Interior Ministry plans to reduce number of new strategic shelters
The obligation to build strategic shelters such as air-raid shelters may be reduced considerably in the coming years if the Ministry of the Interior's suggestion for a new population protection strategy materialises.
In a report obtained by Helsingin Sanomat, the Ministry proposes that new strategic shelters be built mainly in the 50 named communities.
According to the proposal, strategic shelters would be constructed only in larger cities and in communities with specific risk facilities and important industry and commerce or administrative buildings. In such communities, shelters should be included in buildings with an aggregate floor area exceeding 1,000 square metres.
The readiness requirement of the shelters would also be reduced from the present 24 hours to 48 hours.
The plan proposed by a population protection working group within the Ministry is based on the changing image of the likeliest disasters to cause threats to the people of Finland.
The current population protection strategy was based on the 1980s estimate of a military threat.
"That strategy was derived from the threat of a nuclear intervention and therefore applied to the entire population", explains Veikko Peltonen, director at the Rescue Department of the Ministry of the Interior.
"Today, the possibility of any extensive military operations in the immediate areas around Finland is minimal, and due to the changes in military technology such operations would not affect Finland as a whole", Peltonen notes.
The structure of the society has also changed, with a larger and larger share of the population concentrating in the growth centres.
Most commonly the need for taking to the shelters would be caused by industrial accidents, major fires, toxic emissions, use of weapons, or bomb threats. Such measures, however, would not call for the protection of the entire population.
According to Peltonen, the construction of strategic shelters could concentrate in population centres and areas that might become military targets under exceptional or crisis conditions.
In other areas of the country, the population protection measures would mainly include moving indoors or evacuation.
"Under normal conditions, a constant good preparedness is maintained for protecting the population in case of a catastrophe. This is a comprehensive regime", Peltonen emphasises.
Existing shelters would be maintained, regardless of their location .
According to the present legislation, population shelters have to be included in all new buildings with a gross floor area of over 600 square metres, irrespective of their location.
The current practice has been criticised for its cost effectiveness. The relative price of population shelters is higher for smaller buildings.
The working group's report is nevertheless just a proposal at present. The new law would not come into force before 2007 at the earliest.
Every year, new strategic shelters are built for some 70,000-90,000 people. The amendment would cause this number to drop by around 15,000 per year.
This translates to savings in the region of EUR 16 million in construction expenses. Around half of this sum is generally considered an additional expense. Under normal conditions the shelters can be used within limits for other purposes, for example, as additional cellar space. Several of Helsinki's large underground car parks can also be pressed into service as shelters if the need arises. Finland currently has around 40,000 civilian shelters, with space for approximately 3.4 million people, and providing protection against radiation, gases, and conventional weapons.
Sweden and Norway have to a large extent discontinued constructing more strategic shelters. In Denmark, the municipal authorities can decide whether to build shelters or not.
Emergency Services in Finland (dates from 2001)
Civil Defence (under Ministry of the Interior)