Berlin (dpa) – The commander of the military relief operation in the flood zones, Lieutenant General Martin Schelleis, has called for the shortcomings in the disaster response to be addressed quickly.
On Tuesday, he referred in a telephone press conference to experiences in the corona pandemic and in the ongoing flooding operation. “Both disasters have shown that urgent action is needed to improve the national command system at all levels,” said Schelleis, inspector of the so-called armed forces base and thus National Territorial Commander.
The aim must be that all emergency services involved in a crisis – including, for example, the police, fire brigade, technical assistance organization (THW), Red Cross or the Federal Armed Forces – can share the information necessary for their task. We are talking about a “common view of the situation”.
Schelleis said this goal is a long way off because the military and rescue workers have different systems. “And a lot is actually like it used to be with a card and pencil. Situational information is collected there at all levels.” He had heard from two mayors in the area of operations in the Ahr Valley that they were initially unable to connect to the operations control center and, conversely, were not receiving any information.
“As soon as a disaster spreads beyond the local areas, shortages become visible, for example in creating and then maintaining an up-to-date picture of the situation,” said the general. “It follows that priorities may not always be set correctly and the corresponding coordination of the emergency services may not be optimal.” The Bundeswehr and all other relevant actors should “critically examine what we now know and what we can learn from this renewed disaster”.
Plans to establish a joint civil protection competence center at the Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Relief (BBK) with the participation of the federal states and the Bundeswehr are positive, Schelleis said. This can only be a first step towards a central coordination platform that can be developed at the federal level. He also welcomed the decision to build strategic reserves in the health sector, which could serve as a model for creating further reserves.
The drama of events in the flood plains had “shadowed everything that had gone before,” Schelleis said. The floods were like tsunamis and had triggered an operation from 14 July, deploying 2,300 soldiers and 100 civilian military personnel with heavy equipment. 53 applications for administrative assistance were received in North Rhine-Westphalia, 49 applications in Rhineland-Palatinate. In addition, there were requests for immediate assistance, ie when immediate action must be taken in the event of danger to life and limb. “In just under two weeks, we have already achieved almost half of the previous pre-Corona record year 2019 in terms of administrative assistance,” said Schelleis.
The mandate of the interior ministers to the BBK to develop a concept for a civilian reserve is positive. There are good approaches to disaster management, but there is still a need for action. Not only experiences of pandemics and floods should be included. “We need to conduct a national risk analysis, also analyzing other, quite realistic, crises and disasters for our country that cannot be ruled out. What we agree on: this is the top 5”, says Schelleis. Skills should be derived from this that districts and municipalities can use to practice under stress.
He criticized how “silk thinkers” and “savage people dressed in military clothing” are using the flood plain as a space for action and spreading false information. That is “not without explosiveness”, because these give the impression that they are official soldiers of the Bundeswehr. Schelleis: “They sometimes spread information that your hair is standing on end.”