CBRNe Country Profile

The Netherlands

Response to Disasters & CBRN Incidents in the Netherlands

The Netherlands is a party to all major CBRN agreements and has a decentralized response system. Since January 2010, the country has been subdivided into 25 safety regions. The latter connect local civil protection organizations with national governmental institutions. This political reorganization was the result of the Dutch Security Regions Act that laid down the rules for responding to crises, including to CBRN incidents. The Act demonstrates a shift in the Dutch attitude towards disaster management and that new threats require a different strategy. Policymakers believed the municipal scale was not sufficient to handle large incidents. As a result, a more efficient and larger system involving 25 regional management boards was designed, with these boards in charge of fire brigades, the police and medical services in CBRN incidents.

While disaster response is coordinated via regional management boards, the Dutch system still intends for each stakeholder to be a stand-alone unit in emergency response. Starting in 2010, the Directorate for National Security set up guidelines through the ‘Multi Response CBRNe’ program. The program’s main objective is to increase the minimal expertise and capabilities of each stakeholder according to the subsidiarity principle. If possible, the organization closest to the public will be called to intervene in a crisis; if not, other municipal or regional bodies will be engaged before emergencies are dealt with at a national level. The whole process takes place under the purview of the Ministry of Interior. The “Multi Response CBRNe” program also carefully describes the responsibilities of each stakeholder in preparation and in response to incidents.

Disaster and Emergency Response Stakeholders

When it comes to disaster response, the Fire Service acts as the linchpin. The main responsibility lies in the hands of the fire chief – not only is he in charge of the operational management of the response efforts, but he also coordinates the work of the emergency services. The fire brigades comprise special HazMat teams to respond to incidents involving dangerous substances. While each firefighter in the Netherlands receives basic “HazMat education” as part of the normal training course, certain qualified officers take advanced courses where they learn how to operate with gas suits and manage complex chemicals incidents.

First aid in incidents is provided by the Red Cross or ambulance paramedics. In every Safety Region, the Dutch Red Cross has an Instant Operation Unit for Medical Assistance which can intervene within 30 minutes of an emergency request.

The Dutch police are responsible for isolating the disaster area by setting up a safety zone and managing the traffic around it. The Police units also comprise their own CBRN and explosive safety divisions.

The Royal Netherlands Army also comprises the following relevant units:

  • In terms of explosives, the Defence EOD Service (DEODS) is responsible for detecting, identifying and disposing of IEDs and conventional explosives and UXOs
  • When it comes to CBRN, the 43 Mechanized Brigade can be deployed to provide disaster relief and comprises its own CBRN response team, formerly known as the “NBC Defense Company” which used to work under the Operational Support Command “101 Engineers Battalion” (“101 geniebataljon”). This transfer took place in 2011.

Additionally, the Defense CBRN Centre (DCBRNC) in Vught is a prime example of civil-military cooperation. The DCBRNC is a unique, internationally recognized institution in Europe and comprises a multi-disciplinary team of civil and military personnel. Its key aim is to provide high-level CBRN training and education, within its service, available for national and international organizations involved in CBRN response. The DCBRNC consist of a National CBRN Training Centre and CBRN School, the CBRN Defence Expertise Centre as well as its own CBRN Response Unit which supports civilian organizations in CBRN incident response with its unique capabilities.

At the governmental level, there is a coordination system in place which enables each ministry to manage responsibilities in its specific area during the crisis management process. Yet when it comes to CBRN incidents, Dutch law does not attribute exclusive responsibility to a particular ministry. CBRNe incidents in the Netherlands are considered no different than ordinary crises, and as such, there are in fact no specific legal regulations that deal with these events. However, there are a few key governmental institutions to keep in mind:

  • The Ministry of Justice and Security comprises The National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV) which is responsible for crisis management in the country. Its main tasks include the analysis and countering of threats as well as protecting people, property and vital sectors. In order to do so, the NCTV receives reports on CBRN threats from the General Intelligence and Security Service and the General Military Intelligence and Secret Service. Moreover, the same ministry also runs the world-class forensic laboratory the Netherlands Forensic Institute which can collect samples and conduct on-site investigations thanks to its specifically tailored CBRNe research program.

  • The Authority for Nuclear Safety and Radiation Protection is crucial at every stage of emergency preparedness. It helps draft and implement policies and legislation regarding inspections, regulatory measures and licensing in the nuclear sector. In this sense, it protects citizens and the environment by ensuring the safety and security of nuclear and radiological installations and waste. The Netherlands has repeatedly ranked among the top countries for protection of nuclear material.

When it comes to governmental cooperation with the private sector, Dutch laboratories have been organized into a network responsible for coordinating analytical performances. Under the supervision of the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, leading Dutch institutions will cooperate in the assessment of attacks or threats involving CBRN agents. Among others, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (Rijksinstituut voor Volksgezondheid en Milieu, RIVM), which collects and combines knowledge in collaboration with other institutions, has established a partnership with TNO aimed at improving the identification of rare or unknown pathogens. Other institutions the RIVM collaborates with include for example the Netherlands Institute for Health Services and Research (NIVEL) or the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (Koninklijk Nederlands Meteorologisch Instituut, KNMI).

International Cooperation

An efficient system of national preparedness is not necessarily enough to counter large-scale CBRNe incidents. For this reason, the Dutch government has pursued cross-border assistance agreements with Belgium, Germany and Luxembourg. Furthermore, several other agreements have been concluded with EU institutions to ensure the protection of critical infrastructure. As mentioned below, the RIVM also collaborates internationally with large institutions such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Moreover, the Netherlands is the home of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), located in the Hague. The organization proposes policies for the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention to all its Member States and ensures and supervises its fulfilment, including supervision of countries in the destruction of their chemical weapon stockpiles or conducting independent investigations into the alleged use of chemical weapons. The OPCW received a Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts in 2013.