Commentary: "The Backbone of Norwegian Rescue Preparedness Celebrates 50 Years"

Forliset av tråleren "Northguider" langt nord på Svalbard i mellomjula viste nok en gang hvor krevende søk og redningsoperasjoner i nordområdene kan være. Nå har EU bevilget 35 millioner kroner til et stort internasjonalt nettverkprosjekt som skal ledes av Hovedredningssentralen Nord-Norge. (Foto fra dekket på Northguider: Kystvakta/KV Svalbard).
The ‘Northguider’ incident in northern Svalbard waters during Christmas 2018 once again demonstrated how demanding search and rescue operations in the High North may be. (Photo from ‘Northguider’: KV Svalbard/Norwegian Coast Guard)

"The Joint Rescue Coordination Centres in Norway are currently celebrating their 50th anniversary. Few people are aware of the role the two main rescue centres in Bodø and Stavanger play in saving lives and health over a very large area of responsibility", says Odd Jarl Borch and Rune Elvegaard.

This is a debate article, written by an external contributor. The article expresses the writer's opinions.

The Joint Rescue Coordination Centres lead and coordinate all types of rescue operations on land and sea and in the air. If you are stuck on a mountaintop, it is the rescue leaders at the Rescue Coordination Centres who coordinate the efforts to get you down. For land rescue, the work is usually delegated to the police, but it is the Rescue Coordination Centre that has overall responsibility.

Are you  “in a predicament” as a skipper with a fishing boat or a cruise ship? It is the Joint Rescue Coordination Centres that call out rescue helicopters, boats and whatever other resources are available to evacuate and save lives. If you need advice on what to do in a critical situation, the rescue coordinators are available 24/7 in close cooperation with the staff on maritime radio.

They can guide you into a safe harbour. These are personnel who have intimate knowledge of their search and rescue area, which also extends all the way from the North Sea, westwards to Jan Mayen and north to the North Pole. The enormous distances and limited resources place great demands on both professional knowledge and extensive collaboration skills.

Limited resources require close cooperation, not least with our neighbouring countries. The staff at the main rescue centres are constantly working on building cooperation relationships and exchanging experiences between agencies and across national borders.

At Nord University, we have had the pleasure of working with the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre for North Norway in the development of the innovation network ARCSAR (Arctic and North Atlantic Security and Emergency Preparedness Network). Emergency response actors and academic institutions from eight countries in the Arctic and North Atlantic, including Russia and the USA, work together here.

These efforts are led by the staff of the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Bodø, and has received considerable support from the EU Innovation Programme. Nord University has developed a matching academic network with close to 30 universities under the auspices of the umbrella organization UArctic. Here we can share experiences, including from this network, with all countries and the majority of the regions in the northern areas.

Through our work with the safety and emergency preparedness network, we also have the status of observer in the Arctic Council's expert committee for emergency preparedness, where representatives from Norwegian emergency preparedness are well represented.

Here, the Rescue Coordination Centre for Northern Norway is doing a great job of further developing the joint search and rescue apparatus in the Arctic countries, and thereby building cross-border trust. The Joint Rescue Coordination Centres regularly contribute to cross-border rescue operations, not the least in Russian sea areas in the north. We recently saw this in the tragic boat accident on the border between Norway and Russia.

The new rescue helicopter SAR Queen represents an enormous advance in terms of range and equipment, not least for the fishing fleet in the north. The Joint Rescue Coordination Centres conduct annual exercises with our neighbouring countries, among others the Exercise Barents.

We see that further efforts are necessary in terms of both emergency preparedness expertise on board the vessels, and more knowledge about risk in the High North.

Nord University, in cooperation with UiT, has established an equivalent, ExerciseStudent Barents Rescue, with students from Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia.

As a university that has civil protection as one of four main focus areas, Nord University places particular emphasis on training emergency responders with a good understanding of current practice. It is extremely useful to have the Joint Rescue Coordination Centres as a professional resource. Despite limited staffing, rescue leaders and inspectors willingly provide students with lectures and mentoring in exercises.

At NORDLAB, Nord University's competence hub for safety and emergency preparedness co-operation, we can connect the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre for Northern Norway with universities throughout Europe and large parts of Asia linked up through advanced simulator technology. Here we can recreate critical situations in which students can test their knowledge.

This provides a fantastic learning platform for everyone, and a good communication platform for the Norwegian rescue services. Nord University, together with the Joint Rescue Coordination Centres, are represented on the Government’s committee to assess safety and emergency preparedness related to cruise ship activity in the north.

Here we see that further efforts are necessary in terms of both emergency preparedness expertise on board the vessels, and more knowledge about risk in the High North. Knowledge must be developed here, and dissemination of the knowledge must be enhanced, not least to shipping companies and seafarers.

It is therefore essential that the Joint Rescue Coordination Centres are also allowed to develop further as professional environments and as a professional resource for the entire emergency response apparatus. Among other things, it is important that the Joint Rescue Coordination Centres have opportunities to analyse and build expertise based on all the rescue operations they are involved in, and to disseminate their expertise, including through academia and targeted exercises.

Some years ago, a public committee proposed an analysis centre at the Rescue Coordination Centre for Northern Norway. Since then, little has happened.

An appropriate gift from the government for the 50th anniversary would be to establish this analysis centre with the necessary dissemination capabilities, for the benefit of everyone who is concerned with good emergency preparedness in Norway, and not least for all of us who depend on their professional support.

Also read