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What Norway’s Home Guard can teach us about preparing for emergencies

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The writer is adviser to Gallos Technologies, and author of ‘Goodbye Globalization’

Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Norway has become one of the largest sources of oil and gas for both Britain and the EU. The fortunate circumstance that one of Europe’s own countries has enough energy to export to others is clouded by the fact that Russia is energetically scouting out Norway’s energy installations. But Norway has a solution to this troubling development too, and it’s one that other countries can learn from: involving locals in the protection of crucial energy infrastructure.

When Nord Stream 1 and 2 were blown up in September 2022, it was bad news not just for the pipelines’ owners but for European energy security too. Who sabotaged the two Nord Stream pipelines remains a mystery; Sweden and Denmark recently concluded their investigations without naming a perpetrator.

That may be because a nation state was most likely involved. Either way, the sabotage’s sophistication means that other crucial energy installations could be next. That puts Norway — and Europe — in jeopardy. Last year, the country accounted for 13.7 per cent of EU oil imports and 30.3 per cent of its gas imports, which gave it the top slot. The UK, too, imported more oil and gas from Norway than from almost anywhere else.

Norway reacted to Nord Stream by quickly calling up some 4,000 Home Guard members in the Bergen area, where the country’s energy production is concentrated. The Home Guard’s members are ordinary citizens who protect the homeland when the government needs them. Most of the 4,000 were assigned one-week turns protecting the energy installations. That happy medium between disruption and efficiency was crucial: imagine Home Guard members doing two months or one day each.

Norway’s experience matters, because the threats aren’t going away. Indeed, PST — the Norwegian Police Security Service, one of Norway’s intelligence agencies — warns in its 2024 report that in the past couple of years Norwegian energy installations have become a particular target of Russia. “We check who goes in and out at the installations, we keep surveillance of the area, we fly drones,” Lieutenant Colonel Christoffer Knutsen, who commands the Home Guard in the Bergen region, said. “Our tasks haven’t changed, but the intensity of the threats has.”

Because the Home Guard constantly trains its members, they knew how to operate drones and much else when called up to do so. “With its local knowledge and its network, planning and knowledge of objects, the Home Guard is well suited to contribute to securing infrastructure,” General Eirik Kristoffersen — Norway’s chief of defence, who has previously commanded the Home Guard and the army — told me. “The Home Guard has had this task for a long time, so it is only natural to use it when there is a need for guarding and security.” That task will be aided by the government’s plans to grow the Home Guard from about 40,000 to 45,000 members. 

Other countries can learn from Norway’s efforts. While few have Home Guards, all have residents who can be trained to keep an expert eye on nearby sensitive energy installations. “Emergency preparedness is not there and they, it is here and us,” two Norwegian politicians wrote in an op-ed this month. In liberal democracies, the government can’t be everywhere, all the time. At the same time, threats against crucial infrastructure and thus the functioning of modern economies are growing.

But locals know their surroundings better than anyone else. Imagine if residents of areas near energy installations in Britain, Germany or the US got the opportunity to volunteer as trained eyes. It would allow them to help keep their country safe without carrying a weapon or giving up their careers. It would be an activity far more meaningful than most pastimes, and it would come at minimal cost to the taxpayer. All you need to do is ask — and provide training. 

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