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What does it take to be a true expert? (Part 7: IMS)

Friday, November 16, 2018

What does it take to be a true expert? (Part 7: IMS)

In this series of articles, we look to highlight the activity of OSRL’s Subject Matter Experts (SME) programme and the working groups established to advance each discipline’s objectives.

This week we spoke with Tim Coombs, senior spill response specialist and co-chair of the ‘Incident Management Systems’ core group for OSRL. We discussed the historic and current objectives of the group, why it’s such an important topic and where the discipline is heading.


What can you tell us about incident management systems (IMS) and the role the core group is playing?

Firstly, it’s worth taking a moment to explain what IMS is. In the context we’re discussing, IMS is a standardised approach to incident management. It guides how personnel, facilities, equipment, procedures, and communications are effectively coordinated within a common structure during an incident. In practical terms, the OSRL IMS team is concerned with supporting members through the transition between an initial reactive phase – where we are gathering intelligence and trying to fully comprehend the situation – to a more proactive stage, where the scope of the incident is understood, and where our activity is being driven by a set of clear objectives, designed to minimise the impact of the event.

Coming back to the SME programme, the IMS core group was set up in Q3 of 2016 – making us one of the last groups to be officially formed. The upshot of that was an immediate need to develop a strategy for OSRL’s board to approve, and the core group team to buy into, and work against.

Our first challenge was defining that strategy. There was a lack of clarity between IMS and ICS, and the differences between the two approaches. ICS refers to Incident Command System, and is primarily a ‘command and control’ strategy for managing standard, on-scene, day-to-day operations. Fundamentally, however, both IMS and ICS are based on the same process – you start with an incident and you work through a procedure to create an incident action plan for the next operational period, then you review, learn, adjust and repeat. The critical difference is that IMS is the overarching structure for managing any incident, and expands upon ICS, creating a single, unified framework, which incorporates principles of MACS (multi-agency coordination system) at the site level and within the emergency operations centre.

To complicate things further, several important oil and gas producing countries have adopted strategies based on ICS. For example, in the US, you have NIMS, which stands for the National Incident Management System, or in Australia, you have AIIMS, which is the Australasian Inter-service Incident Management System. Despite their names, they are broadly based on the ICS process, so we needed to bring everything under one umbrella, and develop a globally recognised strategy that considers all those variables. We decided that IMS was the right direction to take, as it would give us the flexibility to fit in with any other existing approach.

Once the foundation of our strategy was agreed, we reviewed all the work OSRL had already done in this area to understand the gaps, and where our focus should be.  We then began to expand the team, bringing in three industry sponsors from different regions around the world. We have Terry Moore from Noble Energy in the US; Rupert Bravery from Exxon Mobil in EMEA; and Trudi Angwin from Woodside Energy in Australia. Each brings a wealth of local and international knowledge and experience, so they are incredibly valuable to the group.

Within the group there are also nine other members from OSRL, ranging from experienced mentors to contributors. They are all based in key regions so we have a true global outlook that reflects the industry’s varied requirements.  


What are the group’s current objectives?

Since we joined the SME programme, the primary purpose of the IMS core group has remained consistent. Our main objective is to standardise procedures, protocols and the application of IMS principles within OSRL. We want to build our internal confidence and competence to effectively and proactively interact with any of our members’ existing frameworks, using the best-practice guidelines we’ve developed in collaboration with the industry.

To achieve those objectives, we identified four themes and created a three-year action plan to deliver on the objectives set within each one.

  1. The first theme is ‘technical development’ and is concerned with the review and updating of existing internal IMS documentation, such as forms and handbooks, as well as performing training needs analysis for OSRL team members.
  2. That leads onto the second theme, which is ‘competence’, and is focused on supporting the professional development of OSRL personnel through accreditation and quality training. We need to ensure our people can follow any approach towards IMS or ICS that a member might be using, and hit the ground running in the event of an incident, and that is all achieved through increasing our competencies.
  3. The third theme is ‘stakeholder engagement’, where we’re working with the other core groups and OSRL departments to align our approaches and encourage good practice throughout the organisation. We are also committed to external engagement, establishing mutually beneficial relationships with members, key industry experts and potential partners. This could include practical exercises and accredited training courses, or be focused on developing the academic side of the discipline. Another tenet of this theme is sharing what we have developed and learnt with the wider industry through placing papers with relevant journals and speaking at events and conferences on the topic of IMS.
  4. The fourth theme is looking specifically at the development of the IMS core group team members, expanding our knowledge of the varied IMSs used globally. This can involve national exercises, working with the likes of NIIMS or AIIMS, the coastguard or government departments to train all the different teams of responders and educate their own personnel. The last part of this theme is continuing to perform R&D on new tools and approaches to IMS, to ensure we stay at the forefront of the available opportunities.

We’ve already seen the group progress several of these themes, to the point where, with more than a year still to go, we’re able to position OSRL as true experts in IMS. And, that opinion has already been validated by large, globally active members selecting us to manage the development of their IMS strategy and implementation.

With that type of project, we’re creating online and residential courses at different levels, covering different processes, along with the relevant training documentation that matches the member’s specific operations. Were also reviewing existing IMS forms and processes to identify areas for improvement, and we’ve been running full-scale exercises with members’ teams, so it’s a broad and varied requirement.


Finally, what’s next for the IMS core group?

The future is about continuing to make IMS simpler and easier to understand for our members. It can be a complex topic but it doesn’t always have to be, and we are keen to remove as much unnecessary complexity as possible. I’ve been to training sessions where it’s death by PowerPoint, with days of dry presentations. We want to move on from that, bringing in more practical training, with on-the-water exercises, to ensure recipients get a realistic and hands-on education on IMS.

Beyond that, there is no limit to the applications for using IMS in any crisis scenario. We want OSRL to be a gold standard in IMS, going beyond oil spills to make our offer appealing to the broadest possible audience. That could be the aftermath of an earthquake, hurricane or tsunami, so it isn’t just the oil industry that we’re thinking about.

Finally, it’s about continuous improvement. We are never finished, there is always more to be done to progress the discipline and our understanding of it.


Author Bio(s)

Tim Coombs

Principal Trainer

Tim joined OSRL with 22 years as a Marine Engineering Technician in the Royal Navy and is experienced in Gas Turbine Propulsion and Hydraulic Systems. Having completed 14 years as a Chief Petty Officer, he brings experience in engineering and leadership to the company. 

Since joining OSRL Tim has also been in the position of Workshop and Maintenance Supervisor and responded to spills in Australia, India, Gibraltar and the UK, as well as the 2010 Macondo incident in the Gulf of Mexico and more recently to Gabon, Africa as a Technical Advisor.

As a Principal Trainer Tim has delivered training in West and Central Africa, South America, Falkland Islands, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan (where he also responded to an incident), Germany, Holland, Gibraltar and the UK.

Tim holds the position of Chair for OSRL’s Incident Management System (IMS) Core Group which specialise in emergency management systems used around the globe and has delivered training in this subject to several of our members.