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The flood disaster of July 2021 caused major material damage and deaths in, among others, the Meuse-Rhine Euregio (EMR), the area where EMRIC services are responsible for crisis management and disaster response. At the request of the partner organisations of the EMRIC network, ITEM carried out research into the requirements of cross-border crisis management in the event of the 2021 flood as part of the INTERREG Project MAHRETAK. EMRIC is a unique partnership of public services responsible for fire fighting, technical assistance, emergency response, infectious diseases and disaster and crisis management in their areas. While specific areas of disaster response and emergency management are already coordinated in EMRIC, flooding as a crisis goes beyond EMRIC cooperation and requires the combination of national, regional and Euroregional levels. The aim of the study was to examine the current situation of crisis management at the administrative and political level across the border and to discuss recommendations for the partners of this INTERREG project that could improve cross-border crisis management in the future.
In previous crisis scenarios, it was often assumed that in case of a disaster at one of the EMRIC partners in a region, actors on the other side of the border from the neighbouring region could help. Thus, cross-border assistance exists where it is needed. The July 2021 flood crisis, more or less like COVID-19, was different: it affected the regions simultaneously. This simultaneity highlighted the need for new considerations on cross-border crisis management. In particular, issues of improved information, communication and coordination of measures emerge. In view of the flood, the network lacked the integration of the relevant services of water and flood protection and therefore, unlike, for example, “natural fires” or “radiation accidents”, there were no special agreements or working groups. Due to the simultaneous deployment of emergency services, the crisis situation was less about mutual assistance than about information, coordination and consultation with a view to individual measures by the individual crisis teams.
In many individual discussions with EMRIC partners, who brought experiences from the work of the respective crisis teams, it emerged that it was precisely the INTERREG MAHRETAK project that raised essential issues corresponding to perceived shortcomings in cross-border crisis management. These ranged from better exchange of weather data, more extensive cross-border application of information and communication systems, handling of different emergency plans to the issue of better communication between crisis teams at the administrative level. To improve communication at the level of political administrators, ways to improve the coordination and communication of crisis teams across borders were discussed with all stakeholders.
A key recommendation of the ITEM study is that it does not make sense to create a cross-border administrative crisis team, but rather an innovative tool can be proposed in the form of a “crisis team linkage”. The term “coupling” can, as in the case of fire hoses, facilitate cross-border cooperation in a vivid manner without harmonising national systems. Such a crisis team coupling should always be set up under the umbrella of EMRIC when, as in the case of floods, it is less about mutual assistance but more about information and consultation in the event of a crisis. If possible, it should even facilitate coordination of measures and also contribute to joint crisis communication through better coordinated risk assessments (one of Marhetak’s products), which should lead to the avoidance of negative cross-border impacts.
For this purpose, an EMRIC “crisis team linkage” agreement should establish an escalation model that also triggers a structured linkage of political administrators in partner regions in case of certain dangerous situations. Although EMRIC has set up a tool for this case with the liaison model, the appointment of liaisons per partner institution, it did not appear to be sufficiently known or was not always fully utilised. A “crisis team liaison” could build on this model. In particular, it should enable individual EMRIC partners to request the establishment of a crisis team link at very short notice if there are ambiguities regarding the procedure and situation in the partner regions.