From 13 - 16 September 2023, the Environmental Assessment Unit (EAU) of RIVM participated in FORMATEX23, a European Natech (Natural Hazards Triggering Technological Disasters) disaster exercise in Austria. FORMATEX facilitates collaboration between experts in chemical, biological, and radiological risks and operational teams that can be deployed to provide humanitarian assistance in large-scale emergencies.

Improving Europe's preparedness and response to disasters

In addition to organisations from Austria's national response structure, seven teams from six European countries participated in Formatex23. These teams consisted of modules specialised in the detection of chemical substances and radionuclides. There was also a pump module from the three Baltic states. The various teams intended to collectively address several emergencies that had arisen due to the large-scale flooding of the Danube River. The emergencies ranged from a fire in gasoline storage tanks to flooding a Natura 2000 area.


EAU collects field samples
Interview with press
Mobile units

Lessons learned

The most significant conclusion drawn from the exercise was that the general approach to handling chemical incidents in the participating countries is similar. In the event of an actual emergency, the teams need to collaborate quickly and effectively. The teams were able to complete various complex scenarios successfully within a timeframe of just over 24 hours. There was also capacity to analyse field samples previously taken by the exercise leadership. While most teams limited themselves to reporting the substances found in the samples, the EAU provided added value through the availability of a Back Office. This Back Office assists in calculating exposure scenarios for humans and the environment in the affected area. It can also assess the risks associated with the detected substances. As demonstrated during the exercise, this provides a clear course of action for the responsible authorities. The EAU was honoured to receive praise from the international observers for the quality of the performed tasks.

About the EAU

The Environmental Assessment Unit (EAU) consists of experts from the Environmental Incident Service of RIVM. The EAU came into force in 2008 and is a joint initiative of the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management (I&W) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The EAU is a small, flexible unit that can be quickly deployed in the event of international emergencies. The EAU is supported by a Back Office, also stationed at RIVM. For more information about the EAU see the webpage Environmental Assessment Unit.