Crisis management – should we look again at the way the Germans operate through THW?

With the reduction in police and military numbers, it may be an intelligent idea when the immediate crisis is over, to look at how other countries are coping with the surging demand for people to deliver essential services at critical times such as this.  Germany offers an interesting example of how to proceed through its THW.

Ten years ago just as the new government was being established in the UK, Baroness Neville-Jones, the first Security Minister in the coalition, suggested Cityforum should look at the potential utility for the UK to adopt an approach similar to that of THW (Bundesanstalt Technisches Hilfswerk).  The then THW chief, Albrecht Broemme, came to London to keynote one of our round tables to discuss the German approach to organising speedy help for the community, using a blend of specialist skills, available equipment and a substantial volunteer corps living right across the country.  He saw the essential quality of THW as providing a cadre of skilled professionals and disciplined volunteers, available to operate at a moment’s notice.  While there was attendee interest in this approach, most of the officials present on that occasion did not think THW would provide a model for the UK, where purely voluntary assistance would suffice.  However, this view was taken at a time when the police and the military, particularly the Army, were considerably larger than either now are.

During the current crisis, THW moved into action early using its professionals and volunteer emergency workers from associations across the country to transport equipment, build emergency facilities, upgrade hospitals, move test laboratories and be the logistics provider for the distribution of large quantities of protective equipment.  This work is continuing.  The current THW chief, Gerd Friedsam, has stressed the ability of his organisation to scale up and do so fast.  In the future and in the light of the current much discussed distribution problems in the UK, might it make good sense for the British authorities to look again at the utility of this German example?

Link to the THW website:

Commentary written by Marc Lee, Chairman, Cityforum