Sunday, October 24

If terror survivors don’t get help, who gets it?

  • Miriam Einangshaug

    Survivors of Utøya

When she was 16 years old, Miriam Einangshaug survived the terrorist attack in Utøya. When she got home to Frosta Township in Trøndelag, she felt completely alone.

I hope my meeting with the municipality after July 22 was unique.

This is a discussion post. Opinions in the text are the responsibility of the writer.

I was 16 years old when I survived the terrorist attack in Utøya. For more than an hour I was in mortal danger and listened to my friends being killed around me. When I got home, I needed help. In the municipality of Frosta I did not receive that help.

Year after year, surveys have shown a great need for psychosocial follow-up among those of us who survived the terror in Utøya. Year after year, the same surveys have shown that many do not receive the help they need or are entitled to receive.

Aftenposten’s disclosures this summer show that many municipalities are unable to document what the money allocated to them by the state to help us was used for. If terror survivors don’t get help, who gets it?

Inadequate help

In Norway, it was the municipalities that were responsible for following up on those affected after the terrorist attacks. The central guidelines in the professional recommendations that all Norwegian municipalities received from the Norwegian Health Directorate were to carry out proactive follow-up and assign a contact person to those affected.

The background for this recommendation was previous research. Research has shown that people affected by terrorist attacks and other major disasters can often refuse to seek help.

As early as September 2011, NRK was able to to reveal that many did not receive the help they needed after the terror. Over the years, various stories, but no less research, have emphasized how inadequate the help was from many of those affected.

The results of interview with the survivors after the terrorist attack in Utøya shows that the aid disappeared too quickly. It was also characterized by a lack of proactivity.

A paradox

A disappointing one came earlier this year study from the National Knowledge Center on Violence and Traumatic Stress (NKVTS). It showed that one in three Utøya survivors still lacked access to necessary medical care.

In 2011 and 2012, surveys were conducted on the monitoring by municipalities of those affected after the terrorist attacks. The surveys were conducted to investigate whether the central health authorities should strengthen measures towards the municipality.

In these, it was up to the municipalities to evaluate their own monitoring capacities. Most municipalities consider their own competence and monitoring capacity satisfactory.

This creates a class division based on where you live.

It is a paradox and a methodological challenge that the feedback from the municipalities to the health authorities is not reflected in the investigations carried out on those affected.

Crumble to pieces

The monitoring of those affected after July 22 is an example of how grand ambitions at the national level crumble when it ends at the local level. When municipalities take responsibility, much of the quality assurance disappears.

Preparedness for psychosocial crises is poorly integrated into general preparedness. For example, emergency preparedness exercises are often conducted without raising the issue of psychosocial care at all.

Both Stian Kogler and Miriam Einangshaug survived Utøya. But they have completely different experiences.

The experience of July 22 shows that it was not the size of the municipality, but the understanding of the importance of monitoring that was decisive.

Even in the largest municipalities with more resources to help, there is often no one person or department that is solely responsible for safety or emergency preparedness work. Which means that the task of preparing for emergencies is assigned to people with other functions.

The experience of small municipalities is that it is difficult to meet all emergency preparedness requirements on their own because the supply of resources and competence is limited.

Major consequences

The consequences of the aid apparatus not working were borne by adults and children with terrorist trauma. The socioeconomic cost of not taking the lack of psychosocial preparedness seriously is enormous.

Sick leave, social security and delayed education cost society a lot of money. It is impossible to put a price on the human cost.

I wish my meeting with the municipality of Frosta after July 22 was unique. Utøya survivor Stian Kogler received a completely different following than mine. This should be the rule and not the exception.

Unfortunately, the research shows something else.

We will face new crises. People will be injured and suffer great losses. These people will need help, even beyond the acute phase.

The experience of July 22 shows that there is a great difference between the capacity of municipalities to help their citizens after crises. This creates a class division based on where you live.

Many of those affected after July 22 today pay a heavy price for the lack of follow-up after the terrorist attacks. Ten years after the terrorist attacks in Utøya and in the government quarter, the Norwegian authorities should therefore investigate the help that relatives received after 22 July. We must ensure that we achieve a system change in the way we organize emergency preparedness.

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