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Oil and Gas Companies: Why You Need to Start Preparing for an Environmental Disaster Today

Oil and Gas Companies: Why You Need to Start Preparing for an Environmental Disaster Today

You may think you're the exception. You're up to date on the latest regulations. You're always in compliance. You renovate your facilities on a regular basis, and your staff is well-trained and capable. "It can't happen to us," you might think.

But you need to prepare for a major environmental disaster, starting today. Preparedness greatly reduces the risks to your site, community health, and the environment. Even if you've been meticulous about everything you can control, there are situations that you can't control. Natural disasters, from hurricanes to floods to earthquakes. Oil spills, from human error or unavoidable obstacle. In the event of an environmental disaster, a crisis communication system is the beating heart of your emergency response.

You can map some of the biggest environmental disasters in recent history to communications failures. In this post, we'll review the communications strategies of yesterday and why they are flawed, in some cases leading to large scale disaster. Then we'll map the communications strategies of today and tomorrow. Preparing your organization now for an environmental disaster to strike is the best path to avoiding it.

Communications Strategies Before

Before the likes of the Exxon Valdez spill, Deepwater Horizon, and the Port Arthur collision, crisis communication systems within the industry were lacking. A typical crisis communication system looked something like this:

  • Infrequently Used – What systems were in place were infrequently used. Organizations did not necessarily run drills to practice emergency response. They were not necessarily engaging in routine equipment testing and updating. Communications systems could be out of sight and out of mind, for the most part.

  • Disruption of Continuity – There were informal processes for knowledge transfer. If a company was bought, safety protocols would not necessarily make their way over to the new organization. There was limited insight into how old systems worked, when there were new people populating a site or building.

  • Insufficient Redundancy – In a crisis communication system, you need back up. When something goes wrong, you need failsafes in place to ensure an emergency response. Traditional crisis communication networks did not always have back-ups. If the first line of defense failed, there might not be any other defense.

  • Limited Insight Into Customer Data – In the event of an oil spill or a fire, traditional crisis communication systems couldn't display information like who was on-site, who could be accounted for, and who needed to be contacted.

Lessons Learned from Recent Events and New Goals

Deepwater Horizon happened in part because of BP's failure to consider and evaluate worst-case scenarios. The 2010 Port Arthur oil spill, the result of a collision between a barge and a tanker, required an evacuation of 28 blocks of buildings around the collision site. With these disasters in recent history, oil and gas companies now have a renewed focus on crisis communications in the event of an environmental crisis. This focus includes incorporating revised goals into a crisis communications plan, including:

  • Communicating quickly and effectively any threats to individuals, properties, communities, and the environment

  • Alerting employees to unusual activities immediately

  • Engaging local business and communities in a two-way dialogue to build relationships

  • Instilling trust in institutional ability to respond to and recover from environmental disasters

  • Implementing easy-to-use interfaces from any stakeholder's perspective

Communications Strategies for Today and Tomorrow

Your best chance of avoiding an environmental disaster is by acting as if one is impending. Your crisis communication infrastructure can mitigate large-scale disaster. Don't stop until your crisis communications are:

  • Interactive – A one-way dialogue won't cut it in the wake of an oil spill or an explosion; your system needs to be interactive, to the point where it's conversational and capable of uploading pictures, videos, and maps

  • Customizable – One size does not fit all when it comes to crisis communications; you system needs to work within your specifications

  • Useable internally, externally, and remotely – Oil and gas sites are often in inaccessible places, and remote workers are common; use a system that can adapt to all environments

  • Capable of segmenting – If you need to contact an isolated part of your site, you don't want to alert everyone; you can segment your communications based on audience tiers, down to the individual

  • Pre-populated – If you want to send out a uniform message to communities and personnel, pre-populated forms and templates can ensure that you stay on-message and provide consistent information across platforms and audiences

The best critical communication systems can perform all of these functions and more. AtHoc Connect is your pathway to creating a secure, permission-based communication network in times of crisis. Once your network is set up, AtHoc Account ensures 100% personnel accountability.

The fallout from a lapse in environmental safety can be nothing short of catastrophic. Follow these best practices to prepare for the worst, thereby minimizing your organization's risk.

Learn how Eastman Chemical protects their workforce, visitors, and plant in their quest for Injury Zero.
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