Barents Rescue: Cross-border assistance for major accidents

Since 2001, the rescue administrations of the Barents region have been practicing together in major rescue exercises. The latest exercise took place this autumn.

rescue-pikku-auto.jpgThe end of September was really disastrous for the town of Kittilä in Finnish Lapland. Landslides created by heavy raining cut off roads in various places, and personal injuries could not be avoided. Near the popular holiday resort of Levi, a couple of cars were buried under the landmasses. Not far away, an even more serious accident happened: due to the flooding and landslide, a bus carrying officials from all over Lapland and Barents region on a visit in Kittilä collided with a truck trailer filled with lye and arsenic, which was on its way to a gold mine nearby.

Fortunately, the rescue measures were fast and effective. Help from all the Barents countries was received, first aid was given effectively, search parties looked for casualties who had fled away from the places of accident in shock and the Finnish Red Cross organized an emergency field hospital with 94 volunteer members of staff to take care of the more gravely injured.

Even more fortunately, the accidents described above were not real ones but scenarios in the Barents Rescue exercise that was organized in Kittilä between 28th September and 2nd October with around 400 professionals and volunteers of rescue operations from all the countries of Barents region plus various local people and students from nearby playing the roles of the victims of the accidents. In addition to the scenarios described above, the exercise dealt also with e.g. an accident in a local gold mine and evacuation of an assisted living facility in risk of being flooded.

Useful for both authorities and NGOs

rescue-sairaala.jpgThe Kittilä exercise was already eighth of the biannual Barents Rescue exercises, which have been implemented within the framework of the Barents Cooperation since 2001. In Kittilä, the main focus was on Host Nation Support, which refers to functions needed to ensure the smooth and effective reception of assistance in the country which has requested assistance.

The key idea of the Barents Rescue exercises is to train for situations in which the resources of local rescue services are inadequate, and assistance from neighboring countries needs to be asked. In Barents region, the long distances and limited resources often mean that assistance from the other regions in the Barents area can be received more easily than assistance from the more central regions of each country. This increases the importance of the exercise.

“It is extremely important to train for the cooperation and treatments together”, says fire-master Raimo Rasijeff who was in charge of the scenario about collision of bus and track trailer. His colleague Jani Pitkänen, responsible for the landslide scenario in Levi, agrees:
“In this kind of exercise it is vital to see how the international cooperation works, as there can be differences in the methods of action”, says Pitkänen.

The exercise was useful not only for the rescue administrations of the Barents countries, but also for the NGOs. For instance, the Finnish Red Cross tested its new Emergency Field Hospital (EFH), a lightweight health care unit capable of treatment of 50 patients at the same time that can be transported to its destination by snowmobile or light aircraft. The testing of EFH eases its use in the operations abroad where it is needed.

Red Cross was not the only NGO participating in Barents Rescue. Among others was Volunteer Rescue Service of Finland (Vapepa), a NGO specialized in searching people lost in the wild. Also they saw Barents Rescue as a useful operation.

“The next Barents Rescue will take place in 2017 in Russia, and I’m planning to participate there too”, told Markku Grip from Vapepa.


Text and pictures: Ilkka Tiensuu

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Barents Euro-Arctic Council official website 2016