Ensuring crisis management and fire services system is better prepared for future

How do we ensure that crisis management in the Netherlands stays future-proof? Today, the Minister for Justice and Security presented the following to the House of Representatives: the outline policy memorandum on reinforcing crisis management and fire services, the National Crisis Management Handbook and the framework for the modernisation of national emergency powers. These plans show how parties in the crisis management domain will be collaborating in the coming years.

The Netherlands has gained a great deal of experience in recent years with complex (crisis) situations, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, providing sanctuary to displaced Ukrainians and the wildfire in De Peel. We got a lot of things right in these situations, at all levels.

However, society is changing rapidly. Present-day crises are increasingly complex and cross-border matters. As shown by various studies, evaluations and experiences gained in recent years, this will require additional efforts and a reinforcement of our system. In 2020, the Muller Committee evaluated the Security Regions Act (Wet veiligheidsregio’s) and concluded that the Netherlands needs to be better prepared for future crises and disasters and that improvements are needed in the cooperation between the security regions, crisis management partners and the central government in tackling interregional, national and international crises.

Therefore, an action and legislation programme has been initiated to implement the matters provided for in the outline policy memorandum. All crisis management phases, from preparation to aftermath, will be enshrined in law to ensure that our crisis management and fire services system remains adequately prepared for future changes and threats.

Outline policy memorandum on reinforcing crisis management and fire services

The outline policy memorandum sets out how the organisational structure and cooperation required to tackle interregional, national and international risks and crises is to be reinforced. The basic principle is to act as one government, regardless of geographical and organisational boundaries, and to minimise the adverse consequences of crises. Hence, a single nationwide crisis management system will be introduced, which will include a coordination hub between the security regions and the central government, the so-called KCR2.

The fire service is a key component in the system of incident response, disaster response and crisis management. The fire service of the future will need to be prepared for new (major) incidents that have an impact beyond their own security region. The flooding in Limburg and the experiences gained in tackling recent wildfires highlight the importance of having a fire service that operates across regional boundaries. The aim is bring about a future-proof fire service with sufficient capabilities to not only provide high-quality basic fire services at the local and regional levels, but to also quickly tackle large-scale and new types of incidents. And for all this to be properly enshrined in law. To this end, steps are also being taken to ensure structural cooperation with the other crisis management partners, such as the police, the water authorities, the Ministry of Defence, industrial fire brigades, the Royal Dutch Lifesaving Federation, and the Environmental Incident Service of the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM).

New versions of Decree establishing the Ministerial Crisis Management Committee and Crisis Management Handbook

The new versions of the Decree establishing the Ministerial Crisis Management Committee  and the National Crisis Management Handbook that recently came into effect supersede the obsolete versions from 2016. The new Decree and Handbook set out the changes made on the basis of lessons learned, experiences gained and findings from evaluations (such as concerning the crisis approach to the COVID-19 pandemic) and describe the current standard practice in situations with a supra-regional and national impact. In this respect, it is essential to expressly consider the possible and expected consequences of measures for society as a whole and for vulnerable groups in particular, the practical implementation of measures and their enforceability, financial feasibility and explicability to the public. Accordingly, the approach to and organisation of crisis management will from the outset be focused on close and flexible cooperation with other government authorities, government services and public and private partners concerned, as constituent parts of a nationwide system.

For example, it will be possible to invite a mayor, chair of a security region or chair of another public body to take part in meetings of the Ministerial Crisis Management Committee in an advisory capacity. In addition, other operational partners and subject-matter experts will also be able to participate as advisers, such as the police, the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee, the armed forces, intelligence and security services and private partners, such as providers of critical processes, knowledge institutions or knowledge networks.

Framework for modernisation of national emergency powers

Recent events, such as tackling the COVID-19 pandemic and the influx of displaced Ukrainians, have highlighted the importance of the government being able to fall back on national emergency powers and emergency and crisis legislation. However, as the Council of State concluded in its recent unsolicited advice, the system of national emergency powers is outdated on many points and will therefore need to be closely reviewed to assess to what extent it is still suited for tackling current and future threats. The Council of State advises to modernise the substance of the current national emergency powers and crisis legislation in conjunction with the developments aimed at reinforcing the crisis management and fire services system.

The total body of law comprising national emergency powers and emergency and crisis legislation is very extensive. The current government will therefore adopt a phased and priority-based approach to the modernisation and redesign of this body of law. The letter to the House of Representatives on the framework for the modernisation of national emergency powers outlines a clear and uniform framework that can provide guidance in this respect. With the proposed framework, the government aims to give society more clarity and certainty on the legal basis for national emergency powers and emergency and crisis legislation in the Netherlands, including in the Caribbean Netherlands. In addition, it will be important to take stock of any gaps in emergency powers and/or emergency legislation, in the context of the Nationwide Security Strategy that is to be submitted to the House of Representatives in the first quarter of 2023.