This risk profile is currently being updated with new data from the 2013 Global Risk Update.
The Department of Rescue and Crisis Management Policy at the Ministry of the Interior in Estonia
Phone:+372 612 5256; +372 612 5134; +372 612 5252
Civil protection in the history
Various plans for protecting the civil population in times of crisis have been established in Estonia before, but their content has repeatedly changed based on the threats present. Civil protection started to become more systematic and comprehensive in the 1930s. Initially, it was primarily related to preparing for war, as the populace and the functioning of the civil society are most endangered in the event of military threats. A variety of different terms have been used in different eras and in the context of different threats, such as air defence, civil defence, civil protection, crisis management.
Estonia’s current approach to civil protection is rather exceptional compared to other countries, as ensuring the safety of the population in emergency situations and in the event of threats which endanger the security or constitutional order of the state are legally separated. This has not always been the case. The Protection of the Citizens Act which was in force in Estonia from 1992 to 2000 regulated the protection of the population in the event of civil crises as well as in situations arising from armed conflicts. (Source and more reading can be found here: Elanikkonnakaitse kontseptsioon 2018, and in English here.
Following the adoption of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015–2030) the Ministry of the Interior in Estonia established its National Focal Point within the Department of Rescue and Crisis Management Policy.
At the end of the very same year, the Government of the Republic of Estonia passed a decision to form a task force for civil protection, which consisted of two levels: the steering group and the expert group. The task force included the following institutions and organisations: the Government Office, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, the Ministry of Education and Research, the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Ministry of Rural Affairs, the Ministry of the Environment, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Finance, the Rescue Board, the Police and Border Guard Board, the Internal Security Service, the Emergency Response Centre, the Headquarters of the Estonian Defence Forces, the Estonian Defence League, the Environmental Board, the Estonian Academy of Security Sciences, the Tax and Customs Board, the Health Board, the Association of Municipalities of Estonia, and the Association of Estonian Cities. The work of the task force was coordinated by the Government Office and by the Ministry of the Interior. The aim was increasing public awareness and preparedness for potential crises and improving public ability to cope with such situations and the preparedness of the population for such situations, as well as ensuring the protection of the population through the cooperation of various institutions. In order to achieve this, the emphasis was placed on the necessity of agreeing on a comprehensive approach to civil protection as well as on the roles and responsibilities of different parties in civil protection in any national crises, which could include civil crises (such as natural disasters, catastrophes), terrorist activity, or a military conflict.
As a result, Estonia has issued a thorough overview consisting of 56 pages of guidelines and recommendations for citizens, which can be used for ensuring the preparedness of the populace in case of crises.
The new approach emphasises the importance of preparedness for crises and people are recommended to have at least one week’s worth of supplies to cope independently.
At governmental level, Estonia has developed an internal security strategy (in Estonian also known as STAK), that lays the ground for internal security policy in Estonia.
DRR structure in Estonia
Preparing for emergencies
The term “disaster” in Estonia derives from the Emergency Act and is covered by a term “emergency”, which is quite similar to the terminology related to disasters provided by the Sendai Framework.
An emergency is an event or a chain of events or an interruption of a vital service, which endangers the life or health of many people, causes major proprietary damage, major environmental damage or severe and extensive interferences with the continuity of vital services and resolution of which requires the prompt coordinated activities of several authorities or persons involved by them, the application of a command organisation different from usual and the involvement of more persons and means than usual. The Emergency Act is available in English here.
Disaster prevention measures in Estonia are set on national level. Crisis management is a system of measures, which includes preventing, preparing for and resolving an emergency. In order to prepare for emergencies, risk analysis is prepared in cooperation between different agencies that allows to consistently evaluate what the main emergencies that threaten the population are, what their possible implications are, and whether we are ready to cope with such situations. In Estonia, the risk assessment system is decentralised. As a small country, Estonia has a small network of risk management experts. The requirements for an emergency risk assessment and the procedure for the preparation of a risk assessment are established by a regulation of the Minister of the Interior. Risk analyses are prepared every three years, the most recent one was drawn in 2018.
The Ministry of the Interior is responsible for internal security policy and coordination and has a central role in risk and crisis management. The ministry’s role includes setting internal security legislation and guidelines, coordinating emergency risk management and contingency planning at national level, coordinating risk assessment and planning for the continuous operation of vital services, coordinating emergency management exercises at national level, and supervising a number of agencies including the Rescue Board and the Police and Border Guard.
Estonia was part of an EU peer review programme in 2016, and as a result, a report was published. That can be found here.
The new Emergency Act entered into force on 1 July 2017 and the related implementing act specify the role of state authorities, local governments and private undertakings in preventing emergencies, in preparing for emergencies and in resolving emergencies. Now there are uniform principles and thus all the parties have a clear view of how and what to do in an emergency. Compared to the formerly applicable procedure, the amendments primarily concern the identification of emergency risks and the analysis of their consequences, the preparation for emergencies, the preparation of plans and the organisation of the resolution of emergencies. The Act also introduces the definition of mass evacuation into Estonian law, which was previously absent in this form. From now on, the Police and Border Guard Board will carry out evacuations, supported by local governments in the accommodation and catering of people.
Pursuant to the new procedure, emergencies will also include extensive interruptions in vital services (electricity, liquid fuel, mobile and data communication, etc.), which may entail severe consequences for the public. The inclusion of vital services to the list of emergencies will ensure the state’s greater focus on improving their continuity and obligate the authorities organising the services to better prepare for the resolution of crises.
The implementing acts adopted by the Government specify the events which may cause an emergency and for which authorities have to prepare risk analyses, as well as the organisation of extensive evacuations and the involvement of the Defence Forces in police work or resolving rescue events. The acts also provide a more detailed description of organising the payment of support upon obligating a person to work in an emergency situation or upon expropriating a person’s property or subjecting a person to the duty to grant use of their property in an emergency situation. In addition, the tasks and composition and procedure for conducting the sessions of the Government’s crisis committee, and other such aspects are specified.
An emergency response plan is drawn up for resolving an emergency. Emergency response plans are prepared for dealing with major accidents and crises. An emergency response plan is a cooperation agreement by which the authority coordinating the resolution of an emergency and an authority or person involved in resolving the emergency agree upon the organisation of resolution of the emergency. Emergency response plans are approved by the relevant Ministry and the Ministry of the Interior. The requirements for an emergency response plan and the procedure for the preparation thereof are established by a regulation of the Minister of the Interior. The drawing up of plans is necessary to ensure that relevant authorities and persons know how to behave in case of an emergency and to avoid or minimise damage to human health and property. So that the plans do not remain only on paper, they are regularly tested in the course of various training exercises as there are relatively a few of them occurring as real situations.
The Estonian Information System’s Authority (EISA), an authority within the administrative area of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, is responsible for taking control over the handling of emergency “Large-scale cyber incident”. The working group, established with the decree of the Minister, has drawn up the emergency response plan and will keep it updated.
Authorities within the administrative area of other ministries will be in charge for handling all the other emergencies, involving, where appropriate and according to the emergency plan, also authorities within the administrative area of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications.
Vital service continuity
Estonia does not have any infrastructures that would qualify as European Critical Infrastructure. However, Estonia has introduced the term “vital service” into domestic legislation. A vital service is a service that has an overwhelming impact on the functioning of society and the interruption of which is an immediate threat to the life or health of people or to the operation of another vital service or service of general interest. A vital service is regarded in its entirety together with a building, piece of equipment, staff, reserves and other similar facilities indispensable to the operation of the vital service. Estonia has 14 vital services (electricity, natural gas, liquid fuel supply, ensuring the operability of national roads, phone service, mobile phone service, data transmission service, digital identification and digital signing, emergency care, payment services, cash circulation, district heating, ensuring the operability of local roads, water supply and sewerage).
The Emergency Act defines the continuity of the organisation of the vital services together with the obligations of authorities organising the continuity. The provider of a vital service prepares a continuity risk assessment and plan for planning the ensuring of the continuity of the vital service, for risk assessment and for restoring the continuity. Vital service providers take into account possible supply chain problems in their planning if they affect their continuous operation.
The following entities and authorities conduct surveillance over the continuance of vital services in the Ministry's area of responsibility:
The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications shall organise the continuity of the following vital services:
- electricity supply;
- natural gas supply;
- liquid fuel supply;
- ensuring the operability of national roads;
- phone service;
- mobile phone service;
- data transmission service;
- digital identification and digital signing.
The Health Board, functioning under the Ministry of Social Affairs is responsible for assuring the continuity of the medical care on daily basis and even during crises.
The Bank of Estonia shall organise the continuity of the following vital services:
- payment services;
- cash circulation.
Local authorities who organise services provided by a provider of a vital service and on whose territory lives over 10,000 residents organise in their administrative territory the continuity of the following vital services:
- district heating;
- ensuring the operability of local roads;
- water supply and sewerage.
There is no centralised database or interface that could be used to combine individually gathered information. Therefore, each participating institution uses its own data for the risk assessments, which it collects using its own methods.
Risk communication is a new angle in the renewed Emergency Act organised for raising public awareness and increasing readiness for emergencies. The meaning of it covers notifying the public of threats that could lead to an emergency and of the consequences of an emergency and giving people conduct instructions to raise awareness of and increase readiness for emergencies. The Government has composed a list of those emergencies for which risk communication is organised and designates the authorities responsible for the organisation thereof.
Estonia faces few emergencies. Therefore, public interest in risk management is low. Risk communication takes place for specific risks. Especially in areas where there are plants or factories handling dangerous materials, people must be informed about the possible risks, how to prepare and what to do if there is an incident. A lot of information is available to the public over the internet. For instance, Estonian Rescue Board has published some guidelines on their webpage, and Naiskodukaitse (EN: women's voluntary defence organization) has just recently developed an application for citizens to prepare themselves for emergencies that can be downloaded for smartphones.
Starting from this year, there are new risk assessment studies for civil servants for the period of 2018-2020 on once-a-year principle. Estonian Academy of Security Studies will be responsible for conducting the trainings. For citizens, there are some elements of elementary civil protection taught at school as children have national defence classes at some high schools.
The summaries of the emergency risk assessments are available to the public on websites, both on the website of the authority that prepared the risk assessment and on the MoI website. However, the public shows little interest in the emergency risk assessments published on the websites of the relevant authorities. The Rescue Board is developing an integrated risk map, which could be used by the public to discover local risks and their characteristics.
There is no unified risk communication strategy for risk assessments. There is a distinction between ad hoc risk communication and communication of the results of emergency risk assessments. Like other parts of risk management, risk communication is decentralised. The authorities have communication plans for certain risks and educational materials on risk mitigation and preparedness. However, the results of risk assessments are not yet sufficiently integrated into risk communication strategies.
Direct information sessions such as meetings and workshops are organised for key stakeholders, for example the Health Board regional services in the case of food-borne emergencies.
More information on crisis management can be found on the Ministry of the Interior’s website.
Measures indicated in our national risk assessments (like capacity gaps) include estimated costs, however additional applications from the state budget have to be lodged in case of larger cases. If the amount is smaller, usually the financing comes from the authority’ budget. State reserve is used only in case of emergencies.
Policy, plans and statements