Vellamo 2021 Oil Spill Response Exercise Has Begun in the OIL SPILL Pilot Area

Vellamo is conducted mainly as a tabletop and virtual session, but SWFES’ annual drill SAAME will be a small-scale live exercise at the end of the week. Photo: Kristian Eloluoto, SWFES

Yesterday evening, a massive oil spill was spotted at the Finnish archipelago on the Southwest coast of Finland. Luckily, it is only an imaginary one and part of the Vellamo 2021 oil spill response (OSR) exercise organized by the Southwest Finland Emergency Services (SWFES).

Vellamo is one of the main events of the OIL SPILL Project. It aims to test and practice how the local emergency services in our pilot area manages the response operation together with the OSR volunteers and in cooperation with international assistance. Miikka Toivonen (SWFES) is the chief planner of Vellamo, and he is looking forward to seeing how the pieces finally click into place.

Originally, Vellamo was intended to materialize as a large-scale live event in 2020. Various changes had to be made due to the pandemic, and therefore the main point – to practice in the real environment – had to be dropped. Vellamo is now conducted mainly as a tabletop exercise. Although many important aspects are missing, Miikka also sees positive features in this execution when compared to the outdoor training:

“Now we have the opportunity to interrupt our work in the middle of the exercise, discuss, and change the approach if needed. It will be a different kind of a learning process when compared to a real exercise at sea where the course of events cannot be shifted on the go.”

In the original plan, the OIL SPILL Project Partners would have been invited to Finland to observe Vellamo. Now, they are contacted during the tabletop exercise when international assistance is needed. They can also run through the same scenario, and these reports will provide useful material for a country comparison in the Baltic Sea Region. The Host Nation Support mechanism will be tested in Vellamo as well.

Besides the international dimension, the chance to practice cooperation between authorities and volunteers is the main utility of Vellamo according to Miikka. The Finnish OSR volunteers are actively involved in the exercise. Their liaison officer will join the SWFES team at the situation centre, and the voluntary troop leaders are engaged in the session virtually at their own headquarters.

Tommi Virtanen is Head of Preparedness at the Southwest District of the Finnish Red Cross. He has been directing the planning from the volunteers’ side, and he will join SWFES at the situation centre.

“Our part focuses, first, on alarming the volunteers for the task, and then organizing our activities. We will launch the operation of the volunteers’ establishment and maintenance centres, and, finally, we can start the actual response operation. It will be very interesting to see how our plans realize and whether the virtual training scheme proves useful also for the future.”

The joint tabletop exercise continues until Wednesday evening, but the volunteers continue their leadership exercise also on Saturday. On Thursday (6 May 2021), SWFES organizes a webinar on international collaboration and assistance in OSR. Registration for this event is open until May 5th, here. SWFES’ annual OSR live exercise SAAME will conclude the Vellamo week on Friday and Saturday. This year SAAME is only a small-scale drill, but it will provide important practical training for those who can safely participate in it.

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