Norwegian attacks July 2011: The emergency medical service response report

The two horrific attacks on 22nd July 2011 of the car bombing at the Government district in Oslo, and the shooting of participants at a national Labour Party youth camp on nearby Utøya island, saw one of the worst massacres Norway has faced. The devastating actions of a single perpetrator left a total of 77 people dead, and a nation questioning the motives of such actions. The scale of these two attacks was unprecedented in Norway, and understandably required an enormous amount of effort and resources from the police and emergency medical service (EMS). Six months on, a study describing the immediate prehospital EMS response to these incidents and a corresponding commentary by Prof David Lockey have been published in Scandinavian Journal of Trauma, Resuscitation and Emergency Medicine.

The Norwegian study objectively describes the two events separately, giving details of emergency medical service response times to the scene, triage procedures and scene descriptions. Co-author Dr Stephen Sollid, Consultant Anaesthesiologist at Oslo University Hospital, and Medical Advisor at the Norwegian Air Ambulance Foundation explained,

It was quite impressive to experience the way personnel from different systems were able to establish a working casualty clearing system. This was probably in the spirit of everyone pulling their weight under the given circumstances, but it is an experience that will certainly stay with those of us that took part in the rescue work that day and should inspire – at least – other EMS systems in Norway”.

In the initial analysis following the attacks, the police were criticized for their response time to Utøya island, and the transport issues faced with lack of helicopters and boats. The Norwegian air ambulance service were able to provide sufficient support for the pre-hospital medical services, and with approximately 60 flights logged, it is clear that availability of these resources is paramount for emergency  incidences.

The report will allow other EMS services to analyse and provide improved emergency responses to future incidents. Unfortunately it is near impossible to predict when such attacks will next occur, and a state of preparedness is all that is possible.

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