When Ecuador’s Tungurahua volcano erupted last October, pagers and telephones began ringing in EnCana Corporation’s downtown Calgary offices.
With a major oil-producing operation in the area, EnCana employees and families faced possible danger.
Onsite, an incident commander sized up the situation and contacted a crisis manager in Calgary.
Between those two key people, an operation was co-ordinated to evacuate women and children to Calgary; steps were taken to ensure that other EnCana employees travelling in the vicinity were OK; and the crisis manager began tapping the people he required to provide immediate support, with a long-range view to resuming business operations.
|Mike Dempster, Business Edge|
|EnCana’s Gordon McCaughey says the approach to crisis management should be the same in both the field and office.|
The emergency was managed in textbook fashion, says EnCana’s Gordon McCaughey, corporate adviser safety and risk management.
“When you have a well thought-out game plan, people feel more secure. There is a sense of taking control,” says McCaughey.
Later this month, McCaughey and two associates will speak at the Petroleum Industry’s Annual Safety Seminar at the Banff Centre (www.piass.org).
McCaughey will suggest that industry people take the same approach to crisis management that they now use in the field, and bring those measures to their home operations in Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer or wherever their bases are located.
“We all have protocols to evacuate a building if there is a fire,” he says. “You see companies doing simulations all the time. But what if the fire burns the building down? Do they have a simulation in place on how you go back to work?”
The oil and gas industry has had crisis management practices in place for years. In the field, companies talk the same language, using terms such as incident commander and crisis manager. It’s the same language – the Incident Command System – used by police, fire and emergency medical services.
But in office environments, various business units have their own lingo, using terms such as ‘process champion’ that may only make sense to a small group of people.
“What we want to get across to industry is that ICS is a language that is universal,” says McCaughey. “In a chaotic situation, the last thing you need is more confusion about different terms that people are using.”
“When you say my incident commander is X, everyone knows what you are talking about. That is key. They know that X is the tactical guy. When you say this guy Y is my crisis manager, then they know he is looking at the long-range situation. . . .”
At EnCana, McCaughey points to a small booklet that clearly outlines the chain of command regardless of whether it’s a “man down” at a remote Alberta wellsite, or a volcanic eruption thousands of kilometres away. Unlike bulky binders that gather dust on a shelf, the booklet is portable – and well used.
Since Sept. 11, and in today’s uncertain climate, McCaughey notes that crisis management is receiving heightened attention.
“(Former) New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was a big proponent of this, even before Sept. 11,” he adds. A year or two before the Twin Towers were attacked, Giuliani had an old airplane set ablaze in New York, and then called emergency crews.
“The process helped him. Giuliani learned that you must train a small core group of people that does it (crisis management) as a practice. Then, as needed, you roll it out to the different management levels.”
No one wants to think of a similar disaster happening in Alberta. But EnCana doesn’t believe in waiting for a crisis before developing a response, says McCaughey. Instead it prefers to learn from the experiences of others.
With more than 4,000 staff in three downtown Calgary locations and employees across the world, EnCana requires a clear policy.
“We believe that the field response is a tool that is adequate for all types of situations. If we start thinking in those ways, we begin to create a cohesive approach.”
In Ecuador, he says, the on-site incident commander was in charge of the emergency response. He got employees out of the area and determined where everyone was and how they were faring.
The crisis manager took a bigger view. Safety was the top priority. But he was also responsible for making sure the incident commander was holding up, and took the longer view of how and when to resume business.
The necessary people were quickly pulled in to bring families home, notify relatives and make sure the employees remaining in Ecuador were safe.
“We also offered support to the government. In this case, 200,000 tonnes of ash had fallen. We bought them bags and brooms, because that’s what they needed in order to clean up.”
Within two weeks, families has returned to Ecuador to rejoin their spouses who had remained in the area.
“I think that when a company reacts to an emergency in such a (co-ordinated) fashion, it helps instil a sense of confidence in the employer as well,” says McCaughey.
“It shows that the employer cares about their people.”