Adequate emergency preparedness pays off

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Thomas Romig, Safety Officer at Genève Aéroport, says that it always pays to put in place procedures to ensure preparedness for emergency situations. He writes for Airside International 

It is generally agreed that airport operations are complex in nature. This is primarily due to the numerous stakeholders and the multitude of operations that take place in order to ensure efficient, timely and safe aircraft handling activities. However, in some cases, the aerodrome infrastructure, the type of aircraft operations, weather conditions or other variables will make the operations even more complex.

In order to ensure optimal operational efficiency and safe aircraft handling, stakeholders operating on an aerodrome generally have developed standard operating procedures and implemented systems and processes that facilitate their operations. These standard operating procedures tend to be developed for the normal operational situation, however, due to the complexity of operations and the rapidly changing operational situations all organisations in action on the aerodrome should consider developing procedures, systems and processes allowing for the management of abnormal operations. This is where the notion of emergency preparedness comes into play.

Emergency preparedness tends to be understood as “preparing for emergencies” such as accidents or incidents where damages are caused, operational efficiencies are lost and safety margins are reduced. However, when adequately defined and managed, emergency preparedness should include a holistic approach to preparing the organisation for all abnormal operating situations. These abnormal or degraded operations consider any situation where the normal operating conditions of the day to day activities can no longer be met; these can range from a serious accident to adverse weather conditions, flight schedule disruptions or social unrest such as strikes.

On an aerodrome, such as Geneva Airport, where there are single runway operations, a high density of aircraft movements with short turnaround times it is important to be prepared for all abnormal operations so as to ensure on time departures and safe operations. One example of a situation for which the Aerodrome Operator has recruited the help of all ground service organisations is the management of adverse weather operations, in particular snow.

A single runway operation in snow conditions requires extensive coordination and cooperation between all stakeholders on the aerodrome. Each organisation has to rigorously follow a coordinated time allocation for the various activities that have to be conducted so as to get the aircraft off the ground smoothly and efficiently. The timing of activities and coordination methods has to be established prior to the beginning of the adverse weather conditions. The roles and responsibilities of each organisation have to be defined and, when possible, any potential operational malfunction, such as mechanical failures or lack of staffing, have to be mitigated before hand.

In general, there are four fundamental principles of emergency preparedness that will ensure the development of adequate procedures to manage abnormal operations and events. These same principles can be applied by all operators for any identified abnormal or degraded operational situation.

  1. Mitigation

This is a process whereby potential malfunctions, failures or hazards leading to an undesired effect are identified and measures are put in place to prevent the occurrence of a potential event. Mitigation measures can be either physical or procedural and include various aspects related to the specific operation. When linking emergency preparedness with safety risk management mitigation measures are identified and implemented based on a calculated level of risk. For example, a very costly mitigation measure may not be implemented if the probability and impact of an identified undesirable situation is very low. However, if the probability of the same event were to change and become high, the implementation of a costly mitigation measure would certainly be reconsidered.

  1. Preparedness

The preparedness process is a constant cycle of planning, organising, equipping, training, exercising, evaluating and improving all activities necessary to deal with an abnormal situation on the airfield. This is a key process that ensures adequate coordination, collaboration between the various stakeholders but also provides all organisations with the right capabilities to deal with a specific situation. Continuous emergency preparedness activities have to be conducted so as to constantly be prepared for the occurrence of possible hazards, especially when the mitigation measures identified or put in place fail to adequately reduce or eliminate the hazard.

  1. Response

The response phase in emergency preparedness is the most reactive phase in the overall process as it takes place once the mitigation measures have failed and the undesired event has taken place. With adequate preparation, training and testing, the response phase will be smoothly and efficiently carried out therefore quickly returning to normal operations on the aerodrome. Even though the response to each abnormal or degraded situation will be different, the preparedness phase should allow emergency planners to define basic operating principles that are applicable to almost all situations.

  1. Recovery

Recovery after an event aims to bring back the same level of efficiency and safety to the operations that were present prior to the event. Event recovery should also integrate a review phase where emergency preparedness plans, procedures, systems and processes are reviewed based on the outcome of the specific event and changes are made to ensure appropriate response for a future similar event.

Emergency planning on an aerodrome is a continuous process that has to integrate all stakeholders. The aerodrome operator has to lead the development of emergency plans as it is a legal requirement to have an emergency plan as part of the aerodrome certification process. However, it is also up to the various operators using the aerodrome to make sure that they plan accordingly for the abnormal situations that may arise in their daily operations.

This brief overview of the emergency preparedness process describes the framework for one of the most important aspects of operational safety on an aerodrome. The fact that so many stakeholders have to work side by side on the airfield and the complexity of the operations conducted on a daily basis drives the need for emergency preparedness. However, even the best emergency planners cannot account for all possible scenarios, especially in specific and intricate operations that take place on an aerodrome, therefore it is important to continuously monitor the potential hazardous situations and make plans accordingly.