Foreign Affairs and B-Fast
1. With the adoption of the Royal Decree of 28 February 2003, the Belgian Government has set up an interdepartmental coordination system as well as a supporting permanent structure in order to effectively render emergency aid in the event of disasters abroad. This permanent structure is known as B-FAST: the Belgian First Aid and Support Team
This interdepartmental coordination includes the various partner departments concerned: the Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Defence, the Minister of the Interior, the Minister of Public Health and the Members of Government competent for Budget and Development Cooperation.
As the Minister of Foreign Affairs presides the interdepartmental coordination, the permanent structure of B-FAST (the Secretariat) has been integrated into the FPS Foreign Affairs.
2. Moreover, this Royal Decree establishes the consultative structures, the decision-making process and the functioning of B-FAST.
2.1. The Coordination Council is composed of the Members of Government competent for the partner departments concerned or their deputies. During meetings the Minister of Foreign Affairs or his deputy acts as President to the Council. The Director of the Secretariat of B-FAST acts as permanent secretary to the meeting.
These are the main characteristics and duties of the Coordination Council:
• This Council is the highest body after the Council of Ministers.
• The Council meets at least twice a year.
• The Council validates decisions from subordinate bodies or gives them certain assignments.
• The Council deliberates upon requests for relief from other countries and formulates a proposal to the Council of Ministers in case of a positive evaluation of the request for relief by the Council.
• The Council appoints a person responsible for the coordination of the Belgian relief in the disaster area.
2.2. The Planning Committee is composed of representatives of the partner departments concerned. The meetings of the Committee are chaired by the Director of B-FAST. The major duty of this Committee is to offer strategic support to the Coordination Council. The Committee coordinates the operational activities of B-FAST and prepares technical advice to be submitted to the Coordination Council. If necessary, temporary working groups can be created within the Committee in order to conduct preliminary investigation (clothing, material, etc.). As a rule, the Planning Committee meets once a month or more depending on the circumstances.
2.3. The Advisory Committee is composed of representatives of non-governmental organisations (e.g. Red Cross) and of experts in the field of disaster relief. Its members are nominated by the Coordination Council. The Advisory Committee meets at the request of the Director of B-FAST and provides technical advice on the relief provided by B-FAST and on its functioning.
2.4. The permanent structure, the B-FAST Secretariat, has been attached to the services of the Chairman of the Management Committee of the FPS Foreign Affairs and is placed under the direct supervision of the President of the Coordination Council. The secretariat is composed of 1 Director and two public servants seconded by the FPS Foreign Affairs. During B-FAST operations (relief actions abroad, organisation of exercises and trainings), this secretariat will temporarily be reinforced by liaison officers from the partner departments concerned. The major assignments of this secretariat include general coordination (follow-up and possibly implementation of the measures taken) and preparation of the decision-making process.
2.5. For operational activities (relief actions abroad, organisation of exercises and trainings), B-FAST has at its disposal a detachment made up of members of the public emergency services (Fire Brigade and Civil Protection) from the FPS of the Interior, supplemented if necessary with staff from Defence (logistics, communication, commando) and with volunteers (paramedical staff and doctors) from the FPS Public Health. In accordance with the international agreements and customs, a coordinator (Team Leader) is appointed for each detachment. In case of a relief action to countries in distress, the Team Leader will be appointed by the Coordination Council. In case of participation to exercises in Belgium and abroad (mostly in cooperation with international partners), the Team Leader will be appointed by the Planning Committee. International organisations such as the United Nations or the European Union regularly organise trainings for Team Leaders or for other functions in multinational relief actions. The participation to these trainings by Belgian staff members or volunteers is followed up by the B-FAST Secretariat, in consultation with the partner departments concerned.
3. The Minister of Foreign Affairs and his administration, the FPS Foreign Affairs, are closely involved in the assignment (operations abroad), the decision-making process (presidency) and the functioning (secretariat and coordination) of B-FAST. Beside the staff allocated, the FPS Foreign Affairs keeps its services and diplomatic missions available for the functioning and operations of B-FAST.