CEO training offers better prep for emergencies

A lot of response plans are 'dusty', need updating

November 20, 2012

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Not many people outside the oil and gas industry know about Directive 071, the Energy Resources Conservation Board’s (ERCB) emergency preparedness and response requirements for the petroleum sector. That directive legislates how the industry equips and trains itself to handle spills and other incidents that threaten the public and the environment.


Illustration Pete Ryan

Oil isn’t spilt milk. When hydrocarbons leak, pipes burst, waterways are fouled or ducks die, corporate reputations can be tarred for years. Even generations. People– and not just zealous environmentalists– are still wrenched over the Exxon Valdez disaster. That was 23 years ago. How long before BP’s Deepwater Horizon catastrophe evaporates from collective memories?

The public likely doesn’t realize that, as a result of Directive 071, oil and gas companies of all sizes actually spend a lot of time and money preparing themselves to respond to emergencies. There’s lots to prepare for; approximately 600 oil–and gas–related spills and incidents of varying size occur in this province annually.

But has Directive 071 really made Alberta companies good enough when it comes to dealing with those incidents, especially the big ones? When it comes to boots on the ground – the frontline personnel who might be responding to life or death situations – perhaps, says incident management expert Vlad Grigore. But when it comes to the brains in the C-Suite, Grigore isn’t so sure.

Grigore recently joined the Calgary office of Hill+Knowlton Strategies, where he heads up a new corporate emergency response training program that, among other things, aims to strengthen the full complement of skills and knowledge needed for executives to better handle their roles in case of incidents.

Before that Grigore was with Norway’s Statoil, the world’s 13th–largest oil company, as leader of emergency response. There, he designed and implemented its emergency response plan for North America and international operations.

Grigore says responding to a critical incident is about “keeping all the balls in the air at the same time. And some of those balls are chainsaws. To come through you have to be able to do them all.”

Annual field training sessions mandated by the ERCB for every oil and gas firm operating in the province keep company responders relatively ready to handle the initial, physical side of a spill or accident. But when it comes to the elements dealt with by upper management, there are, Grigore maintains, a lot of “dusty” plans out there. Plans that may fail to address the more holistic facets of a response, including community, government and media relations, developing strategies to deal with environmental damage and public fallout.

Most emergency response plans covering those areas “are merely nutritional guides,” Grigore says. “And the guys need recipe books because they have to make something in 20 minutes. But in truth, your CEOs are not going to become emergency response professionals. They are not going to spend all their time training on that.”

With Grigore, H+K has developed assessment tools to analyze the competence of a company’s emergency response plan. And developed shorter, less expensive table-top simulations that are less time-consuming and can be more flexibly scheduled to accommodate an executive’s busy schedule. They take only two hours or so, and therefore, unlike the ERCB-required annual full-day field deployment drills, C-Suiters can, without sacrificing a great deal of time, take Grigore’s sessions three or four times a year. And, he maintains, stay sharper.

If Grigore’s opinion of the rusty nature of executive emergency response skills is accurate, maybe his training sessions will help oil and gas companies avoid the “Keystone Kops” label that the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board memorably stuck on Enbridge after it spilled more than three million liters of oil around and into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in 2010. Because that not only hurts. It sticks.

Anthony A. Davis is a Calgary-based freelance writer who has a written on a range of subjects around the world.

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