Academic journal article Organisational and Social Dynamics

SPEAKING OUT: Using an Organisational Perspective to Intervene When Disaster Strikes: Learning from Experience Following the Terror Attacks in Norway on 22 July, 2011 *

Academic journal article Organisational and Social Dynamics

SPEAKING OUT: Using an Organisational Perspective to Intervene When Disaster Strikes: Learning from Experience Following the Terror Attacks in Norway on 22 July, 2011 *

Article excerpt

BACKGROUND-THE TERROR ATTACKS

On 22 July, 2011 there were two terror attacks in Norway. A bomb exploded in the centre of Oslo and thereafter there was shooting for about seventy minutes directed against a youth camp run by the young division of the Norwegian Labour party. Altogether seventyseven persons were killed, eight at the government buildings in Oslo and sixty-six persons on Utoya. In addition sixty-six of the youngsters were severely hurt.

In this paper I will share experiences from working with the headquarters of the Norwegian Labour Party and how we prepared for visiting Utoya again.

I will also share reflections upon the dynamics of this collaborative work on different levels and finally share some hypotheses about the dynamics of the Norwegian Society in the following years.

In this context the organisational perspective is based on both organisational psychology and knowledge about reactions on crisis for individuals and organisations.

When people are killed and there is serious damage, there will always be a great challenge to different rescue systems in society. International reports point to some vulnerable areas, such as: alarm routines, management, leadership, coordination, and the transmission of information. In Norway a commission report was delivered on 13 August, 2012, a year after the attacks, which revealed several weaknesses along the same lines:

* The attack on the government buildings could have been avoided. There was a delay in the official system that prevented the building of barriers.

* The official systems broke down and were not able to protect those at danger on Utoya. The police could have been on the island much earlier and could have stopped the killer.

* It might have been possible to take more secure actions to prevent new attacks after the bomb exploded in Oslo.

* Health and rescue personnel took care of those involved in a satisfactory way.

* The communication from the government to the people was good. The Departments were able to continue their work in spite of the fact that most of the offices were damaged and they had to move around in the city to other sites.

* A better method of investigation might have contributed to revealing the identity of the terrorist before he attacked his targets. But there is no evidence to say that the secret services could have prevented the terror attacks.

The report of the commission did not mention a single word about how the organisation of the Norwegian Labour Party managed the situation and how the leaders contributed in the crisis situation. Since the political values of this organisation and the democratic values of the nation were the targets of the killer, the organisation was in a special situation. In addition Utoya was the symbol for recruiting to the nation's social democratic political values. That was the argument used by the killer.

The commission interviewed such political leaders as: the Prime Minister, the Minister of Health, and the Minister of Justice, but they did not interview the management at the headquarters of the party organisation. Apparently the commission was not aware of the difference between political leader roles and the management roles of an organisation. The headquarters of the party had direct contact to every county in Norway through the party offices with employees. An organisation built on political values is also run as an ordinary organisation. The Prime Minister was the leader of the whole nation but the top manager at the headquarters was running the organisation of the Labour Party.

WORKING WITH THE HEADQUARTERS OF THE LABOUR PARTY

I was asked to consult to the Labour Party and when I came to the headquarters on Wednesday 27th, five days after the terror attack, they expected a clinical psychologist to take care of all those employees who were affected by the traumatic event. Many had lost close friends; many had been on Utoya and had just left when the shooting started. …

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