Let’s imagine the situation: a flood or an ice storm turns everyday life in the city upside down. However, this is not just an acute crisis but a state of affairs in which the city has been facing environmental crises at regular intervals for several years. What to do? Or, above all, what kind of advance preparation is needed?
These are the conditions in situation room exercises led by the LONGRISK (webpage only in Finnish) research group. In the exercises, the cities involved prepare to maintain their strategic planning capacity in a situation where exceptionally large-scale and complex environmental crises occur every year.
The focus is not on managing an acute situation according to traditional crisis management practices, after which everything returns to normal. Instead, the participants practise for the future and design new kinds of strategies and tools.
A dashboard for engaging participants
For the situation room exercise, the researchers created a ‘dashboard’, or a 10-minute video, on the basis of which the participants identify threats and make plans.
The first part of the video presents ominous climate-related news from Finland. In the second part, a weather report by the Finnish Meteorological Institute in the summer of 2025 describes, through an animated map, an approaching storm and how it will wreak havoc in Helsinki. Before the storm, air quality problems have been detected in the region due to fires and a severe drought caused by heat. The third part includes a three-dimensional view of what the storm looks like on the street level and flooding at the Helsinki Railway Square.
“In a few years’ time, you no longer have to enliven exercises with such dashboards, since all of the environmental risks will already be here,” says Professor of Environmental Policy Janne Hukkinen, who heads the LONGRISK project.
“Let’s consider, for instance, the social welfare and healthcare sector, and how heat and pandemics affect the elderly.”
The management of environmental crises requires strategic planning. Strategic plans are not just documents, but the planning of matters that are decided now for the future.
“You have to identify and prepare for strategic threats. If there is flooding that cuts the underground to the east and west, how do we protect public transport so that the economy does not suffer?” Hukkinen muses.
Collaboration with three cities
LONGRISK is a research project funded by the Academy of Finland related to crisis preparedness and security of supply. The project partners include the cities of Helsinki, Tampere and Kotka. In 2022, two strategic situation room exercises designed and facilitated by the researchers will be organised in each city: the first for city officials and experts, the second for city leadership.
The first exercise was attended by City of Helsinki staff.
According to Specialist Katariina Kainulainen-Dambrosio from the Safety and Preparedness unit of the City Executive Office, the city joined the project because it wants to strengthen its strategic decision-making capacity.
“Recent crises have taught the city to act and strengthened its leadership in acute crisis-related decision-making,” Kainulainen-Dambrosio notes.
“However, it is important to boost the visibility of long-term effects in decision-making, and this perspective is clearly highlighted in these exercises,” says Minna Liimatainen, Head of the Safety and Preparedness unit.
“Moreover, climate change must be taken seriously, and the topic was easy to approach in the exercise.”
Preparedness through an extensive network
Experts from various city sectors and the City Executive Office, the energy company Helen Oy and Helsinki Region Environmental Services HSY participated in the situation room exercise. The exercise was carried out in teams, with joint discussions held under the direction of team chairs.
“All in all, the situation room exercise went really well,” Kainulainen-Dambrosio enthuses.
“The exercise organised for experts provided them with an ‘empowering’ experience, as intended, when the climate change theme was explored in advance in such an extensive network,” Liimatainen says.
“I believe that strategic connections will be strengthened and made increasingly visible at the latest in the second situation room exercise in the autumn.”
In the second exercise, which will be organised for the city’s senior leadership, the situational picture will be the same as in the first exercise. The leadership will have at its disposal the policy options drawn up by the experts in the first exercise, based on which they will decide on changes to the city’s strategic plans.
LONGRISK (Decision support to manage the long-term growth of environmentally induced multi-hazard risks in urban areas) is a research project under the Academy of Finland’s programme for research into crisis preparedness and security of supply. (in Finnish only)