The importance of preparing for, responding to, and managing incidents.
Simon Marwick talks about his journey to leading the Global Operations Command Centre in Aberdeen, the technology he uses to deliver critical incident response services, and his thoughts on the future of incident management.
From lifeguard to Afghanistan to emergency response
From a very young age, I’ve always been involved in helping people. I was a lifeguard as a youngster, and then I joined the army as an officer where I served several tours in Afghanistan and almost a whole tour in Iraq. I was involved at various levels up to divisional, but after seven years, I decided it was time to move on and leave the Army.
I came across a company I liked the look of, which back then was called Altor Risk Group, which was a very focused, emergency response organisation. Their focus was very much around looking after people during an incident. I have three brothers who all work offshore, so to me emergency response sounded like a great career.
Shortly after joining Altor Risk Group, they were bought by what is now Restrata. Over the past seven years, things have gone from strength to strength, and we’ve seen a huge change in incident management and emergency response. I’m pleased to say this was largely led by Restrata and the team of consultants that we have up here in Aberdeen. Despite the vast experiences that we all have, every day is a smooth day for us. But that’s really one of the great things about Restrata – we’re not afraid to make mistakes and learn from them.
A day in the life at the emergency response control centre
One of the great things about my job as an emergency response specialist is that there’s no such thing as a typical day. Our emergency response centre has several rooms, the incident management, and backup incident management rooms must always be ready for action. To ensure this, each must be checked regularly to ensure everything is working correctly and ready to be used should an incident occur. The whole team gets involved in this.
However, when something goes wrong it tends to come in my direction. Whether that includes supporting our consultants with technical expertise, reviewing client plans, particularly as we bring new clients on board, or clients reviewing their plans and changing them. We need to make sure that as a team we are all up to speed and on top of our knowledge, sometimes going back to the client to question things to make sure that the response that we provide is going to be at the highest level for the people that we are supporting.
Incident frequency and response approach
Within the control room, we probably deal with four or five incidents a day. The nature of incidents can vary, but as an example, it can be somebody that requires being medevacked from a platform or a rig, and they need some support once they get onshore.
The support that we provide could be something as simple as arranging a taxi, but it’s surprising what that means to people knowing that when they get back on land they’re going to be looked after all the way home, or to safety. It’s about giving people that trusted point of contact.
Fortunately, we don’t have to stand up as a full team too often for incidents. Over the last 12 months, we have mobilised teams on about eight or nine occasions, and that’s to deal with issues caused by severe weather action plans. Sadly, we’ve dealt with our fair share of death and issues with the assets themselves, such as pipelines. Over the year, we’ve had to mobilise on occasion, but given the technology that we use we have the capability to do so remotely. The benefits of operating remotely are significant and provide advantages over older approaches.
Incident response – past and present approaches
If I go back to the beginning of my career with Restrata, we used to train with whiteboards and flip charts. Using the term technology to describe these tools isn’t quite correct, but it’s the way that we used to do things. In the 80’s and 90’s, before computers and the internet were as readily available as they are now, whiteboards and flipcharts were a perfectly acceptable approach. Now, we train using them as a complete backup, and with the intention of hopefully never having to use them, but it does give people the fundamentals.
I remember taking pictures of boards and flip charts, and thinking this is crazy. It was crazy because when I joined, we also had a software system. That system allowed us to input our individual actions throughout the room to ensure that there was an audit trail and a unified operating picture across the teams. It was a good system, but it was quite clunky, and you needed to be very highly trained to really get the benefits of it.
Now jump forward to around three years ago when we migrated to a different system. This new system was quite easy for me to use as an expert, but some of our clients found it difficult because they’re potentially only logging into that system once a year, and therefore can require continual training.
System-hopping between siloed data sources to respond to an incident
As a team leader, you have to be able to navigate the systems, information, and tools that allow decisions to be made. For example, this could mean moving between flight manifest, travel, and eight charge systems to get data, so I want that information at my fingertips, and I want it quickly. It’s hard to do that if you have to move from one data source to another, then another, and so on. If you are forced to do that when time is critical, and where people’s safety is at risk, it can be incredibly frustrating, with the consequences of lost time and potentially fatal.
Connectivity and information at your fingertips
When you’re dealing with an incident, time is critical. If you’re spending time navigating multiple systems, that’s not time well spent. Decisions can be made much more quickly If you’ve got the information and data you need right in front of you. It’s also important to be able to share that information with those that need it most. Systems like the one we’re using allow us to share from the site all the way up to the crisis management team. If you’ve got full support right the way up to the incident response room, everyone at every level will know that information almost immediately, which means you can respond much more effectively, and far quicker.
At Restrata we were fortunate to have a great deal of software to perform a range of essential functions, all of which related to people and their safety. When we considered our vast experience in the field with legacy safety and security services, something didn’t add up. From here, we sat down and said, well, why don’t we combine all this software? Why don’t we combine all that information into a single integrated incident management system? Fast forward and the idea has become reality. We’ve built the integrated system and are in the process of switching our emergency response operation across to it.
Reputation and response to incidents in the media
To respond reputationally to an incident, you need to try and get ahead of the curve. That’s very difficult to achieve. I would say very close to impossible to get ahead of social media. But having a digitised system allows you to log, potentially integrate, and get a handle on the information that’s going out on the numerous social media channels. Everything that an incident management or crisis management team pushes to the press or on other forms of media will be based on fact. But on social media? Not so much. However, it’s still important that you have an awareness of what’s going on out there in the public domain. You can either make a conscious choice to respond or to ignore it.
Occasionally, there are major incidents where we’ll need to hold a press conference. In these instances, we have to place senior staff in the public eye, potentially in front of cameras, or perhaps just on the end of a phone speaking to journalists, family, or other incident stakeholders. When there’s a more serious incident people naturally resort to using social media to research whatever it is that’s going on around it to search for details, so we have to ensure our staff are prepared. They need to have an awareness of what’s going on within the incident itself and the noise that’s building around it in the press.
Now imagine if all of the essential data is integrated in one system, life as an incident response manager becomes a little bit easier. If you’re able to respond in a certain way, you’ve got the decision-making process that you’ve gone through. We made a decision because of the information available at this time but that might change in an hour’s time. It’s very key that you have that awareness and that one common operating picture that allows you to see what’s happening, what people are saying, and this is how we’re going to respond to that from a communication point of view.
Why accounting for and tracking people is so important
One of the reasons why I’m so passionate about this is that my brothers are members of fire teams offshore and fire teams are often put into dangerous areas if somebody can’t be found. If you have a muster where you’re doing your roll call of everyone that’s on the site and people are missing, you’re then going to send your fire team searching for those people.
People on all these sites are generally very experienced. If something is about to go wrong on whatever bit of kit they’re working on, there’s a very good chance that they will know about that. They will extract themselves, hopefully to a place where they’re less likely to be as injured as if they were right at the incident site. That might mean instead of sending my brother through a fire, you can send them down a safe stairwell to recover a casualty.
As the site installation manager, you have access to information that can protect your fire crew and your safety teams much better. Because I’ve got two brothers that are part of that, I’m very passionate that it’s something that we should be able to do to protect them, so they’re not going into situations needlessly. It means you can close doors and suffocate if there’s a fire. You can seal that area, so the fire will go out once the oxygen is gone. It’s things like that on the site that you can do much quicker.
Our incident priorities are always people first and I want to know where everyone is. Even onsite the installation manager will generally be looking after them. But once I start moving them offsite, I now need to take ownership of people and track them through. And that might be to a hospital. Have they arrived there? Where is the helicopter at this moment? We can track all that information using our system. If you then do a mass move of people, for example, you want to get them off an installation, you will bring them through a process where you can track them back onshore and make sure that their welfare needs are looked after and that they’re then sent on their way using our systems.
At the moment the process is highly paper based and it’s very clunky. You repeat a lot of information and you’re relying on people who have been through a potentially traumatic situation to fill out forms. Nowadays people don’t tend to know mobile phone numbers of their next of kin, but our systems have all that information anyway. As you bring people through, you’re just checking that the information you’ve got on record is correct, and that can be reviewed electronically, which is a much smoother system. We can easily track all the way through the process and release people safely home.
The importance of audit trails
During an incident, audit trails are incredibly important because they’re going to be helping you to make decisions. If you request any support, that support will be based off the information that you have. Understanding what information you have during an incident is key, as there is a lot of information flying around in today’s modern society. Social media will take over and you will need to make sure that you have that confirmed information.
There’s lots of things that you might ask for that require an audit trail, and then post incident you also have the decision process. For example, I made this decision at this time because this was the situation, but hindsight’s a wonderful thing. Investigations always pick up, and rightfully so, where you might have gone wrong or where you could have gone in a different direction. We also use audit trails during exercises and our clients can learn from these. The audit will play a big part of the review of any incident, so it’s important that moving forward we learn from this.
A game-changer for incident management
I’m confident it’s going to be a game-changer for incident management teams because we’re looking at a way that makes the system something that people will be using on a day-to-day basis. For example, if they want to travel, and put in a travel request to administration staff, they’d use the system to do that. This type of regular usage encourages a level of familiarity with the system, which is beneficial. When it comes to emergency response, when you’re familiar with the system you’re using, it will undoubtedly make things a lot easier for people to use.
In my Command Centre we use Incident & Crisis Manager — a platform developed by a seperate part of Restrata. We operate independently of them, and have complete autonomy to choose the best technology to deliver our critical incident response services. When we are dealing with potentially life or death situations, it’s paramount that we use best-in-class technology to repay the trust our clients have in us, and Incident & Crisis Manager is a single platform that gives us real-time intelligence through end-to-end connectivity. This means we can communicate more effectively, respond faster, and provide the highest possible duty of care to the people and clients we are looking after.
There are some exciting times ahead, with other systems, software, and hardware we can potentially integrate with, and that could be from simple things like risk assessments. If there’s a security-type incident somewhere, we can reach out to people quickly. We can prevent an incident from happening before it becomes an incident just by stopping people from going into certain areas where risk is deemed high.