|Emergency Management in Scandinavia:
Lessons Learned At Home and Abroad
Joanne Stone Wyman, Ph.D.1
Scandinavia is a large geographic region of Northern Europe, extending from the Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean on the north to the Baltic Sea on the south. The terms “Scandinavia” and “Nordic” sometimes are used interchangeably to refer to Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. This paper, however, adopts the more conventional, customary usage of the term “Scandinavia” to include only the Kingdoms of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.2
Due to their proximity, these three countries have shared some past disasters and they also face some current and future risks and vulnerabilities in common. Nevertheless, each country has a distinct hazard history as well as risk and vulnerability profile. Further, although Denmark, Norway, and Sweden have similar forms of government and types of economies, each country’s emergency management system has followed a somewhat different path.
This paper starts with a discussion of each country’s traditional hazards and its self-perception of current and emerging risks and vulnerabilities. It continues with illustrative examples of past disasters, followed by a description of each country’s current emergency management institutions and their evolution, with an emphasis on the past ten to 15 years. The paper concludes with a brief summary of the opportunities Denmark, Norway, and Sweden face as they continue to invest in strengthening their preparedness and resilience.
Hazards, Risks and Vulnerabilities Affecting Scandinavia
The Scandinavian countries consider themselves to be safer and more secure than many other countries. Domestic crises usually are modest in scale, with consequences that are more economic than life-threatening in nature. Nevertheless, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden are no strangers to hazards such as storms, accidents, infrastructure failures, and other emergencies.
For several decades following World War II, the potential for severe domestic peace time crises, with widespread societal consequences, was not widely appreciated. Local and regional authorities routinely handled everyday emergencies, as dictated by law and public expectation. To the extent national-level authorities concerned themselves with preparedness and emergency management, the focus tended to be on protecting the population and keeping essential societal functions operating in the event of a full-scale, conventional military attack.
As the Cold War came to a close with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact, the Scandinavian countries’ perceptions of their safety and security began to change. Although the threat of conventional warfare diminished, global militant networks intent on terrorism and international organized crime grew stronger. At the same time, the worldwide spotlight on the millennium information technology challenge (i.e., the “Y2K” bug) underscored a newly emerging set of vulnerabilities associated with technological and economic globalization, specialization, and interdependence. Against the backdrop of these changes, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden also found themselves facing crises abroad as well as increasingly frequent episodes of extreme weather attributed to climate change.
To better understand their changing palette of hazards, risks, and vulnerabilities environment, the Scandinavian countries initiated baseline risk and vulnerability assessments, drawing lessons from past hazards at home and abroad, and mapping out perceived future trends. These assessments encompassed both natural and man-made events as well as non-military security threats. Today, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden each publish annual risk and vulnerability assessments designed to identify priorities for future improvement in emergency planning, preparedness, and response across levels of government and sectors of society.
Denmark: Hazards, Risks and Vulnerability
The southernmost of the three Scandinavian countries, Denmark lies to the south of Norway and southwest of Sweden across the Skagerrak and Kattegat straits. Considered an archipelago, Denmark’s mainland is Jylland (Jutland), a peninsula that shares a short southern border with Germany and otherwise is surrounded by the North Sea, Skagerrak and Kattegat, and Baltic Sea. The remainder of Denmark consists of more than 400 islands, about 79 of which are inhabited. Sjaelland (Zealand), the largest and most densely populated one, is home to the country’s capital of Copenhagen and is linked to Sweden by the Øresund Bridge, inaugurated in 2000. Like Norway and Sweden, Denmark’s economy mixes free market capitalism with social welfare principles, and its government combines a constitutional monarchy with parliamentary democracy.
Slightly larger than the state of New Mexico, Denmark is the smallest of the Scandinavian countries in area, at approximately 16,640 square miles (43,098 square kilometers) and second to Sweden in population at about 5,500,000. A highly urbanized country, with 85% of its population residing in cities and towns, Denmark is the most densely populated of the three Scandinavian countries (Statistics Denmark 2009).
The lowest-lying Scandinavian country, Denmark has the most homogenous terrain, characterized by flat plains, rolling hills, and many lakes, with its highest natural feature topping out at only about 568 feet (173 meters) above sea level. Land cover in Denmark consists of cultivated areas (66%); forests (12%); bogs, meadowland, heath and sandhills, and lakes (10%), with the remainder devoted to built up and traffic areas.
Although the smallest in total area, Denmark’s configuration as an archipelago gives it an uncommonly lengthy coastline of about 4,545 miles (7,314 kilometers) . The coastline is irregular, with bays and estuaries, sandy beaches with dunes, and some cliffs such as the chalk cliffs at Møns Klint on Denmark’s easternmost coast. Denmark has a few fjords, but they generally are less steep and rugged than those of Norway.
Of the three countries, Denmark’s climate is the most temperate. Winters are mild and summers historically are cool due to the Gulf Stream and the westerlies. Denmark has the most temperate climate of the three countries. Average temperatures range from a low of about 32.0oF (0.0oC) in January to a high of just over 60oF (16oC) in August. Within these averages, however, the actual highs and lows fluctuate considerably. Frequent precipitation and wind is commonplace. The government reports, for example, that Denmark has on average 171 days of measurable precipitation (Statistics Denmark 2009).
During the 20th century, Denmark evolved into a post-industrial, services-oriented economy. Although Denmark lacks significant mineral deposits, it has sufficient chalk to support cement manufacturing, and its North Sea oil and gas production exceeds domestic needs. Denmark enjoys one of the highest standards of living globally and is increasingly reliant on a complex transportation, telecom, and information technology infrastructure.
Denmark experiences a variety of meteorological, geological, and hydrological hazards each year. However, the consequences of these tend to be more severe in terms of monetary damages than human casualties. In addition, transportation and industrial accidents, infrastructure failures, and actual or threatened street violence or terrorist incidents are part of Denmark’s hazard landscape.
As a lowland country, Denmark encounters few geohazards. Seismic activity is infrequent, with no volcanoes and only rare, minor earthquakes. The last recorded earthquake of significance was in 1842, and no tsunamis have ever been recorded. Landslides, both mudslides and rockfall, are fairly frequent, however, with some of the most notable occurring at the chalk cliffs of Møns Klint, on Denmark’s easternmost coast. Although small slides of about 100 to 165 feet (30-50 meters) in length into the ocean are common, in January of 2007, the Store Taler point collapsed, creating a nearly 1,000 foot (300 meter) long peninsula into the ocean, dramatically altering one of Denmark’s most notable geologic landmarks.
Meteorological and hydrological hazards also occur, primarily in the form of winter storms that bring high winds and extensive flooding, particularly along the coast. In the past decade, two of the top ten storms in a century knocked down power lines, cutting off heat and light to thousands of households; disrupted telecommunications; caused extensive property damage; and snarled transportation within and through Denmark.
Denmark also experiences a diverse array of other natural and man-made hazards, ranging from transportation and industrial accidents to infrastructure failures, terrorist and other types of militant activity, climate change, and pandemics. These threats -- to Denmark, its people, and its political and economic interests -- originate both domestically and abroad. While lessons learned from direct threats fuel Denmark’s continuing efforts to assess its risks and vulnerabilities, external events such as the Southeast Asian tsunami, the September 11 attacks in the United States, and the bombings in London and Madrid have been significant catalysts for change as well.
At the start of the 21st century, Denmark embarked on a systematic application of risk and vulnerability analysis to set priorities for emergency services, referred to as rescue preparedness. Stemming from a 2002 agreement among Denmark’s political parties represented in the Folketing (Parliament), the government stood up a commission to map Denmark’s society-wide and sector-specific vulnerabilities and its emergency management capabilities to address them. Completed in 2004, the commission’s report, National Sårbarhedsudredning (National Vulnerability Assessment) discussed several trends that were altering Denmark’s threat and risk climate: globalization, with the international exchange of capital, ideas, information, and labor; technological innovation, with increased specialization and cross-sector interdependence; terror attacks around the world; and the end of the Cold War and expansion of the European Union (EU) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The report concluded that Denmark’s emergency managements system, although well-functioning, needs to prepare itself for increasingly unpredictable, more complex demands. Specifically, it recommended the government continue to monitor and assess society’s vulnerabilities and prepare for them (DEMA 2004). Subsequently, the Danish Emergency Management developed and refined a risk and vulnerability analysis (RVA) model for use at all levels of government and in other sectors as well and publishes an annual National Vulnerability Report.
In recent years, terrorism has emerged as a significant risk. Even before the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten published 12 satirical cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, Denmark was a terrorist target due to it military presence in both Afghanistan and Iraq. However, the cartoons’ publication triggered Denmark’s most severe international crisis since World War II. It set off demonstrations at home, sharp diplomatic protests, firebombing of Danish embassies in Muslim countries, a boycott of Danish goods, and threats against Denmark, the cartoonists, and the paper (DEMA 2006).. Since then, Danish authorities have broken up several terrorist plots.
Meteorological hazards continue to be a rising source of risk and vulnerability. Within a six-year period, 1999 and 2005, Denmark has experienced two of its ten worst storms of the past century. Wind, excessive precipitation, and associated flooding fortunately have not led to many deaths or injuries but have exacted a significant financial toll, halted traffic on key routes within and through Denmark for several days; delayed air traffic; left hundreds of thousands of households in the dark; closed major roads; and caused extensive property damage. Climate change is expected to result in more erratic, extreme weather as well as coastal inundation. Stepped up flood zone mapping, new insurance arrangements, municipal-specific risk assessment for planning, and revised building codes are some of the adaptive measures recently adopted or under consideration.
Society’s increasingly complex infrastructure is creating new vulnerabilities for Denmark that originate both within and outside the country. A 2003 failure in the Swedish power grid illustrated how quickly the effects are felt across sectors and borders. This particular incident left close to four million households and businesses, from Stockholm to Copenhagen, in the dark; trapped passengers in train tunnels linking Danish islands; created chaos in the center of Copenhagen; briefly shut down portions of Stockholm’s transportation; took two of Sweden’s nuclear power plants offline; interrupted phone service; and required the closure of the Øresund Bridge linking Denmark and Sweden. In addition road, bridge, tunnel, and maritime incidents have caused property damage, resulted in deaths or injuries, and halted the transport of people and goods within and through Denmark. These and other incidents have spurred Denmark to identify and reduce sector-specific risks assess sector-specific risks and diversify and deepen emergency management capabilities.
Several international incidents of an unprecedented scope and scale have highlighted the vulnerability of Danes living and traveling abroad. For instance, about 2,000 Danes were vacationing in Thailand when the tsunami hit at the end of December 2004, taxing the resources and capabilities of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the embassy in Bangkok, and the national health care system (DEMA 2005, Sunhedsstyrelsen 2005). Subsequently, nearly 6,000 Danes were in Lebanon in 2006 when Israel invaded in response to Hezbollah’s kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers. Because civil aviation was at a standstill, and other transportation were damaged or impassable, Danes could not get out on their own and required massive assistance from the Ministry of Foreign affairs, which coordinated a host of Danish authorities and other organizations in evacuating 5,873 Danes through Cypress and Damascus (DEMA 2006).
Denmark has identified and is taking steps to minimize the effects of a wide range of other risks and vulnerabilities. For instance, after the bird flu outbreak in Asia, Denmark assessed its vulnerability to a pandemic, and in 2006 published a pandemic emergency preparedness strategy. That same year, it detected the lethal H5N1 virus in wild ducks and other birds, and through rapid action (e.g., isolation of areas; stringent surveillance) appears to have eradicated the problem. However, given migratory patterns of birds and the potential for virus mutation, Denmark’s birds and potential inhabitants remain at risk. Industrial accidents are also of concern, as they put people, property, and the environment at risk from fire, explosion, and the spread of dangerous substances. Denmark also has acknowledged that risks and vulnerabilities are rooted not only in physical events but also in institutional weaknesses such as inadequate authority, gaps in responsibility, operational inefficiencies, and insufficient training equipment within and across levels of government and between government, the private sector, voluntary organizations, and the public.
Norway: Hazards, Risks and Vulnerability
Norway is Europe’s most northern country. In addition to its mainland, Norway consists of the Svalbard archipelago and Jan Mayen, a volcanic island in the Arctic Ocean. The capital, Oslo, is in the southern part of the country. Norway also has two territories in the Antarctic: Bouvet Island and Peter I Island.3 Its economy blends free market and social welfare principles, and its system of government combines a constitutional monarchy with parliamentary democracy.
Occupying the western and northern portions of the Scandinavian Peninsula, the mainland of Norway spans 13 degrees of latitude from the 59th to the 71st north parallel. The northernmost end of the Svalbard archipelago lies at 81 degrees north. Approximately one-third of the country lies above the Arctic Circle. An exceptionally long, narrow country, Norway is slightly less than 1,100 miles (1,752 kilometers) from the mainland’s southernmost to northernmost points, and varies from just under four miles (6.3 kilometers) to up to 267 Miles (430 kilometers) from east to west. Norway’s most western point is as far west as Amsterdam, while its most eastern point is about 62 miles (100 kilometers farther east than Alexandria, Egypt (Ministry of Justice and Police. 2002).
Like Denmark and Sweden, Norway has both land and water borders. To its east, Norway shares a long border with Sweden and shorter borders with both Finland and Russia. The Arctic Ocean and Barents Sea border Norway to its north and northeast respectively, with the North Atlantic Ocean (Norwegian Sea) forming the country’s western boundary. The North Sea lies to the southwest, and the Skagerrak inlet on the south separates Norway from Denmark. Approximately 50,000 islands dot the waters off Norway.
Covering an area approximately the same as that of Great Britain, Italy or Japan, Norway’s total land area (including Jan Mayen and Svalbard) is about 149,412 square miles (386,975 square kilometers). Of that, the mainland accounts for 125,057 square miles (323,895 square kilometers), and Svalbard and Jan Mayen account for 24,209 square miles (62,700 square kilometers) and 147 square miles (380 square kilometers) respectively. Norway has one of the longest, most rugged coastlines in the world, with a mainland coastline of 1,647 miles (2,650 kilometers), excluding the bays and fjords. When those are included, the coastline stretches to 13,167 miles (21,189 kilometers). The coastlines of the offshore islands add another 20,876 miles (33,597 kilometers).
Norway’s physical geography varies tremendously across four distinct regions. Large forested areas, gentle valleys, and highly arable land characterize the southeastern portion of the country. The landscape of the southwestern part of the country is more dramatic, with deep fjords, reaching quite a distance inland. Norway’s central region is less rugged than the southeastern region, with a mix of fjords, coastline, mountains, and lowlands. The country’s northern region consists of valleys, fjords, mountains, and islands. By some estimates, nearly 70% of the country is uninhabitable.
The climate also varies from one part of the country to another. In Norway’s most northern area, Finnmark, temperatures range from just under -62oF (-52oC) in the winter to more than 86oF (30oC) during the summer. By contrast, the southern part of the country is more temperate, with mild winters and cool summers, compliments of remnants of the Gulf Stream. Cold winters and hot summers characterize the climate of Norway’s inland regions. In recent years, Norway’s mean temperature has been rising, along with its greenhouse gas emissions, a trend that is particularly apparent in the Arctic region and is expected to continue. During the summer, Norway’s “Midnight Sun” brings nearly 24 hours of sunlight to the country’s Arctic and near-Arctic regions, where the sun never appears above the horizon during the winter months. Even Oslo, in the south, receives 19 hours of sunlight at the summer solstice in contrast to only about six hours at the winter solstice.
With just under 4,800,000 inhabitants, Norway is the least populous of the Scandinavian countries. It is also one of the least densely populated country in Europe. However, the population is distributed unevenly with over 80% living in urbanized areas
The discovery of large reserves of oil and gas on Norway’s Outer Continental Shelf in 1969 transformed Norway’s economy. Since the start of production in 1971, Norway has become one of the top exporting nations in the world. Recognizing that revenues from oil and gas will diminish over the years, the Norwegian government is using current revenues to finance a “retirement fund” to ensure future generations enjoy a high standard of living.
Norway experiences both geological and meteorological hazards. Seismic activity, both onshore and offshore, occurs frequently, but is mild. In January 2008, an earthquake registering a magnitude of 6.2 on the Richter’s scale hit Svalbard was one of Norway’s worst in modern times. The last quake that came close in magnitude was a 5.9 one back in 1819. Other than that, only two earthquakes with a magnitude over five have occurred in the past two decades, one of which was offshore. By contrast, Norway is susceptible to serious slides, including rockfalls, avalanches, and mudslides. Over the past 150 years, more than 2,000 people have lost their lives due to various types of slides (Nadim 2008) .Slides are particularly dangerous in Norway’s fjords. In the 1930s, large rock slides filled fjords, triggering tsunamis that wiped out entire communities. To prevent a repeat of that tragedy, Norway has installed a sophisticated warning system in an area prone to substantial rockfall. At the same time, Norwegian scientists and authorities are concerned that increasing offshore activity -- primarily from oil and gas exploration, extraction, and related activities -- is disturbing the ocean floor and creating the potential for new types of geohazards (Nadim 2008).
Flooding has long been a significant hazard and is expected to increase as a result of climate change. After major floods in 1995, the government developed a National Flood Action Plan which includes flood forecasting, flood inundation mapping, and the issuance of guidelines on land use in flood-prone areas.
Norway also has been prone to forest fires, with the most severe ones occurring in 1976, 1992, 2003, and most recently in 2008. In fact, the ten-day fire in Froland in June 2008 was Norway’s largest forest fire in modern times and severely taxed local and regional emergency management capabilities.
Transportation and industrial accidents also put people, property, and the environment at risk in Norway. Train and ferry accidents, for instance, have killed and injured passengers and crews, prompted evacuations, and damaged buildings and equipment. One of the most serious accidents occurred in 2000, when a train carrying propane tanks crashed into another train at the Lillestrøm station, burst into flames, and was in danger of exploding and decimating the city. Other examples of manmade and natural hazards include construction accidents, electrical fires due to faulty installation, insufficient safety in Norway’s extensive network or road and rail tunnels, thefts of dangerous substances, infrastructure failures, terrorism and organized crime, and the threat of pandemic (DSB 2005, 2006), which was the scheduled scenario for a December 2009 exercise.
Norway’s offshore and most northern regions pose hazards that are especially complicated and challenging. Offshore hazards are associated with extensive shipping, commercial fishing, huge offshore oil and gas installations that frequently transport personnel and supplies. Climate change, geo-political disputes, rugged terrain and climate, and other risks and vulnerabilities of Norway’s far north are addressed in the most recent national vulnerability assessment (NSBR 2009).
Despite these incidents, Norway is considerably safer than many other countries. (DSB 2006). Catastrophic weather has been infrequent, although steadily increasing in recent years. In general, the infrastructure is safe and reliable, the delivery of critical goods and services is dependable, and the quality of life is high. The risk of war is low, and Norway has not experienced any significant domestic terrorist incidents, although as a NATO member with troops in Afghanistan, it has been the target of Al-Qaeda threats. And, the capability and capacity for emergency preparedness and response are much higher today than they were just a few years ago.
Norway, like Denmark, relies on ongoing risk and vulnerability assessment to understand its changing hazard and threat environment and set emergency management priorities. Following a discussion of the value of risk and vulnerability assessment in its White Paper No. 25, Main guidelines for activities and development of civil preparedness for the time period 1999-2002 (OECD 2006) , the Government established a Vulnerability Commission in 1999 to examine Norway’s society-wide and sector-specific risks and vulnerabilities as well as institutional inadequacies for addressing them. The Commission’s efforts in part led to the establishment of the Directorate for Civil and Emergency Planning (Direktoratet for samfunnssikkerhet og beredskap/DSB), within the Ministry of Justice and the Police, in September 2003. Since 2005, DSB has published an annual National Vulnerability Assessment covering natural and man-made events as well as other “intentional” incidents. Natural events include meteorological and geological incidents such as storms, floods, avalanches, forest fires, and rockslides as well as risks to health from pandemics or crisis-level food or water-borne illness. Man-made and technological events include infrastructure failures, fires, explosions, transportation and industrial accidents, and other incidents that release dangerous substances to the environment. Other intentional incidents encompass terrorism, organized crime such as drug or human trafficking, and various threats to the nation’s security.
These vulnerability assessments indicate that meteorological and associated geological threats are increasing. Historically, Norway has had relatively few crisis-level storms, but in the past decade the country has experienced more frequent episodes of extreme weather. Between 2004 and 2007, for example, several storms with excessive rain, snow, or wind that caused flooding, slides, power outages, road closures, evacuations, telecommunication disruptions, extensive property damage, and even loss of life. Due to climate change, Norway expects extreme, disruptive weather events to continue to increase. However, the effects are expected to vary across the country, with extreme downpours or snowfall in some regions and drought in other areas, along with erratic temperatures, hurricane-force storms, and an increase in forest fires. In addition, Norway is preparing for sea level rise, which will affect its long coastline; changes in vegetation; and greater potential for disruption to transportation, telephone and other communications, and electric power. Climate change related risk and vulnerability assessment is being incorporated into spatial and infrastructure planning across levels of government and sectors of society (NSBR 2007, 2008, 2009).
Climate change is also likely to exacerbate the chronic Norwegian hazard of slides, including avalanches, mudslides, and rockslides. They are so frequent and potentially harmful that the Norwegian Geological Survey (NGU) has developed a database of historical incidents and areas at risk. Slides in the vicinity of Norway’s fjords are of particular concern, due to their potential to trigger tsunamis when massive amounts of rock fall into the narrow fjords. The last such incidents in the 1930s (Tafjord and Loen) wiped out communities and resulted in many deaths. While such catastrophic slides historically have been infrequent, Norway is concerned that they will increase in areas where climate change brings wetter weather.
Norway, like Denmark and Sweden, relies on increasingly complex critical infrastructure systems that are linked, such as electric power supply, fuel supply, transportation and distribution systems, communication and information technology, and water supply. A fire in a cable trench at Oslo’s Central Station in 2007 illustrates how quickly an accident or incident in one part of the infrastructure can spread rapidly to other sectors. Similarly, train crashes, shipwrecks, and tank explosions show how vulnerable critical infrastructure is to human error and how accidents can put lives, property, and the environment at risk (2007 NSBR). Other examples of risks and vulnerabilities of concern to Norway include road and rail tunnel safety; transport of dangerous goods; tanker ship safety; petroleum industry safety, especially on the outer continental shelf facilities; and chemical, biological, and radiological substances.
Although Norway has not experienced significant terrorist incidents, it has been a target of Al-Qaeda threats and a base for terrorist planning. A NATO member, Norway has sent troops to Afghanistan, which is presumed to be the catalyst for at least two taped messages from Al-Qaeda leaders urging militant youths to attack the US and its allies, including Norway. As a result of such threats in 2003 and 2004, Norway elevated its terror level. In 2008, Norway received more threats, following the bombing of the Danish embassy in Islamabad which killed and injured several people and caused extensive damage to nearby buildings, including the Norwegian embassy. That same year, the Norwegian Policy Security Service, in coordination with Swedish authorities, broke up a ring suspected of planning and financing terrorism abroad.
Sweden: Hazards, Risks and Vulnerability
Sweden occupies the eastern portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula, spanning 55○ to 69○ North. Its mountainous western border with Norway is just over 1,000 miles (1,630 kilometers) long. On its east, Sweden shares a short land border with Finland, with the Gulf of Bothnia separating most of the land masses of the two countries. To the south and southeast, the Baltic Sea separates Sweden from Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, as well as a portion of Denmark. The Skagerrak and Kattegat straits also separate Sweden from Denmark on the southwest and west, with a bridge linking the two countries across the Øresund.
Slightly larger than California, Sweden is the fifth largest country in Europe, with a total area of approximately 174,000 square miles (450,000 square kilometers). Sweden extends 978 miles (1,574 kilometers) from north to south, with a longest east-west distance of 310 miles (499 kilometers). Approximately 15 % of the country lies above the Arctic Circle, and it has a coastline of about 7,163 miles (11,527 kilometers). Sweden also has at least 220,000 islands, most notably Gotland and Oland in the Baltic. In fact, Stockholm, the capital, is built on four islands.
With a population of nearly 9,300,000, Sweden is the most populous of the three Scandinavian countries. It ranks second in average population density, but the southern part of the country is more densely populated than the northern regions. An estimated 85% of the population lives in urban areas (Statistics Sweden, 2007).
Sweden’s economic and political systems have many similarities to those of Denmark and Norway. Like them, it is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy as its form of government. Sweden is perhaps the best known of the three for having created an economic system that uniquely blends principles of capitalism with those of social welfare.
The country’s physical geography varies across its three unofficial regions of Norrland, Svealand, and Götaland, which have no administrative status. Norrland, in the north, accounts for about 58% of Sweden’s area and 16% of its population. Except along the coast, the region is sparsely populated. Its terrain includes large rivers used for hydroelectric power; numerous lakes; untouched wilderness; extensive forests; and mountains, including Mount Kebne, Sweden’s highest peak at 6,926 feet (2,111 meters). Svealand, in central Sweden, is the smallest region. Lying between Götaland and Norrland, it stretches from the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Bothnia to the Norwegian border and includes Sweden’s capital region. Its principal physical features are numerous lakes, fertile plains, and large forests. Götaland, to the south, is the most densely populated region and includes forests, farmland, and flat coastland, with sandy beaches and archipelagos.
Over half (59%) of Sweden is covered by forest and another 19% consists of bogs, non-forested mires, heath, high mountains, and bare rocks. Only 3% of Sweden’s area is built up land. Another 8% is agricultural land, and water constitutes 9% of the area (Statistics Sweden 2008).
Although parts of the country experience severe weather, Sweden’s overall climate is milder than many other regions at similar latitudes, in part due to the warming influence of the Gulf Stream. Nevertheless, sitting at the junction of Arctic and Atlantic air masses, Sweden experiences significant variations in temperature, precipitation, and winds across the country. During the height of summer, for instance, Sweden’s average high temperatures range from 55°F (13°C) in northern Kiruna to 63°F (17°C) in Stockholm. Winter lows average from just over 3°F (-16.0°C) in Kiruna up to just under 32 °F (-0.2°C) in Malmö (Swedish Institute 2009). The average number of days with a mean temperature below freezing ranges from 71 in the south (Malmö), to 120 in Stockholm, and 184 at Haparanda near the Arctic Circle. In southern Sweden, snow typically covers the ground for about five months, from about October through April, although the ground may be snow-covered year-round in more northern and elevated areas of the country.
During the 20th century, Sweden left its agrarian roots behind, becoming first a prosperous industrial society and today a sophisticated post-industrial society. Sweden’s natural resources -- forests, mineral ores, and water for hydroelectric power -- together with its many successful inventions fueled growth and prosperity. Recognizing the limitations of its domestic market, Sweden pursued what turned out to be a successful export strategy. Although shouldering a high tax burden, the population receives a wide array of social benefits such as child care, health care, pensions, and higher education that translate into a high standard of living.
Like its Scandinavian counterparts, Sweden has experienced a wide range of hazards attributable to the natural world, everyday human activity, and security and criminal activity. Due to geographical location, weather patterns, and other factors, Sweden experiences some of the same types of hazards as Denmark and Norway and has shared some of the same disasters. Nevertheless, its hazard profile is distinctive, as are future threats and vulnerabilities. Like Denmark and Norway, Sweden established a commission to identify the country’s evolving vulnerabilities in light of the end of the Cold War, globalization, increasingly complex and interdependent infrastructure, and climate change. The 1999 Commission on Vulnerability and Security in a New Era discussed these and other trends in detail (Vulnerability Commission 2001). Although sector-specific threat and risk analyses were undertaken after that, the government did not publish its first threat and vulnerability analysis until 2005. Since then, it has prepared these analyses annually, and in 2007 also published a detailed assessment of the risks and vulnerabilities anticipated as a result of climate change.
Sweden’s principal geologic hazards are landslides, gullies, rockfalls, and avalanches. One of Sweden’s largest landslides, at Tuve on November 30, 1977, killed several people, destroyed homes, and severed electric cables. Even small slides can have unexpectedly serious consequences. For instance, in a 1918 incident, a train with several hundred passengers aboard crashed into a small slide and burst into flames, wrecking the train and causing several dozen casualties. Landslides also threaten transportation and communication infrastructure. In December 2006, a long stretch of a major highway collapsed in a landslide, taking several cars with it. The slide also damaged a section of rail, shutting down a key freight route; damaged fiber optic cables, interrupting telephone service, and inconvenienced 15,000 vehicles daily for several weeks. The warmer, wetter weather excepted due to climate change is likely to boost the occurrence of landslides in already vulnerable areas of the country. A national report on climate change indicates that more than 200,000 buildings are located in landslide-prone areas. (Swedish Commission 2007).
Flooding is a chronic problem in Sweden, particularly in the Göta River Valley, the Mälar Valley, and the Stockholm region. Although serious flooding historically has occurred every five to 20 years, the incidence of catastrophic flooding is expected to increase due to climate change. Basement flooding already is increasingly common, and more frequent and worse flooding from warmer, wetter weather puts many types of infrastructure, such as electric substations and drinking water pipes at risk. Siting and construction of buildings, roads, and railways will be more challenging (Swedish Commission 2007).
Historically, extreme winter storms have been uncommon. Gudrun, which struck Sweden in January 2008, was Sweden’s most severe storm. High winds damaged forests and falling power lines disrupted not only the power supply but also telecommunications and transportation. Although the long-term prediction for storm frequency and severity is unclear, Sweden’s infrastructure will remain vulnerable unless adaptive steps are taken. Despite these and other emerging vulnerabilities, climate change offers opportunities as well. These include more productive agriculture, reduced energy needs for heating, and more forest growth, although the latter may be offset by involuntary tree felling from more violent storms.
Sweden also faces risks and vulnerabilities from its growing reliance on an increasingly complex infrastructure. Historically, whether through technical failures, accidents, or severe weather, Sweden has experienced bridge collapses, train crashes and derailments, and aviation and passenger ferry accidents. Technical disruptions to its aging nuclear power plants have triggered fears of Chernobyl-type incidents, and other electric power disruptions have caused chaos in the telecommunications, transportation, business, and information technology sectors of both Sweden and neighboring Denmark.
Although sensitized to the possibility of terrorism -- due to numerous overseas incidents such as the attacks in the US (2001), Bali (2002), Madrid (2004), and London (2005) -- this risk is somewhat lower for Sweden than for either Denmark or Norway, in part because Sweden is not a member of NATO or any military alliances. Nevertheless, Sweden’s emergency preparedness planning encompasses terrorism, recognizing that even though Sweden has not been threatened at home, foreign interests could be attacked on Swedish soil or Swedish interests abroad could be affected by militant activity (SEMA 2005).
In fact, Sweden’s vulnerability to hazards that originate outside the country hit home in a particularly shocking way in late 2004, when over 500 of 20,000 vacationing Swedes lost their lives in the tsunami in South Asia. That, together with one of Sweden’s most severe storms a few weeks later, had a transformative effect culminating in the re-organization of Sweden’s central government emergency management institutions at the start of 2009.
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