The first response to major emergencies in Ireland is led by the 3 principal emergency services. An Garda Síochána (police force), the ambulance service, the fire service and the Irish coast guard. These principle agencies are responsible for the response to an emergency situation up to and including a major emergency in Ireland. At national level, the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning co-ordinates and oversees the emergency management policy and activities of all government departments and agencies under their aegis. The lead government department has the mandate and responsibility to co-ordinate all national level activity for its assigned emergency. The National Emergency Co-ordination Group is the central government platform established as part of the response to a threatened or ongoing national level emergency and is convened and chaired by the relevant lead government department.
The Office of Emergency Planning, Department of Defence, provides a key support role to the Government Task Force on co-ordination and oversight of emergency planning.
The EU Civil Protection Mechanism sets out requirements in relation to risk management capability. The strategic emergency management document sets out the national approach to risk management in Ireland including critical infrastructure and civil protection risk scenarios. The framework for major emergency management document and associated guidance documents provide a detailed risk assessment methodology for local and regional risk scenarios that fall under the scope of the principle response agencies.
A national risk assessment is carried out under the Governmental Task Force on a 3 year cycle in accordance with Ireland’s commitments under the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. The most recent national risk assessment was completed in 2017, endorsed by the Governmental Task Force and approved by government for submission to the EU. Subsequently, a summary report of the national risk management capabilities assessments was carried out over the summer of 2018 and this was again endorsed by the Governmental Task Force and submitted to the EU, again as part of our commitments under the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. Both documents are published at www.emergencyplanning.ie.
The national risk assessment process is carried out with key partners across all government departments and agencies and is supported by academic engagement in this process. The national documents are also published, once approved. In addition this 3 year cyclical process also feeds into the annual strategic overview of national risks by the Department of An Taoiseach, which involves a public consultation process. In addition, lead government departments are responsible for promoting risk awareness within their remits and the Governmental Task Force coordinates an annual “Be Winter Ready” public information campaign launched in November each year (www.winterready.ie). Other public information on strategic emergency management is available at www.emergencyplanning.ie along with specific emergency management information at www.mem.ie.
In Ireland, each lead government department has the mandate and the responsibility to coordinate all national-level activity for its assigned emergency types. The lead government department role includes risk assessment, planning and preparedness, prevention, mitigation, response and recovery. Lead government departments are also responsible for arranging and coordinating regular exercises and training plans within their remits, which are reported upon at the Governmental Task Force. In some cases, such as recent security related exercises, EU funding has been sourced and provided valuable assistance. In addition, at both regional and local levels, regular exercises are planned and conducted under the Major Emergency Management framework across a wide range of possible scenarios.
Met Eireann, the Irish Metrological Service, is responsible for issuing weather related warnings and alerts under a well-established “Traffic Light” and scaled system for severe weather events and is also responsible for naming storms within its remit. In addition, Met Eireann is at an advanced stage of developing a national flood forecast and warning system. In relation to other public safety warnings, these would be matters for the National Emergency Coordination Group, chaired by the lead government department responsible, to consider on a case-by-case basis and who may utilise various protocols for allowing such messages to be broadcast across the national broadcast outlets over radio and television.
The coordination of a national-level emergency responses is addressed in chapter six of the Strategic Emergency Management National Structures and Framework document published aat www.emergencyplanning.ie.
This outlines the function and work of the National Emergency Coordination Group (NECG) that would be convened by the local government department responsible for such national-level responses. The NECG, as a national-level structure, when necessary, would link into the corresponding regional local level structures that are outlined separately under the Major Emergency Management framework and the associated guidelines published at www.mem.ie, which cover a wide range of operational responses.
The decision to seek assistance from outside the region, including from Northern Ireland should be made by the lead agency, in association with the other principal response agencies. When national resources are overwhelmed, there are various assistance systems which are available upon request. These include the United Nations (UN)/OCHA and the EU’s Union Civil Protection Mechanism. Host nation support guidance for the principal response agencies has been developed to alleviate any problems that may be encountered during the requesting, reception and utilisation of any aid or resources from outside the state by the principal response agencies. There is a long-standing tradition of mutual assistance between the emergency services on both sides of the border. These arrangements between individual emergency services in both jurisdictions continue to operate and are supported nationally through the Cross Border Emergency Management Group.