Lille, France, May 2018 – The ALARM project, which is carried out as part of the EU’s Interreg programme for territorial cooperation between France, Wallonia and Flanders, held its first seminar for local elected officials at the headquarters of the European Metropolis of Lille (EML, FR), on 17 May. The main topic of this meeting, which gathered about a hundred local elected officials from both sides of the border, was the involvement and responsibilities of mayors and burgomasters in ensuring civil security.
ALARM: 26 partners in France, Wallonia and Flanders
ALARM is a project that started in 2016 with the aim of developing operational cross border cooperation between security actors on both sides of the Franco-Belgian border on a wide array of cross border risks such as common risks (fire, road accidents); technological, industrial and natural (floods, land movements), or of human origin (disruption of service networks, flows and mobility).
The project gathers 26 French, Walloon and Flemish partners: institutions, technical, operational and scientific services, as well as managers and experts in the implementation of civil security policies. Efus is a partner in the project, in charge of coordinating the module related to the involvement of local authorities. The Lille seminar is part of this module.
Raising awareness and strengthening resilience
The seminar was opened by Valéry Ficot, Director of Patrimony and Security at the European Metropolis of Lille. He called for creating a more resilient society through raising awareness among the population on civil security.
After a concise presentation of the ALARM project by Sébastien Descamps, Commander of the Fire and Emergency Service of the North Region of France (département du Nord), Dominique Mizera, head of the MEL Partnership Mission, and Yves Van de Vloet, Associate Expert at Efus, talked about the common challenges on both sides of the border.
Mr Van de Vloet gave examples and data showing that the territory comprising the border between France and Belgium constitutes a single area in terms of risks, whatever their origin.
The disaster of Ghislenghien, in Belgium, when the explosion of a gas pipe caused 24 casualties and over 130 injuries, in 2004, was often cited as the catalyst that led public authorities of both countries to increase cooperation between their emergency services.
Indeed, immediately after the accident, a large detachment of firefighters from the North Region of France was sent to Belgium to take part in the rescue operation. “Because risk doesn’t stop at the administrative border, cross border cooperation is not only desirable but also necessary,” said Yves Van de Vloet.
The essential role of mayors and local authorities
Speaking for the second time, Yves Van de Vloet, together with Clément Stengel, Deputy Mayor of Amiens (FR) in charge of security and Vice President of the French Forum for Urban Security (FFSU) and of Efus, highlighted the importance of having mayors and burgomasters “on the front line in terms of cooperation for tackling risks,” said Mr Stengel. The latter also linked this issue with the work carried out by Efus and the FFSU to promote the role of local authorities, a core objective of the network.
The speakers also insisted on the legal responsibilities of elected officials. Indeed, both the French and the Belgian legislations consider that mayors and burgomasters play a central role in tackling a civil security crisis. They must be aware of the existing risks on their territory, make diagnoses, ensure that their local safety plan is implemented, but also have a communication plan to effectively reach the public.
The ability to inform citizens on the adequate measures and behaviours to adopt in case of crisis was an important part of the seminar. In this respect, Mr Van de Vloet stressed the importance of raising awareness among the population. Their resilience is linked to “their capacity for assimilating the local safety plan,” said Mr Van de Vloet.
Strengthening exchanges with local authorities of both countries
An analysis of over 500 questionnaires sent to border towns showed there is still a lot to do to strengthen cross border cooperation, as well as mayors’ and burgomasters’ knowledge and awareness of their responsibilities with regards to civil security.
However, a great deal of effort has already been made at various levels of intervention: local elected officials, technicians and operators from the various relevant organisations, and the public at large.
In his closing address, Roger Vicot, Mayor of Lomme and President of the FFSU, called for more meetings of this type among elected officials, with the aim of giving them the necessary tools for fulfilling their responsibilities related to risk management.
The ALARM project’s website (in French and Dutch): https://www.interreg-alarm.eu/