Over 100 Years of Finnish Expertise in Civil Protection: From Shelters to Total Preparedness

Pasi Nuutinen

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5 Jan 2023

The war of aggression launched by Russia made large masses of people in Europe worry about their security. Finnish society has been preparing for war in various ways for over 100 years, but the issue of shelters and their maintenance has once again come up for discussion.

Shelters for Finns Since 1915

During the First World War, Finland realized that civilians must be able to protect themselves from the direct effects of weapons, such as shrapnel, bullets, shock waves, and building collapses. Cellars and other underground spaces were seen as suitable shelters, so they were made more secure for this purpose.

The first actual, reinforced concrete shelters in Finland were built in the late 1950s. Since then, as legislation has changed, the number of protection classifications for shelters has increased, resulting in different types of shelters being built for different purposes and needs. Large masses of people or otherwise important objects are typically protected by more robust protection classifications.

More Than 50, 000 Shelters in Finland

Until the early 1990s, shelters were only built in socially important and visible locations, such as urban or industrial centers, because they were believed to be directly targeted by the enemy in the event of war. With the reform of the legislation, civil defense shelters started to be built throughout the country, The Rescue Act now requires that new buildings of a certain size must always include a civil defense shelter proportionate to the size of the building.

There are now more than 50, 000 shelters in Finland, accommodating more than 4 million people. However, not all people are meant to fit in the shelters at the same time, as a large number of people are also needed to maintain the important functions of society.

Who is Responsible for the Maintenance of the Shelter?

Civil shelters have been built on very different types of property, but their maintenance and commissioning are always the responsibility of the building owner or occupier.

If civil protection is ordered to be on standby, the shelters must be put into operation within 72 hours of the order. As the time for commissioning is very short, it is always a good idea to have a designated caretaker for the shelter who is responsible for its operation and necessary checks, even during non-conflict periods. As shelters are often also used as recreational facilities or storage facilities, for example, it is the responsibility of the shelter manager to ensure that the shelter can be used for civil protection when necessary.

There are guidelines and checklists for shelter maintenance, which make it easy for the shelter manager to see what needs to be done annually and what needs to be checked on a recurring basis. If there is any doubt about your knowledge of civil protection, regional rescue associations offer useful training courses for shelter managers.

From Civilian Protection to Total Preparedness

Until the end of the Cold War, Finland’s preparedness strategy was mainly on protecting the population. Since then, conflict preparedness has increasingly shifted to securing the vital functions of society. The protection of people has been seen as a small but important part of overall preparedness. In addition to protecting people from the effects of weapons, global preparedness involves respondings to issues such as the protection of food chains, health care failure, the possibility of large-scale displacement, and the energy crisis.

Building + Maintaining Safe Shelters

Each country has its own preparedness strategy. The strength of Finnish expertise lies in the century-long history of building civil shelters.

At Jensen Hughes, we provide guidance and assistance in the interpretation of building regulations for the implementation of civil shelters, carry out maintenance inspections of civil shelters, and provide expertise in fire safety design for command centers or crisis management facilities. Learn more about our services.

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About the author

Pasi Nuutinen
Pasi has 15 years of experience in fire safety. In 2006, he started his career as a fire inspector at the Western Uusimaa rescue department.