As a federal republic, Austria is comprised of 9 independent federal states (also referred to as provinces) and 2,100 municipalities. Disaster management is a task which is shared between all levels of government.
Disaster prevention is controlled at the national level by the responsible federal ministries in cooperation with the federal states and municipalities. The main responsibility for disaster response lies with the federal states. The legal basis for response is provided by the disaster relief acts of the federal states, which determine the declaration of the state of disaster and the operational direction of response at municipal, district, and federal state level. Operational capacities are mainly provided by voluntary response organisations (fire brigades, Red Cross, mountain rescue and others), which act as governmental services in the event of a disaster. On the national level, the responsibility for disaster management coordination lies with the Ministry of the Interior. Coordination is ensured by a national coordinating committee which is chaired and managed by the Ministry of the Interior. The Ministry of the Interior is also responsible for cross-border cooperation and international disaster relief.
Austria has developed a wide range of capabilities for the prevention of natural and man-made hazards and risks. Capabilities build on a strategic framework for national security and comprehensive legislation mainly in the areas of water management, forestry, land use planning, and construction. Austria has established a strong federal system of structural and non-structural protection against natural hazards, in particular against floods, avalanches, and landslides. Prevention against natural hazards is financed by a national fund. A standard risk management plan exists for all areas with significant flood risk. The legal system limits activities that pose a danger to society and the environment. Compliance with regulations and the state of the art in terms of safe operation and the regular monitoring by authorities are further essential elements of disaster prevention.
Risk assessments are carried out at all governmental levels. The Austrian national risk assessment currently comprises 18 risk scenarios, 11 of which are due to natural hazards and 7 due to man-made hazards. All selected scenarios are of national relevance whereas events that have to be managed within the responsibility of the federal states are not subject to the national risk assessment. Pandemics and heat waves turned out to be particularly relevant as these scenarios potentially lead to high human losses and major health problems. Furthermore, the interruption of the electric power supply, floods and nuclear power plant accidents are of particular importance. Earthquake scenarios show high damage potential with a lower probability of occurrence. The effects of climate change are taken into account in the risk assessment. The Austrian assessment report on climate change and other related work in climate research have been included in the analysis.
Federal state disaster management legislation establishes that precautionary measures have to be taken to mitigate the consequences of a major incident or disaster. For this purpose, appropriate plans must be drawn up at the level of municipalities, districts and federal states. Plans have to be based on assessments of relevant hazards in the respective territory. For nationwide risks, such as health risks or nuclear risks, there are national risk management policies governed by federal laws and regulations. In the area of natural hazards, prevention measures are planned and carried out on the basis of long-term strategies and priorities under the control of the responsible federal ministries. The provinces, municipalities, and other organisations are involved as regional and local partners in the planning and implementation process. As part of the implementation of the floods directive, longer-term risk management plans were prepared for all areas with potentially significant risks. These plans are reviewed and adjusted every 6 years.
Risks are communicated via different channels on all governmental levels. At the local level, citizens are involved in planning activities and in the elaboration of local hazard maps and risk management plans. The results of local and regional hazard and risk assessments are also communicated through various local channels and regional media. Participation of citizens is ensured in different local and regional participation forums. In addition, comprehensive information about hazard and risks is also made available to the general public mainly on the internet. On the national level information portals are available for natural hazards, radiation protection and other risks. The Austrian Civil Protection Association, a non-governmental organisation, is another key partner in this field and offers information about self-protection and adequate behaviour in emergency situations.
The responsibility for the preparedness for most types of disasters, in particular for natural disasters, lies with the federal states, the districts and municipalities. Austria has a dense network of disaster response facilities mainly at the municipal level. Most of the workforce in disaster response in Austria is voluntary. Response plans exist in all municipalities, districts and federal states. For national scenarios, there are national response and contingency plans. Exercises take place regularly at all governmental levels. These are functional and full-scale exercises, which take place at the federal level with the participation of federal authorities. In addition, strategic exercises are regularly performed at the national level. Austria is also actively engaged in European and international exercises in various fields.
To warn the population, the Ministry of the Interior and the federal states installed a national warning system. More than 8,000 sirens will warn the population in an emergency. An alarm can be triggered nationwide or regionally. In addition, the warning system “KATWARN” was introduced in Austria, which uses a mobile app and short messages to warn the population about various types of danger. The Austrian National Weather Service operates a warning system for extreme weather conditions, which is used to warn the authorities and response organisations but it is also available to the media and the public on the internet. Weather warnings are also disseminated via “KATWARN”. In addition, a number of surveillance systems monitor the environment and trigger an alert to the relevant authorities when defined thresholds are exceeded. On the main rivers, there are fully automatic flood warning and control systems managed by the hydrological services of the provincial governments.
Emergency response refers to all measures taken by authorities, response organisations, enterprises, individuals and affected parties to mitigate the consequences of an emergency or disaster. The goal is to ensure public order and security, to rescue victims, to provide basic services, to protect the environment and to start early recovery measures. Disaster response encompasses all measures from the official declaration of a disaster until its end. In most cases, disaster response starts at the local or regional level. The responsibility for the management of response usually lies with the district authorities or mayors. In the event of major disasters, the governments of the federal states ensure operational control. In the event of a health crisis, a nuclear accident or supply crisis, response starts at the national level with an assessment of the situation and the definition of protective measures. Operational lines are usually established at the levels of the municipality, district and federal state. At the national level, coordination takes place within the framework of a coordination committee at the Ministry of the Interior.
Since 2003, the Austrian Federal Ministry of the Interior is responsible for the coordination of international disaster relief and civil protection and therefore the single authority at federal level responsible for matters concerning international disaster relief and civilian crisis management, including the coordination of trans-regional and international disasters. This enables a quicker and better response in crises.
Austria has actively supported the disaster management efforts of UN-OCHA, EU, and NATO PfP since the very beginning, and actively participates in response actions. Austria also participates in training and exercise activities as well as the further development of the respective systems.
In addition, Austria maintains bilateral agreements for mutual assistance in the event of disasters or serious accidents with nearly all neighbouring countries and several other states within and outside Europe.