The role of Government in risk management

Interview met Peter van Zunderd
Hoofd Veiligheidsregio Midden- en West Brabant

About risks and Government’s responsibility, the major risks in society and how to deal with them.

A risk free society?
The desire of many people is a risk-free society and the public points out to the government that it’s their responsibility. If something happens (a storm, a disaster, or an earthquake) it is governments’ fault. Buildings are not built well enough; there was insufficient monitoring et cetera. The government is constantly in the dock when it comes to these risks in life.
As a government, it is advisable to try to manage public trust. Explain to the public that you do everything humanly possible to avoid disasters, but that you cannot guarantee disasters will not happen.

The major risks in society at this moment are, in my opinion, climate change and rising sea levels, the increasing shortage of raw materials, regional conflicts, wars and terrorist threats, corruption and obviously the credit crisis. The impact of nature is a real threat to human life. In that context you have the risk of and the shortage of raw materials. People will increasingly feel the effects – for example the increase in population migration. The difference between rich and poor is widening and large scale migration could be a result. We need to think in scenarios to focus on this risk, for us to make the medium and long term risks visible.

As for risks closer to home, it is very useful to make a risk profile of a region. In this profile, vital infrastructure and all companies that pose a risk should be identified. It is the government’s responsibility to keep the risk within boundaries. All government layers play an important role in the safekeeping of a region. In the Netherlands we have 26 Mayors united in the Board of the Safety Region and we also have a regional police force. It is very important to never see safety as something isolated – it should always be integrated with everything else.

Cooperation is very important in the safekeeping of a region. Vision and policy should originate from cohesion and cooperation and it is vital to ensure all 26 municipalities and the police work well together if they need to act. Cohesion is a very important word when we talk about risk management. Now the cooperation is fragmented. The police, fire services, health authorities, national government, the province and municipalities … everyone is busy with security. There are often not enough links. The role of mayors in the field of security is increasingly important. Some of them don’t know their responsibilities. Take Mexican (Swine) Flu for example.

Many mayors do not realise that they are responsible. Another example: Many mayors do not know that there are 13 programs of the Ministry of Internal Affairs about safety. Public Health, Internal Affairs, laws from the central government, administrative measures in the context of promoting national security, anti-terrorism measures … These are all the Mayors’ responsibility. They often do not know and it is our responsibility to inform them.

The police, fire department, the Public Health Service, the State, the municipalities and county … everyone is busy with security. The consistency is sometimes hard to find. The role of mayors in the area of security is increasingly important. We have an important role in informing these mayors about the risk and the responsibility they have according these risks.

Disaster always occurs when you least expect it to. It is always inconvenient. As the Regional Security we try to plan ahead of these disasters by making the region ready for action and by pointing out the major risks to mayors.

The State of the art of Risk Management
The state of the art of Risk Management at this moment is the need to reduce complexity. Making things simple is very important, this makes it more easy to get down to the problem and work on solving that. Name the risk, work on it and close that chapter to start working on the next risk! PRIMO can make a real difference in the Risk Management world by making the Risk Managers think in scenarios and by letting them learn from each other’s best practices.

We should all work together in this, but in the same time try to keep it simple! Consistency is the key to success!