Safety in Svalbard
Conditions in Svalbard being what they are, you might find yourself in dangerous situations that demand the utmost of both your gear and your resourcefulness.
- Minimise risks through:
- Risk analysis
- Training and experience
- Personal safety equipment
- Spare parts
- Communication routines
- Adjusting transport routes and means according to the conditions
- Adjusting your plans to avoid dangerous situations
- Planning what to do in case of an accident
The Governor's brochure Safety in Svalbard is a good place to start.
Safety courses and firearms training
The University Centre in Svalbard offers customised safety training courses.
The Norwegian Polar Institute requires that personnel working on projects affiliated with the Institute attend a safety course.
Most of the research stations in Ny-Ålesund provide advice about safety and arrange shooting practice. Kings Bay AS can also be of assistance concerning safety issues.
The Governor of Svalbard is in charge of all rescue operations in the archipelago.
Phone number for emergencies: 112
Note that satellite phones (Iridium and Inmarsat) do not support the emergency number (112). Instead you must phone the officer on call at the Governor's office (+47-79021222 or +47-41403165).
Search and Rescue (SAR) operations will be initiated if emergency beacons are triggered. SAR personnel prefer to have your position given in geographical coordinates (e.g. XX° xx.xxx´ N, XX° xx.xxx´ E). They also need to know what geodetic datum you use (e.g. ED50 or WGS84). Emergency beacons can be rented from several firms.
Polar bears can be encountered anywhere in the archipelago at any time of year. They are dangerous animals and you must take precautions. Study the brochure Polar bears in Svalbard.
To protect yourself against an attacking polar bear you must be familiar with use of firearms. Flare guns and emergency signal flare pens are sometimes adequate to scare bears away. You are advised to attend one of the courses listed above.
Safe handling of firearms is YOUR responsibility.
The website of the Governor of Svalbard has a field log (in Norwegian and English) listing hazards reported by travellers. Examples include poor ice, crevasses, avalanches, etc. Note that these observations describe conditions in specific places at specific times. They cannot be extrapolated to predict hazards elsewhere. Please also bear in mind that conditions change rapidly in Svalbard.
Many of Svalbard's glaciers are of the surge type. During a surge, the glacier's flow rate suddenly increases, which leads to crevassing in the surface. After two to ten years, the glacier slows again and enters a quiescent period that will last for decades or even centuries. Glaciers with little crevassing can suddenly start to surge and new crevasses can open up. Keep this in mind when travelling over glaciers.
Calving glaciers are spectacular but dangerous. Maintain a safe distance when boating near tidewater glaciers. Read the report Calving glaciers in Svalbard from the Norwegian Polar Institute.
Avalanche beacons can save lives by helping rescue personnel quickly locate people who have been buried. However, huge forces are released during an avalanche. Beacons can be purchased in Longyearbyen.
Rabies is occasionally present in Svalbard, and has been diagnosed in arctic foxes, seals and reindeer. Dead animals must not be touched. Avoid animals that are unusually friendly or aggressive, or appear ill, and report your observations to the Governor's Office.
One stage in the life cycle of the tapeworm Echinococcus multilocularis has been found in sibling voles in Grumant. The parasite also infects dogs and foxes, whose excrement can contain parasite eggs. Humans can suffer severe liver damage if they become infected. Boil all water taken from streams around the settlements before drinking it.