Vital and vulnerable functions

Vital functions constitute the backbone of our society. Identifying those vital functions that are vulnerable to climate change is important. Failure of such functions will cause social disruption and major damage. These pages provide information on vital and vulnerable functions and their protection against such threats as flooding, waterlogging, drought, and heat.

What are vital and vulnerable functions?

Failure of or damage to key functions, as a result of flooding, waterlogging, drought or heat, may have serious consequences for the population, the environment or the national economy. Key functions include power supply, the main infrastructure, and hospitals. As the failure of such key functions can have a serious impact, they are referred to as vital and vulnerable. In addition, vital and vulnerable functions can be essential in restoring an area, for example, after it has been flooded.

Is there a list of vital and vulnerable functions?

The Delta Programme contains an overview of thirteen national vital and/or vulnerable functions:

Vital and vulnerable functions
Energy: (a) electricity; (b) natural gas, (c) oil
Telecom/IT: (a) basic communication facilities in the purview of flood response; (b) public network
Water chain: (a) drinking water; (b) waste water
Dams, dykes, and surface water management: pumping stations
Transport: main infrastructure
Chemical and Nuclear: (a) chemical industry; (b) nuclear industry; (c) Infectious substances / Genetically modified organisms

As a failure of these national functions could have serious consequences for the entire country, a nationwide strategy is imperative. In addition, the failure of some regional functions could also cause significant damage. Such functions include healthcare facilities, industrial estates, data centres, and major museums. There is no exhaustive list of regional vital and vulnerable functions; however, the authorities have been gaining experience in the protection of several regional vital and vulnerable functions through pilot projects. Regional authorities can compile a list of key objects that could be vulnerable to climate effects and whose failure will cause major damage, as has been done by, e.g. the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area. The NAS conceptual diagrams can be helpful in this respect.

How are vital and vulnerable functions interrelated?

In many cases, various vital and vulnerable functions are interrelated. Failure of one function will often lead to the failure of another function. This is referred to as a chain effect. For example, failure of the power supply impacts traffic: traffic lights break down and bridges can no longer be operated.

How can vital and vulnerable functions be protected?

In the Delta Plan on Spatial Adaptation, all the parties involved have agreed on the goal of having the Netherlands climate-proof and water-resilient by no later than 2050. The protection of vital and vulnerable functions is especially important, as their failure may have serious consequences. Furthermore, such functions will be even more vulnerable in the future, as flooding, waterlogging, drought, and heat will only increase. But how can vital and vulnerable functions be protected? What steps need to be taken to this end?

How has the protection of vital and vulnerable functions been organised?

The national government is responsible for the protection of vital and vulnerable functions that are important at the national level. Examples include the national grid and the main roads network. However, the national government cannot carry out this task on its own: it needs to collaborate with managing authorities, municipalities, district water boards, provinces, and Security Regions. These parties can also contribute to the decision-making on vital and vulnerable functions, and mutually exchange knowledge.

More information on vital and vulnerable functions is available on the Dutch language version of this knowledge portal.