Plan, train, and communicate: the building blocks of effective pre-incident planning

Blog Post created by mikehazell Employee on Jul 25, 2018
Imagine you're the owner of an industrial facility in your community. You run a clean shop, your employees are happy, and in all of your years of business operations, you've never once had a fire or any kind of emergency incident. But as we all know, things can happen. And if something goes wrong, having an emergency response plan in place - a plan that's thorough, communicated, and rehearsed - is one of the most concrete ways to ensure that you and your company can recover from an adverse event.
"You have to have a plan before an emergency happens," was the theme of a presentation at the 2018 NFPA Conference & Expo in Las Vegas that focused on the development and application of pre-incident planning at industrial facilities. 
"Pre-planning is the cornerstone of business continuity," said John Welling, PE, director of EHS & Emergency Services at Bristol-Myers Squibb Company. During his presentation, Mr. Welling, who previously served as chair of the NFPA Technical Committee responsible for NFPA 1620, Standard for Pre-Incident Planning, and who has been an NFPA member for 37 years, said pre-planning allows for businesses and emergency responders from all disciplines to create a solid base of information so that they can respond to a facility quickly, understand the hazards, mitigate the situation, and get out of the facility quickly so it can return to normal operations.
NFPA 1620 has its roots in the 1980s when a series of warehouse fires led to the development of a "recommended practice" (NFPA 1420) to help warehouse facility managers plan for and manage emergency incidents. After a scope expansion to include other types of buildings in 1998, the document was totally revised and re-launched in 2010 as NFPA 1620 which provides criteria for developing pre-incident plans to help responders manage emergencies and maximize protection for occupants, responding personnel, property, and the environment. 
Mr. Welling said he is surprised by the number of businesses who still do not have a comprehensive plan in place.
"The bottom line is that businesses have to answer to our people - our employees, our neighbors, our shareholders," said Mr. Welling. "No company wants to be tried in the court of public opinion. That's why we invest in advance planning. We spend a lot of time, effort, and money to be prepared."
How do you decide what goes into your pre-incident plan? Mr. Welling said to consider "everything and everyone" and any issue that has potential for having an adverse impact on your operation and community. "The list is endless, but you don't want your documentation to be so voluminous that nobody reads it," he said. "The plan has be functional, easy to use, easily tested, easily updated, and managed.' All of Bristol-Myers Squibb's plans are also available online.
A pre-incident plan needs to be customized and created with input from all internal and external stakeholders. "It can't be one person sitting in their office who creates a pre-incident plan," said Mr. Welling. "You need to include local fire, police, and other local emergency service providers, environmental health and safety specialists, and plant operation managers. Throughout the year, we review with them our plan, what resources we have, and what resources they have. The first time we all get together should not be at an incident." 
One Bristol-Myers Squibb facility stores nearly 40,000 different kinds of chemicals, so Mr. Welling's team worked with local emergency responders to detail how responding units need to consider tactics to protect themselves, employees, and the property. 
Mr. Welling said building relationships with all plan stakeholders is key to making sure it is a living, dynamic roadmap.
During the presentation at NFPA's Conference & Expo, Greg Jakubowski, PE, Chief Engineer at Fire Planning Associates, and current chair of the NFPA 1620 Technical Committee, provided an overview of important changes that are being proposed for the 2020 edition of the standard. Among the recommended changes are new sections on alternative energy sources, emergency power supplies, security systems, buildings under construction, and preplanning for the safety of transportation systems. In addition, there is an effort to get NFPA 1620 referenced in more of the nearly 70 NFPA codes and standards that refer to pre-incident planning concepts.
The first draft report of the 2020 edition of NFPA 1620 is expected to be available in September. 
Did you know that NFPA Conference & Expo attendees and NFPA members get full access to ALL the 2018 NFPA Conference & Expo education session audio & video files? Browse the full list of education sessions here.] If you're not currently an NFPA member, join today!