The main purpose of the complex tabletop exercise was to discuss how oil spill preparedness and response are organized in case of a large-scale operation in the maritime High Arctic in the Svalbard region, and identify possible lessons from other locations and agencies in the Arctic and North Atlantic region. The exercise connected various participating groups: authorities and responders involved in marine environmental response in the Arctic, partners from the ARCSAR network, academia, and other interested stakeholders. Among others, representatives from the expert group on Marine Environmental Response (part of the Arctic Council Working Group on Emergency Prevention Preparedness and Response, EPPR) and representatives of our UArctic Thematic Network on Arctic Safety and Security closely followed and contributed to the discussions.

The exercise was conducted with a combination of physical presence at NORDLAB and on digital platforms. Moderators from Norwegian Coastal Administration, Canadian Coast Guard, and NORDLAB exercise coordinator facilitated the discussions across Arctic institutions and countries. All the participants and observers could interact with the audience at NORDLAB through chat and virtual whiteboard digital tools. The planning, implementation, and evaluation were carried out in collaboration between the Norwegian Coastal Administration, the Icelandic Coast Guard, the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre North Norway, and NORDLAB.

Advanced tabletop exercises like this require good pedagogical planning with a focus on different backgrounds and needs of the various participants. The most important is to facilitate the learning of each involved individual and organization and exchange ideas on how to deal with a complex event in demanding conditions.

Nord University leads the UArctic Thematic Network on Arctic Safety and Security. The network has constantly been developing projects and initiatives aimed to meet current safety and security challenges in the Arctic and enhance future capability to be resilient to different types of crises. Joint emergency management exercises became a successful practice for many partner universities. This is not only a good example of student learning activity, but also an effective way to create meeting places for knowledge sharing and innovations between the industry, the academia, and the professionals within the preparedness system of the Arctic region.

Joint exercises are needed to contribute to enhancing competences in collaboration, risk mitigation, emergency preparedness and safer operations in the Arctic. By organizing collaborative exercises within emergency management for students, young professionals, and novices in the Arctic, we believe in positive societal impacts: more effective cross-border cooperation, optimal use of resources, and safer environment and community values. When the students meet early in their careers and create a shared understanding of responding to complex situations, they can easier establish contact and cooperation later in their professional life, when they need to respond to emergencies and crises together.

By Natalia Andreassen, Lead of the UArctic Thematic Network on Arctic Safety and Security, Associate Professor, Nord University.

[Originally published in the UArctic Shared Voices Magazine 2022. Read all articles here]