Review of the Italian national civil protection system


Remarks by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General

Rome, 4 May 2010

Prime Minister Berlusconi, Dr. Bertolaso, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour for me to present the OECD’s first review of Italy’s civil protection policy.

This report helps us to understand the civil protection settings in a country uniquely exposed to a wide range of natural hazards. Over 30 panel interviews and on-site visits were held with components of the civil protection system during preparation. The geographical coverage ranged from Palermo to Milan, with the participation of many of stakeholders.

We would like to thank Dr. Bertolaso, Professor De Bernadinis and Dr. Miozzo, Directors General of the Department of Civil Protection, for their active support to the review team. We look forward to welcoming you, Prime Minister Berlusconi, at our next OECD’s annual Ministerial Meeting [27-28 May], which will benefit from your leadership as Chairman.

Let me share with you some of the highlights of the OECD Report.

1. Good news first: Governance, Technology and Volunteer Organisations

Co-ordination of emergency management resources is a major challenge in many countries. Italy has effective governance mechanisms in this area, with a clear line of command and control including at the operational level. Public safety and security services from central, regional, provincial and municipal levels of government are well co-ordinated along with critical infrastructure operators, the military, volunteer organisations and scientific research institutes. Aspects of this model of joined-up efforts are gaining favour amongst civil protection services in different countries.

The Report shows that the civil protection system is able to scale-up operations to a level appropriate to the event in question, as it integrates human resources and equipment from different organisations into coherent and concerted emergency management operations. Key institutional strengths and uniform planning underlie this capability, particularly the civil protection ‘Operational Committee’, and the ‘Augustus’ planning method.

The civil protection system quickly and accurately evaluates the severity of events as they transpire, thanks to strong situation awareness and collaborations with the scientific community. Central and regional authorities have developed a network of real-time information sharing between monitoring stations, which provides capacity to anticipate and model events. The result is timely issuance of early warnings to local populations and rapid deployment of first responders. This saves lives.

The civil protection system is dedicated at putting new knowledge about hazardous natural phenomena to practical ends, such as: the identification of precursors to disasters; vulnerability assessments and models of the highest risk areas that estimate potential impacts; technical support for land use decisions and the development of new building codes.   

But what are the main lessons of the Italian civil protection system? A feature that other OECD countries could learn from is the highly mobile force of volunteer organisations. Tens of thousands of volunteers could be mobilized to support professionals in emergency response, relief and recovery activities within just a few days. We commend the policy that enables volunteers to participate in exercises and actual relief missions. Mobilisations of the volunteer corps are an example to us all, not only nationally, but also abroad through its contributions to humanitarian aid missions in developing countries.

2. Facing key challenges: Prevention, Emergency management and Communication

The Report also indentifies areas where Italy could make improvements. At between 1 and 2 decimals, annual natural damage costs in Italy, evaluated as a percentage of GDP, are amongst the highest in OECD countries. Our Report points to a need to increase damage reduction efforts and better implement prevention policies. This is, of course, more a task for public authorities than for civil protection per se, but these policies are intrinsically linked. Priority should be given to strengthening the enforcement of land use restrictions in zones exposed to natural hazards and ensuring the application of seismic codes in buildings and public infrastructure. Legislation could strengthen these measures with a more effective system of inspections, control and sanctions for violations.

Public policy provides inadequate incentives for retrofitting and for private investment in disaster mitigation. Consideration should be given to a public-private system that would improve insurance coverage for natural disaster losses and reinforce incentives to invest in mitigation measures, such as lower premiums or deductibles, in conjunction with a building code compliance rating system.

Capacity for emergency management in some municipalities is underdeveloped - even in regions with very high risks of natural disasters. This disparity calls for minimum standards for civil protection services throughout Italy. An efficient inspection system, supplemented by the power to implement sanctions, is needed to ensure such minimum standards are adhered to in all provinces and municipalities.

Another area for possible improvement is the area of public awareness .There are already information campaigns, use of the media and education programmes, but some countries go further than Italy by providing risk maps to communities about specific, local risks. For example, an action plan to improve the public’s understanding of climate change impacts on hydro-geological risks and heat waves could be launched.

To conclude, our report underscores that Italy’s civil protection system has many strengths, with remarkable achievements in implementing a coherent multi-risk approach to civil protection. Yet, there is scope for further improvements, particularly in the domain of prevention, through inter alia, more adequate land use planning.

Last year has seen the destructive effects of natural disasters around the globe: in Chile, China, Haiti, Iceland and of course in L’Aquila. In addition to many lost lives and massive damage to property, historic buildings and public infrastructure, second order effects linger as communities struggle to return to a situation approaching normalcy.

The issue of disaster management is relevant, not just in Italy, but in countries around the world which are vulnerable to possible, large-scale natural disasters.

The OECD, with its experience in many policy fields, such as, local and regional development, governance and the provision of public services, including transportation, water and energy, is of course interested in the issue of preparedness and of reconstruction.  And its peer review process can be a valuable tool for countries to exchange policy experiences and identify best practices.

Italy’s experience will be valuable to other countries. We very much hope that our report will also help the policy debate in Italy.

Thank you.


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