The operational heart of the Mechanism is the Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC (Former MIC)). Based at the European Commission in Brussels, the ERCC is accessible 24/7 and can spring into action immediately when it receives a call for assistance. The ERCC works in close cooperation with national crisis centres throughout the 32 countries participating in the Mechanism (EU 28, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway).
The ERCC handles over 20 emergencies a year, up from single digit figures in the first few years of its existence. In addition, it monitors many more emergencies.
During emergencies the ERCC plays three important roles:
Communications hub: The ERCC acts as a focal point for the exchange of requests and offers of assistance. This helps cut down on the participating states' administrative burden in liaising with the affected country. It provides a central platform for participating states to access and share information about the available resources and the assistance offered at any given point in time.
Information provision: The ERCC disseminates information on civil protection preparedness and response to participating states as well as a wider audience, both during emergencies and in 'calmer' periods. As part of this role, the ERCC disseminates early warning alerts (ERCC Daily [link]) on natural disasters to both specialists and the general public and circulates the latest updates on ongoing emergencies and Mechanism interventions to its contact points.
Coordination: The ERCC facilitates the provision of European assistance through the Mechanism. This takes place at two levels: at headquarters level, by matching offers to needs, identifying gaps in assistance and searching for solutions, and facilitating the pooling of common resources where possible; and on the site of the disaster through the deployment of EU civil protection experts for assessment and coordination, when required.
The Mechanism can be activated by any participating state seeking prompt international assistance following a major disaster that overwhelms national civil protection capacities.
As soon as a request for assistance is received, it can be viewed by all participating states via the Common Emergency Communication and Information System (CECIS). The national contact points then assess their available resources and inform the ERCC whether or not they are in a position to help. The ERCC then liaises between the offering and the requesting country to ensure the prompt delivery of the accepted assistance.
As the use of the Mechanism is not restricted to interventions within the European Union, any third country affected by a disaster can also make an appeal for assistance through the ERCC. Following a formal request for assistance from a third country, different procedures are applied for the activation of the Mechanism. In such cases, the Commission needs to consult the Presidency of the Council so as to determine the course of action it needs to take. For instance, if the emergency takes place in an area affected by conflict or civil unrest, the Council through the Presidency may declare it to fall under the so called crisis management provisions (Chapter V of the TEU ). In this case the Council plays the lead role in co-ordinating the EU response. If it is not deemed a crisis management situation, the ERCC follows its general operating rules.
Arrangements for the dispatch of the accepted assistance (delivery, transport, visa requirements, customs, etc.) are made directly between the offering and requesting states. If required, the ERCC may play a facilitating role. Any intervention teams or assistance sent from the EU to a disaster area remains under the direction of the national authorities of the affected country, which has the right to ask European teams to stand down at any time. European teams are subject to local law and should operate in conformity with national rules and procedures governing their work.
To facilitate the technical co-ordination of European civil protection assistance a small team of experts can be despatched on site by the ERCC. This team will ensure effective liaison with local authorities and any other relevant actors so as to integrate European civil protection assistance into the overall relief effort and facilitate the work of European teams on the ground. Moreover, as they continue to monitor the emergency and assess its development, they can keep the ERCC headquarters updated.
Mechanism interventions in third countries, particularly in the developing world, are usually conducted in close collaboration with other actors, such as the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Humanitarian Aid and the Red Cross when these are present on the ground.