Veronica Reitan, a storekeeper at our Longyearbyen SAR base in Svalbard in the High Arctic, shares her experience working from CHC's northern most operations base. There, extreme winter weather, a season of 24/7 darkness and occasional sightings of polar bears are all part of the working landscape for Veronica and her colleagues. She shares her insights on why resilience is a key ingredient in successful operations.
“Along with the very cold winters and dark season, the environment also presents unique challenges,” says Veronica. “The crews here have to be proficient in everything from sea missions to glacier rescues and mountain operations. They have to be ready to deal with just about anything.”
Born and bred in Svalbard, Veronica completed a Master’s degree in organisational psychology at a university on the Norwegian mainland, but her initial hopes of a career in the oil & gas industry were frustrated by the oil price crash of the mid-2010s.
Instead she returned to Svalbard to resume her tour guide work, having become expert since the age of 15 in activities ranging from hiking and snowmobiling to dog mushing.
Veronica also had intermittent spells working as a co-ordinator with a small helicopter operator on the mainland, as well as in social services when guiding work came to a sudden halt at the outset of the pandemic.
She started work at the Svalbard base in August 2021 and continued in the post when CHC took on the helicopter rescue service contract at Longyearbyen in April this year.
“I basically take care of everything on the logistics side of things,” adds Veronica. “It’s a super-nice base with super-nice people and I really enjoy it.”
Her job today entails a wide variety of responsibilities that support efficient everyday operations, covering everything from managing base supplies and spare parts orders to maintaining the storage facilities.
“I believe that a team that works well together and trusts one another makes for a successful operation,” she says. “People work better together if things are running smoothly around them, and I’m pleased to be playing my part in that.
“I’d compare the role to the rubber band you often find among the blocks when you open a truck or crane Lego set. People wonder what it’s for at first, but once you’ve completed the build you realise that you need to add the band to the set-up to make it all work.”
Veronica says it’s become clear in Svalbard in recent years that temperatures are reaching exceptionally low levels much less frequently as part of an overall trend of change in the climate. And those changes are broadening the range of potential scenarios the base might have to respond to today.
“For example, people wouldn’t think twice about driving on the sea ice when I was a kid, but because it’s often comparatively thin now you really have to think carefully about it and take care,” she says.
Polar bears are, of course, native to Svalbard and occasional visitors to the Longyearbyen area. Base helicopters are sometimes deployed to fly over them to usher them away – to protect both the animals and the local community.