Safety Insight: Emergency Preparation and Response
When a fire, explosion, or toxic release occurs, it would probably be too late to choose the best facility-based response to minimize the resulting consequences to personnel, company assets, and the environment. The choice of response must be in place in anticipation of a potentially major accident. Emergency Preparation and Response is a key factor in a process safety risk management system. It is the ultimate “fallback” measure that is designed to function effectively if the preventive measures implemented against major accidents fail, with resulting release of hazardous material or energy.
The majority of the catastrophic events that have occurred in recent times were made worse by the absence of sufficient preparation or less than adequate response. (Reference 1). It is unfortunately extremely common for a worksite to be underprepared to respond to a major release of a hazardous substance. The reasons for this are several. A few of the most common include:
- Lack of awareness of the process hazards
- Lack of validly obtained appropriate information/data in managing process safety
- Underestimation of the risk of a major accident from process hazards
- Focus on preparation for the most likely (low severity) accident rather than a less likely but more severe accident
- Assumption that emergency preparation measures are unnecessary because preventive safeguards against a major accident have been deemed adequate
- “Fighting the last war”, in other words focusing risk management efforts on prevention of the most recent major incident rather than in anticipation of the next potential major accidents
What can be done to prepare and plan for a major incident? Here are three steps, each of which may require the support of an experienced process safety specialist:
- Identify the potential sources of a major fire, explosion, or toxic release at the facility.
- This includes gas, liquid and combustible dust processes and also associated utility equipment such as boilers and furnaces.
- Conduct a risk assessment for each major hazard identified, supported by information derived from accurate, relevant, and up-to-date data. The purpose of the risk assessment is to evaluate the engineering and administrative controls currently in place to prevent, protect or mitigate against credible major accident scenarios.
- Treat the documented risk assessment as a living document which must be periodically reviewed and revised during the life of the process to ensure that the assessment is still valid.
- Evaluate the current site capabilities to respond to a major accident. This requires the site management to think through, document, and support the following:
- WHO will respond to control or stop a release of hazardous material or energy? A crucial regulatory issue here is whether site personnel will be expected to respond to the release.
- WHAT equipment and other resources are needed to support the emergency response?
- HOW will emergency communication and updates take place to inform and protect employees, contractors, first responders, visitors, and the community?
- WHERE will personnel and community go to evacuate or shelter in place?
- Develop and implement a risk-based Emergency Preparation and Response Action Plan. This typically includes:
- Plan for the worst credible scenario for each major hazard, and lesser included events.
- Provide appropriate and effective training to employees and contractors, considering applicable regulatory requirements.
- Conduct frequent tabletop and “live” emergency drills. Evacuation drills only scratch the surface of the response actions that may be required during a major incident.
Finally, it is important to review the emergency preparation measures at least annually to ensure they are up-to-date, comprehensive, regulatory compliant, and adequate to the potential task.
- Center for Chemical Process Safety, Incidents that Define Process Safety (2008).