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Societal Safety: Concept, Borders And Dilemmas

O. E. Olsen, Bjørn Ivar Kruke, J. Hovden
Published 2007 · Sociology

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In most industrialized countries, the end of the Cold War marked a change in focus from preparedness for war to an increasing focus on civil society's own vulnerability and safety. To meet new threats and changing risks, there is also a need for new analytical concepts. Societal safety is a concept developed in Norway during the last decade. It could be defined as: "The society's ability to maintain critical social functions, to protect the life and health of the citizens and to meet the citizens' basic requirements in a variety of stress situations." It aims to be a systematic approach for understanding, mitigating and responding to social problems such as extraordinary stresses and losses, interferences in complex and mutual dependent systems, or lack of trust in vital social institutions. Future threats to society are not limited to specific sectors or areas, but stem from complex interactions amongst economic, technological, social and cultural factors. Thus, the main challenges to improve societal safety will be the ability to coordinate, organize and assign clear roles to different actors at the international, national and local levels. Societal safety has interfaces with other safety-related areas such as national security, sustainable development, human security and incident management (handling of isolated accidents, common illness and ordinary criminal acts). Societal safety is, however, a sensitive political issue containing dilemmas and value choices that are hardly possible to perceive or solve as pure scientific problems.
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