Barents Rescue Exercise taught cross-border cooperation

Ministry of the Interior 8.10.2015 13.24
News item

A landslide has occurred in the lower slope of the Ski Resort Levi. Several persons who have gone missing were at the time in cars parked close to the lower slope or were using a chairlift which collapsed because of the landslide.

Fortunately we are dealing with an exercise: it took place from 28.9. to 2.10. and the participants were training how to cooperate with neighbouring countries when a catastrophe strikes.

- In a situation like this it is of utmost importance to secure the safety of the area. If this is not done the rescuers may end up requesting for assistance. As you can see we have placed a number of orange sticks in the upper slope. They are constantly monitored and if we detect that they are starting to vibrate we know that the landslide continues. In addition, a small drone flies over the area, communicating all the time the area’s situation to the command and control centre, says firemaster Jani Pitkänen who coordinates the exercise in the slope.

When an area has been declared safe it is checked with dogs. This means that search dogs go through the area with their instructors and indicate where there are victims. When victims have been located, spades and other tools will be used to dig them out. They will then be transferred to an evacuation hospital set up by the Finnish Red Cross (FRC) where their condition is assessed so that they can be transferred further if necessary.

Professionals had a lot to do on various locations in Levi

About 1000 rescue and medical professionals and volunteers took part in the Barents Rescue Exercise which was organised last week. The scenario was as follows: as a result of continuing heavy rains several accidents occur in the area of Kittilä. Because Finnish authorities are not able to cope by themselves they request assistance from neighbouring countries. The countries in the Barents Region have signed an agreement on providing and receiving rescue services in northern areas.

Cooperation is practised every two years. In addition to a landslide, a traffic accident and a mine accident were included in training scenarios. The planning process and the exercise itself teach how things are done in the neighbouring countries and how to coordinate cooperation in a catastrophe. In the planning phase the focus is on ensuring that all professionals who participate should have enough to do.

- I believe that here we did a good job, says Jari Honkanen, Senior Officer at the Ministry of the Interior. The training targets were well designed and there was enough work. We received positive feedback on the location of the targets most of which were very close to each other. It was great to notice that even if the exercise provided surprises solutions were found quickly. This is how it goes when participants are so competent.

He goes on to note that there is always room for improvement, which is also one of the purposes of the exercise. For example, communications, maintaining the situation picture and leading the situation need to be further improved.

The new evacuation hospital of the Finnish Red Cross tested

A number of victims in the exercise were transported to the FRC evacuation hospital. As a lighter version of an ordinary field hospital, it can provide treatment for up to 200 patients at a time. The hospital is ready to go within a couple of hours and it is ready for operation also within a couple of hours on arriving at its destination.

- The purpose of an evacuation is to ensure that patients stay alive, prevent further injuries and transfer them further as soon as possible. The evacuation hospital had not been used before and so this was a golden opportunity to test how well it functions. We gained positive experiences: for example, we treated patients who had sustained burn injuries in a mine accident and serious fractures. We also had to carry out emergency operations, says planning officer Virpi Teinilä from the Finnish Red Cross.

Armenian EU Observer admires the cooperation among Finnish authorities

Apart from observing the exercise, a number of EU observers who took part in the Barents Rescue exercise familiarised themselves with the Finnish rescue services. In addition to staying at Levi, they also called on various Finnish authorities in the Helsinki Metropolitan area, for example the Ministry of the Interior and the Finnish National Rescue Association.

- I am very impressed by how well Finnish authorities cooperate, such as actors in the rescue services, the police and border authorities, says Mkrtich Ulikyan, Deputy Head of the Operative Management Department at Rescue Service of the Ministry of Emergency Situations of RA in Armenia.

He sees the exercise in Levi as highly useful and as an excellent example of how neighbouring countries can work together for a common goal. Similar exercises are organised in Armenia from time to time. Ulikyan also praises rescue work done on a voluntary basis which, according to him, is much better organised in Finland than in Armenia.

A video made by the FRC about the Barents Rescue Exercise:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PwNJq4D1zoo

More pictures on the exercise:
www.pelastustoimi.fi