When Kirsti Slotsvik, director general of the Norwegian Coastal Administration, opened the SCOPE 2017 exercise by encouraging participants to “dare to fail and then talk about it, because this the best way to learn as it allows for a better exchange of experience and expertise”, observers from over 40 countries sat up and took notice.
This is according to the Norwegian observer Dag Svindseth, who is the fire chief of the Østre Agder fire brigade and leader of the intermunicipal committee for preventing acute pollution (IUA) in Aust-Agder county. It was clear to him that Slotsvik’s exhortation to dare to make mistakes – and to talk about them openly – was something the international observers were not accustomed to hearing.
“As I see it, this was the Norwegian tradition of voluntary communal work – dugnad – being expressed in practice,” Svindseth says.
“And it was noticed in a positive way. This is something that many people probably think, but it’s something else to articulate it and promote such an idea in such a major exercise. That said, it does seem a natural conclusion that that is in fact the right way to learn from exercises.”
Director General Kirsti Slotsvik says it was important for her to underline that trust was needed in order to get the most out of the exercise, which focused on oil and chemical protection at sea.
“It is precisely trust that is at the heart of the Nordic model, and such trust is needed in order to dare to make mistakes,” Slotsvik says.
“And this in turn gives us knowledge that may prove decisive when it really counts.”
She finds it highly interesting to hear reactions to the Nordic practice of cooperation, and she is not unfamiliar with the response from other nations. It was therefore important for her to highlight this theme and encourage participants to dare to make mistakes and subsequently report such mistakes.
Crucial with openness
Project manager for SCOPE 2017, Stig Wahlstrøm, sais that trust and openness were important in the planning process – but is also important in the evaluation that is currently taking place.
“Now in the evaluation phase, we must dare to talk openly about what we have experienced, both positive and negative findings so that we can strengthen our shared preparedness. In this way we can work on follow-ups and plan future exercises with correct objectives” says Wahlstrøm.
First the job, then the discussion
Dag Svindseth had plenty of time to speak with the other observers, who were experts in their various fields and who spent several hours together on one of the ships. This gave them time to discuss and comment what they saw during the joint exercise. Their impression was that the tasks were solved without discussion, as such discussions could wait until later on.
“We saw that also the international cooperation was at a high level, with participants from many nationalities contributing to the task,” Svindseth notes.
“This testified to a spirit of ‘let’s take care of the job first, then we’ll discuss common approaches and solutions afterwards’.”
This was noticed by the Americans, who are otherwise used to cooperation being something that is laid down in agreements but that rarely engenders specific, physical tasks that need solving.
“Seeing German, Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian vessels harmoniously solving tasks together at sea, with a deployment of a Norwegian crew onto a Swedish boat from a Norwegian helicopter, made an impression.”
A well-organized exercise
Svindseth, who has over 20 years of experience from the Norwegian Armed Forces, feels the organizers did a good job of setting things up so the observers could see a variety of operations and personnel during the exercise, which lasted 36 hours.
“The programme was worthwhile for the observers,” Svindseth says.
“They were able to see a good deal on an operational level, whether they were observing participants out conducting tests, at sea, during the beach action, or diving nearby the disabled vessel, with two RITS groups [maritime rescue units] working together at the same place – that’s worth its weight in gold. Usually you have enough to do yourself during the exercise, without incorporating other partner units in addition.”
Challenging information flow
Gathering the observers together on a single ship greatly enabled them to build relations and engage in professional discussions. Svindseth feels that a better information flow would have increased the educational value, and that more information should have been offered over the communication system, something that did in fact improve during the exercise.
“Things became much better when the intercom started to be actively used, so that everyone grasped what was going on outside,” Svindseth notes. “The news bulletins that were broadcast on the monitors also helped us understand the scope of the event if it had been real, but unfortunately only a few of the observers were able to hear the sound.”
Important to practise over time
He also adds that what the participants from the various fire brigades and IUA committees appreciated in particular was the fact that the exercise took place over time.
“That is exactly what will happen in a real-life situation, and when you practise over time, you see certain roles that must be filled over the course of several watches, and not just for a few hours, but for several days,” Svindseth says.
The project is now in an evaluation phase as an important part of the learning process (see Stortingsmelding nr 10, Meld.St.10).
If Svindseth were to point out possible room for improvement, it would be to organize a sort of basic review, a so-called hot wash-up, of what actually happened during the exercise.
“Sorting out the various impressions and discussing what we’ve actually seen, what we’ve actually experienced today, what we’ve been through – that could be useful,” the fire chief explains.