Crisis reserve shaping up

Viola Murd, deputy secretary general for rescue, emergency response and crisis regulation for the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

PHOTO: Tairo Lutter

The crisis reserve bill has been sent out for coordination by other ministries. Administrative needs and political will coincided very fortunately in this case, said Viola Murd, deputy secretary general in charge of rescue, emergency response and crisis regulation for the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

What is the idea and goal of the crisis reserve?

The aim of the crisis reserve is to allow the state to act quickly and decisively in situations that could have severe consequences otherwise. While such situations do not come around often, we need to have corresponding capacity and smart solutions in place.

Ideally, we could have a big enough state apparatus, complete with police and other forces to weather such tests, but we don’t and it would perhaps not make sense to pay a regular salary to people you hope will never be needed. This preparedness to react needs to be based on reserve capacity. We already have the Defense League, voluntary rescuers and assistant police officers who can help solve crises.

Based on the concept of broad-based national defense, every ministry has its tasks, with the interior ministry in charge of all aspects of internal security. Potential situations are tied to maintenance of law and order tasks where additional forces and rotation may be needed. We may also need to keep in check mass unrest, strengthen border control and guard vital infrastructure.

What effect did the coronavirus have on the reserve creation process? Did it affect the nature of the future reserve?

The recent crisis highlighted the importance of quickly mustering people to handle long crises. We trained people who helped close the border and enforce islands movement restrictions in two days. However, we may not always have enough time to train people as rapid and decisive action is often crucial in crises.

The coronavirus crisis showed that the question of which crises we need to be prepared for doesn’t always have an answer. All crises are different and it is impossible to fully prepare for them or predict what will happen. We need to prepare for different situations: an epidemic, mass immigration, mass unrest etc. Examples of events we should be prepared for at any time can be found in Estonia and abroad. The April unrest in Estonia in 2007, a wave of refugees experienced by Finland in 2015, recent mass unrest in USA etc.

How will the €20 million cost of the reserve be divided? How much of it is training and who will be in charge of it?

The lion’s share of the budget will be spent on trainings and equipment.

The former will be carried out by Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) instructors, working with the Estonian Academy of Security Sciences where necessary. Training expenses will depend on the background of volunteers and the general training volume. The core training of people in the PPA’s crisis reserve will be based on police officer and assistant police officer training, following a study program approved by the PPA director general or the rector of the academy.

The training program will be made up of modules and its cost will depend on their number. A large part of the budget will also be spent on proper equipment.

Minister of the Interior Mart Helme mentioned the crisis reserve also in connection with the Lihula tragedy. Would having the reserve render the police more mobile in critical moments like these?

Such events are unexpected and often require rapid and forceful action. The Lihula tragedy showed that we need to be prepared for decisive action also in smaller places. That is why community cooperation based on voluntariness is important. We are making efforts to have assistant police officers in every region, including people with tactical training. Had the Lihula area been home to reserve assistant police officers, they could have been used to secure a perimeter, for example.

How will the crisis reserve be manned, how big will it be and are we talking about volunteers?

A reservist must meet the requirements necessary to serve as an assistant police officer or police officer, based on their role in the crisis reserve. These requirements are listed in the Assistant Police Officer Act and the Police and Border Guard Act. Reservists will have to pass background checks and undergo training.

We plan to have 300 reservists in the first year. We have applied for funds to procure equipment for 700 people over four years. This means that the reserve could have at least 700 members in four years’ time, while we need to train a little more than that.

The bill does not prescribe a fixed size for the reserve. The makeup and total cost of the reserve will depend on how many members it will attract. That said, financial possibilities need to be kept in mind.

Preparing for crises needs to be a conscious activity that offers psychological readiness and training. That is how it works in voluntary rescue where people take on the obligation to react to accidents in previously agreed upon capacity and within a certain time.

What will be the function of reservists when there is no crisis?

People will be doing their daily jobs. We will make it possible for them to go on 30 days of unpaid leave for trainings and crisis response. To make sure volunteers would not experience financial difficulties, a special crisis support benefit will be introduced to pay people for time spent away from working, when contributing to police work. We want to keep people motivated through interesting activities.

How will the reserve be managed?

Members of the PPA crisis reserve will report to the PPA crisis management structure.

As the long-term project allegedly does not depend on the current government, why has such a reserve not been created before? How much of the initiative for the reserve came from politicians (EKRE, for example) and how much from the PPA?

The need for a crisis reserve has been on the agenda for years. We know we need additional manpower during crises, while it requires a budget for training and equipment. Now, administrative needs and political will have coincided very fortunately. Expanding the network of assistant police officers is one of the goals in the internal security development plan.

There has been talk of the police being understaffed. Isn’t there a discrepancy here in terms of the reserve? How is it affecting its creation?

The number of police officers has largely remained the same in recent years. That said, talking about crises and especially potentially enduring crises, additional manpower is needed. Estonia currently has some 1,100 assistant police officers 450 of whom helped out in the emergency situation. Estonia has around 100,000 people who would want to contribute to internal security as volunteers. Our task is to give them that opportunity.

I’m glad the people of Estonia are so able and willing to contribute to security.

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