Risk management: how to bring citizens and civil protection authorities closer?

Brussels, Belgium, June 2022 – As a partner in the RiskPACC European project, which is led by the German applied research institute Fraunhofer and which seeks to improve communication between civil protection agencies and citizens, Efus took part in an awareness workshop and a coordination meeting with the project’s other partners, on 28-29 June in Brussels (Belgium).

At a time when risks are ever more complex and interconnected, it is essential that civil protection authorities and citizens be fully aware of such risks in order to strengthen individual and collective resilience. However, throughout Europe a gap can be observed in the way civil protection authorities and citizens perceive such risks and identify what actions must be taken.

The purpose of the awareness workshop was to present an analysis of the current risks in Europe and the different approaches seeking to reduce this gap (what the project terms the Risk Perception-Action Gap) in order to share and discuss them with representatives of industries, end users, citizens, solution providers, universities as well as other European projects exploring the perception of risks and behaviours.

It was the first of a series of three workshops planned by the project. The next ones will be held in Berlin in June 2023, and Paris in December 2023, the latter being organised by Efus.

Efus is tasked with testing the solutions that RiskPACC will produce among its member cities. Furthermore, it will contribute to drafting recommendations that can be used across Europe on how to bridge the gap between civil protection authorities and citizens.

 As part of this analysis of the perception of risks, Efus met with General François Vernoux, of the French High Commission for Civil Defence (Haut Comité Français pour la Défense Civile) to discuss the situation in France:  

Do you see gaps in the way French civil protection authorities and citizens perceive risks, in particular at the local level?

General François Vernoux: It depends. Citizens are sometimes included in the Communal Safeguarding Plans (Plans Communaux de Sauvegarde, PCS), but not always. Some cities do not have a PCS, or have one that’s not good enough, and citizens are not involved. However, it is essential that they be involved in order to be more resilient when a crisis happens. We need to have a resilient population that is able to prepare and act without the support of the state.

For this, citizens must be informed on how to act in case of general or specific risk. This is not yet sufficiently developed in France, and we need the political will to get there. For example, during the Covid-19 vaccination campaign, we saw that few people know what a vaccine is and how it works, which caused problems not only in France, but also in other countries.

What measures exist in France to help local communities prepare for a crisis or a catastrophe?

Every citizen can register with the Communal Civil Security Reserve (Réserve Communale de Sécurité Civile), which is a local civil security unit, and help municipal officers in case of a crisis. It is a great and efficient way to train and prepare local communities for natural risks, but it’s not always well organised even though some municipalities are doing a great job and can inspire others.

How do French local authorities inform the public?

Apart from the Communal Civil Security Reserve, the Communal Information Document on Major Risks (Document d’Information Communal sur les Risques Majeurs) details the content and form of the information that should be shared with the public. This document is prepared by the mayor for local residents and details the local risks, the consequences that can be expected, and the prevention, protection and safeguarding measures that must be taken to respond to major risks that can affect the municipality.

Did the Covid-19 pandemic change the way you see risks?

It is not the first time that France and other countries have to deal with a pandemic, but this crisis has highlighted the need to put in place sustainable risk management plans and policies. In general, when a risk arises, new risk management plans are adopted or the existing ones are updated, but I believe this should be a legal obligation.

I hope that in the future, we will be able to better inform French citizens so that we have a resilient community when a risk arises, and that risk management will be more sustainable and updated by the different administrative levels so that we can respond to new and more complex risks.

> More information on the RiskPACC project’s website

> Read the article we published in September 2021