New Democracy Preparing Plan for Natural Disasters Response

Αssociated Press

FILE- A road is covered with mud after storms in Kineta village. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

ATHENS - With the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA blamed for not having an emergency preparedness plan in place when July 23, 2018 wildfires outside Greece’s capital struck, killing 103 people, the New Democracy government said it’s preparing a disaster plan.

The General Secretariat for Civil Protection is putting together two guidelines laying out the responsibilities of each government department and agency in handling flooding and forest fires, a department director said at the Fire Brigade's Unified Coordination Center, reported Kathimerini and the Chinese news agency Xinhua.

The plans, named Dardanos and Iolas, will end "decades-long irregularities and excuses" and "move from the improvisation phase to the phase of scientific data in dealing with crises," Secretary General Nikos Hardalias said.

The draft plan for civil protection will be released shortly for public consultation, he said, while the remaining guidelines for natural disasters like snowstorms, earthquakes and volcano eruptions will be ready by end February.

Operational guidelines for the firefighting period of 2020 have been completed he said, adding that: "In Greece, the problem never was about who does what. It was always who is supervising what everyone does, and whether it's done in time so that every cog helps the wheel turn. We saw several such cogs get stuck in Mati," he added, referring to the 2018 fires that nearly wiped out that seaside village northeast of Athens.

He also said that the Europe-wide emergency number 112 will be fully operational by Jan.  1, 2020, but said it’s designed only for major events and shouldn’t be used to report anything lesser so as to avoid creating a panic. Besides the 2018 fire - and a number of fire catastrophes over the years - Greece has also been hit by deadly foods in the past few years with SYRIZA also being blamed for not being prepared for those and with some of its officials being sued and facing charges for the fires.

Some 664 entities central, regional and local administration in Greece have already received the updated plans and the message to improve communication and act together, Hardalias said at a press briefing.

The plans are named for two heroes in ancient Greek mythology, whose stories teach that teamwork leads to success. Dardanos, a son of Zeus, the father of gods in mythology, survived a great flood on Samothrace island where he had traveled with his brother, while Iolaos, an aide of Heracles, helped the hero in some of his Labors, he explained. Government spokesperson Stelios Petsas said that "The prompt prevention and effective management of damages caused by emergency natural phenomena, like wildfires and floods, are at the epicenter of our planning,” said Xinhua.

Hardalias added: "We should manage with rationality whatever is linked to the climate crisis, because it is not something that we expect in the future, but is already here now, in our country and the entire world."

"We are monitoring it and we are trying to coordinate and update procedures so that during the unfolding crisis, the time of the big battle, no one can claim that they do not know what to do," Hardalias said, pointing out the gaps and overlapping responsibilities in outdated previous plans which hadn’t been updated since 2013 - when a previous New Democracy government was ruling.

Today everybody, whether they come from the technical department of a regional government or municipality or the central administration,knows exactly what kind of works they should proceed in, under which framework and which are their responsibilities," said Phoebos Theodorou, the Civil Protection General Secretariat's director for planning and addressing emergency needs.

"The goal of the plan is the immediate and coordinated response of all organizations on the central, regional and local level," he said.