Published On: October 7, 2021

Ed Persson, an Executive Assistant with the National Preparedness Commission, examines Finland’s approach to providing national preparedness, which has some lessons for the UK. 


The Security Strategy

In 2017 the Finnish Government announced ‘The Security Strategy for Society’ which came as a resolution to harmonise national preparedness principles across the various administrative branches. An English version of the strategy can be found here.

The purpose of the strategy is to lay out the general principles governing preparedness in Finnish society. These principles are based on the concept of comprehensive security in which the vital functions of society are jointly safeguarded by authorities, business operators, organisations and citizens.

Evolving since 2003, with previous iterations covering threat scenarios, ministries’ tasks, leadership in crisis, management of critical incidents and emergency planning, this version advocates a co-operative model whereby all relevant actors share and analyse security information, prepare joint plans as well as train and work together.

In presenting a strategy where the focus is on the applicability of preparedness principles at all levels of society, seven vital functions of society are identified. These functions underpin the broad and cross-sectoral nature of preparedness. The areas identified are: Leadership, Psychological Resilience, Functional Capacity of the population and services, Economy Infrastructure and security of supply, Internal Security, Defence Capability, and International and EU Activities.

Finland is recognised as one of the most highly developed countries in the world regarding the digitalisation of public administration, public services and the markets. The threats faced by Finland are dynamic, transboundary and constantly changing. A consequence of increased digitisation of infrastructure and services is the security of these assets against less visible, less traditional threats. It requires, therefore, a strategy – as Finland presents – which ties the functions of society together in preparedness. As noted in the strategy: ‘In a digitalised and networked society, it is essential to identify all relevant security actors and understand the interconnected nature of activities taking place in society.’

Under the concept for comprehensive security, the division of preparedness responsibilities and tasks in society is based on legislation with a Security Committee to monitor developments and ensure that the strategy remains relevant and revised when necessary. The actors who feed into the concept of comprehensive security are: central government, the authorities, business operators, regions and municipalities, universities, research institutions, organisations, and individuals.

These actors form a network of comprehensive security in which the sharing of information, setting of joint objectives and commitments to co-operation take place. All who contribute are considered relevant security actors in their own right. This model recognises the importance of actors who sit outside of traditional security circles and the impact they have on the preparedness of wider Finnish society. As is the case in most emergencies and crises, first responders are members of the public or organisations and businesses in the locality of the event, and this model for preparedness does well to recognise this.

The model is further supported by a clearly defined preparedness process and governance structure, ensuring that all preparedness activities across all organisational and administrative levels are aligned. Aside from preparedness obligations as laid out in Finnish legislation, the focus at the national level is on safeguarding society’s vital functions with multiple actors feeding in to ensure operational capabilities are upheld in good times and bad.

While at the administrative levels of government there are, of course, obligations as mentioned, the strategy also highlights the importance of the independent preparedness of business operators, organisations, communities, and households in upholding Finland’s resilience. To promote the preparedness of citizens, the strategy acknowledges the requirement for systematic dissemination of information and appropriate training opportunities. The opportunities to gather accurate preparedness information and training are provided by organisations which connect the responsible authorities with willing volunteers.

The preparedness process to which all are aligned is circular, combining foresight and feedback, planning and action. This process is conducted through co-operation fora at the national, regional and local levels and within clearly defined structures as to avoid overlap and resource duplication. Central to the effective maintenance of this process is leadership: all those involved in preparedness activities must ensure that in disruption only minimal changes are made in the lines of responsibility, organisation and the division of accountabilities.

Preparedness Training and Awareness

Under the comprehensive security model and in support of Finland’s security strategy, training opportunities are provided to both civilian and military leaders in either national or regional defence courses. The purpose of the national defence course is to provide persons in civilian or military leadership with ‘a total overview of Finland’s foreign, security and defence policy, improve collaboration between different sectors of society in emergency conditions and promote networking between people working in different areas of comprehensive security.’

The regional defence courses focus on ‘the preparedness of the regional administrative and local level for disruptions and emergency conditions facing society.’ With special attention paid to the ‘operation of the Finnish Defence Forces, civil defence, security of supply of the economy, communications and transportation…’ These courses are held under the governance of the Security Committee which are, in turn, supported by other organisations or associations that provide accessible preparedness training to the public.

The Finnish National Rescue Association (SPEK) conducts safety training for citizens and promotes preparedness skills. The Martha Organization is a home economics, civic education, and advocacy organisation, promoting wellbeing and quality of life, as well as information on home provisioning for emergencies. The Finnish Red Cross assists Finnish authorities in the event of emergencies or crisis, provides training for citizens and maintains a pool of volunteers to assist with domestic disaster response and preparedness. The National Defence Training Association of Finland (MPK) is a national training organisation offering preparedness training to citizens in how to prepare for and survive dangerous situations in everyday life and under exceptional circumstances. The MPK offers military training for: Finnish Defence Force reservists, familiarisation training for youths aged 16 of older, information on voluntary national defence, safety, security and preparedness skills training, and instructor and leadership training. The security training which is provided to citizens is designed to equip participants with basic safety skills including first aid, fire safety/extinguishing, self-defence, and orienteering skills. The MPK also supports Finnish municipalities and other civilian authorities through preparedness and civil-protection training which includes search operations, evacuation, mass lodging and provisioning.

Finland also operates a conscription model whereby all Finnish males on reaching the age of 18, and as part of their civic duty, are liable for military service either in the reserve or auxiliary reserve. Military service for women in Finland is considered voluntary and is applied under the same structure as for men, with training and duties determined on the demand of the task and suitability of the candidate. The stated purpose of this conscription model is to ‘produce troops with good combat efficiency and skilled and capable personnel for placement in the wartime units of the Defence Forces.’ In addition, it helps to ‘maintain basic readiness and the capability to raise readiness when necessary’.

Finland does not belong to a military alliance preferring to remain outside of international conflicts and to look for peaceful solutions. However, to show domestic strength and maintain defence capabilities the training provided through the conscription model and other civic training supports the overall capacity of Finland to prepare and defend itself in wartime and crisis. The model also ensures, similar to other models operated in Sweden and Norway, that there is a basic level of understanding of defence, preparedness and self-sufficiency skills maintained throughout the population.

Comparison with the UK

In the UK, although national service was abolished in 1960, there are similar preparedness training functions to those offered in Finland, albeit covering different topics and offered by different organisations. The UK Defence Academy operated under the Ministry of Defence provides training to cover: leadership, strategy, information warfare, cyber, multi-domain integration, capability and acquisition, business skills, languages, and international engagement. According to the academy, this training is offered to not only students from the MoD, wider government, UK industry and overseas but also other government departments, charities and academia. The Emergency Planning College run by the Cabinet Office is considered the leading provider of training for emergency preparedness in the UK and the only permanent national forum for central government, emergency services, the private sector and volunteer groups to network and share best practice.

In addition, lottery funded programmes such as Communities Prepared and charitable organisations such as the British Red Cross provide preparedness training and advice. The question is whether there is perhaps more centralisation and organisation needed in how the UK provides preparedness training in a whole-of-society approach. Under the Civil Contingencies Act (2004) there is a requirement that all Category 1 responders provide exercising to staff in emergency management with similar requirements attached to business continuity plans. However, as is recognised in the Finnish Security Strategy and indeed across swathes of disaster management research, often the first people to respond to emergencies and crises are not blue-light agencies but passers-by, civilians and local organisations and businesses. This is evidenced in many of the organic community responses to Covid-19 in the UK.

In my own research on Grenfell and the community level response this also rang true. Examining the role of local organisations in response, not only was it clear that community trust was of integral importance in providing response and support but also that a level of emergency preparedness training, outside of personal crisis support, is in need of investment and support. Recognising, as the Finnish Security Strategy does, that there are important security actors at all levels of society, creating a model that is inclusive of these actors would perhaps signal a legitimate intent for whole-of-society preparedness.

A way forward?

When comparing the UK’s Emergency Planning College with the National Defence Training Association of Finland (MPK), organisations of a similar function, we see that on an annual basis the Emergency Planning College welcomes 8,000 attendees, whereas MPK has 50,000 volunteers attend their courses on an annual basis. Considering Finland’s population size of approximately 5.5 million (2021), with the UK’s population just under 68.5 million (2021), 50,000 volunteers receiving preparedness training annually is a considerable proportion of the population and shows a significant appetite for preparedness. The UK’s Local Resilience Forums (LRFs) could be an agent for change if there was a method for systemic engagement across all levels in an inclusive approach to preparedness.

Another solution, as suggested in a previous article written for the National Preparedness Commission, is the concept of a College for National Security which surfaced publicly as an idea in the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review and re-emerged again in the recent Integrated Review. This could act in a similar function to Finland’s National Defence University as the space where leaders from both military and civil society can come together to gain mutual understanding, share best practice and collaborate openly under a strategic vision. Under this set up, LRFs could be the space through which training, similar to the Finnish regional defence courses, could be delivered.

The importance of a centralised and systematic approach to preparedness training as upheld by the Finnish Security Committee and laid out in the security strategy is that clear lines of accountability and responsibility are upheld, governance structures defined, and information shared. Inviting those outside of traditional security circles to the table not only recognises the importance of their contribution to societal preparedness but also creates strategic vision and inclusivity.

Covid-19 and other UK crises have shown that when needed there are numerous and willing volunteers, and it is important to capture this enthusiasm moving forward. As part of the National Resilience Strategy, it is recognised that ‘A whole-of-society approach will be central to strengthening the UK’s resilience, with a revived effort to inform and empower all parts of society who can make a contribution.’ It will be interesting to see what is made of this, and whether insight is gained from the models operated across the Nordic countries.

However, in order to facilitate a whole-of-society approach to resilience it is integral that the mechanisms created are inclusive and uphold circular feedback loops where the bottom is listened to by the top and vice versa. The comprehensive security network in Finland provides a good example for bringing actors across society together to contribute to and share in the preparedness of their nation and one would hope that the National Resilience Strategy will advocate for similar.

Share this story

Related posts