Local Social Services in Nordic countries in Times of Disaster: Report for the Nordic Council of Ministers

Research output: Book/ReportReportCommissioned


  • Guðný Björk Eydal
  • Ingibjörg Lilja Ómarsdóttir
  • Rasmus Dahlberg
  • Carin Björngren Cuadra
  • Bjørn Hvinden
  • Merja Rapeli
  • Tapio Salonen
The project focused on the emergency management systems in the five Nordic countries. It investigated whether local social services have a formal role in the contingency planning of the systems. The project was part of The Nordic Welfare Watch research project during the Icelandic Presidency Program in the Nordic Council of Ministers 2014-2016. The council financed the project.
The main findings show that Finland, Norway and Sweden specifically address the role of social services in times of disaster in their legal frameworks on emergency management. Finland and Norway also address the role in the law on social services. In Sweden, the role is more implicit as the social service act applies regardless of circumstances. All countries expect all authorities to make a contingency plan. This means that even if the law in Denmark and Iceland does not address the roles of social services, the services are legally obligated to make contingency plans. Furthermore, Finland, Norway and Sweden have prepared special guidelines on contingency planning for social services.
In recent years the Nordic countries have all faced disasters due to natural, technical and man-made hazards. The frequency of such disasters is on the rise according to forecasts. In order to enhance resilience and preparedness of those most vulnerable in disasters, the involvement of local social services in the emergency management system is of vital importance. The literature shows how social services can enhance social and human investment, the citizen’s economic participation and political empowerment. Furthermore, the literature shows that the co-operation between social services and the voluntary sector during the emergency and recovery phases is crucial, and the Red Cross is usually the largest voluntary organization providing social services during disasters in all the countries.
The following recommendations build on the results of the project. Their purpose is to make the Nordic Welfare States more resilient and better prepared for future challenges.
• There is a need to share knowledge on how to increase the involvement of social services in all phases of emergency management. The guidelines for social services' contingency planning and their plans should be shared across the Nordic countries and among various actors on the state, regional and local levels. This task could also be implemented under the umbrella of the Svalbard Group.
• There is a need to make the role of social services known in the emergency management systems, so that the relevant parties can activate the full potential of social services in all phases of the disaster cycle. It is likewise important to inform the social services of emergency management law and organization in order to facilitate effective co-operation in the event of disaster.
• It is important to address the role of emergency management in the education of social workers and social carers and enhance disaster research in the social sciences.
• It is important to create opportunities for the social services to prepare for future disasters. It is also important to include the social services in emergency management exercises. The exercises might also be extended in scope in order to cover all phases of disasters. Nordic countries could share exercise scenarios involving tasks for the social sector and make use of scenarios already developed.
• The Nordic Council of Ministers and the Nordic Welfare Center (NVC) should address social sector preparedness issues. Social sector preparedness cooperation should be enhanced under the umbrella of the Nordic Council of Ministers (Svalbard Group) and collaborate closely with the Haga-process. Such high-level co-operation enhances regional and local level co-operation.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationKøbenhavn
PublisherNordic Council of Ministers
Number of pages187
ISBN (Electronic)978-9935-9265-4-8
Publication statusPublished - 17 Oct 2016

Bibliographical note

Guðný Björk Eydal, PhD and licenced social worker, is a professor on the Faculty of Social Work, University of Iceland. Guðný has served as Head of the Department of Sociology and the Faculty of Social Work. Her main research field is social policy, with emphasis on family and care policies in Iceland and the Nordic countries. She is directing the project Nordic Welfare Watch in Response to Crisis and a long-term research project on the outcome of the paid parental leave legislation in Iceland with Professor Ingólfur V. Gíslason. Among her recent publications is the book Fatherhood in the Nordic Welfare States—Comparing Policies and Practice, which she edited with Professor Tine Rostgaard.

Carin Björngren Cuadra is MsocSc, PhD and an associate professor of social work at Malmö University. Her main interests in the distribution of security and welfare, precarity, risk and vulnerability in the context of sustainable development underpin her research on social services in crisis preparedness. In that context, she has studied the responses of human services to diversity, with a special interest in irregular migrants. Her recent international publication is “Public Social Services’ encounters with irregular migrants in Sweden: on reframing of recognisability” (2015) in the Journal of Immigrant and Refugee Studies (13,302-320).

Rasmus Dahlberg has a background in History and holds an MA from the University of Southern Denmark. PhD Fellow at the Copenhagen Center for Disaster Research and the Danish Emergency Management Agency 2013-2016. He is currently a research assistant at the Faculty of Law at Copenhagen University while finishing his PhD. He is the author of several books about Danish disaster history and emergency management and co-editor of Disaster Research: Multidisciplinary and International Perspectives (Routledge 2015).

Bjørn Hvinden, professor and Institute Director, NOVA, Oslo and Akershus University College. He has an M.A. (1977) and PhD (1992), both in sociology. Currently, he is directing an EU Horizon 2020 project on young people's agency related to job insecurity in nine European countries (NEGOTIATE, 2015-2018) and the project Sustainable European Welfare Societies on the relations between climate change and social welfare (2014-2018, Research Council of Norway). His publications include Koch, Gullberg, Schøyen & Hvinden (2016) “Sustainable Welfare in the EU: Promoting synergies between climate and social policies”, in Critical Social Policy (36, 4, 704-715).

Ingibjörg Lilja Ómarsdóttir is Project Manager at the Social Science Research Institute and a PhD student at the Faculty of Social Work, University of Iceland (UoI). Her educational background is in Sociology with an emphasis on employment, gender and the welfare system. She has a BA in Sociology from UoI and an MA in Work Science from the University of Gothenburg. Prior to her PhD studies, she managed research and service projects in the field of social sciences as well as interdisciplinary research at the Social Science Research Institute, University of Iceland.

Merja Rapeli is Ministerial Adviser, Preparedness Secretary, at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health in Finland. She seconded part time to the Finnish Security Committee’s Secretariat. She has an M.Soc.Sc, (1990 Sociology), is a licensed Social Worker (1994), Lic.Soc.Sc. (2015 Social Work) and doctoral student at the University of Jyväskylä. She previously worked within local social and health care services in various positions and in the Finnish Red Cross on preparedness issues.

Tapio Salonen is a Professor of Social Work at Malmö University. His main research interests include poverty, marginality, participatory strategies and social policy. He has led a number of externally funded research projects on both the national and international levels, and public inquiries, commissions and government committees have repeatedly appointed him as an expert.

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