By Lilia Yumagulova, Editor, HazNet

“Samvirke” is a Norwegian word that means working together towards a shared goal. City of Bergen’s Samvirkesenter brings key actors to cooperate together on enhanced regional emergency management capability.

Bergen City: Key facts
Bjørgvin means ‘the green meadow among the mountains’

Population: second largest city in Norway at 280,000; 420,000 in the wider Bergen metropolitan region.

Climate: Temperate oceanic climate with abundant precipitation (2,250 mm on average a year)

Geography: A mountainous region with steep slopes location on the Bergenshalvøyen peninsula on the western coast of Norway and sheltered from the North Sea by the surrounding islands.

Key hazards: transportation accidents, landslides, flooding, sea level rise, storms.

Key industries: shipping, energy, transportation, offshore petroleum industry, education, tourism and finance.

It all started with thousands of bicycles that hit the streets of Bergen as part of the 90th Union Cycliste Internationale Road World Championships in September 2017. The event brought the city to a nine-day lock-down with extensive road closures. A spectacle for 700,000 cycling enthusiasts, an event of this scale required a meticulous emergency management planning process. Road and business closures posed challenges not only to visitors and participants, but also to the citizens of Bergen.

With the city in an international spotlight, public safety provided the overriding priority. The complexity of the event caused Bergen to implement an intensive inter agency collaboration effort to mitigate additional risk. This work started two years before the event.

Innovating in real time, the municipality of Bergen brought together nearly 130 people from 31 different organizations as an emergency management team during the event. Core municipal staff were joined by the fire department, road administration, public transportation, the police, the military, civil defense, health, telecommunications and volunteer organizations from early morning to late night. During the event, the centre monitored the operation of the municipal assets and infrastructure through 24/7 surveillance systems tied to GIS maps with multiple layers for social and physical infrastructure. The goal of this surveillance was to address small events before they escalated.

“Samvirkesenter” during the UCI World Championships – Photo by Eivind Senneset, Bergen kommune

The Samvirkesenter is the first of its kind in Norway and has garnered national attention and awards. It allowed key emergency management players to interact before and troubleshoot during and after emergency events. The centre was designed based on the core principles of emergency management in Norway which include responsibility, proximity, equality and collaboration. It introduced an innovative cross-organizational structure and an operational environment that fosters culture built on cooperation, coordination and collaboration. By having key public, private, volunteer and non-profit charity agencies in one room during the event, information could be shared immediately, establishing a shared situational awareness that led to efficient decision-making and implementation. The long-lasting legacy of this organizational innovation is increased efficiency: “What could take four days before, can now be fix in four minutes,” says Snorre Halvorsen, Bergen municipality’s project manager for the Samvirkesenter. During the event, incidents ranged from a water/hydrant leakage, stolen cars and traffic accidents to missing children.

The Samvirkesenter has continued its operation after the championship. The Municipality of Bergen has big plans for this continued operation with a focus on increased crisis management competencies and inter-organizational learning.

Next steps: A focus on learning through partnerships

Moving forward, the Regional Civil Protection Centre and Emergency Management Cluster will continue to collect and share information through joint mapping and based on the resource needs, ensuring communication and coordination between actors. The centre will also focus on clarifying and recommending common guidelines for involved actors.

“There is an increasing need for interaction between the various players in the region, to meet the challenges of changing risk landscape. We need to bridge the gap between those who prevent emergencies, those who respond to emergencies, and those who study emergencies. Our vision for the emergency preparedness and management community is to create a single Civil Protection Region in Western Norway, which brings together practitioners and researchers to use their shared skills more effectively,” said Halvorsen.

The centre will serve as an enabling environment for developing crisis and emergency management competencies by fostering close connections between practitioners and researchers. A special emphasis on ensuring that this knowledge is accessible for the smaller, less resourced municipalities in the region will be placed. “The key is to keep this initiative organized from the ground level, bottom-up,” said Halvorsen.

The importance of partnerships with research institutions was recognized from the very early stages of the project. “The city of Bergen has a long history of very good collaboration with academic partners,” explained Halvorsen.

The Civil Protection Centre builds on the previous collaborative projects and brings practitioners and researchers for more effective mutual learning. Academic partners were embedded throughout the functioning of the Centre to ensure real-time and long-term organizational learning. For the example, the research conducted during the UCI World Championships by the “Høgskulen på Vestlandet” (Western Norway University of Applied Sciences) led to a significant improvement on the issues of information sharing, situational awareness, and situation handling when collaborating real-time in the same room. These research results informed the direction for the subsequent development of the Civil Protection Centre.