BREAKING: Official assessment of avalanche praises rescue efforts, but says many preparatory deficiencies need fixing


Rescuers and others involved in the massive avalanche last Dec. 19 essentially did the best they could with the resources they had. But there are things that could have been done beforehand and should now be done to minimize the impact of similar snowslides in the future.

Those findings highlight the official report about the avalanche by the Norwegian Directorate for Civil Protection, which assesses the response to the avalanche, and if there are people or agencies that were negligent in taking proper preparatory measures. The report, released Wednessday, offers what local officials and Norwegian media deemed a praiseworthy judgement.

“There is nothing revealed in the evaluation which indicates that more lives could have been saved during the rescue operation,” the report states. “On the contrary, it is very likely that the immediate efforts of concerned volunteers and the organized rescue meant that no additional lives were lost.”

“There was a quick response from both rescue personnel and all in the Longyearbyen community. Prioritization of tasks was based on already made assessments of past experiences. There was good cooperation in the priority areas between rescue participants, and between rescue participants and residents of Svalbard. There was a very impressive effort made under very demanding conditions.”

However, the report notes mapping of local areas at risk of avalanches has occurred for decades, but safeguard initiatives “were not systematically followed up.” The report also cites the lack of of avalanche warning system as a deficiency, and recommends better coordination by government officials and emergency rescue agencies in determining specific responsibilities to a large-scale incident.

“There should be established monitoring procedures for the avalanche danger in Longyearbyen, with the possibility of warnings and evacuation when required,” the report states.

The report also recommends upgrades at hospitals in Longyearbyen and Tromsø, clarifying who should be responsible for psychosocial counseling and improving efforts to provide official notifications in English.