A Plan for the Unexpected

March 18, 2021
An effective ERP informs everyone of what to do when disaster strikes at an FBO.
Baldwin Aviation
Todd Thomas
Todd Thomas

When it comes to having an emergency response plan (ERP), we generally think on a larger scale such as the government, NASA, airlines, manufacturers, etc. Our thoughts may not necessarily go to a fixed base operation (FBO). 

However, when it comes to an ERP, the size of the organization does not dictate who needs one.  All organizations need an ERP, including FBOs.

So, why do you need an ERP?  A quote by Steven Cyros answers that question, “Remember: When disaster strikes, the time to prepare has passed.” It is all about knowing ahead of time what to do should a disaster occur. You have a much better chance of minimizing the effect of a disaster when you prepare for it ahead of time.  

I worked for an FBO at a local airport many years ago. I performed several tasks such as marshalling aircraft, towing aircraft and fueling aircraft. We also provided aircraft maintenance and hangars for aircraft. While all these functions come with their own hazards and risks, probably the greatest potential for a disaster came from our operation of a fuel farm and the fuel trucks.

As one would imagine, my training at the FBO included the use of all the proper safety features of the fuel farm itself, as well as all the safety features of the fuel truck I operated. It has been a while, so I do not remember having access to an ERP – or if one even existed. This, of course, is not good, especially if I had a problem and did not have a resource to consult to tell me what to do.

This highlights the importance of not only having an ERP, but ensuring your frontline personnel have access to it.  

If you do not have an ERP in place already, I urge you to put one in place as soon as possible. Make it a high priority. Being prepared to the extent possible to handle emergencies must be an immediate goal. 

An ERP should be developed to fit the size of an organization. It needs to be reasonable and clearly laid out. I have joined companies with existing ERPs that had programs too large for their size. There was simply no way that they could carry out all the measures they had committed themselves to do due to a lack of infrastructure.

Luckily, we never had an incident that required us to put it in to action. But, as we all should know by now, luck will only take you so far.

So, what goes in to developing a good emergency response plan for your FBO? First and foremost, do not reinvent the wheel. I have found during my time in the safety field that my fellow safety colleagues are more than willing to share things they have developed. Reach out to other FBOs in your area and speak with the person in charge of safety. Chances are if they have an ERP, they will be willing to share information that will help you in the development of yours.

Other resources for help with your ERP development are the internet or third-party vendors such as the company I work for, which specialize in providing safety products like an ERP manual template.   

Your ERP template should include sections that will answer the questions who, what, when, where and how:

  • What will each person’s roles and responsibilities be?
  • Who in your organization will have ERP responsibilities?
  • When will the ERP be activated and when will participants begin their roles and responsibilities?
  • Where will the ERP be kept and where will the command center be?
  • How will each person carry out his or her roles and responsibilities?

To help answer the questions, take time to understand the hazards faced by your operation. Determine how extensive of a response will be needed for the hazards identified. Once you have this information, you can better answer each question.

With these five questions answered, you are well on your way to having a working ERP.  One example of how you can organize your ERP might be: 

  • Overview
  • Functional Areas
  • Hazard Specific Sections
  • Special Weather Contingencies
  • ERP Checklists

At this point the goal is to not overcomplicate things. Think through each question and provide common sense answers. Do not put too many responsibilities on one individual. When possible, it is recommended to have a back-up for each primary person in the event of sickness or vacation. 

It is usually advisable to survey your work group to see if anyone possesses any unique skills that can help during an emergency. For example, you may have workers who are already trained in emergency response. You may also have people trained as volunteer firemen, reserve police officers or in first aid. The idea is to know your work group’s strengths and capitalize on that experience during an emergency.

Knowing who to reach out to and how to reach them is another critical part of an ERP. You do not need to be searching for the number to the local hazmat response team during a hazmat incident. Take the time to research and compile your contact list ahead of time. Include a contact list of all the key emergency responders as an appendix to your ERP. This will make it easier to update should names and numbers change. 

From a basic standpoint, you will need someone to coordinate the overall emergency response such as an ERP team leader. This position will usually be filled by someone in a senior management position and will oversee the Emergency Operations Center (EOC). An administrative person is helpful to document the response along the way. The other positions will be determined by the extent of the emergency and the availability of personnel.

Once you have the ERP template you want to use, conduct a gap analysis for the purposes of determining what existing policies and procedures you may already have in place to go into your ERP. After the gap analysis, you will then know what other policies and procedures need developing. As mentioned previously, an effective ERP will answer the questions who, what, when, where and how.

Now that you have an ERP crafted, your work is just beginning.

To have an effective ERP, you must first train everyone in how to use it. A training schedule will need to be created and invitations sent out. It is critical that no one is skipped and that all get their initial training completed in a timely manner. The focus must be on each person’s role and his or her responsibilities.

As most of us in aviation should already know, checklists are an important tool to help us perform critical tasks safely. The pre-flight checklist that a private pilot uses before taking off is a prime example. Experience has shown that some accidents and incidents can be attributed to the pilot not performing the pre-flight check.    

Depending on the size of an organization, you may choose to issue a hard copy of your ERP to each employee. For larger organizations, an electronic copy in a location with 24/7 access might suffice. You must make sure however, that everyone knows how to access the ERP at a moment’s notice.

A critical final piece in your ERP is to plan regular exercises of it. 

You can perform a scaled down version known as a “table-top” exercise. This is when you gather all the key players around a conference room table and walk through an emergency response. This will help everyone get used to their roles and responsibilities much quicker.

On a less frequent but a regular basis, it is advisable to hold a full-scale exercise. 

This involves advanced planning to determine the scenario you will use. You will activate the EOC and your call list. Keep it as realistic as possible but ensure that the participants are told it is an exercise and not real world.

Always plan on a debriefing at the end of any exercise. This will be a time to gather in a conference room and go over how your team performed. You will determine any weak spots and focus on them in future training. Take all lessons learned and share with your team to help improve the response the next time. 

You will benefit in several ways once you have an effective ERP in place. First, you will be better prepared to handle an emergency if one occurs. Second, you will also have peace of mind knowing that you have a plan in place. If you do not have an ERP, I again encourage you to put one in place immediately. If you do have an ERP, ensure everyone is properly trained on it and exercise it on a regular basis.    

“Remember: when disaster strikes, the time to prepare has passed.” Being prepared to the extent possible to handle emergencies must be an immediate goal.

Todd Thomas is senior safety manager at Baldwin Aviation Safety and Compliance. With more than 20 years of experience in the U.S. Part 121 Air Carrier industry, he has served in the FAA required part 119 position of director of safety for four U.S. Part 121 Supplemental Air Carriers, three of which were passenger carriers and one an all-cargo carrier. All of Thomas’ director of safety positions have given him invaluable “hands-on” real-world experience in change management and hazard risk assessment. As a result, Thomas offers a wealth of knowledge of 49 CFR Part 5 SMS requirements. A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, he is a Veteran of the U.S. Air Force, achieving the rank of Sgt. before his Honorable Discharge and holds a Private Pilot’s license.