Civil emergency planning

A key security task of the Alliance

  • Last updated: 22 Aug. 2014 11:24

The aim of civil emergency planning in NATO is to collect, analyse and share information on national planning activity to ensure the most effective use of civil resources for use during emergency situations, in accordance with Alliance objectives.

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It enables Allies and Partner nations to assist each other in preparing for and dealing with the consequences of crisis, disaster or conflict.

In a rapidly changing world, populations in NATO and Partner countries are threatened by many risks including the possible use of chemical, biological, radiological weapons by terrorists. However, terrorism is not the only challenge. Natural disasters, such as earthquakes or floods and man-made disasters continue to pose a serious threat to civilian populations.

  • Civil emergencies: a threat to security and stability

    Civil emergency planning is first and foremost a national responsibility. However, NATO’s broad approach to security, as described in the 1999 Strategic Concept, recognizes that major civil emergencies can pose a threat to security and stability.

    Countries can no longer rely on purely national solutions for large-scale emergencies, particularly given the complex nature of today’s threats and the unpredictable security environment.

    While the United Nations retains the primary role in coordinating international disaster relief, NATO provides an effective forum in which the use of civilian and military assets can be dovetailed to achieve a desired goal. Given the requirement for the military and civilian communities to develop and maintain robust cooperation, civil emergency planning in NATO focuses on the five following areas:

    • civil support for Alliance Article 5 (collective defence) operations;
    • support for non-Article 5 (crisis response) operations;
    • support for national authorities in civil emergencies;
    • support for national authorities in the protection of populations against the effects of weapons of mass destruction;
    • cooperation with Partner countries in preparing for and dealing with disasters.

    Civil support for Alliance Article 5 (collective defence) operations

    During an invocation of Article 5, the collective defence clause of the North Atlantic Treaty, civil support to the military takes the form of advice provided by civilian experts to NATO military authorities in areas such as decontamination of toxic and industrial chemicals and civil transport, be it air, ground, or sea. Support is provided to military authorities to assist them in developing and maintaining arrangements for effective use of civil resources.

    For example, in Active Endeavour, the Alliance’s counter-terrorism operation in the Mediterranean, civil ocean shipping experts provided advice to Allied navies on commercial standards and international law regarding the searching of ships.

    Advice and support are demand-driven. In other words, NATO military authorities must request such help if they consider it necessary. Support is provided during peacetime, as well as during the planning and execution of an operation. 

    Civil support to the military within civil emergency planning should not be confused with civil military cooperation (CIMIC), which concerns interactions between deployed military forces, local authorities and aid agencies in an area of operations in the context of a conflict or disaster situation. CIMIC establishes relationships with civil actors, harmonizing activities and, in some cases, sharing resources, in order to reach goals faster and more efficiently.

    Network of civil experts

    A group of 380 civil experts located across the Euro-Atlantic area are selected based on specific areas of support frequently required by the military. They cover civil aspects relevant to NATO planning and operations including crisis management, consequence management and critical infrastructure. Provided by nations, experts are drawn from government and industry. They serve for three years, participate in training and respond to requests for assistance in accordance with specific procedures known as the Civil Emergency Planning Crisis Management Arrangements.

    Civil Expertise Catalogue and “Reachback”

    The Civil Expertise Catalogue is a list of assets and capabilities which are available to NATO’s military authorities, operational commanders, and the entire military chain of command. Expertise is usually located in national ministries, or in a commercial businesses.

    The Catalogue is administered by the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre. Any military commander in need of information or advice on a civilian matter can address a request to the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre. The process for requesting information is what is known as “reachback”.

    The Civil Emergency Planning Rapid Reaction Team

    The Civil Emergency Planning Rapid Reaction Team is a concept designed to evaluating civil needs and capabilities to support a NATO operation or an emergency situation. This concept was approved in 2006.

    Within 24-hours of approving a request for advice, a Rapid Reaction Team composed of civil experts taken from the Civil Emergency Planning Committee’s Planning Groups can be deployed to assess civilian requirements across the functional areas of civil protection, transportation, industrial resources and communications, medical assistance and food/water.

    If necessary, the team can be augmented by members of the NATO Headquarters international staff, the NATO military authorities, and other national experts. In the case of a humanitarian disaster, the Rapid Reaction Team would coordinate closely with the United Nations and the affected country.

    The first example of a deployment of civil experts in accordance with the Rapid Reaction Team procedures happened in August 2008 as a result of the crisis in Georgia.

    Comprehensive Approach Specialist Support (COMPASS)

    NATO Civil Emergency Planning is responsible for the management of the Comprehensive Approach Specialist Support (COMPASS) database which is a list of national civilian specialists deployable for short, medium and long term assignments. They are specialised in the political, reconstruction and stabilisation and media fields. Their role is to advise NATO forces on fulfilling their task in coordination with other international organisations.

    Support for non-Article 5 (crisis response) operations

    The mechanisms in place for providing civil support for Article 5 operations are applied to non-Article 5 operations as well.

    Non-Article 5 operations have been more common thus far than their Article 5 counterparts. Non-Article 5 crisis response operations are those that are mainly conducted in non-NATO countries to prevent a conflict from spreading and destabilizing countries or regions (e.g. peacekeeping operations such as in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo).

    Beginning in the 1990s, NATO engaged in a number of non-Article 5 crisis response operations on three continents: initially in the former Yugoslavia in Europe and subsequently in Afghanistan and Iraq in Asia and in the Darfur region of Sudan in Africa.  These operations have covered a wide variety of missions, from crisis prevention to emergency crisis response.

    For example, at the request of NATO commanders in Afghanistan, civil experts have provided advice on commercial toxic chemicals, thereby allowing commanders to make operational decisions on their handling.

    Also, during the Alliance’s support to the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Greece, civilian representatives from the Euro-Atlantic Coordination Centre worked closely with military operators in the contingency planning for a possible terrorist attack using chemical, biological or radiological agents. Civil support for these operations has been critical to their success.

    Support for national authorities in civil emergencies

    Providing support to national authorities in times of civil emergencies, natural or man-made, is conducted on an ad hoc basis as requested by national authorities in times of crisis or under extraordinary circumstances.

    Requests for assistance from member or partner countries are addressed to the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre, which circulates them to the member countries and Partnership for Peace countries. The Centre facilitates the coordination of reponses, and then sends the resulting offers of assistance back to the requesting country.

    For example, if a country requests food rations and housing supplies for suffering populations, the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre will match the offers of assistance from contributing nations with the requests of the stricken nation. In this way, duplication of effort is avoided.

    Specific instances of assistance included providing support in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the United States gulf coast in August 2005. In total, 189 tons of relief and emergency supplies were flown to the United States via an emergency transport operation led by NATO.

    In certain cases, approval to provide assistance to civil authorities must come from the North Atlantic Council, the Alliance’s principal decision-making body.  This can happen when the requestor is not a NATO member or Partner country, or when collective Allied military resources are used. This was the case in 2005 in Pakistan – which is neither a member nor a partner country – when it requested assistance from the Alliance in the aftermath of a massive earthquake in the Kashmir region. NATO airlifted close to 3,500 tons of urgently-needed supplies to Pakistan and deployed engineers, medical units and specialist equipment to assist in relief operations.

    Most recently, in the wake of massive floods, Pakistan again requested NATO assistance in delivering humanitarian aid from donor countries and organisations. The NATO Council agreed to providing a NATO air-bridge. Between August and November 2010, 23 flights have been flown delivering nearly 1000 tons of humanitarian supplies such as pumps, generators, tents, high energy biscuits and baby food.

    Support for national authorities in the protection of populations against the effects of weapons of mass destruction

    As a result of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks and subsequent attacks in Madrid and London, Civil Emergency Planning activities have focused on measures aimed at enhancing national capabilities and civil preparedness in the event of possible attacks using chemical, biological or radiological agents (CBRN).

    At Prague in 2002, a Civil Emergency Action plan was adopted for the protection of populations against the effects of Weapons of Mass destruction. As a result, an inventory of national capabilities for use in CBRN incidents (medical assistance, radiological detection units, aero-medical evacuation) has been developed. In addition, guidelines and standards have been developed for EAPC nations to draw upon in the areas of planning, training and equipment for first responders to CBRN incidents. These activities have contributed to enhancing Allies and Partners ability to assist one another in the face of such attacks.

    A comprehensive EAPC programme on CBRN training and exercises has been developed. Treatment protocols for casualties following a CBRN attack were developed by NATO’s Public Health and Food/Water Group. NATO’s Civil Protection Group has developed public information guidelines for use before, during and after a crisis.

    NATO’s Transport Group has established mechanisms for co-ordination of nationally provided civil transport resources for Alliance use in such areas as mass evacuation and medical evacuation. NATO has also developed a Memorandum of Understanding on the facilitation of vital civil cross border transport to accelerate and simplify clearance for international assistance sent in response to a major incident.

    Cooperation with Partner countries

    Partner countries – those countries that have relationships with NATO through its various cooperation frameworks – have made a significant contribution the Alliance’s civil emergency planning and disaster preparedness capabilities.

    Countries of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council are represented on the Alliance’s civil emergency planning boards and committees. They are also involved in education and training activities.

    Civil emergency planning is also a principal component of NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue. In addition to holding periodic joint meetings between representatives of Mediterranean Dialogue countries and the Civil Emergency Planning Committee, these countries have been invited to participate in several civil emergency planning activities, including training courses and seminars. Further to the Istanbul Summit’s call in 2004 for a more ambitious and expanded partnership with Mediterranean Dialogue countries, cooperation on disaster response and civil emergency planning has intensified.

    Since 2004, civil emergency planning cooperation has been further extended to include the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative countries. To date, NATO team visits to the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar have enabled information exchanges on NATO’s civil emergency planning activities.

    Within the framework of the NATO-Russia Council, an ad hoc group on civil emergencies facilitates coordination between NATO’s civil emergency planning authorities and the Russian Federation. To date, Russia has hosted a number of important terrorist incident simulation exercises which have significantly contributed to fostering practical cooperation. The consequence management exercise “Lazio 2006,” held from 23-26 October 2006, saw over 250 personnel from Italy, the Russian Federation, Austria, Croatia, Hungary and Romania work side-by-side to test how they can work effectively together in case of a radiological emergency.

    Cooperation between NATO and Ukraine began in 1995, following heavy rains and flooding in the Kharkiv region. Support during subsequent flooding has consolidated successful cooperation, and NATO’s Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre has coordinated assistance to the region on several occasions. Ukraine has hosted a number of civil emergency planning exercises.

  • CEP’s decision-making bodies

    Because civil emergency planning is a multi-dimensional effort, its management requires extensive coordination within the Alliance, as well as with national civil emergency planning personnel and other international organizations.

    The principal body in the area of civil emergencies is the Civil Emergency Planning Committee (CEPC). The operational tool at its disposal is the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre (EADRCC).

    Civil Emergency Planning Committee

    The day-to-day business of the Alliance’s civil emergency planning is guided by the Civil Emergency Planning Committee (CEPC) – formerly known as the Senior Civil Emergency Planning Committee (SCEPC) –, which is composed of national representatives who provide oversight to the work conducted at NATO.

    Under the authority of the North Atlantic Council, this Committee meets semi-annually in plenary session and holds regular meetings in permanent session. These meetings are chaired by the Assistant Secretary General for Operations and the Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Planning, Civil Emergency Planning and Exercises.

    Given the strong interest of Partner countries in civil emergency planning, CEPC meetings are held in the format of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council twice-yearly in plenary, encompassing all NATO and Partner countries. Permanent meetings with Partners are held approximately once per month. .

    Country representation at plenary level is drawn from heads of national civil emergency planning organizations in capitals. At permanent level, members of national delegations at NATO Headquarters normally attend but may be reinforced from capitals.

    Planning Groups

    Under CEPC’s direction, four technical Planning Groups bring together national government experts, industry experts and military representatives to coordinate planning in various areas of civil activity. These areas are:

    • Civil protection
    • Transport (civil aviation, ocean shipping and inland surface)
    • Public Health, Food and Water
    • Industrial resources and communications

    These bodies advise CEPC on crisis-related matters and assist NATO military authorities and countries to develop and maintain arrangements for effective use of civil resources.

    For example, the Transport Planning Group identifies the availability of commercial surface and air resources and infrastructure to provide cost-effective, rapidly available transport for a potential operation.

    The CEPC and the Planning Groups are supported by a team of international civil servants in the civil emergency planning section of the International Staff’s Operations Division.

    The Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre

    In June, 1998, a Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre (EADRCC) was established at NATO Headquarters, based on a proposal made by the Russian Federation. Created within the framework of the Partnership for Peace programme, the Centre coordinates responses among NATO and Partner countries to natural and man-made disasters in the Euro-Atlantic area.

    Since 2001, the EADRCC also has a role in coordinating countries’ responses following a terrorist act involving chemical, biological or radiological agents, as well as consequence management actions.

    As part of its operational role, the EADRCC organizes major international field exercises in order to practice responses to simulated natural and man-made disaster situations and consequence management.  It also organises regular 'table top' exercises which are smaller in scope, and as their name implies, do not involve deployments of teams in the field.

    Since its launch, the EADRCC has been involved in more than 40 operations around the world, ranging from coordination of relief supplies to refugees, aid to flood, hurricane and earthquake victims, fighting forest fires, and assistance to Greece during the 2004 Olympic Games. In 2005 and 2006, the EADRCC played a central coordinating role in NATO’s humanitarian relief to the United States after hurricane Katrina and Pakistan after the devastating earthquake. From August-November 2010, the EADRCC coordinated the delivery of humanitarian aid to Pakistan via a NATO air-bridge.

    The EADRCC has a mandate to respond, subject to agreement by the CEPC, to requests for assistance from the Afghan Government in case of natural disasters. Since 2007, this mandate has now been widened, enabling the provision of CEP support in areas where NATO is engaged militarily. The Mediterranean Dialogue and Istanbul Cooperation Initiative countries can also request assistance through the EADRCC.

    Staffed by officials from NATO and Partner countries, the Centre works closely with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance and other international organisations, including the International Atomic Energy Agency, the World Health Organization, the World Food Programme, and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

  • Support for stabilization and reconstruction

    Steps have been taken since the 2006 Riga Summit to increase the capacity of NATO forces to support stabilization and reconstruction efforts in all phases of a crisis. Primary responsibilities for stabilization and reconstruction would normally lie with other actors, such as local and international organizations and non-governmental organizations. However, security concerns may hinder these actors from undertaking these tasks.

    Civilian expertise, drawn from national resources, may be required in the future to advise the military in the context of support for stabilization and reconstruction, in coordination with the host nation. This could include advice on issues such as rebuilding local industry, transport networks, relaunching agricultural production, reconstructing health and civil communications infrastructure.

    Close civil-military coordination between actors in the field is an important element of current NATO operations. The Provincial Reconstruction Teams established across Afghanistan are a good example. These small teams of civilian and military personnel work in the provinces to extend the authority of the central Afghan government as well as to help local authorities provide security and assist with reconstruction work.

  • Coordination of NATO's activities with other international organizations

    NATO’s Civil Emergency Planning activities are closely coordinated with other international organizations such as the United Nations, in particular the UN-Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (UN-OCHA) and the European Union. One of the most important aspects of cooperation is to be informed about the activities of the various actors involved in disaster relief.

    Cooperation with other international organizations is therefore a very high priority for NATO. Every year a large international exercise seeks to enhance cooperation with other international organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the World Health Organization.

  • How CEP has evolved

    The concept of civil support to NATO’s military authorities was articulated early in NATO’s history. The 1956 Report on Non-Military Cooperation by the Three Wise Men says: “From the very beginning of NATO, it was recognized that while defence cooperation was the first and most urgent requirement, this was not enough… security today is far more than a military matter.”

    During the Cold War era, civil support focused on planning, preparation, and recovery in the event of an attack from the former Soviet Union. 

    In 1991, cooperation on civil emergency planning between NATO and the Russian Federation began.

    In 1992, in support of the United Nations Department of Humanitarian Affairs, NATO hosted an international workshop on the Use of Military and Civil Defence Assets in Disaster Relief. This workshop - in which 20 international organisations and 40 countries participated - provided the foundation for subsequent civil emergency planning cooperation activities with Partner countries, primarily in the field of disaster management and response.

    In 1994, NATO's Partnership for Peace programme was launched. That year, four civil emergency planning disaster-related cooperation activities were conducted. By 1999, civil emergency planning had become the largest non-military component of PfP, with 75 activities conducted.

    Cooperation between NATO and Ukraine began in 1995, following heavy rains and flooding in the Kharkiv region.

    In 1996, NATO and Russia signed a memorandum of understanding on Cooperation in Civil Emergency Planning and Disaster Preparedness. The following year, the Senior Civil Emergency Planning Committee met in Moscow - the first NATO committee to meet in Russia.

    In 1997, NATO and Ukraine signed a memorandum of understanding on Cooperation in Civil Emergency Planning and Disaster Preparedness with emphasis on the Chernobyl Disaster.

    In June 1998, the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre (EADRCC) was established at NATO Headquarters, based on a proposal made by the Russian Federation. It included the establishment of a Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Unit.

    NATO’s 1999 Strategic Concept redefined post-Cold War threats and challenges, placing greater emphasis on the importance of civil support to the Alliance’s military operations. 

    Following this guidance, the North Atlantic Council conducted a thorough review of civil emergency planning - one of NATO’s seven defence planning disciplines -  and identified five specific roles which call for civil support to NATO’s military authorities for both Article 5 operations and non-Article 5 or crisis response operations. These roles encompass military operations as well as disaster and humanitarian relief.  

    After the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States, renewed efforts were been made to assist member countries in protecting civilian populations against the consequences of attacks from chemical, biological, and nuclear agents.

    During the Prague Summit of 2002, NATO Heads of State and Government committed to improving civil preparedness against possible attacks against the civilian population with chemical, biological or radiological agents, by implementing the 2003 Civil Emergency Planning Action Plan.

    t the Istanbul Summit in 2004, NATO Heads of State and Government committed to enhancing cooperation with Mediterranean Dialogue countries in the area of civil emergency planning, including the possibility to request assistance from the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre.

    With the launch of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative in 2004, countries joining were invited to begin participating in training courses and exercises geared to civil emergency planning.

    In early 2006, the Civil Emergency Planning Rapid Reaction Team was implemented for rapidly evaluating civil needs and capabilities to support a NATO operation or an emergency situation. 

    In August 2008, as a result of the crisis in Georgia, two NATO Civil Emergency Planning (CEP) Advisory Support Team visits to Georgia were carried out. The main purpose of these visits was to support the Georgian authorities in assessing disruptions to civil critical infrastructure and to advise the Government on further measures to ensure the restoration of essential services. The teams were composed of civil experts covering areas as diverse as agriculture, electricity, oil, gas, rail transport, seaports, aviation, telecommunications, health and social issues. This was the first example of a deployment of civil experts to a crisis area in accordance with “Rapid Reaction Team” procedures and was a practical demonstration of the civilian dimension of NATO’s partnerships.

    In August 2010, following a request from Pakistan in the wake of massive flooding, the NATO Council agreed to provide an air-bridge for three months to help in the delivery of humanitarian aid.