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Brussels, 18 April 2008

Europe prepares for forest fires – major simulation exercise held in Sardinia

As the southern shores of Europe warm up, the risk of forest fires increases. The European Commission and Member States are working closely together to prepare for the coming forest fire season, building on the lessons learnt from the tragic experiences of 2007. Five Member States and the European Commission's disaster Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC) are involved in a large-scale simulation exercise in Sardinia that runs from 16 to 19 April. The exercise, SARDINIA 2008, forms part of a larger pilot project co-financed by the European Commission, which aims at developing the notion of a rapid European intervention force for disasters.

"When they work together, European countries can deliver a more effective response than they can by working alone, so this is an area where the EU brings clear added value," said Stavros Dimas, European Commissioner for Environment and Civil Protection. "This project is an excellent example of the constructive relationship between Member States and the European Commission."

Planning for tomorrow's emergencies

Sardinia ARsons DIrect NIxing Action (SARDINIA 2008), as the exercise is called, kicked off on 14 April with training sessions for fire-fighting team leaders from Italy, France, Greece, Portugal and Spain, the five countries who sent aerial and ground fire-fighting resources to the exercise. This practical exercise takes place over three days in Olbia, Sardinia, where emergency response teams will tackle simulated fires. The MIC will be active in supporting coordination efforts both in the field and at headquarters. The exercise will end on 19 April with an aerial display. Observers from inside and outside the EU will be present.

The exercise is being held within the framework of the "FIRE 5" project, previously known as "FIRE 4", but upgraded with the official entry of Greece in 2008. It is one of a number of pilot projects for which Community funding was made available in 2006 to test ways of improving the provision of assistance across borders. The project is an example of how the resources of Member States could be used to respond to common emergencies. France, Italy (the organisers of this exercise), Portugal, Spain and Greece are participating fully in the project. Cyprus, Hungary, Czech Republic, Malta and Slovenia are associate members. The project was also put into operation last year, when assistance was channelled to Greece during the unusually fierce forest fire season. The European Commission is co-financing 80% of the costs of the project.

This project is one of several exercises to be undertaken in the EU this year, with a view to shaping the EU civil protection of tomorrow, as was outlined in the Commission Communication on reinforcing the Union's disaster response capacity.

The Community Civil Protection Mechanism

The Community Mechanism[1] is intended to improve cooperation on civil protection assistance operations. It coordinates assistance, provides prompt support and assists any country inside or outside the European Union that needs help. The main objective is to provide the best possible response and preparedness when a major emergency occurs. These activities are coordinated by the Commission through its Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC), located in DG Environment's Civil Protection Unit.

Thirty states[2] participate in the Community Mechanism, and the resulting pool of resources can be made available to disaster-stricken countries all over the world.

Since the Mechanism became operational in 2002, it has been activated for a number of disasters around the world. These have included the 2004 tsunami in South East Asia, the 2005 forest fires in Portugal, flooding in Bulgaria and Romania, Hurricane Katrina in the US, the earthquake in Pakistan in 2005 and the Lebanon crisis in 2006. In 2007 the Mechanism was activated for floods in Bolivia, as well as for forest fires in Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Albania and the former Republic of Macedonia. More recently the Mechanism was activated for oil spills in Ukraine and South Korea, an earthquake in Kyrgyzstan and floods in Bolivia and Ecuador.

For more information see:
European Civil Protection –
COM(2008) 130 Commission Communication on Reinforcing the Union's Disaster Response Capacity

[1] Council Decision of 8 November (2007/779/EC, Euratom) (OJ L314, 01.12.2007, p.9)

[2] EU 27, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway

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