Paris, France, June 2020 – Local authorities have been on the front line managing problems of public order, sanitary assistance, social support, mobility and protection of vulnerable people caused by Covid-19. The sanitary crisis has highlighted the importance of emergency planning, which was the theme of a webconference organised by Efus on 4 June that drew 66 attendees.
> A webconference linked to the ALARM European project
Moderated by Gilles Mahieu, Governor of Walloon Brabant (BE), and General François Vernoux, formerly executive member of the Operational Interministerial Centre for the Management of Crises (Centre opérationnel de gestion interministérielle des crises, France), the conference was based on the work conducted by the ALARM project on transborder cooperation among civil protection stakeholders in the border area between France and Belgium. Efus is a partner in this project led by the Fire and Emergency Department of the northern region of France (Service départemental d’incendie et de secours du Nord, SDIS 59), which gathers 26 French and Belgian partners (institutions, technical, operational and scientific services, as well as managers and experts in civil protection policies).
> Emergency planning in France and Belgium
A preliminary analysis of the response to the sanitary crisis shows that in France, municipalities that do have an operational Communal Safeguard Plan (Plan communal de sauvegarde, PCS) were able to better manage the situation. The same goes for Belgian municipalities.
The local plans are the first stage of safety planning in France and of safety and emergency interventions in Belgium.
> The role of local actors: from elected officials to citizens
Both speakers stressed that local elected officials and municipal technicians play a key role in planning and managing crises, whatever their nature (major incidents, disasters, terrorist attacks, incidents linked to climate and the environment…), but that civil society should also be involved.
Several good practices were shared during the webinar: the city of Nice (FR) associated young people in the drafting of the Municipal Information Document on Major Risks (Document d’information communal sur les risques majeurs, DICRIM) ; in Walloon Brabant, amateur radio and engineers contributed to the emergency planning. “We already have some form of mix in Brabant since the volunteer sector is involved in the crisis management systems. We have tested this approach in ‘peace time’,” said Governor Mahieu.
> Communication is key
Both speakers highlighted the importance of appropriate communication during and after a crisis such as Covid-19, notably to reassure citizens. It is also fundamental that all involved organisations communicate seamlessly at each stage of a crisis in order to ensure a good level of preparedness, an adequate response, and feedback. “Crisis communication must go along with the management of the crisis itself, as it is vital to share and explain information. If efforts have been made to preventively inform the public beforehand, communication on sanitary risks during the crisis will be efficient. On the other hand, it is important not to conceal information, in particular if the crisis hasn’t been handled well,” said General Vernoux.
> Covid-19: a lack of preparation at all levels
The Covid-19 crisis was exceptional and revealed a lack of preparedness at all levels of governance, whether national or international, they said. A number of participants also lamented a lack of coordination among Member States within the European institutions about lockdown and mobility measures.
Governor Mahieu and General Vernoux also warned against the risk of other major crises, in particular environmental ones linked to global warming.