Lessons Learnt From A Terrorist Attack

On June 18, 2014

David’s daily wrap-up of the World Conference on Disaster Management.

Kjell Brataas gave an excellent presentation reflecting on the learnings from the Norwegian Terrorist attack that bombed the Prime Minister’s office killing eight people and then killing another 86, mostly young students, in a shooting spree on Utoja Island.

After the bomb explosions destroyed a number of government department offices, a makeshift emergency control centre was established in the Prime Minister’s personal residence.

People had to bring their own computers and printers as the residence had limited facilities. The attack sparked global media interest and throngs of journalists descended on Oslo to cover the story. More than 100,000 stories appeared in newspapers and electronic media outlets over a period of less than four months.

Immediately after the bombing, and during the shooting spree, there were discussions about how much information was required before talking to the public. Without all the information, the Prime Minister responded to media enquiries. By telling the truth about what he knew, the PM saved lives. As people on the island received updates through social media and via online news channels, they ran and hid or jumped in the water to swim for shore. Local people also heard the news stories and got in their boats to pick up the swimmers who would never have made it to the mainland.

Being such an emotive event, all communication had to be extremely sensitive. Social media was analysed to judge the tone and mood of the community immediately after the event and in the subsequent weeks and months. No formal research was done.

One person was dedicated to drafting all the key messages and writing all the speaking notes for the spokespeople.

Ministerial staff didn’t have an office. Personal belongings such as keys, air tickets and photos were all in the offices that had been damaged by the bomb blast. Meetings were held on the Sunday with staff — initially to grieve for lost colleagues -– and then to focus on logistics. It also gave staff an opportunity to ask questions… many of which could not be answered immediately but were responded to at a follow-up meeting.

Social media played a key role in the recovery. The Prime Minister used Facebook to share his thoughts and almost one million people followed him.

People from all over the world wanted to say something. An online condolence protocol in WordPress was developed to allow the global community to participate in the grieving process. More than 50,000 messages were received.

People wanted to have a community event. A concert was held and more than 200,000 people turned out.

Research showed it is important to bring people back to where the incident took place. So, two events were organised — one for survivors another for next of kin. Music, songs, flowers and candles where key components of both events but no media were allowed to attend the events.

Kjell spoke openly about what had worked and what the key learnings were, particularly those related to business continuity and communication.