Governor beefs up emergency prepardness, but other types of crises loom

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The Governor of Svalbard did a pretty good job of improving its ability to deal with emergencies, but that may not offset a lot of unplanned incidents that happen at the local and national levels in the future.

The governor’s annual report for 2014, released last week, highlights improvements such as a new service vessel, a second full-size rescue helicopter, a new hanger and more police officials assigned to a wider range of duties among of the year’s main achievements.

“Taken together, this means a big boost for preparedness,” the report states.
But rescue equipment and personnel won’t help with many of the challenges the governor’s office may face this year and in the near future.

For the Svalbard community as a whole, 2014 resulted in great uncertainty about the Store Norske Coal Company’s position,” Gov. Odd Olsen Ingerø wrote in an introductory statement. “A downsizing of the cornerstone enterprise touches everyone who lives in Svalbard, including the governor’s employees.”

Store Norske laid off about 100 of its 340 workers and Longyearbyen officials estimate the city could lose up to 250 residents when family members and additional layoffs in supporting industries are factored in. The coal company is waiting for Parliament to consider a 450-million-kroner loan request that will allow operations to continue beyond the next few months.

While environmental activists may not be pleased by the likely approval of the loan, tougher regulations enacted in other areas is another of the main achievements highlighted in the governor’s report. A new management plan for east Svalbard that redefines zones of access with much high restrictions on access was hailed as a “milestone” and a new management plan for west Svalbard was submitted to the Norwegian Environment Agency for approval.

“The main objective is to preserve Svalbard’s unique natural wilderness, but within this framework open the way for research, tourism, fishing and hunting, recreation, and other uses of nature,” Ingerø wrote.

The governor’s office, in addition to new equipment and personnel, also received a new annex of its main administration building that is partially complete and scheduled for completion by mid-2015.

“The extension provides a necessary expansion of the space, better meeting capacity, new arrest facilities as well as a new modern operating rooms for police,” Ingerø wrote.

But a police force that dealt with about 100 criminal incidents in 2014 – nearly all minor – probably will need more than a little assistance if the world fears of some national and international officials are realized.

An article in The Guardian this week notes Norway is planning a complete restructuring of its military due to Russia’s increasing aggressive actions in northern areas of the region. Some analysts are suggesting Svalbard – where Russia has announced major expansion plans for tourism and research – may be a target since the country disputes Norway’s claims of sovereignty in the archipelago.

The governor’s report, in one of many statistical tallies and charts, notes Ingerø and other officials hosted 40 briefings and six dinners for visiting international leaders and dignitaries.