About 25 to 30 people, mainly employees of the district office, supplemented by experts who are invited depending on the situation. All positions are double and triple staffed. “In the event of a disaster, after all, we have to be operational 24 hours a day – and maybe for several days at a time,” explains Elena Dietz, head of the Security and Order department.
The fact that the FuGK meets in the district’s own bunker is somehow fitting, but only a coincidence. “The premises are there, why shouldn’t they be used for this?” asks Corinna Petzold, responsible for press and public relations – and as such also part of the management group. In case of emergency, she has to keep in touch with the media and inform the population about necessary measures.
The bunker is a remnant of the Cold War. Still shortly before the fall of the Wall, the approximately 200-square-meter structure was built – with the support of federal funds. In the main room hangs a map of the district. Magnetic cards can be used to mark places of action. What happened where? How many people are injured? Where are the task forces?
“We are used to everything working out. Maybe we are too spoiled.” Inge Stumpf from the disaster control department
The rooms, protected by thick concrete walls, were actually intended to provide shelter for the command staff in the event of a war with the Soviet Union. After reunification, this task fell away. “Many plans became obsolete in 1990,” says Armin Stablein, head of the public safety and order department, who was still involved in the transition period at the Rhon-Grabfeld district office. It was only a few years later that Germany began to adapt its civil protection to the new conditions.
But what are these “new conditions”? According to the Bavarian Disaster Control Act, a disaster is “an event in which the life or health of a large number of people, the natural basis of life or significant material assets” are endangered.
This can happen, for example, due to a flood. “In 2013, things were tight,” says Inge Stumpf, a clerk at the district office’s disaster control department. If the water had risen a little higher, local emergency forces would not have been able to bring the situation under control – and the FuGK would have had to intervene in coordinating additional forces. Something similar happened this year with the floods in Lower Bavaria.
Natural disasters represent a significant portion of possible scenarios. Floods, fires, severe weather – extreme weather phenomena are becoming more likely as climate change advances. In addition, there are medical disasters – for example, animal epidemics such as foot-and-mouth disease. “When Ebola was topical last year, we thought about how we would have to respond,” Inge Stumpf tells us.
Besides that, it’s accidents that keep planners busy. Several important transport routes run through the district: Freeway, Main and the ICE route – in the case of the cases must be acted quickly. “A train derailment at the Knauf site would certainly have catastrophic consequences,” says Armin Stablein, describing such an unlikely but not impossible eventuality. The procedure is similar in all cases. The main burden always has to be borne by the local task forces at first. “The fire departments, the BRK and the Technical Relief Organization – they are all crisis-tested and know what needs to be done,” assures Elena Dietz.
If the situation escalates, the FuGK meets. It organizes additional help – for example, from the German armed forces. In addition, the district office knows where to find equipment and materials in case of emergency. For example, cranes and excavators for salvage or sandbags for dike construction. However, there is no real stockpiling – i.e., warehouses set up specifically for disaster situations.
Exactly this was discussed controversially in the past days however on federal level – at least for private individuals. Last week, the German government presented its new civil defense concept – and called on people to stockpile emergency supplies. Under the heading of “hoarding purchases,” this has tended to be laughed at by the public or dismissed as scaremongering. Understanding for this reaction has one in the district office only conditionally. “The tips are not new,” says Stumpf, pointing to a brochure published by the Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance.
In it there is already for years a check list with quantities for the personal need. “We are used to everything working out. Maybe we’re too spoiled,” says the administrator. “We’ve forgotten how to plan ahead.”As an example, the employees of the district office cite a prolonged power outage. This is one of the most important scenarios, and not only since the new civil defense concept. Whether caused by a technical malfunction, a natural disaster or even a targeted attack, a power outage would affect all aspects of life. “Just imagine that they then wanted to do some shopping,” says Armin Stablein. “The electronic doors don’t open, the scanners don’t work, the refrigeration doesn’t work.”And who still has enough cash at home today??”, asks Corinna Petzold. Card payments would be impossible without electricity – and ATMs wouldn’t work.
You couldn’t even drive somewhere else without thinking about it. “After all, many young people today only fill up when the tank is almost empty,” says Inge Stumpf. Precautions not in evidence. “The gas stations are mostly open.” And communication? The cell phone network would probably be one of the first to collapse. “You hope nothing happens, of course,” Stumpf says. But just in case, he says, precautions still need to be taken. Not only as an authority, best also as a private person.