The first Barents Rescue Exercise took place near the Swedish city of Boden in September 2001 within the framework of NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) program. It focused on disaster relief after a nuclear power station accident. Since 2005, Barents Rescue has been implemented within the Barents Cooperation framework.
In December 2008, an Agreement on Cooperation within the Field of Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response was signed by the four BEAC countries and thus established a legal base for the implementation of the rescue cooperation. The cooperation includes “joint exercises and training, with the aim to increase the ability of the member states to render swift and effective assistance in emergency response operations”. According to the agreement, the member states commit to further developing such actions and methods, which increase the efficiency of international cooperation in emergency prevention, preparedness and response.
Planning and preparations for each Barents Rescue exercise are carried out within the Joint Committee on Rescue Cooperation, which is comprised by representatives from the Norwegian Directorate for Civil Protection (DSB), Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB), Joint Rescue Coordination Centre of Northern Norway (Hovedredningssentralen Nord-Norge), Emergency Services and Regional State Administrative Agency of Lapland, as well as Ministry of Emergency Situations of Russia (EMERCOM), Ministry of the Interior of Finland, Public Security of Norway, Ministry of Justice of Sweden, and the County Administrative Board of Norrbotten.
Since 2016, the focus for the exercise has shifted from field training exercises to emphasize the planning process, where structure, methods, experience-gathering and fieldwork collaboration between partners in the region is vital.
In September 2019, eighteen years later after its launch, Barents Rescue gathered more than three hundred participants from both civil and military services across BEAC countries for the whole week of practical and educational training with a special emphasis on mitigating forest fires. Holding a Barents Rescue Event Week in conjunction with the exercise was a brand new concept, successfully implemented for the first time in Kiruna in 2019, which contributed to an in-depth on-sight learning about peculiarities of rescue cooperation in the Barents region.
Barents Rescue 2019 marked also the launch of a world-unique communication collaboration, when Swedish, Norwegian, and Finnish TETRA radio communications networks were interconnected during the exercise.
Over the years, Barents Rescue has become one of the most significant pillars of multilateral BEAC cooperation and the telling example of successful international efforts in ensuring people-to-people contact and sustaining peace in the North.
Since its launch in 2001, Barents Rescue has been carried out nine times (Sweden 2001, Norway 2005, Finland 2007, Russia 2009, Sweden 2011, Norway 2013, Finland 2015, Russia 2017, Sweden 2019). From 2019 onwards, Barents Rescue will take place every third year.