In the latest chapter of the country's broader CREVEX 2023 exercise, a large-scale crisis field exercise began in the Tallinn suburb of Muuga on Thursday, involving various Estonian authorities, local governments, the private sector and more than 1,000 volunteers roleplaying as evacuees.
Organized by the Rescue Board and is under the central coordination of the Government Office, Thursday's exercise in Muuga, which is scheduled to take place over 31 consecutive hours, marks the largest complex exercise in Estonia's recent history, according to a press release.
Thursday's field exercise will focus primarily on large-scale evacuation, crisis communication as well as large-scale rescue operations. A total of 1,100 volunteers have been recruited for the exercise, which will also involve several public authorities, the private sector as well as the municipal governments of Viimsi, Jõelähtme, Maardu, Saue and Tallinn.
"The Rescue Board is engaging in three types of exercises — rescue, threat alerts and evacuation — but the main challenge for us will be evacuation, as we have not been able to practice it before," Rescue Board Director General Margo Klaos said.
"The 1,100 volunteers taking part in the exercise are invaluable, because only through training can we become proficient," he continued. "The Rescue Board is developing its capabilities on a daily basis, but exercises are essential to test ourselves and identify bottlenecks."
Thursday's exercise scenario involves hypothetical fuel trains colliding and catching fire in Muuga, a suburb located northeast of Tallinn. In addition to the major fire itself, the crash site is at risk of explosion, forcing residents to evacuate. The field exercise will test the organization of a large-scale evacuation of both Muuga Harbor, the Port of Tallinn's chief cargo port, as well as the surrounding area.
No locals to actually evacuate
No local residents will actually have to leave their homes in connection with the exercise, with volunteers fulfilling the role of 1,000 civilians to be evacuated from the area, including from schools and welfare institutions. Thursday's mock evacuation will also see the organization of assembly points and shelters played out.
The transmission of a threat alert is to be played out during the exercise as well, with EE-ALARM text messages including info about the exercise to be sent to people located in the danger zone, radio and TV warnings to be broadcast via Estonian Public Broadcasting (ERR) channels and warning sirens to be tested in the Muuga area.
The Rescue Board is stressing that these alerts are all part of the exercise and that there is no need to react to them.
The key to the success of CREVEX is cooperation, said Marti Magnus, chief director of the exercise.
"We want to test whether the plans on paper actually work in real life, and what exactly we have to face when dealing with an emergency of this scale," Magnus explained. "We are playing out a very dark scenario, where as many bad circumstances as possible coincide. In real life, such a chain of events would be unlikely, although not impossible."
Thursday's exercise one stage of many
From March 22 through November 30, the Government Office is conducting CREVEX 2023, a complex crisis and evacuation exercise being held across several stages and formats.
CREVEX is a major exercise organized every four years to train and test Estonia's nationwide emergency response capability as well as the continuity of state institutions.
The complex exercise is also more broadly aimed at raising both national and public awareness of crisis preparedness as well as a chance to test new and existing emergency communication channels.
The current, Muuga-focused stage of CREVEX 2023 will take place over September 28-29, with large-scale field activities to take place on Thursday and the focus to shift Friday to discussions in a command post exercise format.
Participants include the Rescue Board, the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA), Tallinn Emergency Medical Service (TEMS), North Estonia Medical Center (PERH), the Port of Tallinn, including companies located at Muuga Harbor, the municipalities of Maardu, Viimsi, Tallinn, Jõelähtme and Saue, as well as the Estonian Defense League (Kaitseliit), the Women's Voluntary Defense Organization (Naiskodukaitse), the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF), the Health Board, the Social Insurance Board (SKA), the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Government Office.
Editor: Aili Vahtla