Disasters – prevention and relief

Disasters are emergency situations that require fast and concerted action.

1. Background

Earthquakes, major fires, multi-vehicle collisions, terrorist attacks: almost every day, the media report on disastrous incidents – be they man-made or caused by the forces of nature.

In such extraordinary situations, fast and concerted action is required – usually taken in parallel at several administrative levels. That also includes municipal authorities.

While laws and other regulations govern the scope of regional authorities and rescue services, standards that are developed jointly by several organizations can support, in particular, co-operation at the interfaces between the public authorities and rescue services involved.


Responsibility for civil protection at local level

According to the Austrian constitution, municipalities are responsible for local hazard prevention, local rescue services and local civil protection – i.e. for directly protecting humans and the environment. Likewise, they have to provide the equipment needed and appropriately train the personnel.


2. Organizational aspects

Firefighting, ambulance services and disaster response are largely based on volunteering in Austria: There are 340,000 volunteer firefighters, almost 50,000 volunteers work for the Red Cross and many are active in other organizations such as mountain and water rescue services.

If the number of incidents or the extent of natural disasters overstrain the resources of civil rescue services – e.g. during the floods in 2002 and 2005 -, the Federal Army provides additional assistance.


Co-ordination is key

In the event of disasters, co-ordination and communication are decisive factors as concertation between the actors involved is essential also across competences and organizational boundaries. Depending on the case in question, this is ensured at the municipal, district, provincial and federal level in Austria.

National crisis and disaster management activities are co-ordinated by the Federal Ministry of the Interior (MoI). Consequently, The Committee 246 "Societal Security" at Austrian Standards also develops standards for managing interfaces during disaster relief.

Standards can contribute to ensuring that public authorities, rescue services and private organizations and enterprises can efficiently collaborate in emergencies.

In a committee, it is a must for a standardization project that all the relevant actors are involved in the development of the standard and there is mutual agreement among them. The focus is always on concrete needs and practice orientation.

Accordingly, the members of Committee 246 "Societal Security" are experts from federal and regional authorities as well as voluntary rescue services and enterprises. The tasks of the Committee also include Austria's representation in international security-related standardization within CEN and ISO.


3. Status quo of standardization

Agreement can be achieved when everybody knows what is being discussed. As a result, disaster management – first and foremost – needs clear technical terminology, just like all other disciplines. The standard ÖNORM EN ISO 22300 – also applicable at the international level – defines terms related to societal security.

ÖNORM S 2304 specifies further terms and definition with regard to integrated disaster management, and another ÖNORM standard on so-called tactical symbols for status reporting is in the draft stage.

The standards ÖNORM EN ISO 22313 and ÖNORM EN ISO 22301 describe requirements to be met by business continuity management systems to maintain organizations operational after a disaster.

The worst horror scenarios definitely are incidents involving hazardous substances. Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear substances give rise to a major hazard potential that needs to be coped with in emergencies. ONR CEN/TS 16595 describes a system for assessing vulnerability and planning protective measures for the population.

In case persons are exposed to such substances, a standard on immediate decontamination (ÖNORM D 2305) defines procedures for tackling incidents. Further requirements for decontamination at hospitals are being developed by Committee 246.


Hazard assessment and risk prevention

Standardized communication and appropriate processes, however, are not only very important in the event of disasters. In the run-up, standards can already help minimizing consequences or preventing disasters.

Hence, Austrian Standards' Committee 256 takes a comprehensive approach to natural risks and elaborates standards on preventive measures.

In co-operation with the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences and the Ministry of the Interior, the University of Vienna offers a first further education course in October 2015 in which specialists with relevant professional experience can acquire knowledge on risk prevention and disaster management at a tertiary level.


4. Compendium on the prevention of natural hazards

The Austrian Standards Institute published a compendium of normative documents on the prevention of natural hazards under the title Normensammlung Schutz vor Naturgefahren. It includes the series ONR 24800 on torrent and avalanche control as well as protection against rockfalls.

Bibliography (the following ONRs are included in the book):
ONR 24800 Protection works for torrent control – Terms and their definitions as well as classification
ONR 24801 Protection works for torrent control – Static and dynamic actions on structures
ONR 24802 Protection works for torrent control – Design of structures
ONR 24803 Protection works for torrent control – Operation, monitoring, maintenance
ONR 24805 Permanent technical avalanche protection – Terms, definitions, static and dynamic load assumptions
ONR 24806 Permanent technical avalanche protection – Design of structures
ONR 24807 Permanent technical protection against avalanches – Monitoring and maintenance
ONR 24810 Technical protection against rockfall – Terms and definitions, effects of actions, design, monitoring and maintenance


5. The standardized rescue chain and its standards

Dangers are lurking everywhere – at home, at work, on the roads and during recreation. Therefore, it is important that as many people as possible are able to provide first aid, rescue teams are perfectly trained and ambulances, first-aid kits and other equipment are fully functional in emergencies. There are numerous standards ensuring that. Read more about how ÖNORM standards can contribute to saving lives and to convalescence in case of accidents.