Disaster preparedness among neighbours in the Baltic
Finland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia face the same natural hazard risks and share similar infrastructure. This is why the National Red Cross Societies in the four countries have decided to collaborate to be better prepared to respond to disasters when they strike. A consortium led by the Finnish Red Cross launched the 2-year Evacuation Ready (EvRE) project in 2022, which is co-funded by the European Union. EvRe aims to deepen cooperation between the Red Cross and EU Civil Protection Authorities in the Baltic countries by focusing on enhancing capacities to set-up and manage evacuation centres and by collaborating with various emergency support services, as well as deepening the cross-border operational cooperation in disaster response.
The four National Societies play a key role in disaster management in their countries, including through the delivery of humanitarian assistance and first aid. In the framework of the project, 9 training sessions were organized reaching 200 participants. Three of them consisted in a 2-days training of trainers to manage evacuation centre activities. There were four online trainings with scenario exercises, and one exercise in Estonia in a large-scale maritime accident.
Another project activity consisted of training and field exercises to strengthen cross-border cooperation and collaboration and to test regional response and coordination among project partners. The Estonian Red Cross organised a field training exercise to practice response skills, where around 60 Red Cross staff and volunteers from the four countries and 10 participants from Civil Protection Authorities worked together on a simulation of establishing and running an evacuation centre in case of maritime disaster. As part of the exercise, participants tested existing contingency and preparedness plans, standard operating procedures (SOPs) between the EU Civil Protection Mechanism (UCPM) and the Red Cross, including management cooperation with public authorities.
“Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland are geographically so close to each other, and the countries are located by the Baltic Sea. An exercise involving the four National Red Cross Societies and simulating an event at sea that requires evacuation is very beneficial, as the probability of needing each other’s help in a real-life scenario is very high,” explains Valve Saarma, Estonian Red Cross volunteer.
The scenario was framed as follows: a boat with 1,800 passengers travelling from Helsinki to Klaipeda capsized off the coast of Estonia. As a consequence, the passengers ended up on Hiiumaa beach. The purpose of the exercise was to test cooperation in organising cross-border evacuation, specifically on how to register, temporarily accommodate, and then repatriate the passengers.
Participants obtained skills to better respond during a disaster in collaboration with members of other teams. “I learned from this training that clear communication and good quality information are really important. Your initial location doesn’t matter, all members of the team work as one,” says Rainer Põhjala, Estonian Red Cross volunteer.
EvRe was effective in improving cooperation between the Finnish Red Cross and Baltic National Red Cross Societies in managing cross-border evacuation situations in real environments. Participants underlined how solving the challenges of different exercises together prepared them to better work collaboratively in the future. The different exercises carried out in the framework of the EvRe project support cross-border cooperation and contribute to making Europe a safer place. The four National Red Cross Societies will continue collaborating together to ensure that the learnings are long lasting and that the communication links established will contribute to a more effective emergency response.