An all-Russian civil defense exercise involving federal and regional executive authorities, local governments and organizations titled ‘Organization of civil defense during large natural and man-caused disasters in the Russian Federation’ was carried out in October 2016.  Organized by the Russian Federation Ministry of Emergency Situations (EMERCOM) that was established in 1994, it involved more than 40 million people in the federation’s major cities, 200,000 emergency rescue specialists and some 50,000 rescue vehicles and equipment.

The main goal of the exercise was to practice the organization of management during emergency civil defense events, to check preparedness of civil defence management bodies and forces at all levels to respond to natural and man-made disasters and to take civil defense measures.

The three-stage exercise, spread over four days began with the establishment of a National Crisis Centre to notify senior officials of federal and regional executive authorities, local governments and civil defense forces and preparing civil defence communications. Stage two involved planning and organization of civil defense actions, the deployment of civil defence force teams and facilities designed to respond to major disasters.

Stage Three dealt with the use of the civil defence teams to respond to the major disasters, setting up aerial and mobile control centres, and revising routes for the safe evacuation of the population. This part of the exercise also rehearsed nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) protection of the personnel and population during emergencies at crucial and potentially dangerous facilities. Fire safety, civil defence and human protection at social institutions and public buildings were also assessed. Response units deployed NBC monitoring centres and decontamination posts in the emergency areas, while NBC detection and analysis laboratory control networks were put on standby.

On the first day, EMERCOM carried out comprehensive civil defense steps to be taken in territories of civil defence groups in every region of Russia. Safe areas for sheltering evacuated people, material and cultural items of value, vehicles and equipment were checked, and the composition of task forces and their procedures for forming civil defence teams were assessed.

The National Crisis Management Centre gathered and exchanged information on civil defence actions with crisis management centres of EMERCOM’s regional centers and directorates in constituent territories. Information capacities of federal the executive authorities were tested, including the use of automated software for the planning and initialization of civil defence operations, and secure communication channels. There were joint and separate exercises to test communication between control centres on federal, regional and municipal levels.

All the regions of Russia were involved in the third stage of the exercise with each region having its own scenario of disasters typical for the region and considering current risks. The city of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk on Sakhalin Island in Russia’s far east faced a simulated emission of chlorine at a water supply point while a break on a dam in the Krasnodar territory threatened to flood the region.

In Moscow, an exercise took place in the Presnya railway station where emergency services of the Moscow disaster management system rehearsed co-operation during response to accidents at hazardous chemical facilities. More than 100 units of equipment, including a fire train from the railway fire department, and more than 500 first responders were involved. Special fire and rescue divisions extinguished fires and carried out rescue operations at crucial economic facilities.

Points distributing personal protection equipment (PPE) were deployed at Russian universities located in areas of possible threats. Students were guided to bomb shelters or evacuated to safe areas. The Bauman State Technical University of Moscow oversaw operations of the Decision Making Support Center which analyzed the situation and prepared managerial decisions. It also hosted an evacuation exercise during which more than 100 students evacuated dormitories and were issued PPE.

EMERCOM issues a statement that said despite the fact that the majority of Russians, including Muscovites, do not know where bomb shelters are located in their neighbourhoods, there is a list of addresses of bomb shelters. The shelters are now maintained accordingly to give people an opportunity to go through several days of a man-made emergency or a nuclear attack.

The city’s response teams conducted an inventory of Moscow’s underground spaces to allow the local government to plan for sheltering up to 100 percent of the city’s residents. Emergency workers in HAZMAT suits checked the ventilation in underground bomb shelters. This was extended to include the Moscow subway system that has more than 200 stations which during World War Two were used as bomb-proof shelters for more than half a million people.

The exercises highlighted NBC protection procedures of the personnel and population during emergencies at crucial and potentially dangerous facilities. The fact that, among the measures tasked for the civil defense teams during the EMERCOM exercises were to respond not only to natural disasters but to NBC incidents, made it clear that Russia conducted one of its biggest nuclear war exercises since perhaps the end of the Cold War.

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A defence photo-journalist for more than 30 years, and member of the Independent Defence Media Association (IDMA) and the European Security and Defence Press Association (ESDPA). David is the author of 18 defence-related books, and is former IHS Jane’s consultant editor and a regular correspondent for defence publications in the UK, USA, France, Poland, Brazil and Thailand.