Takeaways from our interviews of Spanish Civil Protection servants

post by Jsevillamol · 2021-11-24T09:12:52.711Z · EA · GW · 3 comments

As part of a strategy to create a link between the global GCR community and Spanish civil servants, we (Jaime Sevilla, Juan García [EA · GW] and Ángela María Aristizábal [EA · GW]) have interviewed the directors of six public risk management organizations in Spain. All of them belong to the Sistema Nacional de Protección Civil (National Civil Protection System), which is coordinated by the Ministerio del Interior (Ministry of the Interior). See the organizations we interviewed below in table 1. 

The National Civil Protection System is a service designed to protect people and material goods during emergencies and catastrophes. 

Table 1: Organizations we have interviewed


We have published an investigative report (in Spanish) about this topic in our Riesgos Catastroficos Globales’ webpage.

In this article we translate some core insights. We hope this will help other people looking into risk governance by providing an example of how public risk is managed at the national level in one particular country. We also want to provide an example (and get feedback) on ways in which new researchers can engage in risk management policy by first creating a diagnosis of governmental responses to emergencies and mapping the institutions that play important roles in risk management. While we have checked with civil protection servants to help us correct mistakes, we are not experts in law nor civil protection, so take these insights with a grain of salt.


First, we will cover how the Spanish National Civil Protection System works:

Table 2: A representative selection of risks contemplated by the Spanish National Civil Protection System. Source: DGPCyE’s website.

Our impression is that these four concepts are core to how the civil protection service operates.

Figure 1: Core elements of the Spanish National Civil Protection System.

Here there are some other insights from our interviews. Note that these correspond to our personal impressions, rather than to hard facts.


This project was an initial effort to map some of the actors involved in risk management at the national level in Spain. We are trying to create a link between the global GCR community and Spanish civil servants working in disaster preparedness. 

If you are interested in improving risk management public policy in Spanish-speaking countries, please reach out to us. Also reach out if you want to discuss this or related topics!

3 comments

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comment by Jsevillamol · 2021-11-29T10:18:52.477Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I have received a private comment asking about the role of civil protection during COVID.

This is what I answered:

About COVID, we asked everyone about their role on it. 

Basically the picture I got is: public health is delegated to the ministry of health, and in particular pandemics are seen as the business of the Centre of Sanitary Alerts (CCAES) The CCAES does have an early warning system, but we could not talk to them and we don't know how the systems reacted to COVID. 

In the civil prot side, they basically did nothing until the govn declared an alarm state. It is not clear if the activation was urged by the CCAES, civil protection or if it came from up top. After the alarm state was declared, civil prot organized decentralised committees at the state, autonomy and municipal level to monitor the situation and discuss next steps. These committees incorporated public health experts, civil prot servants and other public and private figures with relevant expertise.

The military "forces" under command of civil protection (the UME) were mobilized, but they lacked expertise on dealing with pandemics and basically were ordered to help disinfect hospitals and other public places, even after it became obvious that the pandemic was airborne and that disinfecting helped little.

In general I think that the civil prot response was good and prompt once they were ordered to act. In particular, I think the decentralised response involving several expertise was as good as could have been given their lack of preparation. 

But they weren't able to anticipate and react to early signs and their own forces were unprepared for a pandemic. It would also have helped to have mapped out in advance who were relevant experts to consult at every level of the system

comment by Denkenberger · 2021-11-26T23:17:50.972Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Very interesting! Could you say how open you think they are to planning for global catastrophic risks?

Replies from: Jsevillamol
comment by Jsevillamol · 2021-11-29T14:23:51.780Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

(disclaimer: this is my opinion)

In short:  Spanish civil protection would not as of today consider making plans to address specific GCRs

There is this weird tension where they believe that resilience is very important, and that planning in advance is nearly useless for non-recurring risks.

The civil protection system is very geared towards response. Foresight, mitigation and prevention seldom happens.This means they are quite keen on improving their general response capacity but they have no patience for hypotheticals. So they would not consider specific GCRs.

Even if they wanted to address GCRs, their hands are relatively tied (at least at the national level) - the risks they do specific preparation for are encoded in the law and modifying the list of priority risks would require passing an amendment.

In their opinion some things like geomagnetic storms which could theoretically unleash a global catastrophe are to be addressed by the generalist response plans. And, at least one high ranked person thinks a specific plan for responding to solar storms and similar risks is could be created, but not without a coordinated technical and policy response at the European level.

On the other hand we have seen some autonomies that have enacted their own special civil protection plans independently, but for minor risks (eg coastal environmental protection).And for example Madrid's city hall wants to have better maps of which expertise is needed and where to find it for conceivable future emergencies.

Also bear in mind that while civil protection is a very important part of risk management in Spain, it is not the only part. The national security system and other organizations might have different attitudes towards GCRs.