The Gulf of Mexico oil spill has been described by US President Barack Obama as an “environmental September 11”. The April 20 oil rig explosion killed 11 workers, and resulted in millions of litres of oil flowing into the Gulf. From a risk management perspective, Obama’s analogy is apt. September 11 demonstrated how it can take a major disaster before significant changes in regulation and risk management are considered. For example, airport and border security were overhauled following the 2001 terrorist attacks on the US. It is anticipated that major changes in regulation and standards of risk management in the petroleum industry will occur following this disaster. The incident has also illustrated the importance of being properly prepared.

Risk Management Planning

When developing plans for emergencies, crisis, business continuity or other risk treatments, it is essential to explore the different circumstances that may negatively impact the organisation and ensure you are adequately prepared for each.

During a US Federal Government House Energy and Environment subcommittee enquiry into the Gulf spill, it was reported by CNN’s Money website that a senior lawmaker had accused the major oil companies of taking a “cookie cutter” approach to contingency planning - that is, a generic approach that failed to take into account the varied contexts of emergencies.

One such example became a major source of embarrassment for oil companies, when it was reported that the companies’ emergency response plans for drilling in the Gulf of Mexico mentioned how to protect walruses (which are confined to Arctic regions), and also referring to a phone number of a marine biologist who had died five years earlier.

Implications for the Events and Venues Industries

There is a clear need for all public venues and events to ensure their risk management plans are kept up to date. However there is always a difficult balance between cost savings by using more generic plans, versus the increased cost but (presumably) improved effectiveness of using individualised risk management plans for large or multi-site venues or events.

The key is finding the balance between specificity and simplicity. Too generic a plan, and confusion or gaps appear; too complicated a plan, and it will not be read and implemented.

The detail and complexity of these plans should be driven by the risk profile for each location and the regulatory profile the organisation operates under.

Many venues and events regularly invite the equivalent of the population of a small town into their care; they feed them, entertain them and send them on their way. There is clearly much opportunity for things to go wrong. Being prepared is essential.

The key is: consider the risks, develop a plan, make it relevant, train your people and test the system regularly.

Australian Standard AS3745:2002 Emergency control organisation and procedures for buildings, structures and workplaces provides an important guide to developing emergency plans. This is currently under review by Standards Australia with a soon-to-be-released amendment that is proposed to make a greater distinction between emergency plans and emergency/evacuation procedures.