Mari Rantanen: “Civil defence is a cornerstone of societal crisis resilience”
On September 14th, the Helsinki City Rescue Department was visited by Minister of the Interior Mari Rantanen. Rantanen emphasised how having a sufficient number of knowledgeable in-house and contract rescue personnel is a crucial resource in exceptional situations as well.
The importance of societal preparedness and crisis resilience is being highlighted these days. The military situation in Finland’s neighbouring areas is currently peaceful and Finland is not under a direct military threat, but the prevalent circumstances have changed substantially in terms of rescue services and preparedness as well, due to Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Minister of the Interior Mari Rantanen gave a speech at the Civil Defence Heritage Day event at the Central Rescue Station in Kallio.
In her speech, Rantanen stated that while Finland is preparing for military defence operations, the country must be able to protect its population and secure society’s ability to function.
“In terms of protecting the population and the infrastructure and securing important functions, it is essential that we are able to carry out efficient rescue operations and supporting functions under war conditions. For that reason, having a sufficient number of knowledgeable in-house and contract rescue personnel, for example, is a crucial resource in exceptional situations as well”, Rantanen said.
Rantanen commented that although Finland is an advanced civil defence country compared to many others, further development is still needed.
“Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine has reminded us that Finland cannot forget about developing its civil defence preparedness”, Rantanen stated in her speech.
She continued by saying that the government programme features several measures focusing on the development of civil defence.
“We will reinforce civil defence through means such as overhauling the regulation pertaining to civil defence preparations and developing the organisation of civil defence. Civil defence shelters are like a national asset of ours, and we must keep cherishing the good groundwork carried out”, Rantanen said.
Rantanen’s message is that civil defence is an important cornerstone of societal crisis resilience.
The world’s most famous civil defence shelter
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has had a variety of impacts in the field of civil defence in Helsinki as well.
“The global level of interest in civil defence has been astounding. Our shelters have been visited by roughly 200 media representatives”, commented Rescue Commander Jani Pitkänen from the Helsinki City Rescue Department at the event.
The majority of media visits have taken place in the Merihaka bedrock shelter in Hakaniemi.
“It is the world’s most famous civil defence shelter at the moment”, Pitkänen pointed out.
The media’s interest in Helsinki’s civil defence shelters has piqued public authorities’ interest as well. Pitkänen commented that preparedness and civil defence shelters have been a civil defence export asset for Helsinki and Finland alike.
“We have to utilise this one way or the other, both in the public sector and at the corporate level”, Pitkänen mused.
Lessons learned from Ukraine
Rescue Commander Pitkänen also talked about observations made during the Rescue Department’s fact-finding visit to Ukraine in the spring of 2023.
“One key observation was the use of the third sector in rescue operations. We are unable to stop civilians’ willingness to help, whether they are in an earthquake area or a warzone. They should be invited to take part in rescue operations in an organised manner”, Pitkänen commented.
He continued by saying that citizens must be encouraged and given an opportunity to be active operators in a crisis, as this will also improve their morale and strength against the enemy.
One key lesson learned from Ukraine is that in many countries, Finland included, the most challenging aspect during and after a war would be the clearing of explosives.
“In practice, we do not currently have the capacity for humanitarian clearing of explosives. The Finnish Defence Forces are of course fully operational, but we do not have enough resources”, Pitkänen stated.
He talked about the potential prospect of training volunteers for these duties as one option.
The observations made in Ukraine also highlighted things that would probably work in a crisis in Finland as well.
“A good thing about all this is that we have identified plenty of aspects that we need to improve and develop, which requires multidisciplinary cooperation with the authorities, and Finland is a pioneer in this regard”, Pitkänen said appreciatively.
“We are able to smoothly assign leadership responsibilities to the right party at the right time. We draw strength and partnership from each other’s know-how. That is definitely a strength of ours that many countries do not have.”
Helsinki’s civil defence operations are deemed to have begun on 14 September 1939 when the City established the Helsinki Civil Defence Office. The Civil Defence Heritage Day event is held annually by the Helsinki City Rescue Department.