The development of emergency procedures essentially addresses the question of ‘what should we do when something unexpected or unplanned happens’. The ‘unexpected/unplanned’ can be a multitude of different things and it is almost impossible to anticipate every single scenario, so some form of robust procedure or process is required to address the key steps.

When considering the need for emergency procedures you are in fact trying to anticipate what types of things could go wrong and, if they do, how you would react and deal with them. These scenarios are sometimes known as ‘What If’ scenarios; what if there is a fire, what if there is a collision, what if there is a blow out, etc. Some of these scenarios may be more likely than others, but each of them must be considered so that we can then determine that if they do happen, what action should be taken.

Action required

Most organisations and businesses address the ‘action required’ as a set of formal procedures. For large organisations emergency procedures are structured around three tiers or levels. Tier 1 Tier 1 would be the incident response team at location, literally, the people dealing with the emergency (fighting the fire, containing a spill) Tier 2 Tier 2 would be the emergency management team acting as support from a local location. This team would be assisting the management of the emergency by arranging transportation, contacting relatives and next of kin, liaising with regulatory authorities. Tier 3 Tier 3 would be the crisis management team. This team is usually based in the company head office. This team would seek to support the emergency management team and to provide a strategic approach for the company. This will often involve issues around communication and reputation.

The emergency procedures clearly define the roles of the different teams to ensure there is no conflict or duplication of effort. Communication between the teams is obviously key to the success and effectiveness of the recovery.

“it is impossible to anticipate every scenario, so some form of robust procedure is required to address the key steps”

Most incidents will involve an escalation of the response. It will start with incident response, if the event grows then emergency response will be engaged and if it continues to escalate then crisis management may be invoked. The names of these teams will vary, but the basic principle is invariably the same.

A critical element of the emergency procedures is that every member of the different teams has to be familiar with the content. It is too late to start reading the procedures in the middle of an emergency. Thus training is key to ensuring that everyone understands their role. Along with training and instruction comes regular drills. The best way to test the system is to simulate an actual event and allow everyone to play the role. This allows people to familiarise themselves with the process without being under undue ‘stress’. It also allows the organisation to test the robustness of the procedures and look for improvements.

The time period between tests will vary, many offshore oil and gas facilities run a weekly muster test to simulate an evacuation event. This allows all people on board to familiarise themselves with the route to the muster station and the process of accountability. It allows the facility to check how long it takes to muster and enables them to test all
the alarms and public address system. The repetitive weekly drill allows the crew to develop an automatic response behaviour. In many organisations there will be a monthly drill that will also involve the Tier 2 emergency management team. Setting up a full crisis management response can take a great deal of effort and so this full combined drill is possibly when run on a six monthly or even yearly basis.

Within these drills there can be additional smaller exercises and tests. This can include a weekly ‘call out’ test where all personnel in the Tier 2 and Tier 3 teams will receive a test call out notification and they can react and provide a suitable response. This helps to ensure that the call out process is functioning, understood and that the people on the call out register are current and up to date. Tier 2 and Tier 3 teams can also run smaller ‘desktop’ exercises where they collectively work through a ‘what if’ scenario.

In any significant emergency the local regulatory authorities will have an important role. It is very important at each tier level that this role is understood. The authorities can be a major help during an event. Organisations like to engage with the authorities during the planning and development of the procedures and will very often invite the authorities to participate in drills. In some countries, the Authorities may well assume control of an emergency and if this is the case it is important to understand when and how this might happen and what the company role and expectation would be if this was invoked.

“many offshore oil and gas facilities run a weekly muster test to simulate an evacuation event”

Incident scenarios

When considering potential scenarios try to take an all-encompassing approach. I find it helps to consider events in four different categories:

  • Work related – kidnap, process safety, leak/spill, fire etc
  • Domestic – pandemic, earthquake, typhoon/hurricane, sandstorm, etc
  • Transportation – air, sea, rail, motor vehicle, etc
  • Political – demonstrations, strikes, coups, armed conflict

Each of these different scenarios would demand some form of tailored response, but many of the basic tenets would remain the same: call out processes, escalation of teams, communication and recovery.

Strike team

A strike, for example, may not represent a particular health and safety threat, but it could have a major impact on the business. Stakeholder engagement and communication will be critical to both short term and longer term management. For a kidnap scenario one critical element is to minimise the spread of information (or possibly of misinformation, for that matter) so it is preferable to try and keep this response team small. This scenario is obviously very specialist and therefore preparation and planning are vital. Many organisations will utilise dedicated specialist support in such cases.

Earthquake preparedness

Earthquake preparedness is also specialist. Many organisations provide their employees with emergency ‘grab bags’ (at work and at home) which contain essential equipment to survive the first 72 hours of an event. Experience has shown that in the immediate aftermath of an earthquake, there may by power outages, and internet and cell phone reception may be cut off. Therefore companies need to rethink their communication processes. One of the items in the grab bag is a wind up radio. Local emergency services will often transmit emergency information on long wave radio.

Coups and conflict

In the case of an uprising, coup or armed conflict the critical elements are an effective predictive intelligence and evacuation strategy. The ‘what if’ scenario planning would look at what different methods could be used to safely repatriate your staff (and possibly their families in many cases).

Looking after people

Whilst emergency procedures involve protecting an organisation’s assets, reputation and profitability, by far the most critical component is protecting its people. People should be viewed in the widest sense: employees, contractors and of course their collective families.

In any emergency situation the immediate requirement is to be able to account for everyone. Has everyone been mustered or escaped to safety? This can take some time but it is absolutely critical to get it right, as many aspects of emergency management depend on accurate and correct people information. Accounting for people in an offshore type environment is generally easier to manage as you can control who comes on and who goes off. So you should always have an accurate and up to date headcount. It is much more challenging at land locations and offices where people are coming and going and often unregulated. Even offices where people ‘clock in’ on arrival, they do not clock out in an emergency, so the only way to account for everyone is to sweep the building, a task normally conducted by the emergency services. Situations like this mean it can take more than an hour to confirm that everyone is safe or people are missing/unaccounted for.

Once you have accounted for people you then have to determine what to do with them. In a land location this can be as simple as instructing them to return home and await instruction, or it could mean arranging transportation to take them from a remote location to a populated area. In an offshore scenario it will almost certainly involve the chartering of helicopters or boats and the provision of hotel accommodation at their point of landing.

Depending on the type of incident you may also have to make provision for the urgent/emergency transportation of injured people. You will need to determine which hospital to take them to and how to get them there quickly. All of these issues should be identified as part of the emergency planning process.

Looking after people may also extend to families and friends of your employees and contractors who may be most anxious to receive information during an emergency. There are a number of key considerations here; do you have up to date contact information for next of kin? Quite often this information is collected when a person joins a company but is not always updated. Several years can pass and the data can easily be out of date. A key task for any organisation is to keep this information current. In an offshore environment it is once again easier to manage as most operators require this to be completed prior to offshore travel.

During an emergency, call centres want to be as helpful as possible and of course relatives and families can be highly stressed demanding information on their loved ones, but it is vitally important that call centres only communicate accurate and verified information. You only want to communicate that a person is safe and accounted for when this has been confirmed by the incident management team. Unfortunately, if the call centre does not have any information it must communicate this and not attempt to speculate. There is a further complication for call centres, they do not always know who is a genuine concerned relative and who is not. It is possible for journalists to pose as relatives seeking to glean further information on an evolving incident. So, call centres and responders must have a plan in place on who and what to communicate. Of course, this will change as more and more information becomes available so being able to adapt quickly is very important.

“information flow must be accurate, consistent and timely”

There will also be situations where the organisation may have to arrange for the families of injured people to travel to the hospital to visit their loved ones. This could involve arranging for visas, flights, hotels and land transportation at very short notice. Being prepared for this eventuality can save a lot of time and effort. Having a good relationship with international ambassadors for the countries in which an organisation operates can ensure that visas are issued immediately. Having access to charter flight companies can enable transport to remote locations.

Effective communication is not limited to families, it must also consider a wide range of internal and external stakeholders. On the internal side there are your employees (those not impacted by the event) and possibly your contractors. On the external side there will be an extensive list; government ministers, regulatory authorities, the media (all aspects), joint venture partners, specialist recovery contractors (oil spill response and well control).

Information flow must be accurate, consistent and timely. Many of these aspects speak for themselves, information must be consistent, you cannot be telling the families one thing and the media something else. The families do not want to read or hear a different story from what you have told them. Timing is also very important in current times, as the advent of social media has meant that incident information can be posted on line a few seconds after an incident has occurred. Organisations have to be prepared for this; it can be very damaging to a company’s reputation if it is unable to confirm an incident whilst video images are being distributed around the world. There is still a very important role for the classical ‘press release’ but these submissions have to be drafted and approved quickly and updated whenever relevant new information comes to light. This can stress an organisation and therefore regular drills with the communication team can be very helpful to prime organisations.

Many organisations maintain regular contact with a variety of local and national media (print, social, radio and television) so they can quickly and effectively get their message out.

Being prepared

The development of robust emergency procedures and regular exercises will go a long way to helping organisations prepare for the unplanned; however, there are some other practical preparations that can be implemented to enhance effective emergency management.

Prepare dedicated rooms for your emergency and crisis and management teams. If you have the resources these can be rooms set aside and dedicated to emergencies, or you can have conference rooms which can double up as both. In our case, we have five crisis management teams (Strategic crisis management, Business Support Team, Crisis Call Centre, Human Resources Team and Communications team) each one of which has a conference room prescribed. They always meet in the same room. There is particular furniture and storage inside the room, which contains all the emergency/crisis management tools and equipment.

There should be dedicated outside phones, which do not go through the switchboard, for all team members. There should also be multiple screens and white boards so that everyone in the team room can view the latest information and logs.

Prepare one page activity checklists for each role within a team. As stated previously the team members really have to be familiar with the emergency procedures before an incident occurs; however, given that there may be several months between training and exercises, then having a simple checklist will help guide the team member and ensure they do not miss anything. Examples of members within a team include: team leader, process facilitator, log keeper, communications (internal and external), Human Resources, and Finance Manager. We also have a first responder’s checklist so that it does not matter who is the first person to muster, they can immediately start to set up the room and allow for a seamless start as the rest of the team starts to arrive.

Provisions must also be considered. We always ensure that there is plenty of tea/coffee/water and a good supply of snacks to keep everyone going. On longer exercises, we provide hot food. In the event of a ‘real’ complex event, the emergency team could be active for several days so it is very important to look after everyone. In addition, you will need to ensure you have a second team and possibly even a third team who can come in and replace the existing team to allow them to have a good rest. Essentially this means working in two or possibly three shifts.

Finally, ensure that you have access to subject matter experts to cover each aspect of your business. These people may not be part of your dedicated team but you may have to bring them in depending upon the nature of the incident. In our situation, we have direct links to drilling specialists, production specialists, corrosion experts, logistics experts and of course security specialists. Most of these people are readily available in the office on any given day, but be careful during holiday seasons, like Eid or Christmas when large numbers of people go away.

Summary

Organisations will have to tailor the emergency procedures to reflect their business and scale; however, the basic principles described above should act as a comprehensive guide for everyone. Remember – failing to plan is planning to fail, so take the time to review your procedures and ensure you are ready.