Anders Breivik's terrorist attack on children at Utøya Island on 22 July, 2011 was an avoidable tragedy. Why was there no helicopter or adequate emergency response teams? It took several hours for a police response; the gunman himself called the police-twice and also got no response. Why was the Norwegian government so unprepared for a domestic terror event?

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    Did you do any research yourself? The Wikipedia page seems to have a fairly comprehensive answer to your question: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – user11249
    Oct 26, 2018 at 21:24
  • @MartinTournoij Of course I read the the wiki page and several news accounts as well. None of them address WHY the necessary resources were not available. A crew was on holiday? Why no back-up? Why no helicopter? Why no response or emergency plan from Orland Air Station? Wiki doesn’t cover these questions.
    – M.Mat
    Oct 27, 2018 at 3:32
  • Why on hold? None of the responses so far have addressed the question WHY was the Norwegian government response so unprepared? All of the comments so far, appear defensive rather than answers. I wonder why the Norwegian govt was so unprepared for this emergency—not terrorism per se, but ANY emergency where govt needs to respond to protect people—it is a big part of the job of govt.
    – M.Mat
    Oct 30, 2018 at 20:21
  • This post does not promote any “cause” or particular position other than government readiness for emergencies. I would ask that whomever voted for this “on hold” please state how this post is not in “good faith.”
    – M.Mat
    Oct 30, 2018 at 20:29
  • This post does not promote any “cause” or particular position other than government readiness for emergencies: well, that's a position, no? ;-) I didn't close, but phasing such as "avoidable tragedy" and "underwhelming" don't sound very neutral.
    – user11249
    Oct 31, 2018 at 1:50

2 Answers 2


Because the expenses to provide

  1. A transport helicopter.
  2. A backup pilot for the surveillance helicopter.
  3. A backup ferry.
  4. A small boat on the lake owned by the police.
  5. A backup security official for the one who was killed.
  6. Enough phone operators to handle the call volume.
  7. A plan for compensating for the lack of these things.

had been deemed unnecessary as they had never needed such a thing previously.

It is unclear how many people can fly on the surveillance helicopter. It may be just a two seater or even a one seater.

Consider that the 9/11 attacks in the United States could have been prevented by a rule keeping the cockpit door locked even in the face of a threat to a flight attendant or passenger. But they did not have such a rule in place on September 11th of 2001. Planes as bombs had been previously described in a book by Tom Clancy, but no one saw the need to explicitly prevent them until after they occurred.

It's easy to say after the fact that such-and-such should have been available. Before, the presumption is that things that have never happened aren't going to happen. For example, in Germany, an attacker drove a truck through a crowd. In response, large crowds (in Germany and elsewhere) are often protected by barriers that would keep someone from driving through. But prior to that, such barriers did not seem necessary. After all, what kind of demented idiot would deliberately drive through a crowd? Yet a Dick Francis book (Proof) described such an act decades earlier.

I doubt that you will find what you want, as it is extremely unlikely that anyone made a deliberate choice to not have any of this equipment. They had never really needed any of those things previously. So they didn't provide them.

Transport helicopters are expensive to buy and operate. How Much Does a Helicopter Cost? and How Much Does a Helicopter Cost? suggest that a helicopter would have cost at least US$340,000 for three passengers (four seats including pilot). Three not enough? A twelve seater could be US$7 million.

Each pilot may go through US$50,000 in training. And apparently you would need at least two pilots (if not three) in case one goes on vacation. It may be difficult to hire someone who can pilot and do other things. You may either have to pay extra or have a full time pilot even if you only need part time work. This is also an on-call job, which costs extra.

Operation expenses were about US$20,000 per year in one example. Some of those are civilian expenses that may not apply to a police helicopter. Note that expenses increase as the helicopter gets larger. Expect that each pilot has to run the helicopter about that much to stay in practice.

With maintenance, you essentially have to buy a new helicopter every ten to twenty years (you may spend that maintaining the existing helicopter). New rotors or engines are not cheap. And you have to keep wear parts on hand.

A small boat would be cheaper, but you'd need one for every separate body of water.

Developing a plan often takes time and experimentation. They would need to engage in activities as if responding to a crisis. And of course, in a crisis, the situation might change. In this case, the ferry boat was unavailable because it was on the island. So they couldn't just take the ferry to the island. That might not have been obvious when developing a plan. And of course, their plans may not focus on small areas like islands with five hundred people only on certain days of the year. They may be more focused on cities with hundreds of thousands of people. Most cities are reachable by land. The ones that aren't tend to maintain their own police force.

Even if they had a helicopter or boat, those things wouldn't have prevented the tragedy. They might possibly have reduced it in scope. Meanwhile, a couple armed volunteer deputies for the security officer might have actually stopped the incident when it was starting.

Example article about the report claiming police could have acted faster. This gives a timeline:

  • 17:25 Police notified of shooting.
  • 18:09 Team at the lake.
  • 18:15 Could have reached the island, as per the commission.
  • 18:27 Did reach the island (another source puts this at 18:25).

Even if we assume this is true, it suggests that they only could have saved twelve minutes in their response time. The transport helicopter might have shaved some more time off that, assuming they could access it immediately (how long to get a pilot to the helicopter and the helicopter to meet the tactical response team?). It's unclear how many people were killed during those twelve minutes. Or ten minutes if the other source is correct. Possibly less than that if the commission was overoptimistic in its timeline.

Frankly, this seems quite responsive to me. Wasting ten minutes while trying to resolve a unique situation does not seem untoward. They could have shaved off some time if they owned a multi-million dollar transport helicopter. They could have flown straight from Oslo to the island. But in most circumstances, that wouldn't have necessarily given them much of a boost over driving. Hiring a couple extra officers might be more effective most of the time than a helicopter that is rarely needed.

  • Having been a Crew Chief and an Aircraft Maintenance Officer in the USAF over a 22 year career, I am well aware of the cost of aircraft and their maintenance. The RNAF has helicopters pilots; it seems an emergency services plan could be worked out. 911 comparisons are a false equivalency; hopefully we learn from our shortcomings. Adequate emergency response plans are govt. responsibility, having a rescue helicopter and back-up pilots are the norm.
    – M.Mat
    Oct 30, 2018 at 20:15

The police in Norway did not expect a terrorist incident because such things were, and are, extremely uncommon in that country. Wikipedia lists three lethal terror attacks in recent decades.

It is quite difficult to keep an organization prepared for high-impact, low-probability events that do not happen for decades. Ask yourself how your hometown would deal with a nuclear war, and what they do to prepare against homicidal vending machines.

  • Any industrialized country SHOULD expect and prepare for terrorism in this day in age. It is the job of govt to prepare to respond to emergencies. Rarity of event is not an excuse. No one has addressed the lack of cooperation with RNAF; they have resources that were not used because no plan was made and no one thought to use them.
    – M.Mat
    Oct 30, 2018 at 20:25
  • @M.Mat, if you look at the numbers, any country should prepare for an asteroid impact or a nuclear power plant disaster somewhere upwind from them, yet they don't. And the same money would probably save more people if it was put into an anti-smoking campaign. Terrorism risks, notably islamist terror, get high attention because it is about strangers deliberately inflicting harm, not self-inflicted harm like cancer.
    – o.m.
    Oct 31, 2018 at 5:10
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    @M.Mat, and I said that there is a limited amount of time, attention, and money available to any government, and Norway had good reasons to put other things higher on the agenda. I would argue that that is still the case, even in hindsight. Sure, they could have had contingency plans for terror. But then the government wouldn't have done other things deemed more important. (By the way, you talk about a "general climate of tensions in Europe" and what is that supposed to mean other than islamist terror? Domestic terror doesn't appear that high on the radar Europe-wide.)
    – o.m.
    Nov 2, 2018 at 5:50
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    @M.Mat, my answer is that a government cannot prepare for all thinkable contingencies, it has to look at likely ones. You start with the assumption that there should have been military support for the police and ask why it wasn't there. I start with the assumption that the military should not be used for law enforcement unless it is clear that the civilian police will be overwhelmed and all relevant procedures have been followed. On average, countries where the military plays an important role in law enforcement tend to be crappy ones.
    – o.m.
    Nov 2, 2018 at 17:36
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    @M.Mat, I don't think that is a good characterization of the origins of the US National Guard. And in Europe there is widespread agreement that the military shouldn't be used for law enforcement, only to stack sandbags and hand out rations in case of flooding or the like. Being on call for transport would require the military to act domestically without a proper declaration of emergency. I think you should accept that many Europeans don't see a close integration of the police and the military as a good thing, and that there are very legitimate reasons to think so.
    – o.m.
    Nov 4, 2018 at 11:48

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