Analysis by Dr. Petar Kardzhilov on the answer of the Ministry of the Interior to his application according to the Access to Public Information Act.
There is a delegation of responsibilities from the minister of interior to the Main Directorate Fire Safety and Protection of the Population (FSPP), which are not legally justified because, according to the regulations, they are expressly prescribed for the Мinister. On the other hand, there are serious gaps in the regulatory framework, which are a factor in an unnecessary and dangerous division between the structures of FSPP at the Ministry of Interior around the country and the regional and local authorities.
After the strong interest of 46,000 readings on the “Aktualno” website to the publication with questions in my application according to the Access to Public Information Act (APIA) to the Ministry of the Interior (MI), regarding the prevention and preparation in Bulgaria for a crisis with high radioactivity in the environment, I offer a comment and analysis of the answers in the access decision of the ministry , signed not by the minister but by director of the Legal and Normative Activity Directorate, Mr. Hristo Stefanov.
Regarding the first question, concerning the need for citizens to have prior knowledge of how to react in situations with high radioactivity, the MI answers that the preventive activity is carried out by the bodies of FSPP under the MI, although in the Disaster Protection Act (DPA) and in the Ordinance for Emergency Planning and Emergency Preparedness in the Event of a Nuclear and Radiation Accident (OEPEPENRA) there are duties and responsibilities assigned specifically to the Minister of the Interior. Neither in the act nor in the ordinance is written that the minister can delegate his duties and responsibilities to FSPP. In particular, no answer is given, for example, whether the Minister agreed together with the Мinister of Education on the requirements for training in disaster protection in the system of preschool and school education, which the latter is obliged to approve, according to Art. 16, par. 3 of the DPA. In the answer, there is also no information that the minister has coordinated educational activities in the system of higher education according to the following par. 4 and 5 of Art. 16. There is no answer to the question of whether the Minister has approved programs for training the population on behavior and actions in an emergency situation and for specialized training of the executive authorities on the implementation of the external emergency plan, for which he is obliged according to Art. 21, para. 7, points 5 and 7 of OEPEPENRA. No information is provided as to whether and how the FSPP fulfilled these duties that the Мinister illegally delegated to them.
Attention deserves the answer from the Ministry of the Interior to the first part of the first question: “In what ways, in which settlements, in what locations and how often do the specialized state bodies work with citizens to create, as well as refresh the necessary prior knowledge with the aim of strict implementation by the citizens of protective measures to limit the harmful consequences for them in case of emergency situations with increased radioactivity in the environment?” The answer is: “In MI-FSPP, systematized information is not processed and stored according to the criteria set in the application for the frequency and number of trainings conducted by FSPP authorities in populated areas specifically on the subject of nuclear and radiation accidents.”; The lack of such information and archive means that the citizens have no way to find out whether and how the statutory duties of the Minister directly delegated to FSPP are fulfilled, both to date and in previous years decades ago. From the overall answer to the first question in the application, according to APIA, it is clear that the MI does not implement the DPA and OEPEPENRA, which necessitates the need for legislative changes, both essentially in the regulatory framework for preparation and radiation protection, as well as for control over the fulfillment of the duties of the institutions liable according to the law.
From the answer to the second cluster of questions: “Are there external emergency plans developed for all regions, coordinated by the Minister of the interior and approved by orders from the regional governors according to Art. 9 of OEPEPENRA? For which regions and municipalities in the country do such plans exist, according to the provision of Art. 16, par.2 of OEPEPENRA and Art. 9 of the DPA? Please indicate where these emergency plans are available to the public? ”, after one page of general information, it is clear that the MI does not know at all whether and which districts and municipalities in Bulgaria have emergency plans. This means that the current or former ministers of the interior have not fulfilled the provisions of Art. 9, par. 17 of DPA (effective from 07.05.2016) – to conclude agreements with regional governors and mayors regarding the implementation of these plans: “(17) In connection with ensuring the implementation of disaster protection plans under para. 4, 8 and 10, agreements are concluded between the Minister of Interior, the regional governor or the mayor of a municipality and the persons under chapter four, section II.” In the answer to the question, there is no information that the Minister has coordinated the development of emergency plans for populated areas, which is his responsibility according to Art. 9, par. 3 and Art. 16 from OEPEPENRA.
From the answer to the third cluster of questions about siren systems for early warning, we understand that for 39.33% of the citizens of Bulgaria, alarming is provided with modern systems. That is, the people living in Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, Burgas, Ruse, Pleven, Pazardzhik, Montana, Smolyan, Kardzhali, Vratsa, Stara Zagora, Galabovo, Tsarevo, Ahtopol, the village of Lozenets and all settlements in the 30 kilometer zone around Kozloduy NPP may hear various siren signals, accompanied by a message of what type and with what threats the emergency situation is. In other settlements in the country, air raid sirens are used, without a voice message. Regarding the latest
ones, the Ministry of the Interior says that they are checked once every two years, but they do not say when they were checked for the last time and whether they are all in working order. It is also clear from the answer to this question that no serious tests and studies have been conducted, and there are no written reports on the audibility of sirens by all citizens in a given settlement, as well as on the audibility and intelligibility of voice messages and commands. We also understand that for this important part of radiation protection there is no documentation and no archive has been created.
From the answer to the fourth cluster of questions about prophylaxis with potassium iodide tablets, we learn that suitable tablets are available almost all over the country. I write almost all of it because of the expression “(…) as well as partially for the regions of Veliko Tarnovo, Lovech and Pleven”. Although according to the law they are obliged to buy and deliver them to the municipalities, the MI doesn’t answer the exact amount of tablets in municipalities, but they write that there are enough, including for foreign citizens and guests of the country. There is also no answer to the question of where the tablets delivered to the municipalities are physically located and how they are stored.
After another half page of general info, we indirectly get an answer to the most important question in this cluster – there is no centralized and uniform protocol for the time, places and ways of distributing the tablets to citizens: “According to the Ordinance on the Order of Creation, Storage, Renewal , Maintaining, Providing and Accounting for the Stocks of Personal Protective Equipment, the mayors of the municipalities prepare logistical schemes for the provision of individual protective equipment to the population if necessary, which are updated annually. Logistic schemes should be available in the respective municipal administrations.” Since each mayor decides for themselves how to distribute tablets, and the MI has no idea and control over who decided to do what, the result in the event of a crisis will certainly be panic actions and severe consequences in places. This leads us to the conclusion of a very serious gap in the Bulgarian legislation.
The answer to the fifth group of questions concerning evacuation procedures also speaks of a serious gap in the legislation. The MI admits: “The legislation in the Republic of Bulgaria does not contain norms obliging MI to collect and store data on the settlements in the country that have evacuation plans. Calculations for evacuation and dispersion in the event of a disaster/accident are part of the respective regional or municipal disaster protection plans, which are published on the website of the relevant administration.” It is grossly inadequate that the MI, which is responsible for the public order and the security of citizens in the country, does not know who, where and how should evacuate in case of a crisis. This gap is a condition for chaos, incidents, accidents, looting, exposure of citizens to high doses of radiation and other damaging events in a nuclear accident crisis or attack. The ministry doesn’t even know how many and which settlements have evacuation plans.
Even more unacceptable, absurd and in complete contradiction to the law is the answer to the biggest sixth cluster of questions from the application under the APIA, concerning the availability of individual means of protection for citizens in a crisis with high radioactivity. The MI writes: “The Minister of the Interior, respectively the MI, is not obliged by law or by-law to collect statistical data on the individual means of protection available in the country. Because of this, they are not obliged entities within the meaning of Art. 3, par. 1 of the APIA for providing the requests in point 6.2 of the application for public information.” How then, if they think that they are not obliged to collect data, do they fulfill the obligations of the minister, arranged in Art. 21, par. 7, point 13 of the OEPEPENRA: “The Minister of the Interior supervises the maintenance of the readiness of the individual and collective means for the protection of the population” ?! There is no answer to the question of how Bulgarian citizens can get life-saving protective equipment, written in a leaflet by “Kozloduy” NPP, uploaded to the website of the MI – FSPP: civilian gas mask, children's gas mask, respirator, child safety camera. The answer to this group of questions also ends with the admission that the MI don’t store information and don’t have control: “At the Main Directorate FSPP to the MI no information is stored according to the criteria specified in the application – what exactly, how many individual means of protection, where they are located, how many of them are suitable and how they will be distributed in the event of a nuclear accident.” Thus, when a crisis with dangerously high radiation level occurs no one, including the MI, will know how, with what means to protect themselves and, contrary to the more correct decision to stay in the buildings, many people will run in panic, which will most likely lead to far more severe consequences.
The answer to the last seventh cluster of questions about information and communication doesn’t offer other options for activation, except for the siren system, national television and radio, the websites of the municipalities, the FSPP and the Nuclear Regulatory Agency. With the highly developed modern telecommunication and online network capabilities, a much more secure and qualitative structure for information and communication can be developed, but, as can be seen from the response, the MI is not working in such a direction. Even the crisis call center, which is mandatory for every large-scale disaster/accident/attack, is not provided as an opportunity for information, communication and control over the situation by the structures of the FSPP in the country.
In conclusion, from the whole answer of MI it is clear the statement that there are several legal and by-law requirements in the DPA and OEPEPENRA, which are not complied with by the MI, because the institution does not accept them as their obligations. There is a delegation of responsibilities from the Minister to MD FSPP, which are not legally justified because, according to the regulations, they are expressly prescribed for the Minister. On the other hand, there are serious gaps in the regulatory framework, which are a factor in an unnecessary and dangerous division between the structures of MD FSPP in the country and the regional and local authorities. There is a lack of data on a sufficient number of quality activities for the preparation and prevention of crisis with high radioactivity levels, working together with the structures of the MI, local authorities, educational services, private organizations and citizens.
Petar Kardzhilov is a Doctor of Public Communications and Information Sciences at Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”, a specialist in risk and crisis communications, a member of the Union of Scientists in Bulgaria, a qualified expert at the international NGO for transparency in nuclear energy “Nuclear Transparency Watch”.
MI – Ministry of Interior
FSPP/MD FSPP – Main Directorate Fire Safety and Protection of Population
DPA – Disaster Protection Act
APIA – Access to Public Information Act
OEPEPENRA – Ordinance for Emergency Planning and Emergency Preparedness in the Event of a Nuclear and Radiation Accident