National Audit Office: limited comprehension and diffusion of responsibility hinders the effective running of the state in emergency situations

Toomas Mattson | 5/29/2007 | 12:00 AM

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TALLINN, 29 May 2007 - The National Audit Office of Estonia has evaluated the country’s preparedness for a number of scenarios – an outbreak of avian influenza, an influenza pandemic, extensive marine pollution and an accident in the transportation of dangerous chemicals – and found that limited comprehension of responsibility and the diffusion of those responsibilities within ministries weakens the state’s already modest level of readiness to deal with emergency situations quickly and effectively.

The audit revealed that despite the recognition the ministries are due for their efforts, they are unable at present to either avert such emergency situations or effectively resolve them. It is for this reason that prevention of emergencies and preparation for them require more attention and resources than ever.

Currently, the best level of preparedness is for those emergency situations (i.e. avian influenza and influenza pandemics) whose specific legislation sets out the responsibilities for the fulfilment of the tasks needed to achieve emergency readiness, regarding which preparedness plans have been drawn up based on European Commission requirements.

In the case of other emergency situations (i.e. extensive marine pollution and accidents involving the transportation of dangerous chemicals), the main problem is that there is no guiding ministry to take responsibility for preparedness for emergency situations and resolution of them. If the responsibility is divided between different ministries and none of them is designated as being liable for the management of the process, this complicates the drawing up of an overall plan for resolving emergency situations, the division of roles and the joint acquisition of resources.

As the Emergency Preparedness Act can also be interpreted in such a way that the Ministry of the Interior is seen as being in charge of preparations for all emergency situations, other ministries do not view themselves as bearing responsibility.

  • The organisation of ensuring preparedness for emergency situations is not effective. The way in which matters are currently being organised does not ensure the development of preparedness for emergency situations, i.e. thorough risk analyses and plans have not been drawn up for each potential situation, and neither have the prerequisites for the plan to be implemented. Decisions are not being made systematically regarding the need for examining risks. There is no overall view of either the risk reduction measures that have been implemented, their effectiveness and cost or the measures that need to be implemented and their projected cost.

    The existence and availability of the resources required for the resolution of emergency situations has not been ensured. There is no overall view of the resources that are required, already existing and lacking, and the acquisition of the resources that are lacking (such as those for personal protection equipment) has not been organised with expedience. The training organised in order to check the efficient running of the emergency situation resolution plan and to ensure that those fulfilling the plan are as prepared as they need to be does not include all of the parties who would be involved in the resolution of such situations. Preparedness for emergency situations is not being periodically analysed in order to identify any shortcomings.
  • Achieving preparedness at the required level for emergency situations involving avian influenza is possible with relatively little effort and within a relatively short time.
  • Achieving preparedness at the necessary level for emergency situations involving an influenza pandemic will require further effort and take more time. The clear plan for the division of roles and the organisation of management only includes the health sector, but this alone would not be enough to resolve an emergency situation involving an influenza pandemic. To ensure preparedness for an emergency situation involving an influenza pandemic, a preparedness plan must be drawn up that covers all sectors, and the activities of the parties involved must be organised, as restrictions on movement must be put in place and implemented, and the health of the individuals involved must be guaranteed, along with transport, catering, etc. In the event of individual episodes of influenza that threaten to turn into pandemics, quarantines cannot be enforced or other measures implemented that are designed to prevent a pandemic. As a result, the spread of the virus may only be hindered when large numbers of people have already fallen ill. In the course of the audit it also became clear that insufficient means of personal protection and anti-flu medicines are being allocated to operatively and strategically important officials who are part of the risk group, and that their immediate supply if required has not been guaranteed.
  • Preparedness for emergency situations involving extensive marine pollution is not sufficient. A national marine pollution management plan was produced during the audit period, but the prerequisites for its implementation unfortunately have yet to be drawn up. Estonia’s ability to manage pollution does not meet the minimum requirements of the Helsinki convention. The Ministry of the Interior is not designated in either legislation or the marine pollution management plan as the body responsible for preparedness for emergency situations involving extensive marine pollution and for resolution of such situations, as a result of which there is as a lack of certainty as to whether the Ministry of the Interior would fulfil its task as the ministry in charge in practice.
  • Preparedness for emergency situations related to an accident in the transport of dangerous chemicals is not sufficient. No ministry has been designated as responsible for the prevention of and preparation for emergency situations (i.e. extensive air, soil and ground water pollution) related to an accident in the transport of dangerous chemicals. A thorough risk analysis has not been drawn up for the planning of preparedness for such an emergency situation, and neither has an overall plan on how to act in such a situation (i.e. in the event of danger). Amongst other things, the organisation of the evacuation of people located in danger zones has not been thought through, or reduction of the risks involved in it (such as guarding of property left unattended).

    The National Audit Office’s recommendations for the improvement of preparedness for emergency situations are related to the updating of the Emergency Preparedness Act, the Infectious Animal Disease Control Act and the Communicable Diseases Prevention and Control Act; the drawing up of an overall risk analysis and plan; and the acquisition of resources that are currently lacking and the organisation of appropriate training.

    The National Audit Office takes a positive view of the fact that the ministries set about eliminating shortcomings during the audit itself. For example, the Ministry of the Interior developed a concept of amendments to the legal basis of crisis regulation for the resolution of problems and formed an inter-ministerial working group in order to produce a draft Emergency Preparedness Act Amendment Act and accompanying sub-acts.

    The current situation and the shortcomings in the prevention of and preparation for emergency situations are set out in greater detail in the audit reports, which are available from the National Audit Office website. The recommendations made by the office as a result of the audit are designed to support the improvement of preparedness for emergency situations as an aspect of national security.


    Toomas Mattson
    Communication Manager of National Audit Office
    Telephone: 6400 777
    Mob: 51 34900


  • Posted: 5/29/2007 12:00 AM
  • Last Update: 9/15/2015 1:32 PM
  • Last Review: 9/15/2015 1:32 PM

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