Svalbard Gov. Kjerstin Askholt is humble in comparison to what appears in the report and says she plans to carefully review potential improvements cited by the Norwegian Directorate for Civil Protection (DSB).
"I am also very happy and relieved with the main conclusion of the report, that there could not have been more lives saved that weekend," she said. "There are certainly things we can do even better in the future so we are even better prepared the next time something happens."
The report was released at noon on Thursday.
"We have not revealed any indication that more lives could have been saved in the rescue operation," said DSB Director Cecilie Daae in a prepared statement. "Yet there is always something to learn from events like the avalanche in Svalbard."
Norway's Ministry of Justice and Public Security requested the DSB evaluation in February to assess the response to the avalanche and preventative measures implemented. The analysis was done with support from the Norwegian Police University College and the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre of Southern Norway (HRS).
More learning points
The report includes numerous learning points and recommended measures so officials are better equipped to handle similar incidents in the future.
"After such accidents it is important to review all matters of importance to the event," Daae said. "We must look for critical emergency response challenges and ask ourselves what could and should have been done differently. I am satisfied with the report, which can be useful reading for anyone working with civil protection and preparedness."
Two people were killed by the avalanche on Sukkertoppen last Dec. 19. Eleven homes were destroyed and more than 200 people were forced to evacuate their homes. Daae said the rescue operation was praiseworthy.
"We believe that the immediate efforts of rescuers, volunteers and the victims themselves probably contributed to the fact that more lives were not lost," she said. "Nevertheless, we point out in the report a number of minor and major lessons which should be followed up on."
Avalanche report on the way
Although Askholt was new to the job when the accident occurred, she had 23 years of experience as a manager and 13 years of experience with Arctic policy, which gave her a good foundation of knowledge
"I also had a very great deal of expertise around me and they all did a very good job, which I'm very proud of," she said. "Especially the emergency rescue services in collaboration with volunteers."
A new winter is approaching. Can people feel safe?
"We have a robust avalanche warning system in place," Askholt said. "Beyond that there will be an avalanche report by the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate in mid-October. When we have that on the table we will sit down with Longyearbyen Community Council and see if there's something we need to do differently. We will consider implementing additional measures before winter arrives. Together we will work to make things as safe as possible here."
Meetings on the mainland
Askholt said meetings are also planned with police on the mainland to improve cooperation, as well as with HRS and the governor of the Troms region.
"Tromsø is especially good when it comes to avalanches and has lots of experience," Askholt said. "We have been invited to meet with them to see if there is anything more we can learn."
Minister of Justice and Public Security Anders Anundsen said he's pleased with both the effort put into the report and its findings.
"My immediate impression is that the DSB in consultation with the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre and the Norwegian Police University College has made a solid evaluation about the handling of the tragic accident in Svalbard on Dec. 19, 2015," he said. "I have not yet done an in-depth reading of the report, but I have had enough time to determine it establishes that the efforts of rescuers, including what volunteers and the victims themselves performed, ensured no more lives were lost. I also noted that the evaluation points out some learning points to bring forth. Such points are a seal of approval for the report itself and I will spend extra time on those."
Translated by Mark Sabbatini