Risk management in Norwegian avalanche rescue operations: Managing uncertainty, complexity, overcommitment and the long-term monitoring of accident risk


Albert Lunde


risikostyring, samfunnssikkerhet, rescue, search, volunteer rescue, frivillighetsarbeid, luftambulanse, snøskred


Avalanche incidents commonly take place in adverse environmental conditions, and the expected survival time of avalanche victims is short. These situations require an immediate rescue response, which may pose a serious challenge to the safety of both rescuers and avalanche victims. Historically, the Norwegian rescue service has experienced few serious accidents, but undesirable incidents where rescuers are dangerously exposed in avalanche runout zones seem more frequent. Risk management in the avalanche rescue service is multifaceted, influenced by its multi-organizational structure. Individuals acting in this socio-technical rescue system are easily caught between two imperatives: saving lives and staying alive. The aim of risk management is to maintain equilibrium in rescue commitment. This project analysed whether the Norwegian avalanche rescue system is correctly balanced to withstand the extra load of common risk influencing factors in rescue operations. Aim: The fundamental aim of this thesis was to contribute to new knowledge on factors that are important for risk management and performance in the Norwegian avalanche rescue service. Methods: Mixed methods research was applied to answer the specific research questions. This implied multiple research activities in a combination of quantitative and qualitative methodologies. Study number 1 was a retrospective study to characterize Norwegian avalanche incidents and rescue response (Paper I). A comprehensive study comprising avalanche rescue statistics, cross-case analysis, factor analysis and risk modelling was conducted to gain insight into avalanche rescue performance (Paper II). In a phenomenological study to explore the concept of overcommitment, nine air ambulance crews from five bases took part in focus group interviews (Papers III and IV). Lastly, a systemic safety analysis was conducted in two separate seminars, supported by the insight of six experts in Norwegian avalanche rescue operations (Paper V). The thesis itself is a cross-paper synthesis of results. Results: The studies returned results which contribute to justified beliefs about patient and rescuer safety in Norwegian avalanche rescue operations. Conclusion: A synthesis of results from the various studies indicates that the Norwegian rescue service is vulnerable to common risk sources in rescue operations, affecting the safety of both rescuers and patients. The avalanche rescue system could benefit from a focus on the integrity of already established safety barriers. This implies an interorganizational effort to identify and reach common goals and system requirements. This thesis may serve as input to discussions on risk acceptance levels in the rescue service, the applicability and validity of control algorithms in rescue management and how to adjust the degree of commitment in various rescue missions.

Author Biography

Albert Lunde

External Consultant
Faculty of Science and Technology
Department of Safety, Economics and Planning
E-mail: albert.lunde@uis.no


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