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Explainer: What happens at the National Emergency Coordination Centre?

It’s where the national response to severe weather is managed from. But how does the whole system work?

REPORTERS HEADING, FOR their first time, to a briefing by the ‘National Co-Ordination Group on Severe Weather’ are often disappointed by the experience.

This is the sort of thing one might expect to come across, upon setting foot in the National Emergency Coordination Centre

image[Screengrab, The West Wing]

The below, however, is a more typical scene at the centre, which is located close to the Dáíl at the Department of Agriculture...

image[Daragh Brophy/TheJournal.ie]

We only hear occasionally from this 'National Coordination Group' (although, if you can cast your mind back, we all became more than familiar with the set-up around time of the 'big freeze' of 2010).

In a nutshell, the panel brings together officials from various state agencies --- from the Office of Public Works, Met Éireann and the Department of Finance to the Gardaí, Defence Forces and Coast Guard.

Their official business?

...to coordinate a whole of government support for the front-line effort, and to manage emerging issues at national level during the response to emergencies that impact at national level.

Essentially, the various officials meet in their Kildare Street situation room if certain 'trigger conditions' are arrived at, or where the local response is overwhelmed.

The way it's meant to work, in other words, is that the response to extreme weather or other emergencies is supposed to be managed on the ground by local councils.

It's monitored at central government level, and then the Department of the Environment determines whether the coordination group physically meets to discuss the situation.

The panel's top brass meet regularly throughout the year as well, for planning porposes.

Met Éireann's head of forecasting Gerald Fleming was on his way to one such sit-down when he dropped by TheJournal.ie's offices for a chat just before Christmas.

He also talked us through the group's operations...

Source: Video TheJournal.ie/YouTube

So do they have much contact with the Cabinet and the Taoiseach during severe weather emergencies?

Here's what Fleming had to say:

"We'd have quite a lot of contact. Usually the senior ministers responsible, who would be the Minister for the Environment, the Minister for Transport if its a transport-related thing like it was during the volcanic ash, perhaps the Minister for Health --- whichever --- would be in and out getting briefings.

Occasionally some of us --- myself included --- would have been taken across into Government Buildings to brief the Cabinet at the Cabinet Office if it's a significant situation like that, or brief the Taoiseach in his office. That's all happened in the past.

Politicians, he said, don't get involved on a "day to day" level.

(Note: A version of this article appeared on TheJournal.ie on 5 February last year)

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