Crisis preparedness and response

The Health Emergency Operations Facility (HEOF)

A priority of the Health Security Programme , adopted by Members States’ Health Ministers in December 2001, was the setting up of a "mechanism for information exchange, consultation and coordination for the handling of health-related issues linked to attacks in which biological and chemical agents might be used or have been used.

In this context two tools were put in place at the very beginning of this activity: a rapid alert system called RAS-BICHAT used by the Member States and the Commission for exchanging information on health threats due to deliberate release of chemical, biological and radio-nuclear substances, and a Crisis room and Communication Centre facility installed in Luxembourg for the management of alerts and emergencies notified by Member States.

The crisis and communication facility of the Commission is composed of a crisis room, a communication room and one multifunctional meeting room. These rooms are fully equipped with communication tools such as an audio-conferencing system allowing connection of up to 100 participants, video-conferencing tools (up to 32 contact points), satellite phones (as back up) and a Digital Alert Communication System allowing the sending of SMS, the broadcasting of pre-registered messages, and the organisation on spot of audio-conferences. TV screens also allow to screen the media during a crisis.

Following the constitution of the "Health Threats unit" in 2003, all operations in respect of the Network for the epidemiological surveillance and control of communicable diseases, established by Decision 2119/98/EC of the European Parliament and the Council, were also conducted in this facility which was an appropriate tool to deal with communicable diseases emergencies.

Since its establishment, HEOF is continuously improved to address further needs. Tools have been developed addressing various needs :
  • Early warning and response systems linking the Member States, the Commission and relevant players to ensure a rapid and effective response by the EU to a wide range of emergencies.
  • An information scanning tool (Medisys) for an early identification of potential health threats, assessment and investigation in order to recommend public health measures to control them.
  • A situation awareness tool (HEDIS) to provide an overview of the situation on an identified health threat to the Commission and Member States' players.