The Need for Systematic Research

Published Dec 11, 2003
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Health, Environment and Safety

The Government Commission on the Vulnerable Society handed over their report “A Vulnerable Society” (NOU 2000:24) to the Ministry of Justice and the Police on the 4. July 2000. If the recommendations in the report are followed up, this date will mark a new era in the Norwegian work for safety and security research.

The work completed by the Government Commission on the Vulnerable Society is in many ways unique; a systematic examination of the society’s many small and large “Achilles’ heels” that need to be dealt with. The report pointed out more than 130 separate proposals for improvement. The Commission also emphasized the need for research on community safety and preparedness. The report raises approaches to many problems like “…demand for research to get a deeper insight in problems, and to be able to provide answers based on knowledge. We need knowledge to understand, to monitor changes in society, and motivate to find the right means and efforts. The research’s role is to produce such knowledge from theory and analyses of experiences.”

The Oil and Gas Sector in the 1980’s Triggered Research on Safety
It was a vigorous push in the safety and security research attached to the oil and gas sector in the 1980’s. The results from this research also gave positive outcome to other sectors. The activities within safety and security research have since decreased. There is little research done in this field at the moment. There is some commission-based research under the direction of scientific institutions like the Foundation for Scientific and Industrial Research at the Norwegian Institute of Technology (SINTEF), the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI), Rogaland Research, and some consulting companies and within parts of the trade and industry. The international research institutions within safety and security research are also small and fragmented. This results in lack of continuity, which makes it difficult to maintain a sustained and high competent research community. In addition, the official responsibility for such research lies within several agencies. No official authority has a superior responsibility for safety and security research in Norway. This makes it difficult to initiate research of interest to several sectors. Such research will be useful for many, but no one is capable to fund this alone.

The Government Commission on the Vulnerable Society underlines the need to direct research to a higher extent towards the safety and security field. We now face a more open world community; more complex technological systems; a strongly harmonized infrastructure for Information and Communication Technology (ICT); tightly coupled production and delivery systems for commodities; transportation systems with more traffic and higher speeds; trade and industry and a public sector in constant change; cooperation in networks replacing old chains of command and responsibility, which brings new challenges. We face the need for new knowledge and new working methods to manage the new vulnerable conditions the above-mentioned trends lead to.

Society’s critical infrastructure has, in the last decades, forced a strong interdependence between different critical functions. This development has happened fast; perhaps too fast for us to see all related safety and security challenges following the development. A breakdown within one function or sector may cause enormous consequences for other functions in the society. In fields where you earlier could tell an authority or business that this is your crisis, or mine, you will today see the consequences of crisis fast spreading to several sectors. With that, the whole society is facing challenges, forcing a coordinated management to handle them.

Do we need an Accident to put Safety on the Agenda?
It is tempting to answer ‘yes’ to this question. So far, safety and security work in Norway has been reactive, both in the private and the public sector. Too often, clearing and repairing after an incident has been prioritized rather than systematic work to avoid it in the first place. Based on this, accidents seem to be needed to focus on safety work. Efforts to prevent one kind of accidents seem to be triggered only by a similar previous accident. Safety work is also usually based on experiences from past accidents, not directed towards possible accidents in the future. Mapping of risk and vulnerability is necessary in order to be able to give good predictions on risks we will be facing in the future. Merely basing a safety strategy on previous experiences is a reactive approach. It will be especially difficult to base the management of large accidents, accidents with a low probability and large consequences, on this strategy. Because some accidents have not yet occurred, we do not have any experience to help us solving them.

We cannot solve our Safety Problems by thinking the same way we did when we created them!

Do we really need an accident before we act? My answer will be no. But we have to think and work differently than we are used to. It is important to have a proactive approach towards risk and preparedness work. Therefore, we need more systematic research covering all safety aspects. In addition, to calculate risk based on previous accidents, we need to know more about the risks of the future. We need to focus on prevention at an early stage in the planning process, and work to avoid accidents. Safety research can help us to better understand how we perceive risk and how we react in different risk situations. We also need to better understand how to create risk awareness and a risk culture within our organization. More research will hopefully tell us how to work with risk communication, to ensure that safety experts and decision makers actually understand each other. We also need to learn how to better manage an unforeseen crisis when it nevertheless occurs.

The Need for Systematic Research-Body-2

Photo: Romsdal SFK, Directorate for Civil Defence and Emergency Planning

Revitalize Safety and Security Research
New and rapid technological changes make it more necessary than ever to study safety and security challenges - across all levels, sectors, and professions. Safety research involves many spheres, sector interests, and industries and authority structures. In the White Paper No. 17 (2001-2002) “Safety and Security of Society” the Government indicates increased focus on research as a response to the proposals from the Governmental Commission on the Vulnerable Society. The Government states that there: “… is a need to strengthen research and explanation within the community safety field.” This includes the need for a broadly oriented, cross-sectorial research program to gain general, universal basis knowledge within the field of safety, security and preparedness. Further, there is a need for an in depth research within several fields. E.g. research to follow the development and to foresee trends of strategic importance within the technological, organizational and mercantile field, and analyses for mapping vulnerability in different levels.

In the White paper No 7 (2001-2002) “Health, environment and safety activities (HES) in the petroleum industry”, the Government presented their ambitions on research and development within several fields, especially within HES, focusing on prevention of serious personal injuries and major accidents. They also emphasized the development of methods and tools to better manage HES, taking a closer look at the vulnerability in the use of information and communication technology (ICT), and how to best manage HES knowledge and develop risk communication knowledge.

If the ambitions are followed up with genuine activities and adequate resources from the trade and industry, authorities and research institutions, we will clearly see the safety research in Norway being revitalized. And perhaps the long awaited push in the safety research once again will be due to oil and gas sector.

Risk and Vulnerability Based Approach
The society changes fast and safety work needs to change accordingly to be trustworthy. Trade and industry, authorities and the general public have a need for research-based assistance to face these challenges.

Risk and vulnerability analysis is a useful strategic tool for decision makers and co-workers at all levels. The analysis can be used as a basis for decisions to promote renewal, modernisation, competence rising and cost effectiveness, as well as not to build in unnecessary risk and vulnerability. This is a method to map different kind of risks in our surroundings and how vulnerable we are for failures in critical functions inside and outside our own activities. If the analysis concludes with a great risk for an incident, with serious consequences, or that the operations are vulnerable, efforts should be carried out. This can be:

  • Preventive efforts - good planning processes reduce the probability for unwanted incidents.
  • Damage limiting efforts - efforts reducing the consequences if something happens.
The Need for Systematic Research-Body

If the safety research shall contribute to the best possible results, it is important that researchers, the industry and trade, and the authorities’ experts work together to create the results needed. DCDEP’s slogan can guide this work: “Cooperation for safety.”

Photo: Roy Arild Rugsveen, Directorate for Civil Defence and Emergency Planning

Facts about DCDEP

  • The Directorate for Civil Defence and Emergency Planning (DCDEP) was established July 1, 1970. The DCDEP is located in Oslo and has about 100 central employees. The DCDEP works under the authority of the Ministry of Justice and the Police.
  • The Directorate for Civil Defence and Emergency Planning (DCDEP) works to improve the Civil Protection.

The main task of the DCDEP is to be a centre of resources and expertise for emergency contingency planning. Through exercises, courses and seminars the DCDEP informs the public about disasters and provide training in disaster response. The DCDEP is a point of contact between central authorities and regional commissioners in peacetime disasters .The DCDEP will also work to co-ordinate peacetime disaster preparedness in Norway. The DCDEP is in charge of The Norwegian Civil Defence.

Some activities in DCDEP:

  • Risk and vulnerability analysis
  • Geographical information systems (GIS)
  • Crisis management
  • Exercises
  • Information preparedness (Risk and Crisis Communications)
  • Quality Management
  • Safety research


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