North American energy capitals such as Houston and Calgary have traditionally served as headquarters for the specialized emergency response services that the oil and gas industry requires. However, while still leading energy centers, these cities have increasingly become only part of the far reaching and expanding worldwide energy development.
“Transporting personnel and equipment from North America to locations as far away as Southeast Asia, the Middle East, the Caspian Sea or Africa encompasses extended timelines upwards of two or three days to respond to an event,” said Mike Allcorn, Managing Director of Alert Disaster Control (ALERT).
ALERT is an international emergency response and risk management solutions services company whose expertise includes oilfield fire fighting and blowout control, critical well integrity, well control/relief well engineering, marine and industrial fire fighting and hazard materials control response activities. It services industries ranging from energy exploration and development to chemical production and manufacturing.
To date, ALERT personnel have responded to more than 1,200 significant oilfield fire fighting and blowout control, critical well integrity, well control / relief well engineering, marine and industrial fire fighting and hazard materials control response incidents worldwide, Allcorn said.
ALERT established an initial Regional Service Center and eventual Corporate Headquarters in the Republic of Singapore in the late 1980s. Besides the Pacific Rim, ALERT established and maintains Regional Response Service Centers in key regional markets throughout the world. Joining Houston and Calgary on that list are Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and registered offices in Moscow and Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk in the Russian Federation.
“Our Regional Response Service Center’s cover specific geographical regions and each provide the requisite emergency response assets and resources required to assist our respective customers in the event of multiple incidents,” Allcorn said.
Allcorn addressed a high performance firefighting foam workshop, which was conducted by ALERT and the Solberg Company in December 2013 at the Beaumont Emergency Service Training complex in Beaumont, Texas, USA. The Solberg Company’s parent company, Amerex Corp., is owned by Alabama-based McWane, Inc.
Equipment resources are staged at each of the regional centers, much of it duplicated to facilitate coverage of multiple-simultaneous operations around the world at any time and for ease of use by the ALERT emergency response teams assigned to the operations, Allcorn said. “It is much more effective in terms of the mobilization and management of resources in an effective and expedient time. We are able to mobilize from any one of our global regional response centers and arrive at the incident site within hours versus days this is of critical importance to our customers interests,” stated Allcorn.
To ensure competent and expedient mobilization of personnel and equipment, ALERT maintains charter contracts for sea, air and land transport on a 24/7/365 day basis, Allcorn said. The majority of specialized equipment is customized to meet assigned operational objectives and the logistical challenges faced in operating in often-harsh environments.
Maintaining ALERT’s emergency response teams and regional response center’s becomes a matter of constant risk assessment, Allcorn said.
“One of our key tasks is to continually challenge ourselves as to our state of readiness to respond and successfully mitigate any number of incidents across a broad spectrum of hazards and environments. We constantly question ourselves if we are truly prepared to respond to the incidents with which we have been tasked to respond to,” he said.
“This is of critical importance to ALERT and, quite often, no different than the challenges faced by our respective customers in their quest to ensure that responsible care commitments to local, regional and global community’s served are truly met. They validate through the assistance of independent specialists such as ALERT that they are ensuring optimum product stewardship and corresponding emergency response preparedness. If we have assessed and preferably eliminated or at least alleviated our risks to an acceptable level, have we assessed those risks which our neighbors processes may impose upon us?”
Emergency response is only but a part of the total scope of the proven services capabilities provided by ALERT to its customers, worldwide, Allcorn said.
“ALERT has placed an equal if not greater importance on the proactive application of modern risk management programs throughout our global day-to-day activities. This includes an unequivocal commitment to our personnel and their families, our communities, our environment and our customers, as guided by our Integrated Quality, Health, Safety, Security and Environment Management System, a program implemented by ALERT and independently verified since 1994 by the Société General de Surveillance (SGS) and Det Norske Veritas to the Standards of ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001,” stated Allcorn.
“ALERT operations also encompass the provision of risk management solutions services and supporting equipment, products and software. ALERT Risk Management Solutions Specialists / Engineers work together and serve our customers operating in both land based and offshore environments. The scope of work entails a range of services, which include the development of quality, health, safety, security and environment policies, procedures, work instructions and corresponding documentation for our customers. In addition, ALERT assesses and develops of competence standards, and related safety, survival and technical training programs.
To date, ALERT, in particular the ALERT Safety, Survival and Technical Training Institutes, have developed in excess of 150 training programs of which more than 80 hold certification as internationally accredited safety, survival and technical training programs. The programs encompass a portfolio of disciplines, which include everything from basic to advanced marine and industrial fire fighting, toxic environment protection, confined space entry, technical rescue, fast rescue craft operations, survival craft coxswain, helicopter underwater egress training, and advanced well control and drilling practices training, he said. ALERT has conducted such training for more than 135,000 personnel representing over 350 customers. ALERT seeks to instill professionalism in its students as well as its employees, Allcorn said.
“With the increasing establishment of refining, petro-chemical, chemical and associated manufacturing plants in developing countries, the concern is whether these facilities are maintaining the same levels of risk management and process safety that companies have strived to achieve in North America and Europe”, Allcorn said.
“Historically, industry has been reasonably successful with eliminating or alleviating risk inside the fence. This has not been without loss, ongoing research and development of more effective processes, and resulting trial and error. Unfortunately, industry has clearly not been as successful with controlling risks outside of the fence in terms of supply chain logistics and transportation routes. This has rightfully necessitated a continual proactive approach to risk and the development of processes and tools to assist industry in better evaluating, controlling and mitigating such risks,” he said.
Finding a more efficient way to handle the volumes of information included in an effective pre-incident emergency response plan led ALERT into an eight- (8) year development partnership with UK-based CPD, a software firm. Their work together resulted in the ALERT iResponse™ Emergency Management Solutions software, a computer software system designed to improve pre-planning, training and actual emergency response.
“In the past, when we had an incident, our incident commanders would traditionally pull upwards of six or seven volumes of documentation off a shelf and start laying it out on the table in an attempt to assess and manage the incident,” Allcorn said. “While seemingly effective back in the day, such hard copy systems are extremely antiquated and clearly ineffective in managing major emergencies”
The ALERT iResponse™ Emergency Management Solutions software calculates the answers to a myriad of questions relevant in an emergency situation, such as providing a map view of the incident site anywhere in the world, in addition to the relative locations of resources and existing infrastructure. Intuitive by design, the software incorporates decision support tools that include thermal radiation, atmospheric dispersion, and overpressure modeling, in addition to calculators to determine the required firefighting equipment resources, fire fighting foam concentrates, as well as, dike volume and hose runs calculators.
“We now have a system that fits inside your incident command structure as a tool for your incident and on-scene commanders and supporting team personnel,” Allcorn said. “In the simplest of terms, this is the most effective program available in the market to support pre-planning risk assessments, training and actual emergency response.”
“Together with valued input from the global customer base currently using the ALERT iResponse™ Emergency Management Solutions software, ALERT and CPD continue to review and improve the product itself,” Allcorn said. “CPD, as a world leader in the development of innovative software programs, will be providing the software support for our worldwide customer base.”
But even cutting edge technology is not enough to construct a pre-plan covering all contingencies. Part of risk assessment is having an open mind about the most improbable events possible. One example involved a significant release from an offshore platform owning to a collision with a vessel.
“It was the first day of Ramadan,” Allcorn said. “In the excitement of the moment, the ship’s crew went down to the ship’s galley to break fast together. Unfortunately, through a miscommunication, there was nobody left on the bridge. The vessel struck the only obstruction for a twenty nautical radius, a mono-pod production platform, bending the structure 15 degrees and resulting in severe damage to the well production risers.”
Another extreme outcome resulted from an earthquake in Far East that measured 8.3 on the Richter scale.
“One of our customers experienced the sinking / loss of pans on 38 floating roof storage tanks in about 2½ minutes,” Allcorn said. “It was the frequency of the earthquake itself. It started a freeboard movement inside the tanks, flipping the roofs on each of the tanks within seconds.”
Fortunately, only two tanks ignited. Both tanks were lost. While the customer attempted to extinguish the tank fires, all attempts proved unsuccessful as a result of using traditional small volume municipal fire brigade pumpers and antiquated foam products, Allcorn said. Meanwhile, vapor suppression had to be provided for the rest of the tanks until product could be transferred.
“Through an established standby call-out contractual relationship and subsequent pre-incident emergency response planning efforts, we were able to organize five 747F aircraft and loaded and mobilized the same with our personnel and equipment and emergency response standby foam concentrates maintained by ALERT for such incidents,” Allcorn said. “We were applying foam to the exposed tanks within 72 hours.”
The company’s foam of choice is StormALERT™, a specially branded version of Solberg’s RE-HEALING formula.
“ALERT has been involved with the development and use of this high-performance foam concentrate for 14 years,” Allcorn said. “We believe in the product. We have used it on storage tank incidents, ground fires, suppression incidents and salvage operations involving overhaul activities aboard container vessels. It is a proven high performance fire extinguishment product.”
ALERT traces its roots back to Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Founded in the mid-1980s, the company initially focused on emergency response operations involving oilwell fire fighting and blowout control, Allcorn said.
“Initially, we concentrated on more upstream related activities,” he said. This has included a long-standing commitment to the development and provision of leading oil and gas well integrity disciplines involving critical well integrity services such as hot tap, valve drilling and freeze operations through to specialized snubbing/pressure control services for the plug and abandonment of depleted or damaged wells and the decommissioning and removal of platform structures within the offshore environment”, stated Allcorn. “These core service competencies evolved when a number of our primary multi-national exploration and production customers asked us to assist them with their downstream interests such as refining, storage, supply chain logistics and transportation.”
ALERT moved its headquarters from Calgary to Singapore in 1988. Prior to participating in the oilwell fire fighting efforts in Kuwait, following the withdrawal of the Iraqi army, ALERT began establishing its regional offices and support centers around the world. This has since continued throughout the almost three decades that ALERT has been providing services, worldwide.
One organization that ALERT has used as inspiration is the American Chemistry Council’s Chemtrec emergency call center, providing immediate critical response information for hazardous materials incidents.
“Working together with industry and the folks at Chemtrec in Washington, D.C., we established a world-class incident response center for coverage of our customers interests throughout Asia,” Allcorn said. “We are currently responding to about 800 calls annually through that system.”
Partnering with ALERT in operating the incident management center is Société General de Surveillance (SGS), the world’s oldest and leading independent inspection, verification and testing company. All chemical analysis is performed by SGS through its network of laboratories, which are located within all of the key industrial complexes and operating locations, worldwide.
“As professionals, we are continually challenging ourselves to stay ahead of the curve, understanding what the risks are and making sure we have the tools to eliminate that risk.”
To date, ALERT has provided Emergency Response and Risk Management Solutions Services in more than 135 countries.