Meld. St. 32 (2015–2016)

Svalbard — Meld. St. 32 (2015–2016) Report to the Storting (white paper)

To table of content

10 Civil protection, rescue and emergency preparedness

10.1 Introduction

Society faces a variety of challenges in the area of civil protection and emergency preparedness. Preventing and reducing vulnerability, so that society can better handle incidents and crises and quickly restore societal functions if an undesirable incident occurs, is a priority. The Government will continue to intensify its efforts to strengthen civil protection and emergency preparedness; see the budget proposal for 2016 for the Ministry of Justice and Public Security (Prop. 1 S (2015–2016)).

This chapter describes the organisation, roles and responsibilities of civil protection and emergency preparedness work in Svalbard. It also presents a discussion of available resources and specific challenges that require attention.

As in the rest of Norway, the job of civil protection and emergency preparedness in Svalbard has been intensified, including both the prevention and response aspects. Svalbard’s geographic location poses particular challenges in respect of civil protection and emergency preparedness for which planning is needed.

Prevention has been particularly important, and each sector is responsible for identifying the assets that need attention, the risks that key assets face, and how vulnerable they are. Based on such analyses, individual enterprises must implement preventive measures.

Previous white papers on Svalbard have focused attention on security and emergency preparedness challenges posed by increasing maritime traffic in the waters surrounding Svalbard and in the High North generally. One objective has been to reduce the risk of undesirable incidents involving maritime transport in Svalbard in order to protect human life, health and the environment, and over the years several measures have been implemented to ensure that the quality of security and rescue services at sea, on land and in the air is proportionate to the activity level. However, other areas also demand attention in terms of mapping and assessing risk and vulnerability.

Long distances and a demanding climate pose additional challenges. Local emergency preparedness, moreover, is not of a scale to deal with major or simultaneous incidents. Preventive measures are therefore critical. It is also extremely important that the various agencies cooperate and coordinate, and that they plan and prepare for resources to be provided from the mainland in the event of major incidents.

Should incidents nonetheless occur, it is important to be well drilled and prepared to manage them. Historically, there have been a number of challenging operations and missions in Svalbard. The avalanche in Longyearbyen in December 2015 showed how a whole community was mobilised and a major, vital effort was undertaken to save lives and care for those affected. This undesirable incident also illustrated the need for assistance from the mainland.

10.2 Key actors

10.2.1 Governor of Svalbard

The Governor of Svalbard is the Norwegian Government’s highest-ranking representative in the archipelago, and acts in the capacities of both chief of police and county governor, and is the principal authority with regard to both planning and crisis management in the area of civil protection and emergency preparedness. The Governor plays a vital role both in preventing undesirable incidents and in managing them when they occur. The Governor emphasises cooperation with the local emergency preparedness actors and superior authorities. The objective is a state of readiness that ensures the safety and security of the population of Svalbard.

By virtue of being county governor, the Governor of Svalbard is responsible for civil protection in the archipelago; see the Royal Decree of 19 June 2015 Instructions for the county governors’ and Governor of Svalbard’s work relating to civil protection, emergency preparedness and crisis management. These instructions set guidelines for the duties of the Governor of Svalbard relating to civil protection and emergency preparedness and for coordinating crisis management in the event of undesirable incidents.

In line with the instructions, a dedicated emergency preparedness council has been appointed in Svalbard and is chaired by the Governor of Svalbard, as is also the case with county governors on the mainland. The council consists of representatives from large research institutions and companies in Svalbard, the Longyearbyen Red Cross, Svalbard Church, and Longyearbyen Hospital. The council discusses relevant civil protection and emergency preparedness issues and serves as an arena for oversight and exchange of information. The council contributes to a joint risk and vulnerability assessment and a common platform for planning civil protection and emergency preparedness in Svalbard, and must also be prepared to assist the Governor of Svalbard in crisis management. In coordinating with the emergency preparedness council, the Governor of Svalbard obtains a good overview of available capacities and expertise in the archipelago.

A key element in the civil protection duties of the Governor of Svalbard is the preparation of a risk and vulnerability (RAV) analysis for Svalbard. In 2013 the Governor prepared an RAV analysis for Svalbard covering the following main categories: natural incidents, major accidents, and serious intentional incidents. It was based in part on the Directorate for Civil Protection and Emergency Planning’s national risk assessment. The RAV analysis was prepared in cooperation with local emergency preparedness actors and adopted by the emergency preparedness council for Svalbard, and provides a basis for revising and further developing an integrated set of emergency preparedness plans. An updated RAV analysis is due to be completed in 2016.

By area, Svalbard is Norway’s largest police district, and the Governor has the same authority as a chief of police on the mainland. The police manpower was expanded with three new positions from 1 July 2014, and a new operations room was opened when construction of the Governor’s administration building was completed in the autumn of 2014. This will improve the Governor’s ability to address new and major challenges in the areas of rescue and emergency preparedness.

Svalbard local rescue coordination centre

As chief of police, the Governor of Svalbard also heads the rescue management team in the local rescue centre in Svalbard. In addition to the Governor of Svalbard, the rescue management team consists of representatives from the Longyearbyen Community Council, Longyearbyen Fire and Rescue Service, Telenor Svalbard, Longyearbyen Hospital, Store Norske Spitsbergen Kulkompani AS, Avinor/Svalbard Airport, the Governor of Svalbard’s helicopter operator SAR, Lufttransport and the Longyearbyen Red Cross Search and Rescue Corps. External advisers may be called on when necessary.

The rescue plan of the Governor of Svalbard is based on the model plan for rescue services in Norway and is regularly updated in line with new experience and societal changes. The plan covers incidents and accidents at sea, on land and in the air. The Governor has also established a set of plans for dealing with acute pollution, nuclear accidents and pandemics, as well as a general crisis management plan and other emergency preparedness plans.

When an incident occurs, managing it depends on the efforts of volunteers and the provision of resources from the mainland when necessary. In 2015 the local rescue coordination centre in Svalbard coordinated 80 rescue missions. This number has remained relatively stable over time, with an annual average of 71 over the past five years.

Textbox 10.1 Strengthened cooperation in the Arctic

Increased activity and traffic in the Arctic region call for a strengthening of rescue service cooperation between countries with search and rescue responsibilities in Arctic waters. In 2011 Norway concluded a treaty with Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Russia, Sweden and the United States to cooperate on search and rescue coverage in connection with air and sea traffic in the Arctic.

Norway’s area of responsibility for search and rescue was expanded when Norway assumed responsibility further east towards the Russian area of responsibility and north of Svalbard to the North Pole. The agreement established a more binding rescue service cooperation, including enhanced regional organisation of search and rescue operations in the Arctic. The agreement was signed at the Arctic Council’s ministerial meeting in Nuuk, Greenland, and is being followed up by the Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response Working Group (EPPR).

This reinforced search and rescue cooperation is important for optimising the resources available in the region and for being able to respond promptly to persons in distress.

Figure 10.1 Map of ‘rescue sectors’.

Figure 10.1 Map of ‘rescue sectors’.

Map design: Arctic Portal

Source Arctic Council

10.2.2 Longyearbyen Community Council

Within its geographic area of responsibility, which corresponds to the Longyearbyen land-use planning area, the Longyearbyen Community Council (LCC) is an important actor in civil protection and emergency preparedness in Svalbard.

Since 2011 the municipalities have had a general emergency preparedness duty under the Act relating to the municipal preparedness duty, civil protection measures and the Norwegian civil defence (Civil Protection Act). The purpose of a general preparedness duty is to ensure that the municipalities view preparedness activities in context and plan accordingly. On 18 December 2012 a similar duty was imposed on the LCC through regulations authorised by the Civil Protection Act that make parts of the act applicable to Svalbard.

The regulations exist to ensure that the LCC attends to the safety and security of the population. The LCC must work systematically and cohesively on civil protection across sectors, with a view to reducing the risk of loss of life or damage to health, the environment or material assets.

The LCC is required to undertake a general risk and vulnerability (RAV) analysis that includes mapping, systemising and assessing the likelihood of undesirable incidents that could occur in the Longyearbyen land-use planning and how they could affect the planning area and the LCC. The LCC prepared a RAV analysis in 2014 which forms the basis for agency-specific emergency preparedness plans.

The local government must be prepared to manage undesirable incidents and, based on the general RAV analysis, develop a general preparedness plan. The preparedness plan must coordinate and integrate other preparedness plans for the planning area, and must be coordinated with other relevant public and private crisis and preparedness plans. The regulations set out the minimum requirements for what preparedness plans must cover.

The LCC provides the fire and emergency preparedness service, fire prevention activity and the alarm service, and operates the ambulance service on behalf of Longyearbyen Hospital.

The Longyearbyen Fire and Rescue Service has a duty to protect and save human life, property and the environment. The emergency response service is organised as an emergency standby service staffed by part-time personnel.

The Fire and Rescue Service has a technically advanced alarm centre for receiving emergency calls via the 110 emergency number. The centre also monitors external fire alarms and technical alarms in Longyearbyen. The centre is based in the premises of Energiverket and is manned by personnel on a round-the-clock duty rota.

Activities are also conducted to raise awareness about fire prevention. This is done by informing inhabitants, supervising special fire objects, assisting with training activity and conducting fire drills. The Longyearbyen Fire and Rescue Service also assists the Governor of Svalbard with fire safety supervision in the inhabited locations outside Longyearbyen.

Fire protection legislation in Svalbard

The following laws apply to Svalbard: the Act relating to flammable liquids and gases under pressure (Act of 21 May 1971 No. 47) and the Act relating to explosive goods (Act of 14 June 1974 No. 39). In addition, regulations relating specifically to fire protection apply to Svalbard, with legal basis in the Svalbard Act (Regulations of 20 August 1993 No. 815). The Ministry of Justice and Public Security is working to make the Act relating to the prevention of fire and explosion (Act of 14 June 2002 No. 20) applicable in Svalbard. The Directorate for Civil Protection and Emergency Planning, the Governor of Svalbard and the Longyearbyen Community Council contribute to this activity.

10.2.3 Longyearbyen Hospital

Longyearbyen Hospital is a key actor in Svalbard’s emergency health preparedness, and supplies health services to the population and others visiting and travelling around Svalbard. The hospital is part of University Hospital of North Norway (UNN) and provides primary health services, preventive health services, infection control and pre-hospital medical and nursing care. Health and welfare services are discussed in more detail in section 6.3.3.

The hospital is an acute-care hospital with round-the-clock emergency preparedness, and is involved in all types of incidents that may lead to health problems. As well as acute illness or injury, these may involve contamination of drinking water, power outages, food shortages, animal pests and contagious diseases.

Important elements of health preparedness for acutely sick and injured persons in Svalbard and the surrounding waters are the manpower and expertise at Longyearbyen Hospital, close communication with UNN Tromsø, and fast evacuation/transport to the mainland. Svalbard’s health service will always have to deal with much of the initial phase of an emergency. Longyearbyen Hospital is not adequately equipped to deal with major incidents single-handedly. This heightens the necessity of coordination with UNN Tromsø and efficient transportation to and from the mainland in cases of severe, acute illness or injury. A summary report on of the avalanche of 19 December 2015, prepared by the Northern Norway Regional Health Authority (RHA), UNN Tromsø and Longyearbyen Hospital, identified many areas for improvement. The Northern Norway RHA will follow this matter up in cooperation with the Governor of Svalbard.

Through their duty of care, the Northern Norway RHA and the University Hospital of North Norway have responsibility for all health services in Svalbard. Experience from incidents such as the avalanche in Longyearbyen in December 2015 shows that the psychosocial aspects of emergency preparedness are important. A process will be initiated to review the status of psychosocial emergency preparedness and follow-up in Svalbard.

Based on the Governor of Svalbard’s work updating the RAV analysis for Svalbard, which is due to be completed in 2016, it is natural that the Northern Norway Regional Health Authority assess whether its overall resource capability is sufficient for fulfilling its duty of care in respect of emergency medical preparedness in Svalbard.

10.2.4 Svalbard Church

Svalbard Church is formally integrated in rescue service cooperation with the Governor of Svalbard, and is prepared to take part in this work by providing support to those involved. The church is also an important resource in the work that goes on during and after incidents. The church is part of the Governor of Svalbard’s advisory staff, and assists in the task of notifying next of kin. With a capacity of approximately 60, the church community room could be suitable as a centre for evacuees and relatives.

10.3 Resources

10.3.1 Helicopter

Since 1 April 2014, the Governor of Svalbard has had two large rescue helicopters. A contract has been signed with Lufttransport AS for the hiring of two Super Puma helicopters, complete with advanced equipment. This arrangement was reached as a result of both the expanded area of responsibility resulting from the Arctic search and rescue agreement and the added significance Longyearbyen will gain as a base for search and rescue operations and pollution preparedness in the northern waters.

These long-range helicopters can rescue up to 18 people in distress within a radius of 120 nautical miles. They have modern search equipment as well as greater load capacity and better communications and safety equipment than previous models. Response time has been reduced from two hours during normal office hours and 12 hours otherwise to two hours around the clock. Construction of a new, modern hangar was completed on 1 April 2014 to provide appropriate hangar conditions for the new helicopters. The result is a significant increase in emergency preparedness and safety for permanent residents of Svalbard, tourists, and the search and rescue helicopter crews. During the summer months, Lufttransport AS also operates other helicopters for clients in Svalbard, such as Store Norske Spitsbergen Kulkompani AS and the Norwegian Polar Institute.

The new long-range search and rescue helicopters to be introduced on the mainland in 2020 have greater capacity than today’s Sea King helicopters and will therefore further strengthen Svalbard’s helicopter preparedness.

10.3.2 Air ambulance

Geographic conditions and community patterns make the air ambulance a vital service for effective treatment, transport and preparedness in the event of acute illness or injury. The service contributes to the provision of equitable health care, and is a necessity if patients are to benefit from modern treatments of time-critical conditions when distances to relevant hospitals are long.

The emergency medical services outside hospitals are discussed in an Official Norwegian Report (NOU 2015: 17 Først og fremst). According to the report, today’s air ambulances are poorly suited for longer missions and the load constraints for missions to Svalbard and Jan Mayen are considerable. The regional health authorities’ national air ambulance service (Luftambulansetjenesten ANS) will enter into an agreement to procure air ambulance services for emergency preparedness and for planned missions on behalf of the four regional health authorities. The new agreement will run from July 2019 to 2030.

10.3.3 Service vessels

The Governor of Svalbard’s service vessel, Polarsyssel, is a key resource in rescue and emergency preparedness missions involving shipwrecks, groundings, oil spills, personal injuries, etc. To strengthen and adapt the Governor of Svalbard’s rescue and emergency preparedness duties and to conduct necessary inspections and supervision of the growing traffic at sea and around the archipelago, NOK 18 million was allocated in 2016 to extend the length of the vessel’s service season by about three months; see Recommendation No. 17 S (2015–2016). It is vital that helicopters and vessels can coordinate successfully, and the service vessel is therefore equipped with a helipad big enough to accommodate the Governor of Svalbard’s helicopters.

The year 2015 was the first year the vessel sailed the entire season (180 days). The experiences were generally positive, and an agreement was reached in March 2016 to extend the season to 270 days.

Figure 10.2 The Governor of Svalbard’s service vessel and helicopter.

Figure 10.2 The Governor of Svalbard’s service vessel and helicopter.

Photo: Per Andreassen, Office of the Governor of Svalbard

10.3.4 Norwegian Coast Guard

The Norwegian Coast Guard is a vital resource in rescue operations in Svalbard. The Norwegian Coast Guard cooperates closely with the Governor of Svalbard. The Governor of Svalbard has entered into a cooperation agreement with the Norwegian Coast Guard specifying guidelines for the support to be provided. Furthermore, the Coast Guard vessel KV Svalbard is approved for coordinated actions with the Governor of Svalbard’s helicopters, such as helicopter landings on the vessel. This strengthens civil emergency preparedness in the areas around Svalbard.

10.3.5 Longyearbyen Red Cross Search and Rescue Corps

The Longyearbyen Red Cross Search and Rescue Corps has 60 active volunteers and is organised into avalanche, glacier, vehicle and marking groups. A training programme developed for members lasts two years and consists of a 40-hour compulsory first-aid course and considerable field training. A duty phone has also been set up that can issue a mass alert when the Governor of Svalbard reports a need for assistance. The Search and Rescue Corps has considerable material resources, including a mobile field hospital.

In cooperation with other emergency preparedness actors, including the Governor of Svalbard and the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre Northern Norway, the Longyearbyen Red Cross Search and Rescue Corps has developed an Arctic Survival Kit concept. The concept consists of 30 bags that can be dropped from an airplane or helicopter, with a capacity for 240 persons. Each bag contains equipment for eight people: four mountain tarps, two ground sheets, eight bottles of water, eight heat packs, one rescue blanket, splints, and a first-aid kit. This concept makes up part of the rescue preparedness in and around Svalbard.

The Governor of Svalbard cooperates closely with the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre on planning and carrying out joint exercises, and the expertise and capacity of the rescue corps constitutes a vital part of Svalbard’s emergency preparedness and rescue resources. The Longyearbyen Red Cross Search and Rescue Corps is a key resource in Svalbard’s local rescue coordination centre.

Figure 10.3 Exercise Svalbard. Passengers from the accident vessel jumped or were thrown into the water in Billefjorden. The Governor of Svalbard’s helicopters evacuated passengers to land (Brucebyen), where a temporary reception centre was set up and manned by ...

Figure 10.3 Exercise Svalbard. Passengers from the accident vessel jumped or were thrown into the water in Billefjorden. The Governor of Svalbard’s helicopters evacuated passengers to land (Brucebyen), where a temporary reception centre was set up and manned by the police, medical personnel and volunteers from the Longyearbyen Red Cross Search and Rescue Corps. Equipment consisted of a field hospital with multi-fuel heaters, rescue blankets, etc., which the Red Cross stores. This material was flown out along with emergency response personnel. Life-saving first aid was administered on site, and medical personnel prioritised the patients by condition before airlifting them to Longyearbyen and the hospital.

Photo: Stefan Claes, UNIS

Textbox 10.2 Rescue service

‘Norwegian rescue service’ refers to the publicly organised emergency response from multiple cooperating partners to rescue people from death or injury resulting from acute accidents or dangerous situations that are not specifically dealt with by established bodies or special measures. The rescue service is a collaboration of public bodies, volunteer organisations and private enterprises and individuals under the leadership and coordination of two Joint Rescue Coordination Centres and subordinate local rescue coordination centres. Svalbard is an important element in the Norwegian rescue service, and has its own local rescue coordination centre.

The Joint Rescue Coordination Centre leads and coordinates all types of rescue missions (land, sea and air rescue services). This is done either directly from the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre Northern Norway or the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre Southern Norway, or via missions assigned to subordinate local rescue coordination centres. The Joint Rescue Coordination Centre also has leadership responsibility for maintaining and further developing cooperation within the rescue service between incidents. Each coordination centre consists of a rescue management team composed of the main cooperation partners, and is headed by the chief of police for Bodø or Sola.

A new organisational plan for the rescue service was adopted by Royal Decree on 19 June 2015. The resolution entered into force on 2 November 2015. The supporting instructions give a mandate and directions for the composition of the local rescue coordination centres. For Svalbard’s local rescue coordination centre, the mandate applies with necessary adaptations. See section 10.2.1 for a more detailed discussion of Svalbard’s local rescue coordination centre.

10.4 Exercises

Exercises are an important way of strengthening coordination between different actors. A high level of exercise activity was maintained again in 2015. In addition to individual training activity and exercises, most exercises have been carried out in cooperation with one or more of the cooperating emergency preparedness actors.

Exercise Svalbard

Exercise Svalbard was a national emergency health preparedness exercise that was carried out on 4 and 5 November 2014. The main scenario was an explosion and fire on board a cruise ship. The exercise involved evacuating passengers to the mainland and evacuating casualties to the University Hospital of North Norway in Tromsø with the help of resources from the Norwegian Armed Forces and the Swedish authorities. Emphasis was also given to lessons learned from 22 July 2011.

The purpose of the exercise was to manage a large-scale incident, find weaknesses, and consider improvements. The exercise involved all stages and levels in the rescue, evacuation and treatment chain, from the accident scene in Svalbard to the local hospital, and evacuation from Svalbard to the mainland. A wide variety of offices and organisations took part, among them: the Governor of Svalbard, the Longyearbyen Community Council, the Northern Norway Regional Health Authority, the County Governor of Troms, the University Hospital of North Norway, the Norwegian Armed Forces, the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre, the Longyearbyen Red Cross, the Ministry of Health and Care Services, the Norwegian Directorate of Health and a number of other directorates and ministries. An evaluation conference was held and an evaluation report written, and areas for improvement will be followed up.

The exercise showed that Svalbard has is well trained in emergency preparedness. However, emergency medical personnel are an extremely vulnerable resource. The same applies to emergency medical equipment. It is therefore necessary to have access to prompt and comprehensive medical assistance from the mainland.

In 2015 the National Police Directorate, the Norwegian Directorate of Health and the Directorate for Civil Protection and Emergency Planning established national procedures for cooperation between the emergency services in situations of acute and life-threatening violence (pågående livstruende vold (PLIVO)). The Governor of Svalbard, Longyearbyen Hospital and the Longyearbyen Fire and Rescue Service carried out a joint exercise in PLIVO procedures in 2015. This will be followed up with annual exercises.

In the autumn of 2016 the Norwegian Coastal Administration will carry out a full-scale joint exercise in managing acute pollution in the waters surrounding Svalbard. The exercise is a direct follow-up of the Norwegian Coastal Administration’s emergency preparedness analysis for maritime traffic in the areas around Svalbard and Jan Mayen (2014); the purpose of the exercise is partly to verify some of the issues that came to light in the analysis and partly to accumulate experience relating to Arctic maritime pollution responses.

10.5 Specific issues

10.5.1 Flooding and avalanches

The Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE) has overall responsibility for public administration tasks related to the prevention of flood and avalanche damage. This involves assisting municipalities and society at large with expertise and resources for mapping, land-use planning, securing, monitoring, alerting and emergency preparedness. In 2013 Svalbard was included, on par with mainland municipalities, in the assistance NVE provides to prevent flood and avalanche damage. This followed Meld. St. 15 (2011–2012) Hvordan leve med farene, a white paper on living with flood and avalanche hazards.

Flood and avalanche warnings

Monitoring and warning about floods and avalanches help mitigate the consequences of these incidents and enhance safety for people living and travelling in exposed areas. Time spent in exposed areas can be limited, and damage to movable assets avoided.

On the mainland, NVE issues regional warnings for floods, landslides and snow avalanches. Local authorities must decide how to respond to the regional warnings.

Since the winter of 2014/2015, NVE has been conducting a pilot project for regional avalanche warnings, with main target group consisting of people travelling in avalanche terrain and parties responsible for closing and opening transport arteries and evacuating buildings. The planned time period for the pilot project in 2015/2016 was extended as a consequence of the avalanche in December 2015 (see Box 10.3). In addition, a system of local avalanche risk assessments was established for avalanche-prone buildings in Longyearbyen. Local avalanche warnings and avalanche risk assessments for avalanche-prone buildings are normally covered by local actors. The pilot project will be evaluated and followed up in consultation with the Longyearbyen Community Council. NVE plans to continue issuing its avalanche warnings in Svalbard during the winter of 2016/2017, using much the same format as when the service was launched in January 2016.

Safety measures

‘Safety measures’ refers to various physical measures to reduce the damaging effects of floods and avalanches on buildings and infrastructure. Every year NVE sets priorities as to which safety measures can be funded on the basis of social cost-benefit analyses. NVE can provide funding for safety measures of up to 80 per cent of the development costs. The assistance programme for funding and carrying out safety measures is not rights-based; instead, funds are allocated from the national budget on a priority basis.

Potential safety measures in Svalbard must be evaluated in the same manner as on the mainland. In cooperation with the authorities in Longyearbyen, NVE has so far focused on floods and slush avalanches in Longyearelva and Vannledningsdalen. Together with the authorities in Longyearbyen, NVE will assess the need for safety measures. This need must be seen in the context of future land use in Longyearbyen. See also the discussion of land-use development in Chapter 6.

Mapping of floods and avalanches

Hazard and risk mapping provides knowledge about which areas are prone to flood and avalanche and about the potential consequences. Such knowledge is needed for methodical, effective risk management of floods and avalanches.

The mapping of flood and avalanche hazards in Svalbard will be given priority in NVE’s national mapping programme in 2016. This will provide a better basis for the Longyearbyen Community Council when reviewing land-use plans. The new mapping is also important for emergency preparedness management and for gaining an overview of where the need for safety measures is most pressing.

Textbox 10.3 The avalanche in Longyearbyen

The avalanche on 19 December 2015 demonstrated that the community in Longyearbyen is able and willing to step up when incidents occur. The accident resulted in two fatalities and several injured. A number of houses were heavily damaged, and almost two hundred people were evacuated. The avalanche from Sukkertoppen was approximately 200 metres wide. The Norwegian Geotechnical Institute (NGI) estimates that 20,000 m3 of snow was released. This is equivalent to approximately 5,000 tonnes of snow. The size of the avalanche was classified as large (Class 4 of a possible 5). The cause of the avalanche was a combination of old snow cover with persistent weak layers at ground level, snow precipitation, a temperature rise and strong easterly winds that carried extremely large amounts of snow onto the leeward side above the affected buildings.

A rescue mission was immediately launched by the Governor of Svalbard, Longyearbyen Hospital and the Longyearbyen Fire Service. Crews from the Longyearbyen Red Cross Search and Rescue Corps and many volunteers from Longyearbyen also took part.

The avalanche created a critical need for assistance from the mainland. This assistance consisted of air ambulances, medical personnel, police officers, NGI and NVE representatives, search and rescue dogs from Norwegian People’s Aid, and other volunteers. These were all transported to Svalbard.There was also a need for emergency response personnel to quickly return to the mainland once their mission was completed. The same applied to volunteers and others who wanted to leave Svalbard in light of the uncertain situation in and around Longyearbyen. The Ministry of Justice and Public Security therefore commissioned a plane to transport these people to the mainland.

The accident mobilised an entire community. The rescue services performed a major and vital task. What is more, the entire community stepped up to save lives and care for those directly affected. The way in which the accident was managed demonstrated the Svalbard community’s strong collective commitment to emergency response. All the same, it is important that the incident be reviewed. The Ministry of Justice and Public Security has charged the Directorate for Civil Protection and Emergency Planning with the task of evaluating the incident, with the assistance of the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre Southern Norway and the Norwegian Police University College. Both preventive efforts and management of the actual incident will be evaluated with a view to making potential improvements. The evaluation is to be submitted to the ministry by 1 September 2016.

10.5.2 Preparedness against acute pollution

Preparedness against acute pollution is an important damage mitigation measure. The formal basis for preparedness and response to acute oil pollution is enshrined in the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act. The act imposes a duty on anyone engaged in an activity in Svalbard to prevent acute pollution and ensure that measures be taken should pollution occur, including measures to mitigate the damage to nature. The preparedness requirements imposed on enterprises in Svalbard are laid down by the Norwegian Environment Agency.

In the event of an acute oil spill in Svalbard, the party responsible for the spill will be responsible for cleaning it up. This is done under the supervision of the Norwegian Coastal Administration, which can delegate its authority to the Governor of Svalbard.

The Norwegian Coastal Administration and the Governor of Svalbard have an agreement to coordinate oil spill contingency operations for Svalbard, including Bjørnøya. The agreement also applies to other sources of pollution. The agreement is based on the assumption that emergency preparedness organisations are familiar with their respective responsibilities and tasks in connection with oil spill contingency operations in this area. In the agreement, responsibilities related to the duty to respond are divided between the Norwegian Coastal Administration and the Governor of Svalbard, based on geographic zones.

An oil spill contingency depot has been established in Longyearbyen, and a smaller amount of equipment is stored at Ny-Ålesund. Oil spill response equipment is also available in Barentsburg and Svea. Depot equipment is primarily intended to deal with spills of heavy fuel oil. The Governor of Svalbard’s service vessel, Polarsyssel, is the most important resource in oil spill preparedness in Svalbard, and is equipped with oil spill response equipment when at sea.

In 2014 the Norwegian Coastal Administration conducted an environmental risk and preparedness analysis for Svalbard. One of the findings of the analysis was the need for access to more local equipment and personnel. A more detailed account of the analysis will be presented in the planned white paper to the Storting on maritime safety and emergency preparedness in 2016.

10.5.3 Shipping and maritime safety

More than 80 per cent of maritime traffic in the Arctic passes through Norwegian waters. The level of maritime traffic in the waters surrounding Svalbard has increased in recent years, and new areas have become accessible for longer periods in the year as a result of retreating sea ice. It is important to be able to manage this increased activity in ways that are safe, environmentally friendly and effective.

Accidents involving vessels can lead to loss of life and environmental or material damage. The measures to prevent accidents include requirements for ships and crews, maritime infrastructure, traffic monitoring, and services such as pilotage services. Emergency preparedness for cases in which accidents occur is also important.

There are special challenges associated with maritime traffic in the waters surrounding Svalbard, in addition to which this area contains vast natural assets that are vulnerable to the effects of incidents such as acute oil spills. The archipelago’s geographic and climatic conditions, in combination with deficient navigational charts and limited access to communication systems, pose constant challenges to maritime safety around the archipelago.

In addition, more extreme weather could affect maritime traffic in the waters surrounding Svalbard and exacerbate the consequences of engine breakdowns or other incidents at sea. Climatic conditions, long distances, and relatively few local resources make search and rescue operations, preparedness against acute pollution and clean-up operations in Svalbard particularly challenging tasks. To ensure sustainable development and prevent accidents and harmful spills, it is important that the industry set high safety and environmental standards.

Report No. 22 (2008–2009) to the Storting Svalbard placed decisive emphasis on preventive measures in the work of reinforcing maritime safety in Svalbard, and underlined the need for monitoring and for further development of maritime safety regulations. In the period since the white paper was published, the focus on maritime safety and preventive measures for ships and crews operating in polar waters has increased, both nationally and internationally.

A number of measures have been introduced to improve maritime safety in the waters surrounding Svalbard. The state pilotage service was launched in 2012. Transitional schemes ensured a gradual introduction, and the first season with compulsory pilotage in the archipelago was launched in 2015. More effective monitoring tools have been introduced, and although large areas still remain uncharted, extensive work has been done on charting the waters surrounding Svalbard. Moreover, international efforts on the Polar Code, behind which Norway has been a driving force, are now complete. The Polar Code also covers the waters surrounding Svalbard, and will enter into force in 2017.

Future challenges relate to a number of factors. Both weather and ice conditions can change quickly, causing changes to the water itself along the coast. Correspondingly, increased activity in the High North, Svalbard included, will create new challenges to preventive maritime safety. Other developments in Svalbard and in the High North call for a thorough assessment of maritime safety in the archipelago, and for the implementation of measures wherever necessary.

The objective is to reduce the risk of undesirable incidents in maritime transport in Svalbard, so that damage to life, health and the environment can be avoided. Preventive measures are crucial to Svalbard. The Government will ensure that maritime activity sets high standards of safety and emergency preparedness in the north.

The following sections present a description of the risk situation, as well as a discussion of the different elements which, combined, contribute to maritime safety in Svalbard.

Risk situation

Surveillance data show that there is maritime traffic around the whole of Svalbard. Passenger ships in particular navigate close to the coastline and around the whole of Svalbard when ice conditions permit. The west side of Spitsbergen, particularly Isfjorden and Van Mijenfjord, has the most traffic. Moreover, maritime traffic in the waters surrounding Svalbard is seasonal. The extent of sailed distance from January to April is relatively small. Thereafter it increases, peaking in the months from July to October. The traffic level decreases from November.

Maritime traffic around Svalbard differs from maritime traffic in marine areas such as the North Sea, the Norwegian Sea and the Barents Sea in that traffic density is far lower and fishing vessels account for a very large proportion of the traffic (close to 70 per cent). The amount of traffic in the form of cargo ships and tank ships is less around Svalbard than along the mainland. Cruise traffic has increased in recent years, and today accounts for almost 20 per cent of the total cruise traffic in Norwegian waters.

Because there is markedly less maritime traffic in the waters surrounding Svalbard, the expected frequency of maritime accidents is lower in the areas around the archipelago than along the mainland coastline. Nevertheless, a shipping accident near Svalbard could have serious consequences for life, health and the environment.

Svalbard consists to a large degree of especially vulnerable and protected natural areas. The overall potential for damage in Svalbard is therefore large, while the acceptance of risk of environmental damage is proportionately low. Acute oil spills from shipping are among the incidents with the most potential to cause significant and long-term damage to the natural environment. The greatest risk of environmental damage from accidents is to coastal waters.

Response times for action after an acute oil spill will be long in most places in Svalbard, depending on the distance to local oil spill response equipment and vessels with oil spill response equipment permanently on board. Oil spills can therefore spread over large areas before oil spill response measures can be implemented. Moreover, availability of infrastructure for operations in the event of accidents and challenges is limited, due to the long distances in the archipelago. This applies to factors such as the number of depots, suitable emergency ports and available towing vessels. Such accidents may therefore affect human life and the environment more adversely than similar situations on the mainland.

To avoid acute spillage of heavy fuel oil in connection with shipping accidents, fuel quality requirements have been set to the equivalent of light marine diesel fuel for ships sailing in the nature reserves on the east side and in the large national parks on the west side. The bans in these areas were introduced in 2007 and 2009 respectively. This means that heavy fuel oil is prohibited in most parts of Svalbard’s territorial sea.


The International Maritime Organization (IMO), a UN agency, develops international rules for shipping. This international regulatory framework establishes important parameters for Norway’s regulation of maritime transport. The trend is moving towards increasingly stringent environmental and safety regulations. Regardless of where a vessel is located, it is subject to general requirements for ships and crews that follow from international regulations. Flag states are obliged to conduct inspections and supervision to ensure that their ships comply with the regulations. In addition, foreign ships calling at Norwegian ports are subject to inspection.

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982 provides the legal framework for use of the sea. Like maritime traffic in other waters, maritime traffic in polar waters is subject to international conventions adopted in the IMO. So far, the regulatory framework has not been adapted to account for conditions in polar waters. Norway has therefore been a driving force in calling for the implementation of binding global regulations for ships operating in polar waters (the Polar Code); see Box 10.5, ‘The Polar Code’.

An important contribution to enhance maritime safety in Svalbard is the Ship Safety and Security Act, which entered into force in 2007. This act applies to Norwegian ships regardless of their location, including in Svalbard. The Ship Safety and Security Act has been made applicable to Norwegian as well as foreign ships operating inside the Norwegian territorial sea of Svalbard, with certain adaptations. Under the act, the Norwegian Maritime Authority has the authority to carry out port state inspections of foreign ships. The Ship Labour Act, which entered into force on 20 August 2013, applies to employees who work on board Norwegian ships, regardless of where they sail, including around Svalbard.

One important contribution towards regulating and facilitating safe maritime traffic in Svalbard has been the introduction of a maritime safety system and legal framework similar the mainland’s. Harbour and fairway legislation was made to apply to Svalbard in 2008 and extended in the new Harbour and Fairways Act through regulations relating to harbours and fairways in Svalbard, with certain adaptations. Correspondingly, the Pilotage Act was made applicable to Svalbard in 2012 through regulations relating to pilotage services in Svalbard. The Ministry of Transport and Communications, through the Norwegian Coastal Administration, is responsible for waterways management and has the authority to impose specific fairway measures including traffic and speed restrictions and tugboat requirements.

Textbox 10.4 Maritime strategy

In 2015 the Government launched its maritime strategy, entitled ‘Maritime Opportunities – Blue Growth for a Green Future’. This strategy covers the High North, and contains several measures of significance for maritime activity and maritime safety in Svalbard:

  • Ensure high standards of safety and emergency preparedness for maritime activity in the north.

  • Contribute to stronger global marketing of Norway’s unique Arctic maritime expertise and favourable geographic position for Arctic maritime activity, research and competence building.

  • Ensure a good level of emergency preparedness in search and rescue and oil spill contingency planning in the High North.

  • Ensure effective implementation of the Polar Code.

  • Consider further operationalisation of the Agreement on Cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic (SAR-Arctic)

10.5.4 Maritime safety measures in Svalbard

Safe navigation in the Arctic is contingent on reliable maritime navigation charts and ice data, and is a key part of the infrastructure needed to secure life, health, the environment and assets. Mapping of the Arctic marine areas in general is inadequate, while the need for good charts is heightened by the increase in traffic density and the appearance of larger, more deep-drafting vessels and higher-speed vessels. The work begun on charting important maritime areas around Svalbard will continue.

Well-functioning communications systems are a prerequisite for safe navigation and for effective, reliable rescue services and emergency communications. However, existing satellite communications systems offer little or no coverage north of 75° N. The Government wants to have good communication systems in place for the marine areas in the north. Furthermore, effective emergency preparedness is dependent on land-based communications working optimally. It is therefore desirable to assess the need to expand the maritime coastal radio service (HF radio) to provide better coverage in the High North than is the case today.

Another key requirement for sound maritime safety is good surveillance, communications and information systems. This is particularly important for Svalbard because of the relatively long distances, and because access to emergency preparedness resources is extremely limited compared to areas close to the mainland. The waters around Svalbard are monitored by the Vardø Vessel Traffic Service. Over the past 10 years, traffic monitoring in Norwegian coastal and marine areas has been significantly improved, and situational awareness today is far more detailed than ever before. The development of infrastructure for receiving signals from the Automatic Identification System (AIS), used in collision avoidance and tracking, has been important to improved monitoring. AIS signals can be detected by radio from other ships, and also from land-based base stations and satellites.

The Norwegian Coastal Administration develops technical solutions for land-based AIS base stations in Svalbard. The development of the land-based AIS base stations was discussed in Report No. 22 (2008–2009) to the Storting Svalbard and firmly embedded in Report No. 26 (2012–2013) to the Storting National Transport Plan 2014–2023. The Government will build land-based AIS base stations in the areas in Svalbard with heaviest traffic in order to reinforce maritime traffic monitoring and provide the Vardø Vessel Traffic Service and other agencies with continually updated maritime situation reports. This will provide a better basis for following up accidents and mounting effective rescue operations.

The pilotage scheme should make maritime traffic safer and protect the environment by ensuring that vessels operating in Norwegian coastal waters have navigators with good knowledge of the waterways and competence to sail safely. Compulsory pilotage was introduced gradually, and was fully enforced in Svalbard in 2015. This means that the state pilotage service, the pilotage obligation and the pilot exemption certification scheme also apply to Svalbard. Introduction of the pilotage service is an important measure for increasing maritime safety in Svalbard.

Textbox 10.5 The Polar Code

Like maritime traffic in other waters, shipping in polar waters is subject to international conventions adopted by the UN’s International Maritime Organization (IMO). The regulatory framework so far has not been adapted to account for the special conditions in polar waters. Development of global, binding regulations for ships that operate in the Arctic and Antarctic was put on the IMO’s agenda in 2009 at the suggestion of Denmark, Norway and the United States. The Polar Code has now been adopted, and will enter into force on 1 January 2017. Norway has been a central actor in the development of the Polar Code, and has led the work in IMO.

The Polar Code is a binding global regulatory framework for ships operating in polar waters, meaning the Arctic and Antarctic. The Polar Code comes in addition to the regulatory framework already present in applicable conventions and codes (SOLAS, MARPOL, the STCW Convention, etc.).

The Polar Code consists of two parts, one dealing with safety and the other with the environment. The code sets specific requirements for ships operating in these waters regarding construction, equipment, operation, protection of the marine environment, navigation and crew training. The Polar Code represents some of the most important work that has been done to ensure sustainable shipping in polar waters. The Government intends to ensure effective implementation of the regulations.

Lighthouses and beacons

Lighthouses and beacons are visual or radar-based devices used for position tracking and safe navigation along coastlines. In Svalbard the Norwegian Polar Institute is responsible for operating and maintaining the navigational devices, on commission from the Norwegian Coastal Administration. The objective is that the devices themselves and their operation should leave the smallest possible footprint in Svalbard’s vulnerable environment. The extent of marking is assessed in light of traffic trends around the archipelago.

In Vestpynten near Longyearbyen, successful tests have been conducted of navigational devices powered on energy from solar panels. The existing navigational infrastructure in Svalbard will be further developed and modernised to optimise risk reduction and lower operating and maintenance costs. This can include systematic rebuilding of the lighthouse lights to operate on the basis of LED light sources and solar cells. This upgrade would reduce maintenance needs, improve reliability and provide better navigational guidance.

Virtual navigation devices may prove useful in Svalbard because of the climatic conditions there. With such devices, chart symbols with navigation guidance are communicated to vessels via AIS base stations. Virtual navigation devices are not yet used in Norwegian waters, but are used to some degree in other countries, including Arctic areas. An example of their use is the marking of open channels in ice. Consideration will be given to whether these navigation devices should be used where physical marking is impossible. However, this measure will depend on the AIS base stations in Svalbard being expanded. The establishment of virtual navigation devices will therefore be considered, and will be viewed in connection with the development of other maritime safety measures in Svalbard.

Textbox 10.6 BarentsWatch

BarentsWatch is a comprehensive monitoring and information system that secures access to quality-assured information about the northern marine and coastal areas. This system makes it easer for various administrative bodies to exchange information and data. BarentsWatch consists of two main parts: an open (public) part and a closed (restricted access) part. The open part is a publicly accessible web portal for Norwegian and international users, and offers usefully organised and processed information covering topics such as climate, the environment and maritime transport. The closed part is a system for authorities with operative responsibility at sea, and is intended to enhance common, quality-controlled situational awareness as a basis for improved operational management.

10.5.5 Aviation safety level

Svalbard has an Arctic climate, and a number of weather-related incidents occur in connection with flights landing at and departing from Svalbard Airport, Longyearbyen, such as wind shear and turbulence. All the same, the Civil Aviation Authority believes on the basis of experience that aviation safety in Svalbard is at about the same level as elsewhere in Norway where similar flying takes place in uncontrolled airspace. Compared with the mainland, there are no special aviation safety challenges in Svalbard beyond those associated with the topographical and climate conditions that prevail there. After reviewing reported accidents and incidents in Svalbard, the Civil Aviation Authority found no reason to conclude that flights to and from the archipelago involve special safety problems.

In the autumn of 2010 Avinor commissioned three new navigational systems (distance-measurement equipment) to ensure safer approaches to Svalbard Airport, Longyear, and the airport in Svea. This has led to significant improvements in safety during approaches. Avinor has found the results so far to be positive. However, it has taken time to develop procedures, and the potential in the systems has not yet been fully tapped.

At present Svalbard Airport has a local aerodrome flight information service (AFIS officers) and no air traffic control service (air traffic controllers). According to regulations, air traffic control services in the form of tower control must be established when the number of flight movements exceeds 15,000 in the two preceding years, and at least 7,500 of these flight movements are instrument flights. An annual growth rate of 7–8 per cent in the number of flights at Svalbard Airport could trigger such a requirement in the course of a 10-year perspective. Moreover, the regulations permit the Civil Aviation Authority to demand establishment of an air traffic control service under other circumstances following a discretionary assessment of traffic and other conditions at the airport. However, the Civil Aviation Authority has concluded that the current traffic situation does not warrant the need to require establishment of an air traffic control service at Svalbard Airport.

10.6 Summary

Recent years have seen a significant strengthening of rescue preparedness in Svalbard, in respect of resources such as new helicopters, a new service vessel with extended sailing season, and the introduction of preventive measures such as the state pilotage service and the Harbour and Fairways Act. Measures have been introduced to mitigate the risk of incidents and environmental damage and to enhance safety both on land and at sea.

The avalanche in December 2015 served as a dramatic reminder of the importance of having the best possible local system that can immediately be coordinated and deployed to manage emergency, extraordinary incidents and crises. The accident also showed the necessity for good cooperation between the Governor of Svalbard, the Longyearbyen Community Council, Longyearbyen Hospital, Svalbard Church, the Longyearbyen Red Cross and other local cooperating partners. The rescue operation was extensive, and there was a shortage of human resources at several junctures.

It is also important to acknowledge that Longyearbyen is and will remain dependent on resources from the mainland. The dimensions of Svalbard’s emergency preparedness level will be continually assessed in the dialogue between the central authorities, the Governor of Svalbard and other key actors in Svalbard. Forming the basis of this work will be the experiences gained from the avalanche, the evaluation report, and the general increase in activity in the area.

The Government will:

  • Continuously assess emergency preparedness in Svalbard in light of the activities carried out in the archipelago and changes in risk level.

  • Respond appropriately to any findings by the Directorate for Civil Protection and Emergency Planning in its assessment following the avalanche on 19 December 2015.

  • Survey flood and avalanche risks in Longyearbyen in 2016, through the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate.

  • Work nationally and internationally to ensure effective implementation of the regulations on sailing in polar regions (the Polar Code).

  • Continually assess measures to reduce the risk of undesirable maritime transport incidents in Svalbard.

  • Continue the work of charting important maritime areas around Svalbard.

  • Work towards establishing good communication systems for the northern marine areas.

  • Further develop and modernise Svalbard’s existing navigation infrastructure to optimise risk reduction and lower operating and maintenance costs.

  • Develop land-based AIS base stations in the busiest areas of Svalbard to strengthen maritime traffic monitoring.

Go to front page