Improving international cooperation in disaster management: The large-scale exercise FORMATEX23 in Austria.

From September 14 to 16, 2023, the large-scale exercise FORMATEX23 took place at various locations around the city of Linz in Austria. The FORMATEX23 scenario began with intense rainfall over a period of more than ten days in the Danube area in the border area between Austria and Germany. The contamination of water with dangerous substances and the possible effects on health and the environment mean that the emergency services and authorities on site are almost fully utilized. The Austrian government asked for the support of the European Union by activating the European Union Civil Protection Mechanism (UCPM). In addition to the Austrian civil protection organizations, the exercise involved international teams from Estonia, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and the Netherlands with more than 300 exercise participants, over 20 organizations, a European Union civil protection team as well as high-level visitors, observers and evaluators.

Improving international cooperation in crisis situations, FORMATEX23 shows how crucial the application of disaster relief mechanisms at the international level is. The potential release of hazardous substances in the Danube – Europe’s second longest river – could impact up to ten European countries in a worst-case scenario. By testing the activation and implementation of the European Union Civil Protection Mechanism, different countries had the opportunity to train on how to work together in times of crisis. Conducting such cross-border exercises makes a significant contribution to ensuring that European emergency forces are able to deal with disasters and support the affected populations.

FORMATEX23 exercise leader Mag. Gottfried Kerschbaummayr, head of the Upper Austrian State Fire Brigade School, describes the added value of the FORMATEX23 exercise as follows: “Since various national and international emergency organizations and authorities at all levels are involved in this project, one of the most important points is mutual understanding and cooperation. Through targeted collaboration, the various EU modules become familiar and mutual acceptance is sharpened.”

“The topic of our exercise is extremely relevant: an extreme flood event that acutely endangers industry, people and nature around the Linz business location. This is a challenge that not only we, but many other regions around the world are increasingly having to face. At a time when natural disasters are becoming increasingly extreme, international cooperation is becoming increasingly indispensable. As an emergency organization, it is our duty to be well prepared for such events and to respond efficiently. Effective cooperation with international emergency services is of crucial importance – and that is exactly the focus of this exercise,” says Robert Mayer, President of the Austrian Federal Fire Brigade Association and State Fire Brigade Commander of Upper Austria.

FORMATEX23 is a two-year project financed by the General Directorate for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid within the framework of the European Union Civil Protection Mechanism (UCPM). FORMATEX23 is led by the Upper Austrian State Fire Brigade Association and is implemented by following consortium members: Resilience Solutions International (Austria), Industrial Risk and Safety Solutions (Austria), University of the Federal Armed Forces Munich (Germany), NCT Consultants (Netherlands), CBRN Modules of the Department of Emergency Situations (Romania), General Directorate for Civil Protection and Crisis Management (France), German Analytical Task Force, Dutch Environmental Assessment Unit (Netherlands), Balt Flood Combat (Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia).