Pre-Emergency Planning & Preparation: Working with Outside Response Agencies

Pre-Emergency Planning & Preparation: Working with Outside Response Agencies

Workplace emergencies are unforeseen situations that threaten your employees, customers or the public, disrupts or shutdowns your operations, or causes physical or environmental damage. Many facilities are fortunate enough to have never had a workplace emergency, but as time goes on, it is likely that most will have an emergency at some point. It could be a situation as seemingly benign as inclement weather that takes a turn for the worse. Companies with facilities on the water can all relate to that scenario.

The role of outside agencies – including fire departments and rescue squads – is to come to your aid when necessary. These agencies spend less than five percent of their time within an industrial setting, so their experience with maritime facilities is limited.

Consider how that could affect how they come to your aid. Maritime facilities such as shipyards and marine cargo handling terminals are riddled with hazards that these agencies are unfamiliar with, such as steam, open busbars, and gantry cranes. Because they do not have much experience dealing with the hazards you and your employees face daily, they will have a limited perspective on the hazards or risks involved when they come to your aid. By bringing them in before an emergency occurs, you enable them to help you more effectively when the time comes.

The Purpose of Pre-planning

The purpose of the emergency plan is to prepare for, respond to, and recover from the emergency situation or circumstances you might face. For those operating on the coastline, that likely involves floods, potentially high winds, chemical releases, and even activity at neighboring facilities.

Emergency action plans should include, at a minimum, the following elements:

  • Emergency escape procedures
  • Critical equipment shutdown procedures
  • Headcount procedures
  • Rescue and medical duties outlined
  • Preferred means of reporting emergencies
  • Names of employees responsible for plan
  • Frequency of drills

It is important to be mindful of how these procedures are developed because it requires thorough training of any employees involved. For example, in the event of an emergency, are employees supposed to calling company security first? How about their supervisor? Or, should they call the outside agencies directly? If the latter, do they know how to convey an emergency to 911? This example alone showcases the level of detail required for an emergency plan to be executed smoothly.

Most emergency conditions that companies will face are medical in nature – e.g., sickness, heart attacks, injuries, and so on. Depending on the situation, there is a possibility that multiple outside agencies will be involved, from fire departments to police departments to technical rescue teams.

Fire departments tend to be the primary point of contact for companies because their actions will set in motion other agencies. For this reason, effective pre-planning for emergencies starts with the local fire department – specifically, the local battalion chief. Depending on the size of the geographic location, the battalion chief could shift every six to eight months depending on staffing needs, so that is something to consider as well.

Site Familiarization

One of the main benefits of engaging outside agencies before an emergency occurs is gaining familiarization with your site. This is important because they will become familiar with any operational hazards you might have, such as motorized equipment, crane operations, overhead electrical exposures, and so on.

Electrical distribution shut-off is an excellent example of why site familiarization is so important. Most industrial facilities have levels of electricity that outside agencies are not accustomed to in residential situations. If your facility has a substation or motor control centers, it is extremely helpful for outside agencies to see where they are located and know how to shut them down in an emergency situation. Another example is natural gas shut-off lines, if applicable to the site.

Emergency Drills

Many maritime facilities have areas with height restrictions, weight limits and other physical barriers. For example, if your main entrance has an overhead pipe rack, ladder trucks may not be able to enter. By running emergency drills with local outside agencies, you will be able to identify any potential issues with equipment, oversized vehicles, and so on.

Here are some specific areas of consideration when running emergency drills:

  • Gate access and point of entry. Is entry to the facility open 24 hours a day, or do you have a secure entrance? Emergencies know no schedule, so drills will help identify issues related to gaining entry at any time of day.
  • Aircraft landing locations. When the battalion chief visits your site, an important question to ask is if they can find a place where they could land a life flight helicopter on your facility or somewhere nearby. Once that location is determined, obtain the GPS coordinates and have the agency put it in their pre-plans. This is critical to ensuring that anyone who needs immediate medical treatment receives it as quickly as possible.
  • Pressure fittings and connections on hydrants.When you run drills, ask that your local responders actually connect to your hydrants and flow water. This will confirm your site’s ability to provide water for firefighting and will help responders understand flow pressures. If you have fire pumps, the fire department will need to know this. Also, if you have hose reels, it is unlikely that a fire department will use them because they bring their own. If you are regularly inspecting and pressure testing them, you should advise the fire department, but it is still unlikely they will use anything other than their own hose pack.
  • Hydrant thread patterns. Hydrant thread patterns are unique to each municipality, and because of this fire departments have adapters which enable them to connect to any hydrant. It will save time during an actual emergency if they know which adaptors to use in advance.
  • AEDs. If you are considering purchasing an AED, please talk to your local fire department or rescue squad before you do. This will save time when responders come in because you will be able to take the AED pads off the individual and plug them into their unit.
  • SCBAs/supplied air. If you have any confined space entry, more than likely you are going to be using supplied air during technical rescue. Before purchasing your own, talk to your fire department. Responders will not use your air unless you are able to verify the quality of it. If you are unable to do that, responders will use their own, which takes time during a situation when every second counts.
  • Tripods for rescue and retrieval. It is important to let first responders know about anything you have in inventory that might aid in an emergency because it saves time. Many maritime facilities have equipment that the agencies might not, including equipment to access elevated levels such as JLG, sky lifts and scissor lifts. Ladder trucks are not as commonly available as you might think, so if the agencies can gain access to an elevated position, they can do their jobs more quickly.
  • First response capabilities. If you have employees who have been trained on first aid, CPR, AED operations, etc., the agencies want to know that. However, keep in mind that if you have an employee who is EMT certified, a doctor will need to sign off on them performing emergency response on someone at your facility. The outside agencies will need to know what your medical response qualifications are and what sort of equipment you might have on site. Similarly, if you have employees who are trained in confined space rescue, technical rescue, or high angle rescue, you should discuss this with the outside agency in advance to understand how you can work together in the event of an emergency. There is no better way to do this than to run a joint exercise.
  • Evacuation procedures and headcount. Know where your staging areas are and communicate to the agencies how you validate and ensure that people are where they are supposed to be.

Understand the Language of Outside Agencies

It is becoming increasingly important to speak the language of your local responders. One way this can be achieved is by obtaining National Incident Management System (NIMS) certification. This will enable you to, once authorized, talk directly to emergency responders on a TAC channel. NIMS certification is available free of charge and helps you understand not only how the responding agencies work together, but the language they speak. Without that, your ability to pre-plan for an emergency is limited.

Having this ability gives you a voice in that unified command structure. Otherwise, you may experience a situation where a battalion chief makes a decision that impacts the fate of your company because you were not present in that decision. The only way most will allow you to be a part of the decision is by going through the NIMS training and certification.

Picture this: a traumatic medical emergency occurs at your facility. Most likely, you are going to have a fire fighters, medics, and police officers on the scene based on your call to 911. If you are NIMS certified and approved to communicate over the TAC channels, you can use your facility’s radio to communicate directly to the agencies and advise that there is no fire – you only need medical resources. You also can communicate with the hospital, alerting them that someone with a very traumatic injury is headed their way. That could be the difference of life or death for the injured worker.

Having radios to communicate with outside agencies is not the only way you can gain control over the response time of your emergency. PA systems at your facility will allow you to communicate with anyone who is working at that time, which – as long as everyone is trained in advance about emergency procedures – could also have a life-saving effect.

Initiating the Process: Three Steps

To initiate a process of working with your outside agencies, here are three steps you should take:

  1. Contact your local battalion chief. Call the non-emergency number, ask for the local battalion chief on duty, and schedule a time for them to visit your facility. Establish rapport with them. Let them know that you are just beginning the process, that you recognize the need to be better prepared, and that you would like for them to be able to come in and walk you through the process. Offer them a tour so they can start becoming familiar with your facilities, your people and your capabilities. They will welcome the opportunity because it ultimately makes their jobs easier.
  2. Run tabletop exercises. Once you have built credibility and rapport, ask to run some tabletop exercises with the agency. A tabletop exercise is exactly what it sounds like: sit at a table with relevant participants in the planning process and discuss the plan for scenarios of varying complexity. Focus initially on the most likely emergency scenarios. Walk through all the steps: how you will notify them, their response process, the recovery process, and so on. During these exercises, you will encounter areas where it is unclear as to who would handle a certain task or procedure. Capture that as a learning opportunity and when you debrief, make sure you clearly define those roles and responsibilities. Consider doing at least two or three tabletop exercises before you start running emergency drills.
  3. Run emergency drills. Studies have shown that announced drills are sometimes more effective than unannounced drills. Why? Because when you announce a drill, people will realize that they are not sure of how to handle the actual situation the drill is mimicking. To avoid embarrassment, they will research the answer, so you tend to have a smooth drill with informed action. In the case of unannounced drills, employees will often fumble their way through it and once the drill is complete, they do not generally feel the need to go back and make sure how they performed was in accordance with emergency procedures. Either way, at the end of any emergency drill, hold a debrief that includes every key person involved in the drill, such as the fire department, medical responders, and even union representatives. Consider performing drills every six to eight months.

When you first embark down this path of emergency pre-planning, you may receive some criticism from your employees. They will say they have not been given the right directions or tools – and they may be right, especially if this is the first time you have really started to plan for emergency situations. While you will need some thick skin in the beginning, the coordination that you ultimately have with outside agencies will be invaluable – and in some cases, could be the key to making sure your employees return home from work safely.

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