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In disaster's wake

Recent catastrophic news and the fifth anniversary of the World Trade Centre attacks started some people wondering what might have scaled back the human suffering. What preventive measures? What preparedness? In the aftermath, which emergency responses could have helped the most?

To hinder terror attacks, a new security industry has risen up, and in Norway, business leaders are coming together to offer security equipment for police as well as an array of devices to protect society. On the disaster front, Norwegian teams have reached out in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Pakistan's earthquake-induced humanitarian crisis and the tsunami in Southeast Asia to distribute aid and ease human suffering. 


Society First
At the centre of Norwegian crisis management and security planning is the Norwegian Directorate for Civil Protection and Emergency Planning (DSB). This government agency directed Norway's assistance to neighbour Sweden when winter storms savaged the Nordic country, flattening trees and knocking out power to 380,000. Norway helped in the clean-up and provision of supplies. This pattern of humanitarian help brings Scandinavians together to fight forest fires, clear hazardous materials and mount rescues.
The DSB is Norway's disaster mitigation link to the United Nations and the European Union. The group has been put in charge of coordinating and planning responses to crises on home soil. In October 2006, the DSB will run "Exercise Oslo 2006", during which the Norwegian capital will simulate terror attacks on London and Madrid. Local and national crisis managers will be tested for their work with emergency services. Weak points in the response will be targeted for change.


This heightening of preparedness is what the DSB and Norway bring to the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. To make the world safer from natural calamities, 168 nations in Kobe decided in January 2005 to work together to mitigate the loss of life and property. It's none too soon: 90,000 people died by earthquake, flood, avalanche, fire, tropical storm or volcanic activity in 2005.


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Norwegian direct payloads of food and medicine to the devastated Indonesia's Aceh province after the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia.
© Sissel Amundsen/Norwegian Defence Media Centre


Total Defence

Of nature's worst, rock slides, floods, storms, forest fires and extreme cold are most feared by Norwegians. Of the man-made calamities, accidents involving hazardous materials are dreaded. Should disaster strike, the chief of the Norwegian Home Guard would activate district commands and any of 13 rapid-reaction units. The Land Home Guard is complemented by a Naval Home Guard able to intervene at sea or along the Norwegian littoral.


Though steeped in Cold War traditions of wartime readiness, Norway's "Total Defence" concept is a reliable measure of how society copes with catastrophe. Its three principles - responsibility, locality and normality - define the success of crisis management. The first principle holds that everyday leaders are also leaders of crisis. The second says that trouble is handled at the lowest level. The third asks the question: "How are we managing?"


Total Back-Up
In the event local emergency services are overwhelmed, at home or abroad, the Norwegian Civil Defence force can dispatch a team within 24 hours. With tents, tools and communications gear, Civil Defence teams ordinarily set up camps to support relief work. With Katrina on their minds, crews from this agency attended an exercise in Finland in September 2006 which simulated a community levelled by hurricane.


International agencies can summon a variety of support by contacting the DSB or the NOREPS - Norwegian Emergency Preparedness System - network. This Who's Who of Norwegian emergency response agencies, organizations and companies is an online association. Mobile Civil Defence units on standby include Norwegian UNDAC Support. These crews put their expertise in disaster zone communications at the disposal of UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination teams.


Also available is the Norwegian Support team, whose tents include quarters, cooking and conference facilities for emergency crews. They were among the first Norwegians hurried out to recent Asian tidal wave and earthquake zones.


Privately, tent-based shelters of a sophisticated kind are fabricated by Norwegian company ROFI Industrier. Their inflatable tent systems can be in place in 10 minutes for use by rapid-response medical units. Peacekeepers recently joined the ROFI tents into a 4,000 m2 facility in just four hours.


Maritime Scenarios
Norway's crisis managers and civil protection professionals are yearly organized into a number of full-scale exercises, sometimes with NATO, but more often at the behest of national preparedness policymakers, including health officials and the DSB.


Of the six or so civil defence exercises carried out in Norway in 2005, the 10-day Barents Rescue stands out. Local DSB staff, the Coast Guard and Civil Defence brigades mobilized to simulate an accident involving a cruise ship and an oil tanker. It became the largest civil rescue and emergency readiness exercise in Norwegian history, involving some 4,000 people, including Finnish, Swedish and British teams. The result was an understanding and narrowing of differences between national organizations.


Another important exercise in 2005 was the annual Gemini exercise put on jointly by police, the military and the oil and gas industry. Mock anti-terrorism operations simulated from the Stavanger Joint Warfare Centre involved a 1,000-strong engagement with terrorists attempting to put platforms out of production.


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Norwegian Civil Defence sanitation troops on a disaster exercise.
© Sissel Amundsen/ Norwegian Defence Media Centre


Grassroots Security

According to a late 2006 report in the Norwegian newspaper Dagsavisen, Norwegian airport operator Avinor now spends 10 times more guarding against terror in Norwegian airspace than before the World Trade Centre attacks.


Part of the NOK 1 billion Avinor will use to frustrate terror will be spent on locally procured security equipment. To bolster their industry, Norwegian suppliers of defence and security products are mobilizing along the shores of the capital city's seaward approach. A study by the Norwegian Defence and Security Industries Association (FSi) called "Safe Oslo Fjord" aims to create a ring of like-minded business south of Oslo. In exchange for the support of local and national authorities, companies will deploy their safety and security arrays in permanent defence of local lives and property.


Products of special interest to the protection of society include equipment to defeat organized crime, data theft and environmental crime. The protection of marinas and coastal businesses, as well as Oslo Harbour itself, will be served in the project by an R&D union of coastal authorities, national safety officials and the research community.


A Safe Fjord
Companies forming up into a defence and security "business park" around Oslo Fjord include heavyweights Kongsberg Defence and Aerospace, Thales Norway and Ericsson. The list of innovative security outfits in Norway is long however, including Kongsberg Maritime, makers of shore-based vessel traffic surveillance systems.


A recommendation in the wake of the Barents Rescue exercise suggested coordination between multinational civil and military parties is best served by dedicated communications. There are a number of Norwegian security communications companies, with Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace an example of a provider of secure radio links.


Meanwhile, police in Oslo Fjord responsible for monitoring long stretches of water point to the utility of control radar for a surveillance advance in a waterway congested further by charter traffic, cruise ships and countless small craft.


Police have told industry that equipment to automatically ID small craft and remove the threat of oil spills would assuage public fears. To ease public worries, Safe Fjord participant Uniteam makes water purification plants. Other Safe Fjord outfits will demonstrate their disaster communications gear in the autumn of 2006 at the DSB-lead Exercise Oslo.


Secure Shipping
Since 2004, the International Maritime Organization has adopted an anti-terror stance via rules for the screening of personnel aboard ships and at harbour. One Safe Fjord idea is for technology that might unite the various port devices rushed into use following the IMO's introduction of the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code.


As for the ships themselves, vessels and their cargoes can now be automatically identified in areas of heavy tanker traffic, such as off northern Norway. To bolster northern oil spill preparedness, a joint-action pact between Russia and Norway has been signed. Meanwhile, new radar and a new training programme for tracking offshore spills have made North Cape municipality a centre of Arctic disaster preparedness.


Oil spill identification and tracking inspired the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI) to develop satellite- and radar-based imaging for the surveillance of fast-moving slicks. The group has also showed interest in the Safe Fjord business cluster.


Many of the 115 Norwegian defence and security companies and their 20,000 employees will attend an autumn 2006 conference and show in Oslo. Norway's security and preparedness community will be out looking for partners. Speakers include experts in global jihad, police counter-terrorism, infectious diseases and secure data.


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The Kongsberg Maritime company Kongsberg Mesotech offers the SM 2000 underwater surveillance system, based on sonar and an "anti-swim" function.
© Kongsberg Mesotech

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