During the Finnish Chairmanship of the Arctic Council, the Working Group on Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response (EPPR) has furthered its efforts to enhance emergency preparedness and response capacities in the Arctic. One focus was preparing for and responding to marine oil pollution accidents. EPPR has worked together both with representatives from the eight Arctic States and small communities to improve coordination and cooperation in the event of a real-world oil spill. The resulting deliverables will be presented at the 11th Arctic Council Ministerial in Rovaniemi, Finland, on 7 May 2019.
The Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response Working Group of the Arctic Council (EPPR) is mandated to contribute to preventing, preparing for and responding to accidents and threats from acute releases of pollutants and radionuclides, and the consequences of natural disasters in the Arctic. It also works towards improving search and rescue operations in Arctic waters. The Working Group’s projects and activities include developing guidance and risk assessment methodologies, coordinating response exercises and training, and exchanging information on best practices.
In March 2018, Finland and EPPR co-led a table-top exercise directed at testing and improving the Operational Guidelines under the 2013 Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic (MOSPA). This was the fourth table-top exercise under the MOSPA Agreement, which was negotiated under the auspices of the Arctic Council. The objective of the agreement is to strengthen cooperation, coordination, and mutual assistance on oil pollution preparedness and response in the Arctic in order to protect the marine environment.
Resulting from this exercise is an After-Action Report, which highlights observations, recommendations and best practices. The report provides recommendations for updating the Operational Guidelines, including updating forms and drafting Exercise Planning Guidance. Both the After-Action Report and Exercise Planning Guidance will be released at the upcoming Arctic Council Ministerial meeting in Rovaniemi.
“Table-top exercises, like the one we held in Finland last year, help us to enhance our capacities to rescue people and protect the environment in case of a real-world oil spill accident. Cooperation is absolutely crucial when dealing with emergency preparedness and response. Due to the remoteness of many areas and a lack of infrastructures in the High North, no state is able to react to a larger oil spill incident in the Arctic on its own”, says Jens Peter Holst-Andersen, Chair of the EPPR Working Group.
In addition to enhancing the cooperation between the eight Arctic States on emergency issues such as oil pollutions, EPPR also strives to provide guidance for communities in the Arctic. Over the past two years, the Working Group has developed a set of outreach videos that raises awareness on how an oil spill emergency may affect small communities and how they can prepare to respond appropriately.
“We have been working with small communities to improve their safety in case of an oil spill event. The products we have developed are targeted directly at the people living and working in the Arctic and take the resources that are available to them into account”, says Jens Peter Holst-Andersen.
The six outreach videos have been developed under the guidance of project leads from Norway, Canada, the USA and the indigenous peoples’ organization Aleut International Association. They focus on basic oil pollution response principles, planning for an initial community-based pollution response, and oil pollution risk and impacts to communities. They will be submitted for Ministerial approval.