up with a view to improving the co-ordination of civil protection assistance interventions by ensuring compatibility and complementarity between the intervention teams from the participating states. It also enhances the skills of experts involved in civil protection assistance operations through the sharing of best practices. This programme involves training courses, the organisation of joint exercises and a system of exchange of experts of the participating states.
Civil protection modules are made of national resources from one or more Member States on a voluntary basis. They constitute a contribution to the civil protection rapid response capability called for by the European Council in the Conclusions in June 2005 and by the European parliament in its Resolution in January 2005 on the tsunami disaster. Thirteen civil protection modules have been identified by the Commission together with Member States.
Since its creation in 2001, the Mechanism has been activated for over 150 times, for very different types of disasters. Major disasters requested assistance including the Tsunami in South Asia (2004/2005); Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the USA (2005); earthquakes in China (2008), Haiti (2010), Japan (2011); floods in the Balkans (2010); forest fires in Greece (2007, 2012); civil unrest in Libya (2011); and explosion at a naval base in Cyprus (2011).
The management of disasters is a clear example of the added value of action at community level, where national responsibility for dealing directly with disasters remains unchallenged but is facilitated and assisted by the sum total of shared Community resources.