Monday, February 23, 2009

DHS Exercise of SandT Communications

Last month I read a short little piece on the ACC website about a ‘table-top’ exercise that DHS was going to be putting on in early March. Now DHS sponsors all sorts of exercises and drills, but this one sounded a little bit different because of the purpose. This exercise would be “designed to facilitate and accelerate the delivery of critical infrastructure protection technologies”. Needless to say, my interest was peaked. Since that piece came out, I have been trying, in fits and starts, to get some more information, some details about how this ‘table-top exercise’ was going to fulfill its designed goal. Well on Friday, I finally had a chance to talk to one of the people that is responsible for this ‘little game’, Leslie Sibick, Chief, Research and Development Project Office, and it was an interesting telephone conversation, well worth the wait. Drills and Exercises Before I get to the details of what I learned in that conversation, I think that it would be appropriate to take a look at why we use drills and exercises. Most readers of this blog will have at least a passing familiarity with emergency response drills. A typical emergency response exercise will physically simulate an incident that could happen at a facility. Then the people involved will exercise their pre-planned response to that simulated emergency. A variety of people and response agencies can take part in the drill, but essentially everyone is going to do in the drill what they would do in the actual situation. Generally we think of these drills as training or evaluation exercises. The people involved will have some level of familiarity with the tasks involved; they know what they are supposed to do; they just need practice so that they can do it effectively in the event the incident ever really happens. Before these emergency response drills can take place, however, some one must determine what everyone is supposed to do. Some one must decide that if this happens, this should be done; it should be done by this person or group, it should be done using this equipment and using these procedures. Due consideration must be made for missing people and equipment and for responses for a whole host of things that can go wrong. The more detailed this planning is done in advance, the smoother the training goes, and the smoother the drill or exercise goes. Process Development Essentially what we are talking about here is process development, developing the process for responding to an emergency incident. Now process development is something that I know a lot about, it is what I did for most of my career in the chemical industry. I developed refined and improved chemical manufacturing processes. I became quite good at it and I understand the process of process development. Developing a process, any process, starts out with an idea of how to accomplish a task. That initial idea usually comes from the mind of a single individual. Now one thing that I have learned in my life is that no successful process comes from the mind of just one person. The reason for that is simple, life is too complex for any one person to conceive of all of the things that can happen to make a process go wrong. Now, the next most important thing about process development that I have learned I learned before I ever set foot in a chemical production facility. I learned this, had it pounded into my head, in my first career as an Infantry NCO. The military has a rule that is familiar to every successful general and sergeant; no plan survives contact with the enemy. It means that no matter how well you plan, no matter how well you train, when it comes time to actually put that plan into action something over which you have no control will cause you to change your plan. Experimental Development Now in the chemical industry we dealt with that problem by conducting a series of experiments. The experiments would start out small in the laboratory. We would look at all of the things that we though could go wrong; temperature too high or too low, too much of one ingredient or another. The more complex the process, or the more unique the process the more experiments were done. As we successfully found all the things that could go wrong, and how to prevent or correct them, we would scale up the experiments to a larger size container. We started with small scale glassware experiments and then moved into 1-liter reaction vessels that more closely simulated the process equipment that we would use in production. Then we would scale-up to 20-liter vessels and then 2000-liter vessels. Then we would move into production scale equipment. At each step along the way there was a formal review of what had been done, what had been learned in the previous experiments. As the scale increased the number of people involved in the review process increased as did the formality of the review. This was because the number of people involved in conducting the experiments would increase, but also because the risk and the cost of the experiments would increase. Process Reviews The most intense and practical reviews were the process safety reviews. A team of experienced individuals from a variety of different disciplines in the facility would get together and review each individual step of the process and ask a series of what if questions; what if the temperature got too high, what if the wrong material were added. If the answer was some negative consequence, ranging from a bad product to a vessel exploding, a control or preventive action had to be developed to stop that from happening. DHS’ Little Game Well, what does that have to do with this little game that DHS has developed to “to facilitate and accelerate the delivery of critical infrastructure protection technologies”? To find that out, you are going to have to tune in to the next installment: S&T Communications Development.

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