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date: 09 July 2020

Summary and Keywords

A major implication of the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 involved the radical transformation of the national security system. Its fundamentally militaristic paradigm focused on civil defense to prepare and protect communities against the strikes of conventional and nuclear warheads. It called for a more comprehensive and balanced civil protection policy oriented primarily to the communities’ and facilities’ preparedness and response to natural hazards impact and disasters. This change in policy was further catalyzed by the catastrophic results of the major disasters in the late 1980s, such as the Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion of 1986 and the Armenian earthquake of 1988.

As a result, in 1989, a specialized body was organized, the State Emergency Commission at the USSR Council of Ministers. A year later in the Russian Federation (at that time a part of the Soviet Union), an analogous commission was established. In 1991, it was reorganized into the State Committee for Civil Defense, Emergency Management, and Natural Disasters Response at the request of the president of the Russian Federation (EMERCOM). In 1994, this was replaced by the much more powerful Ministry of the Russian Federation for Civil Defense, Emergency Management, and Natural Disasters Response (which kept the abbreviation EMERCOM). In the early 21st century, this ministry is the key government body responsible for (a) development and implementation of the policy for civil defense and the regions’ protection from natural and technological hazards and disasters, and (b) leading and coordinating activities of the federal executive bodies in disaster policy areas within the Russian Federation’s Integrated State System for Emergency Prevention and Response (EPARIS). In addition, as well as in the former Soviet Union, the scientific and research organizations’ efforts to collect relevant data, monitor events, and conduct field and in-house studies to reduce the risk of disasters is crucially important.

The nature of EPARIS is mainly a function of the geographic characteristics of the Russian Federation. These include the world’s largest national territory, which is vastly extended both longitudinally and latitudinally, a relatively populous Arctic region, large mountain systems, and other characteristics that create high diversity in the natural environment and combinations of natural hazards. Meanwhile, along with the natural conditions of significant size and a multiethnic composition of the population, distinctive features of a historical development path and institutional factors also contribute to diversity of settlement patterns, a high degree of economic development, and a level and quality of human life both within and between the regions of Russia. For instance, even within one of the region’s urbanized areas with a high-quality urban environment and developed socioeconomic institutions, neighboring communities exist with a traditional lifestyle and economic relations, primitive technological tools, and so on (e.g., indigenous small ethnic groups of the Russian North, Siberia, and the Far East).

The massive spatial disparity of Russia creates different conditions for exposure and vulnerability of the regions to natural hazards’ impacts on communities and facilities, which has to be considered while preparing, responding to, and recovering from disasters. For this reason, EMERCOM’s organizational structure includes a central (federal) headquarters as well as Central, Northwestern, Siberian, Southern, and Moscow regional territorial branches and control centers for emergency management in all of the 85 administrative entities (subjects) of the Russian Federation. Specific features of both the EMERCOM territorial units and ministries and EPARIS as a whole coping with disasters are considered using the 2013 catastrophic flood in the Amur River basin in the Far East of Russia as a case study.

Keywords: natural hazards, disasters, civil protection, disaster risk reduction, disaster response, EMERCOM of Russia, EPARIS, the Amur River catastrophic flood

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