International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) Creation of a Fire Group including Wildfire
Note 1: In 1999 the concept was borne to include a Wildfire component to the portfolio of the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG). Until 2004, the INSARAG Regional Group Africa/Europe and the Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC) took the necessary steps towards preparing a dedicated Working Group and expand the INSARAG mandate to fire (including wildfire) response. This endeavor failed. The UN General Assembly Resolution 57/150 “Strengthening the effectiveness and coordination of international urban search and rescue assistance” of 16 December 2002 (mirrored by GFMC), which was supported by 58 governments, did not include a fire component of INSARAG. Thus, the interim working group phased out in April 2004.
Note 2: In 2022-23 the dialogue concerning creating a wildfire component under INSARAG or associated UN mandates has been revived.
Some of the following information is taken from an introductory paper “Forest Fires in the Baltic Region: National and International Issues” presented at the Baltic Exercise for Fire Information and Resources Exchange (BALTEX FIRE 2000), Finland, June 2000. BALTEX FIRE 2000 had been convened under the auspices of the UN-ECE/FAO/ILO Team of Specialists on Forest Fire / Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC), jointly with the INSARAG Europe-Africa Group.
INSARAG with a new Wildland Focus
Until recently the mandate of the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) of the United Nations has been restricted to the “classical” SAR cases such as saving lives after earthquakes. However, experience has shown that secondary effects of natural and technogenic disasters require additional specialist advice in conjunction with SAR response and other humanitarian aid missions. The INSARAG family offers an appropriate structure.
At the regional INSARAG Europe-Africa meeting in December 1999 (Germany) a first proposal was elaborated to establish an INSARAG Fire Group consisting of three subgroups:
At a meeting at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA) in January 2000 it was agreed that the original mandate of INSARAG which in addition to search and rescue would also cover wider aspects of disaster/emergency response. This could include a variety of natural and human-made disasters, including wildland fires. INSARAG would assist in strengthening UN-OCHA’s role by:
Governmental experts advisory support in case of a major emergency
Advisory experts to be provided out of the INSARAG family covering many fields of disaster relief
At the foundation meeting of INSARAG Fire it was recommended:
INSARAG-Fire is a global network of specialists in dealing with industrial fire, wildland fire and HAZMAT incidents affecting populations and the environment
INSARAG-Fire is organized in regional nodes
INSARAG-Fire has been initiated by a Starting Core Group of INSARAG Europe-Africa and will seek the establishment of Fire groups in the INSARAG Americas and Asia-Pacific regions.
Activation of involvement of existing international structures by calling on wildland fire expertise of international organizations and individuals already in place will be coordinated through the Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC) network
Encourage a continuous exchange of information through the Internet, initially utilizing the Global Fire Monitoring Center network
At the end of BALTEX FIRE 2000 the meeting of the FAO/ECE/ILO Fire Team further elaborated on the formation of the INSARAG Fire Group and particularly on the Subgroup Wildland Fire. The final format of INSARAG Wildland Fire was submitted to the next (5th) INSARAG Europe Africa Regional Meeting (Tunisia, November 2000).
During its preparation phase the INSARAG Wildland Fire Subgroup already became operational in managing the large forest fire emergency in Ethiopia between February and April 2000. The coordination of a multinational firefighting task force through the GFMC involved participation of Germany, South Africa, and Canada. The report is available at the GFMC website:
The fifth meeting of the INSARAG Regional Group Africa/Europe was organized by the Tunisian Civil Protection in Hammamet, Tunisia, 16 to 19 November 2000, and funded by the Swiss Government. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in its capacity as INSARAG Secretariat, co-organized the meeting. The Regional INSARAG Working Group on Fire met to develop a structure and workplan for the next year. The Working Group is chaired by Mr. Peter Nixon, Assistant Inspector of Fire Services, Her Majesty’s Fire Service Inspectorate, United Kingdom. In the meeting, it was agreed that the Working Group on Fire would consist of three elements, namely: (1) Wildland Fires; (2) Hazardous Materials; and (3) Industrial Fires. The goals of the Working Group on Fire are to provide guidance and advice on fire-related topics to national Focal Points as well as to OCHA through the joint OCHA/UNEP Unit. The Working Group on Fire identified its permanent tasks as (1) to encourage a continuous exchange of information through the Internet; and (2) to support OCHA/UNEP when required by providing the expertise and knowledge of its members. The Working Group scheduled the following tasks for 2001: (1) to seek to incorporate appropriate fire and HAZMAT topics into the INSARAG Guidelines; and(2) to prepare the establishment of a database on human resources, equipment information sources and evaluation of missions (lessons learned).
The Regional Working Group INSARAG-Fire was requested to review the following at their next meeting:
– The regional network of fire and NBC could better be accommodated in a separate network (not within INSARAG) with OCHA’s Environmental Emergencies Section (not FCSS) as counterpart. The INSARAG Secretariat to review this possibility with the Environmental Emergencies Section in OCHA-Geneva. – With regard to interaction with INSARAG Regional Group Africa/Europe, the WG on Fire to develop Terms of Reference and a timeframe for activities to address issues related to fire and HAZMAT in USAR operations. – The Working Group on Fire to provide the results to the INSARAG Secretariat and the Chairman of the Regional Group by 15 September 2002 (action: Working Group on Fire)
Group photo of the participants of the INSARAG Fire Group Meeting (INSARAG Regional Group Africa/Europe), at the GFMC (7 February 2003). From left to right: J.G. Goldammer (GFMC), M. Komorowski and R. Grosset (Poland), S. Fiedler (Germany),W. Lindner (Germany), R. van Hazebrouck (Germany), K.-H. Frank (Germany), T. Heikkilä (Finland).
In accordance with the presentations and discussions the Fire Group concluded, decided and recommended the following:
The INSARAG Africa/Europe Regional Fire Group evaluated the trend of increasing natural disasters and the increasing vulnerability of urban and rural populations to the impact of natural disasters and secondary technogenic disasters. The group concluded that the coupled consequences of climate change and human-induced global changes and the increasing vulnerability of human populations and urban/residential environments require the establishment and strengthening of international cooperation in disaster preparedness and response. Fire and floods must urgently receive highest priority because international mechanisms for cooperation have not been addressed adequately.
The proposal to accommodate the Fire Group in a separate network (not within INSARAG) was rejected because it would create unnecessary additional networking structures. A separate network would not necessarily be recognized by OCHA and governments to become eligible for dispatch and cost reimbursement.
It is clear, however, that in the case of fires occurring in natural systems (= wildland fires) it is mandatory to coordinate with OCHA’s Environmental Emergencies Section which is responsible for responding to environmental emergency and natural disaster events. The interface procedures that have been signed between the Joint UNEP/OCHA Environment Unit and the Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC) in 2001 intend to strengthen the cooperation in this type of disaster.
However, an operational INSARAG Fire structure would offer capabilities that go an important step beyond the off-site and on-site assessment and coordination capabilities of UNDAC teams: INSARAG Fire would provide on-site capabilities to contribute to efficient and fast response to a fire or Hazmat emergency.
There is no doubt that agreements must be sought between INSARAG Fire and other groups that could be utilized as well to strengthen international cooperation in disaster response. In case of Wildland Fires the Joint UNEP/OCHA Environment Unit is the key partner at UN level. The Industrial Fire Subgroup will identify linkages to CTIF, and the HAZMAT Subgroup will check common interests with the European Chemical Association.
The INSARAG Fire Group decided to organize itself at operational level without being dependent on a chairperson. The German Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW) will serve as an INSARAG focal point for all fire emergencies and consult with the three Subgroups Industrial Fire, HAZMAT and Wildland Fire accordingly. The Subgroups will:
– Develop specific terms of reference – Develop specific guidelines as subchapters of the INSARAG Guidelines – Set up a database and networking capabilities
The Fire Group recommends the INSARAG Africa/Europe Regional Group
– To provide an enabling atmosphere for the Fire Group to operationalize dedicated Subnets under the INSARAG umbrella; – With respect to the emerging threats of other natural disasters on urban and rural assets and populations, such as extreme precipitation and flood events, INSARAG is urged to consider broadening its mandate towards including other disasters affecting urban and rural populations. – With respect to promoting and strengthening the effectiveness and coordination of international disaster assistance the Fire Group will seek the support of the INSARAG Regions to modify the GA Resolution A/57/L.60 towards a broader scope that would include all disasters.
Note 2:In 2023 the dialogue concerning creating a wildfire component under INSARAG or associated is revived.