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Rethinking societal security a must

Bilde av folkemengde foran blomsterhav utenfor Oslo Domkirke 22. juli 2011 Norway's emergency preparedness has been under sharp criticism since 22 July 2011. Societal security in Norway has long been given little priority (Photo: Espen E/Shutterstock.com)

- Our society is more vulnerable and complex than before. This vulnerability becomes particularly evident in the face of crisis such as the terrorist attacks carried out on 22 July 2011 against the government buildings in Oslo and a political youth organisation’s summer camp, says Professor Lægreid.

Professor Lægreid has been studying the organisation of societal security in Norway.

- The Norwegian governance model is hierarchical and poorly suited to cooperation across sectors. Established schemes and institutions are deeply entrenched in their own traditions, routines and tacit norms and values, states Professor Lægreid.

Clear limitations

Bilde av mennesker som løper vekk fra bølge i Thailand Following the tsunami in Thailand, it became clear that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs lacked the resources needed to manage the crisis efficiently (Photo: Wikimedia Commons) In Norway, the principle is that government ministers answer to the Storting (Norwegian national assembly). This imposes clear limitations on the organisation of security measures. The same is the case with the principle of local autonomy. Attempts to work across sector-based ministry lines have thus far largely failed.

- In addition, there are still great challenges to be surmounted in coordinating efforts between the state and municipal levels, Professor Lægreid adds.

Although there have been several government reports calling for increased coordination, especially in the wake of a crisis, Norway still does not have an emergency preparedness law or a separate "ministry of societal security".

This is illustrated by the response of the authorities following the tsunami that struck Asia in 2004. It is very clear that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not have adequate resources and was not properly organised to manage such a crisis effectively.

- The only thing that came out of it was that the Ministry of Justice’s responsibility for coordination efforts was bumped up slightly, Professor Lægreid points out.

Professor Lægreid believes that Norway needs to employ a more comparative global perspective when discussing societal security, citing the US and Sweden as examples.

Following 9/11, the US established the independent Department of Homeland Security – the largest reorganisation in the field in modern times. Sweden is more willing than Norway and Denmark to invest resources into the development of permanent security organisations.

- We also need to step up research on what the EU is doing. Their outlook on security stretches beyond the scope of individual countries.

Waiting for the results of the 22 July Commission

Professor Lægreid points out that most people remain confident that the authorities will react responsibly to crises in spite of the difficulties associated with organising security efforts. He does not believe this attitude has shifted after last summer’s terrorism incident.

- The direct communication provided by the prime minister and other political leaders after the attack played an essential role.

Professor Lægreid is eager to hear the findings of the 22 July Commission, which was appointed by the Storting and is to submit its report in August.

- The Ministry of Justice has already changed its name to the Ministry of Justice and Public Security. I believe this has been important in symbolic terms; however, the real implications of this change remain to be seen.

According to Professor Lægreid, a variety of what he designates as “virtual” committees and councils have been established following previous crises.

- These committees are typically allocated few permanent resources. Thus, they are not granted any real authority either, he says.

Increased relevance

Bilde av Per Lægreid Professor Per Lægreid at the University of Bergen In 2006, when he embarked upon the research project on societal security in Norway, Professor Lægreid had no idea how relevant his work would become in light of the events of 22 July.

The project headed by Professor Lægreid was funded under the Programme on Democracy and Governance in Regional Context (DEMOSREG) at the Research Council of Norway. The book resulting from it, Organisering, samfunnssikkerhet og krisehåndtering ("Organisation, societal security and managing crises" – Norwegian only), was published just months before the terrorist attacks last summer.

The researchers working on the project have sought to bring new knowledge to light and to describe and analyse the challenges faced by society. They have focused on specific crises, including the Norwegian government’s response to the tsunami in Southeast Asia in 2004, the landslide that affected a residential area in Hatlestad outside Bergen in 2005, a major outbreak of E. coli in 2006 and a shipwreck near Fedje off the west coast of Norway in 2007.

They have also studied political changes in the wake of various crises and have carried out a survey to document attitudes among bureaucrats and the general population.

Professor Lægreid hopes that this research will now become even more politically relevant.

- The need to reorganise crisis management in the wake of 22 July is obvious. Many politicians have now added societal security to their agendas. I hope they read our book, concludes Professor Lægreid.

Facts about the project
Professor Per Lægreid of the University of Bergen headed the project Multilevel Governance and Civil Protection - the tension between sector and territorial specialisation. The project was carried out from 2006 to 2010 with funding under the Programme on Democracy and Governance in Regional Context (DEMOSREG) at the Research Council of Norway.

Professor Lægreid co-authored an anthology, Organisering, samfunnssikkerhet og krisehåndtering ("Organisation, societal security and handling crises" – Norwegian only), with Anne Lise Fimreite, Peter Langlo and Lise H. Rykkja. It was published in 2011 by Universitetsforlaget.

(Translation: Glenn Wells/Carol B. Eckmann)


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