Celebrating 85 years of Civil Protection in Romania to thank those who save lives, alleviate suffering and protect livelihoods


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SMURD (Mobile Emergency Service for Resuscitation and Extrication) in action near Cluj-Napoca.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Romania recently celebrated 85 years of civil protection. In our day-to-day lives, we rarely pause to think of the decisive role played by civil protection agencies. But as soon as disaster strikes, these dedicated men and women lead efforts to save lives, protect livelihoods, and alleviate suffering. Your rescuer of the day may be a police officer directing evacuation, a volunteer providing first aid and shelter, a paramedic treating injuries, a weather forecaster providing timely advisories, or a local official coordinating actions. In other words, a well-functioning civil protection system is a diverse ecosystem of people and agencies - all with a clear and valuable role to play.

This was not always the case. In the days before civil protection mechanisms, communities rarely received warnings about severe weather, such as sudden storms, sweltering heatwaves, or – as seen more recently –  sweeping cold snaps. Even localized disasters could cost many lives, and affected populations would often face significant and long-term hardship as a result. Over the past 85 years, civil protection in Romania - and in other regions - grew into a strong, reliable system that could rapidly respond to a disaster. As a result, the numbers of lives lost to disasters has significantly dropped at the global level. However, the cost of damages continues to grow.
In Romania, the use of early-warning systems and technologies is well established, especially with regard to floods and other dangerous weather phenomena.
Credit: World Bank
In the last few decades, rather than waiting for the disaster to strike, civil protection shifted towards a more proactive and integrated approach – focusing on better preparedness and actionable early warnings to minimize disaster risks and enhance the efficiency and speed of a response. This shift is critical, as disasters continue to grow in frequency and impact. Indeed, 2017 holds the record as title as the 2nd most costly year for disasters, with more than $330 billion lost in disasters, of which only 40% was insured loss.

Romania is too familiar with the consequences of disasters. 77 disasters since 1990 have caused more than $3.5 billion in damages, with floods being the leading cause of damage. Today, more than one million Romanian citizens live in high flood-risk areas. A recent report developed with support from the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) confirmed that Romania also has some of the highest seismic risks in the European Union: in the last 100 years, 13 earthquakes have caused 2,630 deaths and affected more than 400,000 people - with damage from the 1977 earthquake alone exceeding $2 billion. Unless urgent action is taken, the impact of natural disasters will continue to increase as people and assets concentrate in high risk areas and as the climate warms.

Fortunately, the Department of Emergency Situations (DES) and General Inspectorate for Emergency Situations (GIES) is making significant progress in enhancing its response capabilities and risk communication to support local communities. It does not hesitate in organizing large-scale earthquake simulation drills and uses education, ICT tools (including a mobile phone app), and other participatory techniques to galvanize preparedness efforts, and build a culture of safety and resilience.

But is this enough?
Seismic Hazard in Romania.
Credit: UTCB

Countries with similar disaster risks, such as New Zealand, have recently faced catastrophic and deadly earthquakes following decades of relative quiet. These disasters pushed the civil protection system to its maximum capacity, exposing gaps, and resulting in massive reconstruction bills for both the government and citizens. In New Zealand, the commitment to risk reduction have been even stronger following catastrophic earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, but some measures have proven expensive and often unpopular – testing political resolve to act today to prevent future disasters.

What gaps will be exposed if Romania has its next magnitude 7.5 earthquake in 2018? Will the civil protection system cope? Will first responders be able to mobilize and save lives or will their own buildings also collapse? Who will pay the estimated $7-11 billion bill for damages? How many deaths could be prevented if only buildings met current earthquake codes?  How many years and decades will it take to recover and rebuild?

Today it’s almost impossible to imagine Romania without the civil protection system we take for granted. Hopefully, it will take fewer than 85 years to ensure that every resident in Romania lives in a house that is adequately protected from floods or in buildings that don't risk collapsing should an earthquake hit.
Roxana Allen
March 31, 2018

I vividly remember the 1977 earthquake in Bucharest that almost destroyed entire city. In only one minute, every building in the Romanian capital shook wildly. Bucharest was hit by an earthquake of magnitude 7.3 on the Richter scale on March 4, 1977. I saw new and old buildings collapsing around us. The old part of the city was destroyed. Chaos, panic and lack of preparedness left 35,000 families without shelter; 1,578 people lost their lives and 11,221 were injured. As many young children in Bucharest, I was learning-by-doing humanitarian intervention on the spot.