Civil Protection in Germany

This topic page provides an overview of civil protection and its actors in Germany, which includes disaster control and civil defense.


© Pixabay / Jacqueline Jacobs

Civil Protection in Germany

Storms, natural hazards and extreme events can quickly become a danger to people and the environment. But climate change, extreme urbanization, power failures and fires also offer potential dangers.
Civil protection in Germany provides public safety and averts damage in the event of dangerous situations. It is made up of civil protection and disaster management and is a task for society as a whole.
A disaster is said to occur when the functioning of a community or society is impaired or interrupted and, as a result, high levels of human, material, economic and environmental damage occur that cannot be dealt with on their own and therefore an administrative act is required (BBK 2023, BPB 2021)
Preparedness measures can help you reduce the consequences and impact of the disaster. Depending on the hazard and personal circumstances, the precautionary measures to be taken may vary (BBK 2023).
In the following, we will first describe population protection, then go into detail about the actors, and finally present the voluntary work that is fundamental to population protection, as well as offering further information for individual preparedness.

What is civil protection ?

Civil protection in Germany represents a security system for society as a whole and is assigned to public safety and hazard prevention. The competencies in the area of civil protection are divided among the levels of the federal government, the states and the municipalities (BBK 2023). Civil defense tasks and measures are carried out by the federal government, while the states are responsible for civil protection. The municipalities are responsible, among other things, for everyday events, rescue services, fire protection, and technical assistance (BBK 2023).

What is civil defense ?

The federal government is responsible for civil protection (defense). For example, the federal government takes action in the event of terrorist attacks, self-defense and CBRN hazards and provides support in the protection of cultural assets and critical infrastructure. Civil defense thus has the responsibility to protect the population, their homes and workplaces, important civilian offices, businesses, facilities and installations, and cultural heritage from the effects of war through nonmilitary measures and, if necessary, to mitigate or eliminate their consequences. Self-help measures by the population are supported by the authorities. The scope of activities of civil defense includes self-protection, warning of the population, protective construction, residence regulation, measures for the protection of health and the protection of cultural heritage. (Bundesministerium für Justiz 2023).

The interrelationships between civil defense and disaster control are governed by the Civil Defense and Disaster Assistance Act (ZSKG). According to this law, civil defense actors also participate in civil defense in the event of defense. For this purpose, they receive resources and supplementary equipment from the federal government, which they may also use for civil protection.
Responsibilities and terminology in civil protection can differ between the federal states, as they have legislative competence in civil protection. In essence, however, the structures are similar. Coordination and political responsibility initially lie with the mayors or district administrators as representatives of the relevant local disaster control authorities, supported by disaster control staffs and the respective technical task forces. If necessary, crisis management teams or coordination groups can be set up at higher levels of government or at interstate and/or interdepartmental level(Bundesministerium für Justiz und Verbraucherschutz 2009).

What is disaster management ?

Disaster management is a governmental task for which the federal states are responsible by law and which is carried out by the counties and municipalities. Disasters include events such as storms, forest fires, floods, traffic accidents, local industrial accidents. The federal government can provide so-called disaster relief with its forces and resources and support the states. Disaster management draws up emergency plans and deployment contingents and, in the event of a disaster, provides appropriate rapid and targeted assistance for people, animals and the environment (Bundesministerium des Innern und für Heimat 2023).



Actors in civil protection

In Germany, different state and public actors at different levels as well as private aid organizations work together in a disaster situation. The Basic Law regulates which of the actors is responsible and when. A suitable, clear representation shows the system structures in the form of a pyramid (see Fig. 1). The pyramid is divided into the three administrative levels of the Federal Republic.

Figure 1: System structure in pyramid form of civil protection in Germany (source: own representation 2022)

The municipal level delegates operational tasks in civil protection to private and public entities and institutions. These include, for example:

In addition to fire departments, rescue services and the voluntary aid organizations, Germany also has special authorities and organizations such as the Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (BBK) or the Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW). In the event of major crises and disaster situations, federal forces such as the THW, the Federal Police and the Bundeswehr can provide support within the framework of administrative assistance (ADRA 2022).

The Federal Foreign Office, as well as the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) , work together in projects with non-governmental organizations, the United Nations, organizations of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and the Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) to improve disaster preparedness worldwide.


Volunteering is essential for the successful functioning of civil protection and disaster management (ADRA 2022). It is estimated that around 1.7 million volunteers are organized in civil protection, who are responsible for 90% of civil protection operations (BBK 2023). However, numerous challenges affect the attractiveness of volunteering in civil protection, including the suspension of compulsory military service, changing demands on employees, funding cuts, and demographic changes (BBK 2023).

Like the THW, the BBK also focuses on the topic of volunteerism in order to secure and promote volunteerism in civil protection in the long term (BBK 2023). Volunteers in fire departments, relief organizations and the THW must not suffer any disadvantages in their employment or service relationship as a result of their commitment. The Federal Volunteer Service also offers the opportunity to become involved in disaster management on a full-time basis for a maximum of 24 months.

You can read about how you can volunteer with the respective emergency organizations, for example, on this page and in the BBK’s campaign “Mit dir für uns alle” (“With you for all of us”).

Created: May 2023