The National Civil Protection System in Mexico Explained

Prevention is a sign of intelligence, maturity and responsibility. Those who anticipate are those who are certain that an effort made today can mean the difference between a lesser evil and a disaster.

The National Civil Protection System in Mexico Explained
In May 1986, eight months after the September 1985 earthquakes that severely impacted Mexico City, the National Civil Protection System (Sinaproc) was created. Photo: CENAPRED

The birth of the National Civil Protection System (SINAPROC) is often related to the 1985 earthquakes since the emergency experience showed the urgent need for a nationwide organization to regulate and promote the establishment of mechanisms, systems, and organizations to better serve the population in the event of a disaster, incorporating the experiences of public, private and social institutions, as well as the scientific community and the population in general. It is pertinent to mention that SINAPROC has other antecedents, primarily through the DN-IIE Plan, operated by SEDENA and the counterpart plan of the Secretariat of the Navy.

The important contributions of the former SARH (now SRA) in the prevention, mitigation, and attention to disasters caused mainly by destructive phenomena of hydrometeorological origin and forest fires are well known; by the Ministry of Health, which traditionally focuses its services on the prevention and health care in case of disasters; and finally, of the former SEDUE, now SEDESOL, both through urban planning and the implementation of policies on ecological problems. Also noteworthy is the Protection and Restoration System of the Federal District (SIPROR).

It was necessary to live through a major emergency, such as the one caused by the 1985 earthquakes, in which the disaster exceeded all the resources foreseen to face it, to crystallize the need for a system of this nature, covering the entire national territory. It is possible to talk about a positive and transcendental consequence of the 1985 earthquakes: the emergence of SINAPORC, which was approved by the President of the Republic, whose decree was published on May 6, 1986, in the Official Gazette.

Principles of the National Civil Protection System in Mexico

The subsequent instrumentation and implementation, as well as the current operation of the System, are based on the following principles:

To congruently articulate policies and actions in civil protection matters, in such a way as to avoid as much as possible isolated and dispersed actions that hinder an adequate sum of efforts.

To foster the feeling of solidarity as an essential element for the unity of the collectivity in the social structure throughout the national territory, making the individual and the family the central object before, during, and after a disaster, considering their territorial location to reduce and mitigate the effects of the geographic and social marginality of large population groups.

To guide the development and growth of human settlements and the use of natural resources in such a way as to consider from the outset the conditions and limitations that the presence of disturbing agents of natural and human origin means for the protection of society, its goods and the ecological environment in areas exposed to disasters.

Promote that the actions by the various public, federal, state, and municipal institutions in the area of civil protection be carried out in an integrated, coherent, systematic, and harmonious manner, seeking, through common and interdependent action, that the states and municipalities directly address a disaster situation in their territorial areas and can thus continue to strengthen their specific development.

Encourage the participation of the private and social sectors, as well as the community in general, so that it translates into an active, real, concrete, and independent contribution, but common in specific areas and actions. Promote permanent mechanisms that generate interest, encourage intervention and produce individual and collective participation to achieve an effective search for solutions and efficient and timely execution.

Optimize existing resources and take advantage of national and international experiences.

To develop research to broaden the knowledge of the various natural and man-made phenomena that cause disasters; to prepare specialized human resources through a broad training process to support the wide dissemination of civil protection aspects, to consolidate a National Civil Protection Culture.

The general objective of SINAPROC is derived from this framework of principles:

"To protect and preserve the individual and society, as well as their property, in the event of a disaster."

The organization of the System, by the bases for its establishment and the document: "Organization, Executive Body and Commitment to Participation", published by the Ministry of the Interior, contemplates the installation, operation, and coordination of organizational structures in the three sectors of the population -public, private and social-, located at the three levels of government -federal, state and municipal or delegated-, forming a harmonious, coherent and supportive whole. Three main types of bodies are distinguished: consultative, executive, and participatory.


They are formed by the National, State and Municipal Civil Protection Councils, made up of representatives of the public, private and social sectors, to learn about the problem of disasters and establish priorities for their solutions in the area of their jurisdiction, as well as to determine policies and strategies, give opinions on action programs and the allocation of necessary resources.


They are formed by the Civil Protection Units and Bodies of the Federal Public Administration, and have the technical and political responsibility to elaborate, carry out and coordinate the civil protection programs by the suggestions of the Consultative Bodies.


Through which volunteers are organized and develop and carry out their activities related to specific civil protection tasks. This organizational structure is hierarchical and covers, according to the different decision-making levels, three areas:

Local that corresponds to the bodies located in municipalities or delegations.

Regional, whose bodies coordinate the local bodies located in the region and are identified with the states, as the case may be.

National, which is associated with federal agencies, coordinating all the components of the previous levels, as well as establishing relations in the field of international organizations.

Likewise, SINAPROC's operation is based on the implementation and execution of civil protection programs to be carried out before, during, and after a disaster.

Depending on their scope of application, there are external programs, internal or private programs, community programs, and even family programs. The first is aimed at protecting the population, their property, and their environment in the presence of destructive phenomena of natural or human origin. These programs can be:

National: their content is strategic, they provide a general framework for civil protection actions to be carried out throughout the country, in which the three levels of government, the private and social sectors, and the population in general participate.

State: they contain civil protection actions determined according to the problems that arise in the area of a federal entity, involving the participation of government authorities and the corresponding private and social sectors.

Municipal or delegation: they contain civil protection actions determined according to the problems that arise in the area of the municipality or delegation, involving the participation of the authorities, the private and social sectors, and the population in general within that area.

Special civil protection: these are those whose content is focused on the attention of specific problems in a given area, caused by the possible presence of natural or human calamities that imply a high-risk potential for the population, their property, and their environment.

Internal or private programs are those that are limited to the scope of an agency, entity, institution, or organization belonging to the public sector (at its three levels of government), private and social sectors and are installed in the corresponding buildings to safeguard the physical integrity of the employees and the people who attend them. Their function is to protect facilities, assets, and vital information in the event of a disaster.

There are communal and even family programs, whose names indicate the area to be protected. To make them compatible, civil protection programs include prevention, relief, and support in their structure.

Prevention. It is related to the set of measures aimed at avoiding and/or mitigating the destructive impact of natural or human calamities on the population and its assets, public services, the production plant, and nature. Its functions are developed within two basic processes: risk assessment and mitigation.

Relief. This refers to the set of activities aimed primarily at rescuing and safeguarding the population in danger, maintaining strategic services and equipment in operation, and preserving the safety of property and the balance of nature. Its operational instrument is the emergency plan that will function as a response to the onslaught of a calamity. The functions of this subprogram are warning, damage assessment, emergency plans, emergency coordination, security, protection, rescue and assistance, strategic services, equipment and goods, health, supplies, emergency social communication, initial reconstruction and return to normality.

Support, which by its nature, is immersed in the two substantive subprograms of the subject, providing them with legal-normative, technical, administrative, and social support. The functions of this subprogram are planning, coordination, legal framework, organization, financial resources, material resources, human resources, education and training, social participation, research, and new technologies, social communication, maintenance, conservation and creation of protection facilities, implementation of civil protection, control and education.

National Civil Protection System: The Case of Mexico

In the case of Mexico, the National Civil Protection System operates under a principle of co-responsibility between the federal, state, and municipal levels and requires, for its full integration, the decisive support and cooperation of society as a whole. It has become the normative framework that regulates the different actions of prevention, relief and support carried out by the government agencies of the Republic and those agreed with the different sectors of the community, to face in an organized and coordinated manner the consequences derived from the occurrence of destructive phenomena, whether natural or man-made, to which our country is conditioned both by geographical circumstances and by its degree of development.

The System has been progressing; so far, it can be affirmed that the institutional changes required for its implementation have been carried out, with an organizational structure of generalized coverage that covers the whole country, made up of authorities with well-defined responsibilities and functions in the matter, according to their attributions and competencies.

This scheme, headed by the Ministry of the Interior, through the General Coordination of Civil Protection and for operational aspects with the General Directorate of Civil Protection, has favored the participation of agencies and organizations, according to their powers and responsibilities, in events which, due to their characteristics and magnitude, required a timely and efficient response. Events such as the most recent hurricanes, forest fires, and floods in Mexico City, the State of Mexico, Veracruz, Campeche, and Chiapas, among other states, give us elements to affirm that civil protection actions are more and more adequate to the current situation of the country.

Finally, among the actions that have been developed in the area of civil protection, it is worth mentioning the creation and establishment of the National Center for Disaster Prevention (CENAPRED), as the technical instrument of the National Civil Protection System. This demonstrates the interest and willingness of the Mexican State to spare no effort to achieve efficient civil protection.

CENAPRED proposes to contribute with scientific knowledge and technological development to determine the most appropriate measures for disaster prevention and mitigation, pointing out the best ways to face them. It also promotes the comprehensive training of the population and the development of specialized resources in this area, supporting the dissemination of preparedness and self-protection measures to the corresponding authorities and the population in general to better face the contingency of a disaster.

However, despite these achievements and the recognition that SINAPROC currently enjoys, there is still much to be done. Only the proper organization of society as a whole, involving the government and the population in general, through the National Civil Protection System, can prevent a normal situation from turning into a catastrophe.

Civil Protection Systems: What Can We Learn from the Past?

Three factors determine the effectiveness and efficiency of civil protection systems. First, it is essential that their organizations have specialized personnel and that their operation is based on updated scientific, technical, and socioeconomic knowledge. Second, the legislative basis for civil protection actions must be developed as soon as possible, both at the three levels of government and in the social and private sectors. Last but not least, we must raise awareness, organize and prepare the population, whose participation is our only guarantee to face disasters.

The experience derived from the operation of the National Civil Protection System to date, which has been enriched by the participation of the public, private and social sectors, has allowed us to raise the following expectations on which future activities will be based:

Accelerate the installation and updating, as the case may be, of the various components of the National Civil Protection System, in its three modalities: consultative, executive, and participative; in the public, private and social sectors; and at the local, regional, and national levels.

To continuously know the latent risks and the dynamics of their growth, as well as to determine the measures for their reduction and the mitigation of their effects through the elaboration of State and Local Risk Atlases.

To guarantee the execution of plans and programs through the National Civil Protection System, explicitly determining the faculties and responsibilities of the different organisms and agencies that comprise it, as well as their interrelationships and coordination modalities.

Strengthen the legal basis for civil protection by extending and deepening the corresponding legislation.

Increase the development of specialized human resources, training them to face the problem through a permanent and diversified training process that includes both formal education and on-the-job training.

Ensure the collaboration and support of the population through continuous civil protection awareness and education programs, taking advantage of the various and traditional training and dissemination mechanisms available in different sectors, such as those of the Ministries of Public Education, Labor and Social Welfare, Agrarian Reform, Health, among others.

Promote and encourage the active collaboration of the private sector to prevent and respond to emergencies by raising awareness and establishing technical standards and corresponding financial incentives.

Promote the participation of volunteers and the community in general by supporting their organization and disseminating self-protection and first aid measures.

To take advantage of opportunities for global cooperation in mutual research, training and dissemination, exchange of knowledge, technologies, and solidarity actions through bilateral agreements, such as those established with the United States, Japan, and France, as well as future collaborations.

Population Protection in the Era of Global Disasters

The threat and presence of different types of phenomena, which can be the cause and origin of disasters in our country and the world, force us to be in a state of constant alert and to develop the necessary resources to face them. The population in its natural growth dynamics, in its mobility and distribution in the territories, is the main object of civil protection actions, and at the same time, it is the population itself, the basic resource for the development of civil protection actions.

The conscious, responsible, and organized participation of all societies in civil protection tasks is fundamental; to achieve this it is necessary to advance in a process of genuine co-responsibility through the sum of coordinated efforts.

Countries such as Spain, Denmark, Portugal, New Zealand, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Argentina, Israel, the United States, and Japan, among others, have reached important levels in the integration of population protection systems, highlighting prevention and population participation measures, as well as research and study of both natural and human mechanisms that generate disasters.