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A View from the Bridge: Observations on Leadership and Major Emergency Management (MEM)

Readiness Delivered: Major Emergency Management (MEM) Training

November 3, 2014

A Successful Outcome

When disasters occur within any industry there is a natural tendency to immediately place blame on equipment, the other guy or the environment within the precise time and place of the accident. There is another option, a choice that seems to be rare these days: an analytical look at the real root cause of the accident.

Major disasters typically result in great loss of life, many of which disasters are due to people making bad decisions. It’s something we’re simply prone to do as humans and there is no medical relief for it. That’s right: we’re equipped to make bad decisions.

Just as leaders are made and not born, so too can psychological impediments be removed from personnel who are destined for command or who serve in command teams on offshore platforms. People can be changed. But, this can only happen through the tutelage and scrutiny of educators who are experts in the topic at hand, experienced professionals who coach and guide leaders and potential leaders to success. As everyone knows, once an emergency arises there is no going back, and no turning of the clock to happier times; the leader must come through to a successful outcome. Good judgment guided by education, intuition, and experience, defines the successful Ship Master and Offshore Installation Manager (OIM).

Intensive, Real-Life Training

Successful ship Masters and OIMs are able to think quickly, creatively, and effectively. They must have the ability to read the situation like a book and the only way a good Master or OIM can do this is with concentrated team training. Team training is the cornerstone of any competent offshore emergency response team. They must train together as a team and in an environment so intense that when they are faced with a new and dangerous situation each member of the team can draw from training and draw the right conclusions. They must know how to operate without perfect information and must be unflappable under pressure.

Observations from the Simulator

We offer our Major Emergency Management (MEM) program to companies who value competency amongst their command personnel at sea. Competence equals credibility and when employees define leaders as credible. They somehow feel more trusting and secure around their leader. This synergy is highly demanded in an emergency response team and is required of a leader who must act and direct people in emergency situations. Our MEM training involves a state-of-the-art simulator where exacting emergency measures are examined and personnel are educated. Often times, unfortunately, team members find leaders and other team members unable to instruct or lead them, thereby becoming counter-productive to the combined effort.

A sample of unfavorable behavioral issues usually found during training sessions include:

  • A leader's inability to make decisions on the spot
  • Empty lifeboats launched during panic moments
  • Team members afraid to approach the leader
  • Commanders fumbling with tools such as radios and instruments
  • Oversight of muster points
  • Following the wrong emergency procedures

Fortunately, these errors have little to no consequences in a simulation; rather their effect in a real emergency is macro. It’s inarguably better to allow these mistakes to happen in a simulator (and stay there) and complete the week’s scenarios with the knowledge necessary to handle major emergency disasters.

Credibility is very sensitive and delicate, thus it can be lost with one hotheaded remark, an erratic action, or a single broken agreement. Offshore companies have a duty and obligation to their personnel and assets to promote and assign leaders with the requisite knowledge to preserve the safety of their employees and platforms. Problems lie when functional competence becomes confused with value-added competence. Offshore leaders and managers must add sustenance and value to the position especially in the offshore environment.

Most People Don’t See a Disaster Until It’s Too Late. 

The offshore oil and gas industry is still reeling from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster. New lawsuits have emerged in the last few months and it appears, for the present moment, there is no end in sight to plausible litigation. Now is the not the time for ship masters, OIMs and respective command teams to receive “comfortable” emergency training. The offshore oil and gas sector is walking a fine line in the public square and the U.S. federal government continues to watch with a keen eye; the oil and gas sector is a hotbed topic in political circles. It is for these reasons that we must either take a serious and honest approach to emergency training and provide in-depth education that will bring command personnel out from underneath the warmth and safety of inconsequential training, or -- we will simply continue on as before. Unless serious MEM education is provided to an asset's "entire" command team (Master, OIM, and emergency response team), a course completion certificate will remain nothing more than a piece of paper for filing and a subsequent quick check-in-the-box on a training matrix.

Author: Tim Darley

Co-authored and edited by Orion Darley

Darley Consulting, Inc. is a U.S. Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business that provides consulting services to the oil and gas sector. For more information on Darley Consulting, Inc., please contact us at (281) 752-5252.