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Speech by Willie O’Dea T.D. Minister for Defence and
Chairman of the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning, at the Launch of the National Public Information and Awareness Campaign on Emergency Planning

Dublin, Monday, 14th April 2008

Taoiseach, Ladies and Gentlemen, as Chairman of the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning, I am delighted that we are launching the handbook ‘Preparing for Major Emergencies’ here today.

As the Taoiseach has said, the handbook is a reflection of the work of the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning. It highlights the work we have been doing to plan for the unexpected, and to continue to develop and improve our emergency planning and response.

Our purpose is to reassure and inform. The Handbook shows that people can have confidence in the State’s ability to respond to a major emergency. It also provides some practical advice on what we, as individuals, can do to be better prepared.

Most importantly, this handbook is a response to clear public demand. Back in 2006, I commissioned market research into public awareness of emergency planning. The results showed that most people did not know what plans we have in place, or what actions they should take in the event of an emergency occurring.

Following on from this research, I proposed to Government that we conduct a public information and awareness campaign on emergency planning. This handbook forms a central focus of that campaign. Similar campaigns have been conducted in other countries.

A copy of the handbook will be delivered to each household across the country. In tandem with the distribution of the handbook, there is a countrywide print and broadcast advertising campaign, together with a billboard poster campaign. We want to ensure the public sees the important of this handbook, reads it and keeps it in a safe place.

We consulted widely in producing this handbook. We have followed best international practice. We have drawn heavily on the information gathered from the research campaign, particularly the qualitative research. We also drew on the expertise of our own Government departments and state agencies, many of whom are leaders in emergency planning in their own fields.

The Handbook is sharp, concise and focussed. The tone and presentation is calm, measured and re-assuring. This Handbook is not the product of a committee of civil servants deciding what the public ought to know: it is the result of asking the public what they want to know. This is a public information campaign that based on what the public itself wants to know.

We are ensuring that information is available in all possible formats. In May of last year, I launched the emergency planning website: . The website, which forms a part of the wider public information and awareness campaign, provides links to all the State’s emergency plans and gives details of useful contacts and publications.

Versions of the Handbook are available in Braille, audio CD format, and an easy to read version. Ireland as a society is continuing to grow, and we are becoming a more diverse and multi-cultural, so with this in mind, we have also produced versions of the Handbook in Chinese, Polish and Russian.

The Handbook outlines the steps to follow in the event of a major emergency such as a flood, an explosion, a nuclear incident or a flu pandemic. It provides easy to follow first aid tips and key telephone numbers. It also points people to where they can get further information. I would strongly urge everyone to read the Handbook and store it in a safe and easily accessible place.

I am pleased to see many of my colleagues on the Government Task Force here today. If they will bear with me, it may be useful to give a short overview of its work.

The Government Task Force on Emergency Planning and the Office of Emergency Planning were established in the aftermath of the tragic events of September 11th. The Task Force is the top-level structure that co-ordinates planning across all departments and agencies with administrative support from the Office of Emergency Planning.

As Minister for Defence, I chair the Task Force, which includes Ministers, senior government department officials, senior officers of An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces and officials of other key public authorities that have a lead or support role in Government emergency planning.

It examines current risks, provides a forum for sharing information and helps to keep emergency planning high on the agenda of all government departments. There have been over fifty meetings of the Task Force to date.

We operate the lead department model. In the event of an emergency, the lead responsibility for specific emergency response remains with relevant Government Department and or Agency supported by other Government Departments and Agencies as required.

An effective response to a major emergency requires departments and agencies to work together, to share their expertise, information and resources. The Government Task Force encourages that collaborative approach by ensuring co-ordination and synchronization between agencies. It brings “joined up thinking” to the emergency planning process.

I would also like to pay tribute to the departments and agencies that are developing the new Framework for Major Emergency Management. That work is well underway and is being ably led by the National Steering Group, chaired by the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

There have been other notable developments over the past number of years. Not least the establishment of this very impressive National Emergency Co-ordination Centre. The Government approved the establishment of a Centre in 2005 following on from a recommendation in the Environmental Resources Management Consultancy’s Report. The Centre is now a reality.

The primary function of the Centre is to provide a dedicated facility in which Ministers and or senior civil servants can convene to coordinate a response in the event of a major emergency. The Centre is also available for exercise and training purposes.

Since my appointment I have emphasised the importance of structured exercises - and in particular inter-agency exercises - to ensuring that all Government Departments and Agencies are fully prepared and ready to respond. Carrying out these structured exercises allows our State agencies to continually test our emergency planning procedures. They also send a positive and reassuring message to the public.

This is an area that is constantly being developed. The 2008 Major Emergency Development Programme will see a significant increase in the number of inter-agency exercises taking place.

In summary, in my role as Chairman of the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning, I am conscious that there is a real need to raise public awareness of the work that is being undertaken in emergency planning by Government departments and public authorities. The handbook being launched here today is really only the start of that process.

I am confident that, by continuing to work together, the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning will build on this important first step. We know that for an effective response to any major emergency the public must know about and have confidence in the State’s plans and must feel part of those plans.

That is our clear goal.

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14 April 2008
Speech by Willie O’Dea T.D. Minister for Defence and Chairman of the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning, at the Launch of the National Public Information and Awareness Campaign on Emergency Planning

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