Panel discussion: Challenges and modern trends in mountain rescue in Europe

On the panel discussion held in Ohrid last week, for the first time in front of the senior state institution representatives, the topic of mountain rescue was discussed. Also, attendees discussed the implementation of international standards and the need for an institutional systematic solution for this issue in the country and cross-border region as a precondition for the development of adventure tourism and the safety of citizens.

Besides the Minister of Defense of RNM, Mrs. Slavjanka Petrovska, the director of the Crisis Management Center Mr. Stojance Angelov, and the mayors of Ohrid, Mr. Kiril Pecakov and the municipality of Gramsh, R. Albania, Mr. Klodian Tace, the panel was also attended by senior representatives of the Ministries of Interior and Defense, air forces, special police, and military units, the Civil Aviation Agency, the Directorate for Protection and Rescue, fire brigades, and a number of voluntary associations.

The attendees had a rare opportunity to get acquainted in detail with the mountain rescue system in the Republic of Croatia, directly from the head of CMRS, Mr. Josip Granic, who presented the “secret of success” of the Croatian Mountain Rescue Service, one of the best Services in Europe at this moment. Through examples and concrete figures, he presented the importance and role of the CMRS, as a basic operational force in the civil protection system in Croatia, which with its 1200 highly trained and equipped volunteers, deployed in 25 stations across the country, 24 hours, 7 days a week, takes care of the safety of citizens and numerous tourists.

Also, Mr. Granic emphasized the importance of the special law on CMRS, which fully regulates the role, rights, and duties of the members, but also financing and cooperation with other state institutions. He especially emphasized the voluntary organization of the Service, which is applied in 95% of the European countries and is characterized by high efficiency, economy, and mobility, especially in cases that last longer and require the involvement of a large number of people. He cited the latest case of a plane crash in Croatia, with more than 250 members of the CMRS involved in the search for this sports aircraft for two days in complex mountainous terrain and poor visibility. Mr. Granic also stressed the importance of strict adherence to international standards and recommendations of ICAR (International Commission for Alpine Rescue), without the implementation of which it is impossible to organize a modern service.

Mr. Kostantin Ciriviri, a renowned domestic expert in the field of mountaineering, mountain tourism, and mountain rescue, presented the basic elements of the study for the organization of the Ohrid Red Cross Mountain Rescue Service, prepared in 2019, as well as the significant results achieved in the last 3 years of the operation of the MRS in the cross-border region. The MRS as the only such Service at the moment provides service for the citizens and visitors to the region, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in accordance with European standards and recommendations of IKAR. This is an excellent example of efficient organization and regulation, which can be easily applied in other regions. However, the problem with financial sustainability remains unresolved, although the study made detailed forecasts and proposals for creating an economical annual budget, which predicts the involvement of municipalities in the region with minimum budget funds in the amount of 0.26% to 0.6% from their annual budgets (depending on the municipality).  Unfortunately, the municipalities so far have not expressed readiness to provide these funds.

The MRS example indicates that the lack of an appropriate legal solution is a serious obstacle to creating an effective state system of mountain rescue, following the example of Croatia, which discourages volunteers, and instead of constant growth, results in a loss of enthusiasm and desire to give maximum to the community. Mr. Ciriviri emphasized that the assessments from the study, as well as the three-year analysis of the operation of MRS Ohrid, are an excellent base for the organizational charts and the model of action of the National Mountain Rescue Association, which in future, through an appropriate legal solution and in cooperation with other state institutions, will be able to effectively organize a state operational structure, ready to operate in all regions of the country, but also across borders, in neighboring Albania, if necessary.

The Minister of Defense, Ms. Slavjanka Petrovska, informed the participants of the panel on the civil protection reform process, which has already begun and the new concept should be presented by September. She expressed readiness to open the issue of legal regulation of the mountain rescue, following the example of Croatia, which will certainly be an integral part of the new civil protection system in the country.

The panel discussion was organized within the project “New Opportunities for Safe Winter Adventures”, funded by the EU, IPA program for cross-border cooperation with Albania and the Ministry of Local Self-Government of RNM, and was hosted by the Ohrid Red Cross Mountain Rescue Service, the National Union for Mountain Rescue and Alpine Club Patagonia Ohrid.