Blake Emergency Services looks at the who, when, and how of training your organisation to prepare for an emergency, and the importance of involving handling agents in your emergency response training programme.
As operators know, regular emergency response training and exercising is not only a regulatory requirement (in some territories), but it is also an incredibly vital part of ensuring that your organisation is prepared should your company suffer a major incident – and the Blake team has the experts to help guide you to success.
Who to train
So, who do you train regularly? The answers we see naturally include the crisis management team, the identified media spokesperson(s), incident managers, operations control, the Go Team, perhaps the welfare team and the team in your call centre. However, emergency response should be seen as the whole company’s responsibility, not just that of a chosen few. Training and Exercising should include the whole company and departments, depending on the level of involvement of people from around the business. For example:
- Finance will need to know how to handle the sudden increase in demand for cash that an incident will undoubtedly demand; why they should have immediate access to thousands of US dollars or Euros outside of office hours, even when the finance director is on holiday, and how to manage the invoices relating to the incident.
- IT will need to know what a ‘dark site’ is when the communications team ask them to activate it following an incident – and they need to be able to do this quickly at 3 a.m. on a Saturday – it cannot wait until Monday morning.
- New starters should be fully aware of the operator’s commitment to emergency response preparation. They should know if they will form part of the main response, or perhaps take on additional responsibilities at the head office while their colleagues are working on the response.
- Everybody within an airline will be affected to some extent by an incident, and they all need to be prepared. all staff need to know what to say when asked a question about the incident. “No comment” just doesn’t cut it anymore.
But other team members may be heavily involved in your response to an incident: your handling agents. They are not your employees, and often you have no direct control over them, but who from the public’s perception, can be seen as an extension of your company in some cases.
Involving your handling agent
Much of the emergency response training focuses on the team at the head office and those who will travel to the incident location. It is certainly a very good thing that these people are well trained, after all, they will be working on the response under an incredibly high amount of pressure supporting those directly affected by the incident, their families and indeed the airline.
But there will be a time lag between when the incident occurs and the Go Teams’ arrival in the State of Occurrence (or wherever they may be required), especially if the incident occurs on a remote part of the network.
Should an incident occur at, or near, an airport which is not a main base or hub for an operator, the handling agent at the airport is likely to be the first person that families and friends will turn to for answers.
- Your handling agent may already be well trained in emergency response procedures which is great news, but do they know the procedures relating to your particular airline?
- Following an incident affecting one of your aircraft or passengers, does your handling agent know what is expected of them?
- And if they do, do they know how you expect them to deliver it?
Rather than just providing this information in the form of written procedures, this should be supported through regular training, so that the airline’s team and the handling agent’s team are responding in the same professional, compassionate manner.
Supporting handling agents
Handling Agents are a very important part of the aviation community. For many operators, they are a vital extension of the business and can be the face of an operation at many airports across the network.
And how those directly affected by an incident and their families are treated throughout a response is critical. The airline, and by extension the handling agent, must look after these people to the best of their ability from the outset. Therefore, the handling agent and their team at an incident airport can be under incredible pressure following an incident.
At the very least, the handling agent will be required to report back to the airline’s emergency management centre on the activities taking place on the crash site; have someone present in the airport emergency operations Room regularly; and provide some sort of information point within the airport for the families and friends who will gather, demanding answers. indeed, depending on the airport involved, the handling agent team may also initially be required to set up and run the Friends and Relatives Reception Centre (fRRc), the Survivors Reception Centre (SRc) and, the Crew Reception Centre (cRc) on behalf of the airline. and of course, if the airport remains open, they also may need to continue with their usual activities.
But there are tasks that the airline can be doing to support the handling agent whilst the Go Team is en route, including (but not limited to):
- Opening up a public information call centre to handle calls from the public. if this number is given to the handling agent promptly, they can advise people to call the centre for the latest information and to provide details about the person they are enquiring about;
- Ensuring the airline’s social media channels and dark site are regularly updated, and that consistent press releases are issued through all appropriate mediums;
- Ensuring that the handling agent and their team always have the latest information and press releases as soon as they are available.
Training with your handling agent and their team on how you would respond together following an incident, and understanding each other’s expectations and limitations, should be seen as a crucial part of any emergency response training programme, alongside ensuring that the entire business is prepared for an emergency.
Contact the Blake team to discuss how we can customise our services to meet your unique needs. Our Blake team is ready to take care of the complexities.