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How to Run Effective Emergency Drills in the Industrial Sector

How to Run Effective Emergency Drills in the Industrial Sector

An occasional fire drill won’t even scratch the surface.

There are immense hazards in the industrial sector. Overlooking details can devastate environments and communities. On any given day at an oil and gas plant, you might engage pipelines, vessels, manufacturing equipment, and hazardous chemicals. The list of things that could go wrong is lengthy.

To combat risk, regulatory agencies require frequent disaster response drills. In addition, organizations should always be building out internal crisis response practices. For tips on running effective drills in the industrial sector, read on.

Ask the Right Questions.

Drills start with questions. All drills usually boil down to some version of, “What could go wrong?” Given the industrial sector’s unique challenges and high stakes, parsing out answers to this question is of grave importance. Your drills can start by incorporating all of the following questions:

  • Is the incident immediately detectable?
  • What circumstances might inhibit detection?
  • Is there a backup plan for incident detection?
  • Are key personnel immediately notified?
  • Are contacts up-to-date?
  • Is there a way to know when messages are received?
  • What distribution channels exist for communications?
  • How do we assess the incident’s magnitude?
  • Is mobilization timely?
  • Could mobilization times be faster and if so, how?
  • When are additional resources mobilized, and how?
  • Are all available resources used effectively?
  • How does this drill account for unexpected circumstances?
  • How does this drill incorporate environmental, community, and media sensitivities?
  • What does crisis response cost?
  • What are the legal implications?

Several of these questions can be taken care of through a cloud-based crisis communication solution like AtHoc. With systems for alerting personnel, accounting for individuals and operations, and communicating to selected networks, you can remove some of the guesswork of an emergency.

Tier Your Drills Based on Regulatory Frameworks.

For chemical and industrial plants, OSHA and the EPA have created safety and response regulations. Agency officials have evaluated many potential hazards and impacts facing the industry. Look to these agencies for frameworks and guides on creating effective and regulatory-compliant drills. National and local agencies will have education around these standards and requirements. Blend both training and exercises for a fully compliant drilling program.

You may want to refer to the following tiered system for running drills:

  • Tabletop Exercises - discussion-based sessions that may involve marking up a whiteboard and polling a team for high-level responses and factors to consider
  • Mobilization Exercises - on-the-ground sessions to practice notification response times and mobilization time tables, also useful for running through contact and communication processes
  • Limited Exercises - sessions that are limited to specific to particular teams or functions, and used to estimate integration or coordination into the organization at large
  • Full-Scale Exercises - comprehensive sessions to validate thorough emergency response systems, a full integration of crisis response tactics

Incorporate Off-Site Logistics.

Industrial facilities often have several off-site components, whether it’s lone workers, offshore facilities, or equipment in separate geographies. Drills should incorporate response plans for all off-site components. Consider aspects such as:

  • What is the downstream response of an offshore oil spill?
  • What are the potential paths of an oil spill?
  • What is the travel distance in the case of an oil spill?
  • How can maximum containment be achieved?
  • Are there any waterway access points or private land impacted by an emergency?
  • Who needs to receive communications on-site and offsite?
  • How can off-site incidents be prepared for in advance?
  • What equipment, resources, and personnel are required for offsite crisis response?
  • Do regulatory requirements differ for offsite components or specific locations?

Drill for Hazardous Materials.

You don’t want to handle hazardous materials outside of required operations. However, you can still build effective drills around the care of chemicals and toxic waste. OSHA’s Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response standard, aka “HAZPOWER”, is a great guide for hazardous material drilling.

They suggest considering several facets of training and drilling. A basic HAZMAT technician, for example, receives training in:

  • Emergency response implementation
  • Classification and identification of unknown materials
  • Selecting and using protective equipment
  • Hazardous risk assessment tactics
  • Control, containment, and confinement
  • Decontamination tactics
  • Chemical terminology and behavior

You don’t need to wait until a spill or breach to test and train for competency in all of these areas.

An industrial event can have catastrophic aftermath. Emergency managers need to frequently evaluate crisis response plans. One of the most effective ways to do so is through drilling. You never want a critical event to become the first time your personnel has thought through the above questions.

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