The Norwegian government, severely chastened by the lack of effective response to the terrorist attacks on July 22, 2011, rolled out a package of measures on Wednesday aimed at improving disaster preparedness. Not everyone was convinced the new preparedness plan is sufficient.
“It’s not usual to approve new funding in March, but now we’re doing it,” Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said as he presented the terror preparedness plan at the state police academy in Oslo. “We need (a quicker) tempo and follow-through.”
The plan is backed by NOK 109 million (USD 20 million) of new state funding in addition to the extra entitlements already budgeted for additional police staffing and other projects. The fresh funds will be used to, among other things, set up a new national police operations center in Oslo to coordinate disaster response, a new system to call in reserve officers, more police personnel, installment of iPads or their equivalent in all police vehicles and testing of a new emergency number that victims can call in times of trouble.
Nearly NOK 80 million will be spent on strengthening police patrols while another NOK 5.2 million will be allocated to volunteer emergency response organizations so that they also could be tied into a new emergency calling system.
One proposal was already stirring controversy: NOK 11.5 million to police intelligence unit PST (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste) to improve their information technology, which involves surveillance systems.
Funding was also allocated for establishing a military helicopter base for emergency preparedness in Northern Norway. Even the smallest police office in outlying districts in Norway must also, from now on, be staffed by a minimum of two persons on duty and a minimum of three in slightly larger police districts.
Asked whether the funding didn’t actually amount to “small change” given its tiny percentage of the overall police budget, Justice Minister Grete Faremo told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) “no, it’s a significant extra allocation in addition to the increases we made in the police budget from last year.”
The program was generally welcome but some police representatives seemed skeptical. They contended they have seen little improvement in the more than year-and-a-half that’s passed since the terrorist attacks, and weren’t convinced they could expect more colleagues, more training and better communications systems soon.
Stoltenberg and Faremo seemed assured they can. Both were the targets of severe criticism by the government-appointed commission that probed the emergency response to the July 22 attacks, and uncovered serious shortcomings. The government and various state authorities under it simply did not manage to protect the public safety.
Many major improvements to the police communications systems are needed, and they’ll cost much more than NOK 109 million. “We must do this in a coordinated, comprehensive way, we must build up competence and we must be assured we’re choosing the right solutions,” Faremo told NRK, in explaining why implementation of new systems are so delayed.
Targets still not identified
Meanwhile, newspaper Aftenposten reported on Wednesday that the bosses of three of the state’s most important ministries still haven’t identified terror targets under their jurisdiction to national security experts. “This is not acceptable,” stated a report from the national security agency NSM issued this week.
The report, which also claimed neither the state nor private sector companies were well-enough secured against cyber crime and industrial espionage, state that Oil & Energy Minister Ola Borten Moe hasn’t told security experts which buildings, areas, transport systems or facilities in his jurisdiction need extra security. Health Minister Jonas Gahr Støre hasn’t identified or reported terror targets with the health care sector and Trade Minister Trond Giske is the third politician in his job who hasn’t followed up on identifying security weaknesses either.
One of the reasons given for the lapse was, once again, bureaucracy that blurs the lines of responsibility. NSM officials also detect a lack of understanding of security regulations.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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