Industrial emergencies - be prepared

Published:  28 May, 2014

Where does crisis management go wrong? Kees Kappetijn, an independent consultant in the field of emergency and crisis management, outlines the problem and the solution.

Disasters do not start on Tuesday at 10.00 a.m. when the weather is sunny and all personnel and staff are available. Neither is fighting a crisis the primary goal for a business. And crisis management is not ‘regular management’ with some additional time stress factored in.

Considering this, it is remarkable that many organisations (often with enormous business interests in terms of money, liability and brand name) do not focus on the link between emergency management leadership and the crisis management team. This connecting link is crucial for the development and impact of an incident.

This link goes under many names - the on-scene commander, the incident manager, the calamity coordinator or senior shift supervisor. In the Netherlands this person is called the ‘company representative’ (‘bedrijfsdeskundige’). For hazardous industry it is often a formal position within the emergency response organisation, dictated by the law that regulates the dimensions of the company fire brigade. Although this position has existed for some 20 years, the basic education for managers that have had to perform this duty has not been available. Until now.

Crisis management design

The design of a basic emergency response and crisis management organisation is based on four levels:

· Level 1: Basic emergency response units (occupational health and safety officers, firefighters, security members, dispatch team, technical facilitators and logistics providers)

· Level 2: Leadership of emergency response teams

· Level 3: Command and control over the leadership

· Level 4: Crisis management.

Within this concept the various levels are also connected to the public emergency services; fire brigade, ambulance services, police, emergency room etc and follow the same levelling. Level 1: basic performance, level 2: team leaders, level 3: coordinating officers and level 4: crisis staffing of the mayor or governor. For an appropriate connection, consider this process as a zipper: if the teeth don’t fit together you will not get ahead as the scenario develops and therefore will be unable to direct the scenario.

When outlining the roles of the teams and units the level of knowledge, skills and competences required must be clearly defined. This must be based on the risk profile of the organisation and the existing safety provisions. The structure for emergency response and various emergency response units may be the same, but the tasks, vehicles, equipment, PPE etc will differ enormously for instance  between a refinery, a starch manufacturer, a pharmaceutical company and a nuclear facility.

Special consideration is needed for the fact that, in most companies, the positions in the emergency management structures are combined positions. Operators may perform dual roles as occupational health and safety officers or fire fighters, shift leaders as fire fighting team leaders, security employees as dispatch centre operators. The same may applies to the level 3 position, where the manager or senior person has to fulfill the additional role of company representative. And while most companies are prepared to invest heavily in the purchase of equipment and education and training for levels 1 and 2, the level 3 position is (mistakenly) often regarded as self-teaching.

The five basic points of awareness:

1. The start

Organisations train their crisis management (levels 3 & 4) on Tuesday, with good weather and all personnel available. Alarm at 10.00, level 1 and 2 teams available at 10.06, alarm for level 3 at 10.10, available at 10.15, and crisis management team available at 10.20. What are the dilemmas for the company representative? What are the dilemmas for the crisis management team?

Take the same scenario, with the same storyline, and this time position it at Christmas Eve, 01.15 hours and alarm the company representative after 45 minutes. A temperature of-2˚C with rain, ice on the roads. Half the population on holiday, the other half in church or in bed. The response time for the company representative is 30 minutes after alarm, for the crisis management team 60 minutes after alarm.

Make the company representative aware of this difference and educate him for the worst.

2. What to fight for?

For public emergency services fighting and emergency is a goal in itself. The emergency represents a distrubance in society and the target is to restore normality. Private organisations have other goals: restore business continuity, secure the corporate image and brand name, reduce financial losses, minimise the chances of liability for the company and its individuals with key-responsibilities. Regularly this is the starting point of the awareness and actions of the company representative.

3. Position in chain of command

The handling of larger incidents that escalate in an uncontrolled way with effects outside the company surroundings and with the potential to threaten environment and lives of many, often begin with in-situ resources and in-house emergency response units. As soon as public aid services assist they take over the leadership over the incident. It is important for the company representative to be aware of his position in relation to the public aid services. For the company, he has the mandate to take every decision necessary, but for the public aid services he has an advisory role in suppression tactics.

4. Crisis manager vs regular manager

Managers are generally responsible for a part of an organisation in terms of results, quality, time and the appliance of people, facilities and money. A business manager is not automatically fit to be a good crisis manager. The starting point, the situation where decisions must be made, the stakes and the stress levels are all different, which is why appropriate preparation and education are crucial.

5. Preparation and improvisation

Preparation of crisis management requires room for improvisation. We tend to prepare for what we know and have previously experienced. Having accepted that, it is necessary to define the areas in our plans where we can improvise during a crisis. However it must be noted that organised, staged improvisation is very different to improvisationg during an event and environment that hasn’t been experienced before.

Preparation for the company representative: programme

The company representative is the key for a company in case of a large incident. His actions and decisions influence the duration of discontinuity, the long term impact to the environment, the corporate image, the way media report about the crisis and the extent to which leadership of public aid services listen to input during incident management. The manager in this position has to be skilled properly, starting with a basic education, followed by ongoing and frequent training.

At a basic level, every organisation that has to comply with Seveso regulations (comparable: COMAH-legislation) must have a company representative in some form: either available by phone or on site, through a duty-roster with a 15 minute response time.

Regardless of the organisational background of a company, the basic education programme for the company representative should lead to the following goals:

  • Awareness of legislation, guidelines and policies;
  • Awareness of the set up of emergency response, crisis management and business continuity;
  • Ability to work with threat analysis, business impact analysis, credible, normative and disaster scenarios;
  • Awareness of the set up of public emergency and crisis management structures and procedures;
  • Familiarisation of decision making with public officers;
  • Ability to determine company interests during a crisis;
  • Liaison with the company’s crisis management team (and getting them in position).

Following modern standards a program has to lead to a certificate that bears an independent quality stamp, such as JOIFF certification, which indicates the quality and content of a program, the expertise and background of the instructors, the used facilities and the way the education is structurally secured at a high level.

Good education can mean the difference between restorable and non-restorable business continuity.

About the author

Kees Kappetijn is an independent consultant in the field of emergency and crisis management ( He supports organisations in the public and private domain that have to prepare for larger incidents and crises. He is board member of Joiff, the international association for industrial hazard management.

This article will be published in the Summer 2014 edition of Industrial Fire Journal.

  • Operation Florian

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