The development of emergency procedures essentially addresses the question of “what should we do when something unexpected/unplanned happens?”. The ‘unexpected/unplanned’ can be a multitude of different things. It is almost impossible to anticipate every single scenario, so some form of robust procedure/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, if they do happen, what action should be taken.
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 would be the incident response team at location, literally the people dealing with the emergency (fighting the fire, containing a spill).
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, and liaising with regulatory authorities.
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. 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 principal is invariably the same.
“the emergency procedures clearly define roles to ensure there is no conflict or duplication of effort”
The critical part 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 undue ‘stress’. It also allows the organisation to test the robustness of the procedures and look for improvements.
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. 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.
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, etc.
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.
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 (possibly misinformation) so it is preferable to try and keep this response team small. This scenario is obviously very specialist, therefore, preparation and planning are vital. Many organisations will utilise dedicated specialist support in such cases.
“in any emergency situation the immediate requirement is to be able to account for everyone”
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.
In the case of an uprising, coup, or armed conflict, the critical elements are 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 on 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 of 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. In situations like this it can take more than an hour to confirm that everyone is safe, or if 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.
“information flow must be accurate, consistent and timely”
Depending on the type of incident, you may also have to make provisions 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.
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).
“employers need to ensure that workers are adequately trained and competent in machine operation”
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/hear a different story to what you have told them. Timely, is also very important today, they advent of social media has meant that incident information can be posted online 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 has occurred whilst video images are being distributed around the world on social media platforms. There is still a very important role for the classic ‘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.
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 OMV 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.
- Dedicated outside phones which do not go through the switchboard for all team members.
- Multiple screens and white boards so that everyone in the team room can view the latest information and logs.
- 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.
Calling out the Emergency Management Team
Most organisations will utilise an automated call out system. In OMV we use a system called FACT 24. This enables selected staff to notify and ‘call out’ the team members. The Team Leader or Duty Leader can type or dictate a message which will then be sent out to all members. When the members receive the call, they can respond by confirming they are on their way and give an estimate as to when they think they will reach the response room. If a person does not respond the first time, the system will try them three times and will use email and alternate telephone numbers to give the optimum effort to reach the person. If they are unavailable or do not respond the system will then call their deputy/alternate for that team role.
There are many different products in the market which perform a similar function. The important issue is that the team members are familiar with how it works. We “test” the system once a month and monitor and follow up on all responses to ensure effective communication, it also serves to ensure that all telephone numbers are up to date, particularly when team members get transferred or leave the organisation.
Examples of Emergency Management Mobilisation
The number of times you call out your emergency management team will likely depend on the size and diversity of your business. When I worked in OMV New Zealand on average we called out our local emergency management team on a quarterly basis, these were predominantly pro-active medivacs when one of our offshore contractors complained of chest/stomach pains. In many cases the on-board medical staff would recommend a precautionary evacuation to a hospital for further evaluation. Though this tended to be a fairly routine operation we always mobilised our local emergency management team (or a subset of it) just to ensure that the transfer went smoothly. In my experience such events usually occurred on a Sunday afternoon when logistics were at their most challenging. The team might be mobilised for three or four hours until the colleague was safely in the nearest hospital. By mobilising the team like this, it also meant that if the situation deteriorated then we were well placed to manage the escalation.
I suspect that many readers will have had the experience of mobilising their respective emergency response teams when the Covid-19 pandemic struck. This was a scenario where the “emergency” response went on over a very long period of time. It was also a scenario where only limited information was available and teams had to respond and adapt as new information came to light. As the pandemic affected everyone, it was a great opportunity to share information and guidance across companies and industries. As we now move into a new Covid-19 environment many companies are engaging in reviews of how their response worked and what actions can be taken to learn from the challenges faced.
“failing to plan is planning to fail, so take the time to review your procedures and ensure you are ready”
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!