Norway’s bomb shelters have been branded as outdated and suffering from a chronic lack of maintenance. In some cases, local officials don’t even have control over how many bomb shelters are available or whether they can be used in case of an emergency.
“Today’s situation shows that Norwegian governments over many years have not paid enough attention to preparedness and security for the Norwegian population,” Member of Parliament Arild Hermstad, acting leader of the Greens Party (MDG), told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), after it recently revealed a lack of inspections and supervision of the country’s roughly 20,000 shelters.
Norway’s national civil defense agency (Sivilforsvaret) has no current overview, reports NRK, of the shelters that were built in the years following World War II, when Norway was invaded, occupied and bombed by both Nazi Germany and allied forces. The shelters were deemed important throughout the Cold War, and built to protect Norwegians from aerial attacks, bombing, chemical and biological warfare and to reduce injury from radioactivity. The shelters were maintained, stocked with necessary supplies and able to be put into use on 72 hours notice.
When the Cold War was believed to have ended, and relations with neighbouring Russia improved, the bomb shelters lost their importance. In 1998, national authorities also removed requirements that public buildings had to be built with a bomb shelter. Those that existed were also neglected, or converted to other use.
Now, with tensions higher than at any point during the Cold War, Norwegian politicians are suddenly worrying about how the shelters have virtually been left to rot. NRK reported that by 2016, Norway defense research institute FFI had already concluded that the shelters and the program behind them were out of date. In 2020, the former right-center government led by Prime Minister Erna Solberg admitted that civil defense measures were deficient and outdated, “and couldn’t protect the population in a satisfactory manner.”
The Parliament voted last year to determine how many bomb shelters should be maintained in the event of crisis. The job was given to the state directorate for civil security and preparedness (DSB) but won’t be finished until next year. Calls are now going out to move forward in the meantime with urgently needed renovation to ready the shelters for possible use.
“I hope both the war in Ukraine and the pandemic give us a new perspective on preparedness,” Bjørnar Moxnes, and MP and leader of the Reds Party, told NRK, adding that “empty capacity should no longer be viewed as negative.” The Socialist Left Party (SV) has also noted that existing bomb shelters are suffering from a lack of maintenance and competence in keeping them in a state of readiness. The Liberal Party wants Parliament to “screw up the tempo” in addressing shelter needs.
Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl of the Center Party has acknowledged the deficiencies and failure to renovate the shelters. The government has proposed increased funding for civil defense in next year’s state budget, and notes that DSB is well underway with charting needs. She said there are plans to make the shelters ready for use if needed.
DSB has already warned, however, that it will cost billions to bring the shelters up to current standards, at a time of tight budgets. Northern Norway, located closest to the Russian border, has the highest degree of coverage and availability of bomb shelters. In Oslo, shelters can accommodate 76 percent of the population, compared to 61 percent in Stavanger, 66 percent in Bergen and 50 percent in Trondheim.