What are the procedures in the event of an incident at the CHEMPARK?
If a call to the CHEMPARK security centre (SiZe) is classified as an emergency call, an alarm is immediately sent to the emergency medical services and/or the site fire service. On arrival at the site, the emergency services assess the situation and - if necessary - instruct further emergency response measures. If a hazard outside the plant boundaries cannot be ruled out, notifications are sent out via the official warning apps such as NINA or Katwarn, sometimes just minutes later. And this is despite the fact that no communication has yet taken place at the CHEMPARK itself. How can this be?
A schematic diagram shows the event handling processes and explains the procedure and interrelationships.
Minutes 2 to 5 after the alarm is received
Between minute 2 and minute 5 after the alarm is raised, the plant fire brigade arrives at the scene. Immediately after arrival, the officer-in-charge assesses the situation, which he immediately reports to the security centre; if the situation requires it, he instructs all the necessary hazard prevention measures.
Plant warning is always faster than the warning apps
The security centre in turn warns the affected plant areas via the central plant warning system (CPWS). A security centre employee activates the warning at the click of a mouse. Activating the warning also switches the event telephone: People who did not understand the CPWS warning can listen to the warning text announcement again. Important: The event telephone can only be reached on the landline network.
The internal warning is issued as quickly as possible and always arrives before an official warning. However: Warnings are only issued where they are necessary because of a potential hazard. Plant areas that are not affected do not receive a warning with instructions on how to behave from the security centre. However, they receive initial information via the ‘CHEMPARK internal’ email newsletter from Crisis Communications. A closer look at the processes in minute 6 to minute 30 after the alarm is triggered will shed some light as to why the initial information cannot be provided at the same time as the warning:
Minute 6 to minute 30 after the alarm is triggered
Warning apps and siren alarm are the responsibility of the public fire brigade
Based on the information from the officer-in-charge, the security centre classifies the event into a four-stage ‘D’ notification level system, which it then reports to the control centres of the responsible public fire brigades:
- D1: The event has no impact outside the plant boundaries. For example, this can be the case with flaring of gases or loud noises that are perceptible outside and could be considered dangerous, but objectively are not.
- D2: Effects outside the plant boundaries cannot be ruled out.
- D3: A hazard outside the plant boundaries is likely or has already occurred.
- D4: Catastrophic event. (An event of this category has never occurred at a CHEMPARK site)
The D notification from the security centre is the basis for the public fire brigade to decide whether to trigger the official warning systems for specific geographical areas. These include warning apps such as NINA and Katwarn, but also the siren alarm: The characteristic wailing sounds of the siren are still one of the most effective ways of warning the population today. This was made particularly clear once again by the flood disaster in the Ahr valley and the Eifel region.
NINA is (actually) not an information app
The purpose of the warning is to draw the attention of people in the affected area to the imminent danger or to create awareness of an existing hazardous situation and thus avert or minimise potential damage. The increasing use of warning apps for information purposes is therefore problematic. The greater frequency with which the warning app reports to the user inevitably leads to communication desensitisation. In the event of an emergency, attention is then reduced, or the warning is ignored as ostensibly irrelevant information.
The reinforcement troop picks up the slack
While the emergency response measures are underway at the scene of the incident (which, depending on the extent and nature of the event, may also involve the support of public fire brigades, police, Federal Agency for Technical Relief, etc.), the reinforcement troop meets at the station. This management staff for the tactical task forces takes care of supplies, logistics and everything else the task forces need on site for the best possible emergency response and hazard prevention. Representatives of the police and public fire brigades are also involved. The work of the reinforcement troop follows a control loop of situation assessment, situation evaluation with all its options and risk/benefit considerations, determination of measures, and subsequent implementation.
Activation of crisis communication
Meanwhile, the crisis manager on duty convenes the crisis team. This also activates the CHEMPARK crisis communications team. In consultation with the crisis manager, initial information is now being prepared. This happens very quickly – not least thanks to a mobile editorial system developed by CURRENTA itself. In a matter of seconds, it is clicked together from text modules and distributed to the CHEMPARK staff as well as the public and the local community: Email newsletter ‘CHEMPARK internal’, neighbourhood offices, CHEMPARK app, Twitter and Facebook, press. Distribution lists for internal and external target groups (local, regional or nationwide) are stored. If necessary, other communication features are now mobilised to implement and organise the upcoming operational communication tasks.
Initial information is not a warning
Before the initial information, there are generally more steps of incident processing than before the NINA warning is triggered by the public fire brigade. People familiar with this issue will not be surprised that the initial information is at best issued in parallel to the public warning, but usually follows it. That should be no cause for concern: It is not a warning by definition, even if it does not contain much more than the event notification itself and recommendations on what to do.
Minute 31 to 60 after the alarm is triggered
Understandable hunger for information
It is understandable that some people find the initial information too sparse. After all: Anyone who has seen the fire brigade move out with its siren and flashing blue light and has already received the external NINA warning naturally wants to know more. This is especially true when the first videos of the event are circulating on social media or friends and acquaintances work in the affected area of the plant. However, in order for the CHEMPARK crisis communication team to provide further information on a secure factual basis, it needs detailed situation information from the crisis team.
The CHEMPARK crisis team meets
The crisis team, in turn, meets for the first time between minutes 31 and 60 after the alarm is triggered. It takes care of all administrative and organisational tasks that arise in connection with the event but do not directly participate in the emergency response. The plant security, approvals and crisis communications divisions are an integral part of the team, along with the crisis manager on duty, who heads the crisis team, and the CHEMPARK director on duty, who is responsible for decision-making. Fire protection is firmly represented anyway for the purpose of communicating the situation. Furthermore, there are members who can be used as expert advisors for specific occasions, e.g. for infrastructure, medical issues, etc. The affected company is also represented.
Crisis team and reinforcement troop follow the same control loop
Normally, the crisis team works directly at the affected site in the fire station. This ensures short distances to the security centre and the reinforcement troop. In order to ensure the ability to act even in unique situations (such as difficult access due to motorway closures, intensified pandemic conditions), partial or completely virtual alternatives to the face-to-face format are also possible. Irrespective of the format, the crisis team follows the same control loop as the reinforcement troop: Situation assessment, situation evaluation, definition of measures, implementation. The crisis team meetings follow the rhythm of the operational command meetings with a time lag.
More detailed information in the first hour is not the norm
Generally, the CHEMPARK crisis communication team has two members: a staff member with a strategic advisory function and a staff member who takes care of the operational crisis communication work (‘chief of staff’). It makes it easier to prepare more detailed information and approve it in the crisis team meeting, so that it can be published on all communication channels before the end of the first hour after the alarm is triggered. Between the crisis team’s meetings, the chief of staff supervises the implementation of the other communication tasks: Contacting the media, managing the neighbourhood hotline and neighbourhood offices, media monitoring, broader information gathering, etc.
After the first hour
Due to the nature of the process, the first detailed information based on a secure factual situation can usually not be expected within the first hour after the event. But that also makes it clear: No one else can do it faster. No matter from which source quick news about the event make the rounds – they cannot be checked, evaluated and correctly interpreted. Rapid speculation does not help anyone. Instead, it fuels the rumour mill and, in worst case scenarios, it creates ‘sideshows’ that further increase the workload of the crisis communication team at inopportune times.
Important in an emergency
Emergency call CHEMPARK plant fire brigade
from landlines at CHEMPARK: 112
from mobile (Leverkusen): +49 (0)175 30 99 399
from mobile (Dormagen) +49 (0)175 313 99 39
from mobile (Uerdingen) +49 (0)175 311 99 39
Leverkusen +49 (0)214 2605 99 320
Dormagen +49 (0)2133 489 99 320
Uerdingen +49 (0)2151 88 99 320
Security telephone or neighbourhood hotline
Leverkusen: +49 (0)214 2605 99333
Dormagen: +49 (0)2133 489 99333
Uerdingen: +49 (0)2151 88 99333
Warning: Wailing siren sound (1 min.)
All-clear signal: Continuous tone (1 min.)
Reliable first-hand information
Insight from operational communication tasks – number and content of hotline calls, press enquiries and media coverage, etc. – flow back to the crisis team from the second round onwards. The results of the crisis team meetings, which are always linked to the meetings of the reinforcement troop, continue to feed the messages of the CHEMPARK crisis communications team. This integration of communication into the crisis management structure creates the conditions for the best quality and highest speed of information.