Being Prepared: Workshop offers emergency training and resources for business aviation professionals

Dec. 8, 2003

By Jodi Richards, Associate Editor

Being Prepared

Workshop offers emergency training and resources for business aviation professionals
Orlando - Only one in five aircraft accidents leads to injuries, according to Pete Agur Jr., president of the VanAllen Group, but it's imperative that corporations have a policy in place for responding to an emergency. "Being prepared is key," he says. In partnership with the National Business Aviation Association, Agur led an Emergency Response Planning workshop here, and focused on the planning, training, and execution of an effective response to aircraft emergencies.

The two-day session attracted some 25 registrants from corporate flight departments, FBOs, and other business aviation segments.
Agur says each company should establish its own emergency response plan (ERP) and rehearse scenarios to ensure the plan is understood by everyone involved. The ERP includes an emergency response team (ERT), comprised of:

  • Corporate strategic leader;
  • A member of the flight department;
  • Human resources ("Because we're taking care of people," explains Agur);
  • A communications professional. Agur says if the company doesn't manage communications, the news media will; and,
  • An administrative coordinator: somebody used to multi-tasking.

There should also be ERT support members, including people to handle risk management, financial aspects, legal, and government relations (OSHA/EPA).
The company phone directory should be kept up to date. Review every six months, roughly, to ensure the accuracy. "This could end up being a roadblock and not a resource if not accurate," says Agur.

The first hour following an incident is critical, according to Agur.

After an accident, an emergency operations center, for which the location should be determined beforehand, is activated. Agur recommends that it not be at the airport, as the staff there is already going to be stressed.

Top management should be notified. "Tell what you know, what you're already doing, and when you'll get back to him or her." Agur says.
Confirming the flight manifest then becomes critical, especially when it comes to next of kin notification. "The manifest doesn't have to be a piece of paper," says Agur. "It can be on voicemail so you can go back and retrieve it later."

The next of kin notification can be a difficult challenge - particularly when there is loss of life. According to Diane Domit, crisis intervention specialist with Crisis Management Inter-national, the person who announces a death is "marked" with the death forever in the minds of the family. "There are certain people that you expect bad news from," she says. "You don't want the notifier to be the person who helps with the recovery." She offers the following procedure for the person who delivers the death notice:

  • If it's done at the family's home, ask to come in.
  • Ask all the family members to be seated.
  • Make sure they are not left alone - assess their needs, bring somebody else in, and then depart the home, leaving them with a contact number.

"It's the toughest role that somebody can have," Domit relates.

Anybody who goes to notify a family of a death needs proper training, according to Agur. He explains that a major part of the Emergency Response Plan is the strategy and processes of notifying families of loss of life. The ERP should include at least two people who are capable of this task in case of an event, however, it's important to have separate notifiers for all families. Notifiers can be accompanied by a member of the clergy, a police officer, or a physician. One suggestion Agur offers is that companies add a form to its HR system that states, "In case of an emergency, this is who I want to notify my spouse."

After the family has been notified, an ERT member takes on the role of family liaison. Agur stresses that the notifier cannot act as the family liason too - these are two separate roles.

Domit explains, "You want them trained so they don't become victims themselves," adding that research has shown that 12 months after an accident, family liaisons suffered from the most post-traumatic stress disorder of all those involved, including the family.

The family liaison should work with the family members after notification and then for about a week, Domit says. However, he or she should remember: don't take over - you're there to assist; don't baby-sit - call other family members for childcare; and, don't be involved in the identification of remains process.

Agur adds that "there should be a sunset" to the liaison's role, even though it's often the family's tendency to "hang on." Also, this is all instead of that person's normal job, not in addition to. When an employee is actively engaged as a family liaison, he or she should not be expected to perform regular duties.

The on-site team is activated at this time as well. Among the duties are:

  • Control/coordinate company activities;
  • Secure the accident scene;
  • Handle publicity or refer reporters to the company spokesperson;
  • Communicate with the company
  • Assure survivor care;
  • Photograph the scene - a digital camera is better, according to Agur;
  • Coordinate insurance support; and,
  • Coordinate environmental clean up.