Approximately 10,000 participants at the Red Cross Midwinter rehearsals

Niklas Meltio
Iris Artman was ”evacuated” to the Leppävaara Midwinter event due to an imaginary power cut. Artman had taken along a flashlight and says that she is always equipped with one, just in case, ever since wartimes.
Image: Niklas Meltio

The disaster drill brought together the organization’s volunteers, ”evacuees” and retirement home staff, among others. The Midwinter event was a rehearsal of action in the middle of a winter storm.

The Finnish Red Cross arranged its first national disaster-preparedness exercise called Midwinter rehearsals on the 16th of February. The organization rehearsed its readiness for winter storms. Its volunteers practice how to operate in situations where an exceptionally fierce storm would cause nationwide disruption such as cutting out power lines and damaging heat distribution and telephone lines.

– There is a great demand for this kind of exercise, since we’ve had tough storms in Finland before. That’s why we rehearse together with the authorities and our partners, to be able to operate in such exceptional circumstances. This is also a chance for us to update our preparedness plans on a local level, says Ari Saarinen who is Chief of Preparedness for Häme district and coordinates the disaster drill.

Acts of caring in over 200 different locations

The Midwinter event was the Finnish Red Cross’ first national disaster drill of this size. Red Cross volunteers from over 200 cities attended it from all across the country.

During the event, rehearsals were carried out amongst other afternoon activities. The volunteers were responsible for arranging the event and organizing and reporting for it is an essential part of the task.

In several districts, events were organized at sheltered accommodation or retirement homes. Volunteers arranged programmes for their guests and familiarized themselves with how they could assist authorities with evacuating and delivering information about the situation.

At the Midwinter event in Espoo, arranged by the Red Cross Kehä-Espoo district at Leppävaara volunteer fire brigade, there was a great atmosphere. Many volunteers had attended to help those who were evacuated. The clients of Raitin pysäkki, an open citizen café and meeting point, and those taking part of the Red Cross friend visitor activities were also invited.

– The event activated a lot of volunteers for which we are very grateful. It was especially great to see plenty of new volunteers involved, says Mika Strömman, who is Director of the First-aid group for Kehä-Espoo district.

– The thanks for organizing the event go to the volunteers but also to our partners in cooperation. With their support we’ve been able to cheer up our guests by serving them coffee, cake and lunch, says Heikki Paajanen, President of Kehä-Espoo district.

“The importance of volunteers is growing”

Kristiina Kumpula, The General Secretary of the Finnish Red Cross, thinks this is an important exercise.

– We’ve learnt more about the number of people that are needed to evacuate residents of retirement homes or sheltered accommodations in case of a real catastrophe, for instance. The authorities lack enough resources to evacuate those in poor health. The volunteers are really essential, she says.

Kumpula wants to thank all of those who participated in the events: the organization’s own staff, the staff at retirement homes and their clients as well as authorities, other organizations and those who’ve performed at the events.

– The importance of volunteers is constantly growing when it comes to strengthening people’s wellbeing and their sense of security, she reminds.