Serbia Passes Emergency Preparedness Law to Empower Local Responders
Helping a country find ways to mitigate crises and natural disasters
Heavy snows fell on Central Europe in the winter of 2005–2006 and remained piled high well into the spring. The frozen ground was unable to absorb the resulting snowmelt and ensuing heavy rains, which had nowhere to run but into streams and rivers.
In Serbia, poorly built dikes and levees were no match for the incredibly swollen Danube and its tributaries, and in April 2006 the flood waters spilled over into cities and villages that were ill-prepared to anticipate and react to the disaster. A state of emergency was declared for 10 regions in Serbia, including its two largest cities, Belgrade and Novi Sad.
But instead of buckling under, Serbia resolved to be better prepared for the next time disaster struck.
The Preparedness, Planning and Economic Security (PPES) Program in Serbia is a multiyear, $19 million program funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. The program operates on three fronts: helping municipalities increase their resilience to crises and natural disasters, assisting small businesses in difficult environments to grow and expand into new markets within and beyond Serbia, and working with Serbian youth to empower them for the future.
Operationally, the program is divided into two components: 1) preparedness and planning, and 2) economic security. Four years of effort have changed cultural norms, institutionalized new approaches in emergency management systems, and prepared youth for the modern labor market.
The preparedness and planning component is leaving an indelible imprint on Serbia’s ability to secure the safety and property of its citizens. At the core is local-level disaster management training, which leads to the certification of municipalities as having achieved enhanced disaster resilience. The component encourages municipalities to take actions that protect citizens and prevent or mitigate the impact of natural or manmade disasters in their communities. A Certified Municipalities Group (CMG) was launched in 2010 as an informal forum for sharing information among certified communities. The CMG also strengthens communications and cooperation with national disaster management authorities.
Nationally, the component’s policy reform efforts resulted in passage of a new Law on Emergency Situations that brought Serbia’s legal framework up to European Union standards. The law devolved significant authority to municipalities for disaster response and management, and locates national oversight of disaster management in the newly formed Sector for Emergency Management (SEM) in the Ministry of Interior.
In the SEM, responsibility for training coordination is vested within the National Training Center (NTC) for Emergency Management. PPES has helped the SEM and NTC to unify activities and personnel previously spread across several ministries.
The preparedness and planning program has changed the prevailing attitude that all decisions emanate from the national government, giving way to a model of shared responsibility between national and local governments. The new, decentralized model also allows for the inclusion of numerous volunteer stakeholders, such as the Serbian Red Cross.
In the final year of the program, the preparedness and planning team will reach out to all municipalities not yet participating in PPES training and train up to 40 in PPES methodology, transfer PPES emergency management intellectual capital to the SEM and the NTC, and support SEM in its efforts to complete the policy reform, including development of bylaws and the National Platform for Emergency Management.
Building Local Capacity
80 municipalities trained
45 municipalities achieved Enhanced Disaster Resilience certification
1,299 first responders trained
Local-level response, damage assessment and recovery efforts faster, more coordinated and better citizen communication
City of Nis first strategic plan built around safety
Building National Infrastructure
New Emergency Situations Law passed (Dec ’09)
Improved national-local government communication
National Training Center established and prepared to continue standards developed under PPES
Other disaster management stakeholders more integrated into new system
Promoting International Cooperation and Recognition
United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction — all 45 PPES-certified municipalities joined Making Cities Resilient campaign
Disaster Preparedness and Prevention Initiative for South Eastern Europe I — increased Serbia’s visibility within the regional Disaster Preparedness & Prevention Initiative
U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency study tours
European Union fund applicants supported