De Facto

No Āzijas pēc izglītības Latvijā: kursi vien dažas stundas nedēļā

De Facto

Zīmju valodā. DeFacto

Militāra apdraudējuma gadījumos civilā aizsardzība pašvaldībās ne līdz galam skaidra

Civil protection preparedness still lukewarm in Latvia

Hope for the best but expect the worst – this was the motto with which Latvian municipalities were asked to update their civil protection plans in the event of a military threat following Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Some have still not done so, Latvian Television's De Facto reported on April 14.

The development of plans had to be done by the beginning of this year; the need for the plans and the deadline was set by law and Cabinet regulations as late as autumn 2022. However, some municipalities started to act at the last minute and eight municipalities still do not have the updated plans.

The Civil Protection Plan (its annex) for military emergencies is not yet ready in the municipalities of Cēsis, Gulbene, Līvāni, Ogre, Preiļi, Salaspils, Saulkrasti, and Valka. They promise to complete the work, but various circumstances have delayed it, including confusion about what exactly needs to be in it to make practical sense.

In Līvāni, a municipality less than 100 kilometers from both Russia and Belarus, the excuse is that there is a lot of work and not enough people to do it. "We are developing it ourselves, without outsourcing, and that is probably why the development has been delayed. (...) Maybe we made a mistake, but I hope that we will be better off knowing the situation on the ground, that we will be able to develop it more appropriate to the needs," said Aldis Džeriņš, Executive Director of Līvāni Municipality.

In Ogre, where such a plan would be particularly important because of its strategic sites, it is the sites that are cited as a cause of delay. "We are working on it. We are working hard," said Egils Helmanis (National Alliance), chairman of the Ogre municipal council. He explained that Ogre has both an airfield and hydroelectric power plants. "And these are the two big threats that this plan is being developed in accordance with.  (...) Most municipalities do not have military facilities that need to be developed together with the military and the owners of the hydroelectric power plants," Helmanis said. The head of the Ogre municipality predicted that the plan could be finalized by the end of the summer.

In Valka, for example, where the situation has been affected by a change in political leadership, the plan is not expected until closer to autumn. In Līvāni, however, the work will be completed at the end of May.

The plan should answer several questions. How to inform the population in the event of a military threat? How to evacuate, where to shelter? Where to accommodate people arriving from elsewhere? Where to get fuel and where to get food supplies and water? How can the municipality help the National Armed Forces?

Where a plan is already in place, it was acknowledged that it is not easy to prepare one, even with experience of other types of crises, such as the floods in Jēkabpils. Ilmārs Luksts, a member of the Jēkabpils municipal council and the municipality's civil protection engineer, explained: "There are quite a lot of significant differences in what to do in the event of a military invasion. The most important differences are with the scale. The scale might be different, the number of people to be evacuated might be different [..]."

The biggest challenge mentioned by the municipalities is how to inform the population. This section of the plan will not be fully available to citizens before a threat. The section of the plan on military threats has a restricted status in law. "With the modeling of such crises, I don't think it is appropriate to announce in advance where the gathering places are, such things should not be discussed beforehand. Because, as we see from the Ukrainian experience, this is a goal for the Russians to create as much panic and chaos as possible," Luksts said.

The Latvian Association of Local Governments (LPS), assessing the big picture, concluded that even the finalized plans do not yet mean the best possible preparedness for a threat.

"The most important question is how useful these kinds of plans are in a threat situation - this is the question that gives us no peace," said Aino Salmiņš, LPS advisor. He pointed out:

"Of the 14 points, if I am not mistaken, at least six are not part of local government functions at all. And then we are dealing with surveys about hunting collectives, about pharmacists, about general practitioners, which, by the way, are not part of any structure. The GP in this situation is a freelancer, he is not subject to anything and at hour X we do not even know what he is going to do."

At the same time, the professionalism of civil protection commissions needs to be improved, but this, like other things in civil protection, requires funding. "Everybody has invented the idea that the civil protection commission is some big institution where people are paid to work there. As a result, it's the mayor and the clerk, there's no otherbody there. And that's one thing - we need to strengthen the civil protection commissions with more professional people."

It is also clear that these plans will need to be updated every year, and even if something is not completely clear at the moment, it can be solved by updating the plans regularly.

It should also be noted that not all plans include specific bomb shelters, as there is simply still no clarity on these. The State Fire and Rescue Service has started visiting municipalities to assess the basements under their management and by April 10, 47 of the 87 buildings surveyed were found to be compliant or partially compliant. However, if any basements need to be improved, the municipalities are already planning whether there will be funding. But legislation to tackle the problem and to provide shelters in new buildings is still stuck.

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