The following is an excerpt.

For more than three decades, Arnfinn Jenssen was an invaluable friend and ally of what is now the SIMLab research group. He passed away on 14 April at the age of 86. To honour his memory, we republish the article about him from SFI SIMLab’s 2012 Annual Report.

Arnfinn Jenssen headed R&D at the Norwegian Defence Estates Agency for many years and was a crucial partner in building what is now the SIMLab research group at NTNU. Photo: Ole Morten Melgård.
Arnfinn Jenssen headed R&D at the Norwegian Defence Estates Agency for many years and was a crucial partner in building what is now the SIMLab research group at NTNU. Photo: Ole Morten Melgård.

Vigilant veteran

Many seniors just fold up and wither away. Others combine experience and wit to form some of the most knowledgeable advisers around. They shoot from the hip and they hit. At times it hurts more than we like to admit.

Arnfinn Jenssen used to head R&D at the Norwegian Defence Estates Agency, NDEA, a partner of the SIMLab Centre. In his 83rd year, he is still one of Norway’s most outspoken authorities on the threats that surround us and on our often failing ability to take action against them:



– Why on earth was the LNG plant at Risavika near Stavanger built where an explosion risks killing more than a thousand people in the nearby ferry terminal? (The distance is 250 metres. US standards say 16 kilometres.)

– Why do we put frames in the windows of high-risk buildings when we know danger is dramatically decreased if we don’t?

– Why isn’t the security expert called in at the same time as the architect?


Impertinent questions

Impertinent questions, indeed; questions that need to be put and answered. Yet we don’t always fancy them. More often than we like to think, people who put this kind of questions are silenced. They get sacked, “promoted” or discredited. Arnfinn Jenssen doesn’t risk any of these consequences, so he can speak freely. Therefore it should be included in this story that he was speaking freely also before retirement – without being silenced.


Thank heavens

Thank heavens; most terrorists don’t have Arnfinn Jenssen’s combination of expertise and trust. It’s not for everyone to be able to leave Israel and arrive in the US without passing security controls.

As it is, Mr Jenssen is the happiest of all that Norway’s July 22nd terrorist was a relative amateur. Mr Breivik could have produced a much larger explosion at the heart of the government headquarters with explosives from his pockets had he been more skilful.


Research needed

Arnfinn Jenssen, on the other hand, has more in his pockets. Here’s another of his examples:

A few years ago, Dutch authorities asked five consultants to establish a risk zone around a certain site. The zone was to be established on the basis of common information about risk ingredients at the site and common standards for protection.

The recommended risk zone varied from 50 to 700 metres in diameter. It turned out that the five consultants used different computer models as well as interpreting the common standards differently.

There is no particular reason to expect that Norwegian consultants would have responded more accordingly. This is but one in a million examples to show the massive need for research on how to protect ourselves from explosions, floods, storms, sabotage and the like.


Highly appreciated

So, why does a man who retired more than a decade ago figure in SIMLab’s annual report? One reason could have been that the NDEA has been one of the main contributors to SIMLab and its predecessors for many, many years; on Arnfinn Jenssen’s decision and due to his firm belief that the area needs research.

At this stage, the reason for his appearance is that SIMLab finds his expertise still relevant, a view shared by many. Just a few months ago he gave his views at “The Security Days”, a conference hosted by another department at NTNU. Mr Jenssen was invited to join a panel with some of Norway’s foremost capacities.


“SIMLab is needed”

Luckily, Norway is equipped with more vigilant veterans. Former Prime Minister Kåre Willoch is one of them. He headed a commission appointed by the government in 1999 to evaluate the vulnerability of Norwegian civil society. Their conclusion: one ministry and one body should have the overall responsibility for security. One body should be responsible for research. Arnfinn Jenssen agrees:

“Norway needs a laboratory that can make students understand the response of structures and materials subjected to unintentional external loads from terrorist acts, industrial accidents onshore and offshore as well as from natural hazards such as floods, wind (storms, tornados, and hurricanes) and rock fall on roads etc. Unfortunately the Dutch example is highly relevant. There are lot of people working in this field who are unable to evaluate a risk analysis and thus to calculate the consequence of a defined threat or accident. With the possible exception of the Petroleum Safety Authority we seriously lack competence. So we need SIMLab, as well as biologists and actuaries to analyse risk.”


When time has come

Ours is a complicated world. Still there are some simple truths around. One of them is the fact that the more you know, the better you can prepare for the unexpected. This is fundamentally true also for the reason put by author Helge Iberg in one of Arnfinn Jenssen’s favourite quotes:

“When time has come, it’s always too late.”