‘Still unprepared’ for new attacks

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Norway is still not ready to handle large-scale emergencies, according to the man in charge of the country’s civil defense. His disturbing assessment of Norway’s ongoing lack of preparedness comes 15 months after last year’s July 22 attacks, and after months of criticism over the inadequate response.

This photo was taken right after a terrorist’s bomb exploded in the heart of Norway’s government complex last year. The smoke had barely cleared before shortcomings in the emergency response became clear themselves. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Jon A. Lea, head of the Norwegian civil defence agency DSB (Direktoratet for samfunnssikerhet og beredskap), seems most worried about a lack of coordination among various emergency services spread around Norway’s numerous municipalities and jurisdictions. His criticism offers a new wake-up call for the government and suggests flaws in its allowances for local authority and in the importance Norway places on district politics.

Lea offered his alarming evaluation of national security during the latest of five special hearings in Parliament this month that are meant to find out what went wrong with Norway’s response to the attacks last year.

“Today’s rescue system is still not good enough, and its rescue plans are inadequate,” Lea testified on Monday. “We have done nothing about this, and that’s foolish.”

‘Patchwork quilt’
Lea told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that one of the problems is Norway’s organizational and administrative structure. The country is divided into a large number of regional governments, police districts, emergency centres and health authorities. These all have their own different geographical boundaries, which overlap each other, as well as their own arrangements for emergency preparedness.

He describes the system as being like a “patchwork quilt,” organized according to the principle of “small is good.” It was set up to handle small- and medium-scale crises, he noted, as that was all it had to deal with in the past.

A large-scale emergency, like that which hit Norway last year, presents huge challenges in co-ordinating and planning response amongst all the widely spread areas, and assigning responsibility. Lea doubts whether, with its current system, Norway can handle large-scale attacks in the future.

Another problem lies with the police, which Lea thinks have too much responsibility.

“They want to do it all themselves, but they lack the capacity, which means that it doesn’t get done,” he said, according to newspaper Aftenposten’s report on Monday’s hearing. Lea told NRK that he believes the police have too many responsibilities, and they are not good at working with others.  He also claimed that the higher up you go in the police, the harder it is to find real leadership.

Not invited to crisis meeting
DSB, also known as the Norwegian Directorate for Civil Protection, is responsible for national, regional and local preparedness and emergency planning. The Norwegian Civil Defense is also part of this directorate.

Yet Lea, DSB’s director, was not initially invited to attend crisis meetings organized by the government directly after the July 22 attacks, and had to take the initiative to turn up himself.

Government leaders invite those whom they consider to be most relevant and necessary, prompting parliamentary committee leader Anders Anundsen of Norway’s Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet) to tell NRK that it seemed as though the government did not take DSB seriously enough.

Anundsen added that DSB’s advice often falls on deaf ears, and he urged the government to listen since Lea’s worrying assessment of national security described a system whose dimensions aren’t capable of dealing with catastrophe.

“It can be that we think we are better than we are in reality,” Lea himself told news bureau NTB.

Views and News from Norway/Elizabeth Lindsay

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