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Contingency planning in the Netherlands

Maarten Steeghs

Netherlands Plant Protection Service, P.O. Box 9102, 6700 HC, Wageningen, the Netherlands; e-mail:


Contingency planning is a tool used in the Netherlands to deal in a timely and efficient manner with the threats of quarantine pests and diseases. It focuses on what to do when unforeseen or unwanted events take place (e.g. threat of an introduction, outbreak of a harmful organism, infection of a new host plant). Contingency planning should already have been considered before pest risks are imminent. It raises the readiness of authorities for taking swift action as well as public awareness. In a contingency plan consideration is given not only to the direct risks for the production of plants, plant products or public and private green spaces but also to the consequences for public opinion, politics and administration. The approach, organizational setup, responsibilities, and human and material resources required are described. Communication, stakeholder consultation and coordination with other agencies are key elements during the process of contingency planning as well as during the execution of measures if unwanted events take place. Contingency planning requires considerable investments. The investments in planning and execution pay off only within a consistent pest control policy. For the public and private green spaces, the main objective should be prevention of entry of harmful organisms. If an alien organism is detected in the environment it is in general, considering the resources required, too late for eradication. The alternative options, suppression or containment, require lasting resources.

General aspects of contingency planning

An active role is expected from the Netherlands government in the prevention and timely identification of a (potential) crisis. Moreover, it is expected to act swiftly and adequately if a crisis actually occurs.

In a crisis the course of the events is often unpredictable, influenced by many factors. However, four different phases can be distinguished in contingency planning. In the first phase the situation is normal; in the second phase there are some signals that a crisis might occur; in the third phase there is a (potential) crisis. In the last phase justification of the activities and evaluation take place. In the first and second phase risk analysis, scenario development and preparations for the implementation (contingency planning) play an important role. If the problem actually occurs, the activities are directed to managing and solving it.

The Plant Protection Service does its contingency planning within this context and following the principles on crisis management of the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality. The planning supports the management of unforeseen or unwanted effects of invasive alien species. The basis is pest risk analysis.

The contingency plan includes information on the organization of the activities, the responsible persons and the necessary resources.

Regarding responsibilities, in the Netherlands three groups can be distinguished: policy, coordination and execution services groups. The policy group, which judges the situation, takes policy decisions and instructs the coordination team. The coordination team collects and interprets information, prepares policy options for the policy group and takes care of the internal and external communication. The execution services group is responsible for the activities in the field. These services can be governmental or non-governmental. They need personnel, diagnostic facilities, legal power to enforce, material, equipment, instructions etc. In contingency plans for organisms with a large impact all these aspects are worked out in detail. This allows for a swift mobilization of resources and enactment of emergency actions if the unwanted event takes place.

A contingency plan considers not only the direct impact of the organism on the environment, production or trade but also the potential political and administrative consequences of the activities and the impact on public opinion. Especially when intervention is required outside the agricultural production system, the emphasis shifts from the direct impact of the organism to the consequences on public opinion and so on.

A contingency plan has to ascertain that certain prerequisites for a phytosanitary action can be met. The ability to act swiftly is important, but it is also important that the measures are effective and proportional, based on the latest scientific information, consistent and within the national legislation. Necessary political support for the execution of contingency plans has to be ascertained through consultation with stakeholders and decision-making by high-level officials.

Communication is essential for all stages of a contingency plan. To obtain a feasible approach, supported by the stakeholders, it is necessary to consult the stakeholders, scientists, fieldworkers and others during preparation of the plan. Then, during the execution of a contingency plan, stakeholders, the general public, colleagues, administrators and so forth need to be informed to avoid unnecessary obstructions. Communication is usually the critical factor for success in the execution of emergency measures.

Results of the planning process

The contingency plan is based on pest risk analysis. The result is a plan to prevent introduction, to eradicate, to contain or to do nothing.


During the import inspections of ornamental horticultural crops in the Netherlands, on average, ten different quarantine organisms are intercepted each year. During the monitoring after import, another ten quarantine organisms are detected. For plant pests this system gives a reasonable guarantee for prevention of outbreaks.

Assessment of the invasiveness of the plants and preventing the introduction of invasive alien plants are not yet part of the contingency planning.

Containment and control

The results of phytosanitary actions in the public and private green spaces are in general not encouraging.

For Phytophthora ramorum, the cause of sudden oak death (see figure 1 illustrating the damage caused to rhododendron), pest risk analyses have been done triggered by the information obtained from the United States. The stakeholders were consulted before the results of the analyses were determined. Based on the results, contingency plans were worked out in detail in discussion with the stakeholders for both the tree nurseries and the public and private green areas. The pest risk analysis and contingency plans were adapted during the process as result of experiences in the field and research.

For the public and private green spaces, the activities were directed toward investigating the distribution of the disease and implementing measures to prevent spread from places found to be infested. The implications of the measures led to resistance from the managers of the public and private green spaces. Intensive communication and political pressure were necessary to continue the work.

At the same time additional research was done on diagnostics, the host range, epidemiology and ways to control the disease. From the results of all these activities the conclusion was drawn that it is impossible to eradicate the fungus from the public and private green spaces in the Netherlands. The aim of the current phytosanitary action remains to reduce the risk for the indigenous flora.

Also for cherry fruit fly (Rhagoletis cingulata), again a new organism for the Netherlands, the conclusion after a survey was that it is impossible to eradicate. As with P. ramorum, the main host as well as the harmful organism are invasive alien species.

The horse-chestnut leafminer (Cameraria ohridella) did not even reach the stage of a specific survey. The rapid natural spread all over the Netherlands did not warrant further intervention.

The conclusion we can draw from these examples is that if an organism is found in the public and private green spaces, suppression or containment is often the best result that can be obtained.

For suppression or containment a consistent policy is required. At the end of the 1970s, the Netherlands government started a programme to control Dutch elm disease (Ceratocystis ulmi). The campaign resulted in a fairly low incidence of the disease. After the delegation of the responsibility for containment from the Plant Protection Service to the municipalities at the beginning of the 1990s, the elm has been disappearing from certain areas. Only in those areas where there was (and is) a keen interest in controlling the disease has the number of infestations remained low.

Fig. 1: Rhododendron showing servere damage resulting from infestation with Phytophthora ramorum.

Hans van Baal, Netherlands Plant Protection Service


Contingency planning is a complicated exercise, requiring considerable resources. It is, however, an essential tool in designing the activities and measures necessary to tackle the risks of invasive alien species.

An important first step is the risk analyses of potential invasive alien species to determine their potential for successful introduction and establishment in the ecosystem.

Given the difficulty of eradication and containment in the public and private green spaces, prevention should be the main objective of contingency planning.

Contingency planning that is considered only in the actual event of an emergency is often too late.

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