Under pressure, without panic

For the first time since the central plant at the Pendare field started up, the operation planned and ran a major accident simulation that tested all areas, and even involved the presidency of Tecpetrol.

It was a drill, but it could have been all too real. On the morning of September 26, just after 8 am, an explosion shook Campo Pendare, in the eastern Colombian plains. Lightning had struck one of the processing tanks, igniting a fire that caused the tank to collapse and left three people dead. While the emergency alarms echoed throughout the operation, the magnitude of the event required a crisis committee involving Tecpetrol senior management to spring into action.

Luckily, the tragic event was just an exercise launched by the operation to train employees how to act in extreme situations. “It was crucial to see just how prepared we are as an organization to respond to events on that scale, which has such high potential,” explained Juan Pablo Presser, HSE Manager Colombia.

The event included a virtual reality immersion exercise that allowed participants to take different kinds of crisis management decisions based on real-time information.-

“During an emergency, you’re dealing with the unexpected, and this simulation tested our ability and preparedness in extreme circumstances,” analyzed José Feretti, Country Director of Colombia. “This was a different process that activated us: we knew that each step exposed us to a new and unpredictable situation,” he added. As manager, he was in charge of taking all the decisions, and even handled the media.

The emergency drill was an initiative devised by the Health, Safety, and Environment (HSE) area which spent three months planning it together with a specialized consulting firm, which needed a lot of information to design the event itself. Then the adjustments for the day scheduled took another month. However, on that September morning, everything happened in just two hours, involving 158 people from the CPF at CPO Block 13 in the area as well as from further afield. 

Each of those involved was very clear about their role. “The most challenging thing was communication; the field had to articulate its movements with the crisis committee and, at the same time, we who were in the field with the tank on fire, had to evacuate the plant without affecting the continuity of the operation," detailed Darío Delgado, Health, Safety & Environment Supervisor, from his point of view.

The management plan for events of this magnitude requires those responsible for the operational response to a fire to coordinate things among themselves, but as the repercussions exceeded the scope of the plant, according to the plan, a special committee was activated in Bogotá. This involved "detailed emergency management."

It’s a question of roles.It’s crucial to be sure that members of the emergency management team are clear about what they have to do in an adverse and stressful situation.

Getting into position 

"Dealing with a situation where a person dies is incredibly complex, and I hope it never happens, but the simulation puts us in that scenario, and you have to handle it and do things like call their family members. It really makes you think," reflects Feretti.  

Although those working in HSE have to coexist with the possibility of such events, the drill has another function. "As it puts you squarely in front of the likelihood of something happening, it prompts you to think about what the company expects us to do in these cases, so we try to give everyone tools," explains Presser. “It’s far better to be prepared for something that is unlikely to happen than for something to happen that we aren’t prepared to handle.”

The supposed event took place in good weather conditions, and involved 158 people.-

The entire team agrees that exercises at this level foster great enthusiasm in the group, as people feel challenged and get involved. "Our colleagues didn’t know who we’d chosen for the drill, which gives us feedback and sparks the flame that we as emergency managers can’t afford to let go out," adds Delgado. He invites all operations to "benchmark and test our reactions" in situations like these. 

Experience at Fortín de Piedra

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