‘Xynthia’ and ‘Celine’: How many more of these storms can we take?

Author: Professor Eelco H. Dykstra
Source: RISK Management & Governance, Edition 6, Summer 2010

As of February 2010, the twelve countries (Portugal, Spain, Andorra, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Poland, Denmark and Sweden) affected by the European storm Xynthia now have a completely different take on the harrowing tale in the book “the storm” (ISBN: 9789013062533).

Not only does the book contain the main scenario for the international Katrina Program but it lays out, in reality-fiction style, the risk, response and consequences of a super-storm called celine and a near-total paralysis of european critical infrastructure. Both storms, the real Xynthia and the as of yet fictitious Celine, remind us of actions that need to be taken if we as public authorities are to be taken serious – not in the least by our own citizens. Here are a few.

1. Put greater emphasize on your emergency preparedness planning on consequence management. True, we are generally quite used to doing ‘risk’ and ‘response’ management but we tend to overlook the consequences
of a storm, particularly when they jeopardizes our critical infrastructure. What would happen in your city or country when citizens, government and businesses are going to be without electricity, communication, transport, food and water for 72 hours? One thing we do know: if we wait until the consequences are there, there will be no time to think, let alone to act….

2. When we look at the consequences of major cross-border emergencies such as Xynthia and Celine we know that a single european approach would work much better than a country-by- country approach. But where is an executive mandate for the european Commission? Which EU member states have ‘mutual aid’ agreements with others? Which country has a ‘resource inventory database’ to list resources by region, provinces or counties?

3. How can we ensure that european citizens become aware, interested and participate in asking – and answering – questions such as:
a. How would I think, react and do?
b. What do I expect from the authorities?
c. What could I do myself?

4. Finally, how can we create consensus in europe on what we will accept and what we will not? In other words, isn’t it about time that we ask ourselves and our politicians the questions “How good is ‘good enough’?”
While the direct impact of Xynthia may have killed 65 people, the number of casualties that can be expected in europe when we have a collapsed critical infrastructure, will be in the ten- or hundred thousand’s. The time to act is now. critical infrastructure is indeed ‘critical’.

Please contact PRIMO Europe or the author, Eelco H. Dykstra, at dykstra. disaster.stories@gmail.com for more information on “the storm” and the International Katrina Program