August 14, 2018


What went so disastrously wrong during the course of last week’s murderous wildfires? It is instructive to consider the procedures laid down by Greek law in the case of natural and man-made disasters, including of course wildfires. Let us imagine for a moment that you are mayor of a village or town, and receive a telephone call from a local farmer telling you that a small brush fire has broken out near a pine grove. What is your next move?

Before taking any action, you must determine into which of five possible categories the fire must be placed, namely: ‘low intensity local’; ‘high intensity local’; ‘low intensity regional’; ‘high intensity regional’; or ‘generalised’. This is a requirement of the Law of 10 April 2003, code-named Xenokrates, on the upgrading of civil protection, the practical details of which are currently described, thirteen years later, as being “under development”.

But, you may protest, all fires start out as ‘low intensity local’; only after they have burned out is it possible to define them satisfactorily. Rest easy, for it is not, after all, up to you to define the scale of the fire. It is up to the ‘Local Civil Defence Coordinating Committee’, which must meet in person, and whose members you must now instantly summon. They consist of:

  1. Yourself, as mayor; 
  2. Two members of the municipal council, including a member of the opposition; 
  3. Any specially trained cadres from Decentralised Civil Defence and the Regional Administration; 
  4. A representative of the locality’s Senior Military Commander; 
  5. The Chief of Police;
  6. The head of the Municipal Police Force; 
  7. A representative of the Coast Guard; 
  8.  The Fire Services Chief; 
  9. The head of the Municipal Technical Services; 
  10. A representative of the Forestry Service; 
  11. Representatives of municipal voluntary organisations; 
  12.  A secretary whose job it is be to keep the minutes.

Should you ignore this step and attempt to take any initiative off your own bat, you are in breach of the law and subject to heavy penalties. You therefore summon these worthies from their scattered homes and offices; several hours later, the committee come the saddening but alas inevitable conclusion that the fire, left to its own devices, has spread beyond the confines of the municipality and may legitimately be defined as ‘regional’. The Region should now be informed (through official channels!) and must in its turn decide whether the fire is ‘low intensity regional’, meaning that it can be fought on a regional level, or whether it has mutated to ‘high intensity regional’, requiring the assistance of third parties.

This, you will be unsurprised to hear, now requires the convening of the Region’s Civil Defence Coordinating Committee, which consists of the regional equivalents of the local committee members listed above, plus several new ones. The time elapsed since the original phone call from the civic-minded farmer having expanded to satisfy bureaucratic requirements, the inevitable result will be that the small brush fire has by now almost certainly achieved ‘high intensity regional’ status, unless of course it has already burnt everything in its path and reached the sea. Stay with me.

Let us suppose that some twenty-plus regional committee members have been tracked down, locked in a room, debated long enough for everybody to express his or her opinion freely and have finally resolved upon a plan of action. How will orders be passed on to the people on the ground tasked with carrying out the plan? The answer is, with very great difficulty, since the Xenokrates law skirts such vulgar practical details with ease. In the real world, no system of communications equally accessible to police, fire services and municipal authorities exists. Last year, the British SEPURA communications system was acquired at an annual cost of 1.6m Euros. Unfortunately, when put to the test during last week’s deadly fires, it apparently failed to work; furthermore, it does not in any case allow for communication between the various services. On the ground, police and firemen were reduced to the use of their personal cellphones, where these functioned.

Finally, we come to the crucial issue of overall operational command. Who gives orders to the heterogeneous collection of authorities attempting to cope with the ever-spreading wildfire (police, municipal forces, army, fire fighters, volunteers, etc, etc)? The answer is nobody and everybody, with the overriding concern at the highest administrative levels being the avoidance of any possible comeback for the inevitable disaster. Significantly, the latest legislation governing the relationship between municipal and regional governments states clearly that “between the two levels of local government there can exist no hierarchical or controlling relationship, but only a relationship of mutual aid and collaboration”. In other words, if the municipality decides to direct all its resources to the east and the region opts to do the same to the west, nobody can knock their stupid heads together. Similarly, each will probably be directing radically different requests to third parties.

As a final grace note, one should note that the vast majority of posts in the aforementioned chains of responsibility are filled not by experts, technocrats or even competent all-round administrators, but political appointees criminally (I use the term advisedly) ignorant of the practicalities of civil defence. And that is why everything went up in smoke, and will continue to do so, year after year…

I have lifted (and translated very freely) the information contained in this post from a far more extensive, informative and impassioned article by Thanos Tzimeros, latterly a counsellor in the Attica Regional Council and a man clearly familiar with the practicalities of civil defence in Greece.

The original Greek article can be downloaded here.
The full text of the Xenokrates law in all its turgid, semi-literate bureaucratic glory can be downloaded here.

May 13, 2018


Ο Νίκος Βατόπουλος μας προσέφερε στη σημερινή Καθημερινή το κοάν της εποχής που ζούμε. Δοκιμάστε το: κάθε φορά που θα βρίσκεστε μπροστά σε κάποια καινούργια τερατώδη ηλιθιότητα, κάποιο νέο δείγμα απίστευτης ανευθυνότητας ή εγκληματικής αμάθειας, μην αφήσετε την πίεσή σας να ανέβει σε επίπεδα επικίνδυνα για την υγεία, παρά επαναλάβετε χαμηλόφωνα δυό-τρεις φορές τη φράση «Πελαγοδρομούν τιποτολογώντας αυτοχειροκροτούμενοι». Φυσικά τίποτα δεν θα αλλάξει, αλλά θα έχετε τουλάχιστον επανακτήσει, εν μέρει τουλάχιστον, την ηρεμία σας...