AIS Training's parent company, 3T Energy Group, is using realism and virtual reality to boost safety in emergency response and crisis management.
Paul Attril, 3T Energy Group, UK examines the importance of an effective major accident hazard response team and the difficulties they face when dealing with extreme situations in World Pipelines magazine.
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Preparing crews for the worst
When an explosion or fire occurs on an oil and gas pipeline you can be sure you are going to be facing one of the most extreme emergency situations to manage.
Although rare, incidents of this type result in the most catastrophic consequences imaginable. Local communities within the incident’s radius are often left devastated, with horrendous outcomes such as human fatalities, destruction of homes and property, and damage to the surrounding environment.
According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) there have been more than 3200 accidents for natural gas alone since 1987. In January, illegal tapping of an oil pipeline in Mexico resulted in the deaths of 128 people, after local residents gathered to fill containers with leaking gasoline. In October 2018, 50 people burnt to death in a pipeline explosion in Aba, Nigeria and in January 2019 a natural gas pipeline in Ohio exploded, destroying two homes, with local reports noting flames up to 200 ft high.
Although the risk of preventing these types of incidents can be reduced, correct and prompt incident management can also limit the consequences.
UK energy training provider, AIS Training, part of the 3T Energy Group, has partnered up with security company Restrata to develop a suite of OPITO-approved crisis management courses that train senior managers how to manage emergency scenarios.
3T Energy Group’s vision is to transform the global training market through technology. The Group comprises AIS Training, Drilling Systems, and Survivex.
Although not mandatory, crisis management training is important to ensure senior managers are properly prepared and ready to respond quickly should the unthinkable happen. Typically, training covers everything from how to communicate during the crisis with all the necessary agencies such as police, coastguard and emergency services, to decision making, maintaining control, and implementing predetermined strategies and plans.
Realism in training
Numerous surveys show that practical training is unmatched in terms of equipping people with the right techniques and skills to use outside of the classroom. Both AIS Training and Restrata believe that for crisis management training to work at its best, delegates need to feel completely immersed in the experience and encounter actions and emotions as if they were facing a real crisis. PowerPoint presentations alone simply do not cut it.
For example, the OPITO-approved four day Major Emergency Management Initial Response (MEMIR) course developed by AIS Training and Restrata has realism built in.
Keith Western, Training Manager at Restrata, explains: “As part of our MEMIR course, we use a simulator to train delegates. This replicates all of the equipment and operations of an emergency response room. Alarms are both visual and audible and there are CCTV images and realistic sound effects. We also use convincing emergency scenarios which feel very real.
“Delegates are placed right in the heart of the action as if they were in the middle of a real life emergency situation. Scenarios are played out in real-time with delegates allocated roles to deal with the situation as if in the workplace.
“As the realistic scenarios roll out, it’s not unusual to see the physical effects of stress on people. People’s body language will slump when bad news is delivered and there’s a deep ‘exhale’ when the exercise is over. Training delegates in this way ensures that when they are in the field the right response becomes intuitive and timely.
“It’s certainly true that by the end of the course, the difference in people can be astonishing and truly ransformational. Even those who are extremely nervous and unsure of what to do during their first practical session become confident and knowledgeable during the final session.”
Training like this ensures that the response to real emergency situations is quick and effective – minimising additional damage and any potential for legal action.
Virtual reality advances
In addition to simulation, the growing use of virtual reality software in the oil and gas industry is playing a huge part in making training feel real and helping to improve personnel effectiveness when facing extreme situations.
Another of 3T Energy Group’s companies, Neutron VR, specialises in virtual reality software and has worked across a range of sectors and for large multinationals such as McDonald’s, Galliard Homes, Samsung UK, and Equinox Gyms, delivering virtual reality experiences and games. Neutron’s roots are grounded in gaming. The company’s founders previously worked for games developer Eutechnyx, which creates PlayStation titles such as James Bond 007 and The Fast and The Furious, thus the Neutron team is extremely experienced in creating striking visuals and immersive experiences.
Neutron is seeing an increasing number of oil and gas companies embrace virtual technology for bespoke projects.
Developing a virtual reality training programme for the oil and gas industry
In 2016, Neutron was approached by DNV GL to create a virtual reality training programme for the management of emergency situations in the oil and gas industry. Located at Spadeadam in Cumbria, UK, DNV GL Research & Testing provides experiential training for personnel involved in oil and gas operations in relation to major accident hazards – primarily fires and explosions. Because major accident hazards are outside normal working experience for personnel, the ability to witness and experience large scale fires and explosions in a training setting reinforces the message to personnel about how such events are prevented and mitigated.
DNV GL was keen to take this type of experience to a more global audience, and decided it needed something more than classroom training with normal video. Virtual reality offered a more memorable experience and was able to place the major hazards within a ‘work’ type of environment. Neutron was commissioned to undertake the project.
Co-founder of Neutron, Richard Coates explains: “DNV GL wanted to develop a platform that could allow major accident scenarios to be played out through virtual reality. Using a base set of different emergency scenarios, virtual reality would enhance the major accident hazard learning experience.
“Over a period of 18 months, we worked very closely together with DNV GL to develop storyboards, capture 360° video footage, and apply the narratives to a virtual reality platform. Since we were visualising extreme situations such as explosions and major fires, it was important to make them look believable.
This was one of the most innovative aspects of the project and is unique in the marketplace within this type of application.
“The team watched dozens of videos of real fires frame by frame to watch how a fire grows and the shapes it takes as it develops. We then used volumetric rendering to redraw the frames and create realistic virtual reality models of fires which people could interact with.
“Many of the scenarios we recreated were based on actual events or events which could have happened. For example, in one particular virtual reality scenario, a relief valve on top of a pipe is swapped out for maintenance by the user. The user is then made to incorrectly tighten the temporary stopper and fail to record the action in paperwork. This activity eventually results in the temporary stopper being knocked out by accident and a spark igniting the gas within the pipe, causing a jet fire. By actively involving the user in making these mistakes you ensure better memory retention. Essentially you learn more from your own mistakes, so a delegate seeing the consequences of their actions will remember the experience.
“We also spent many months recreating the Spadeadam DNV GL site so that people could view the real environment one minute and see it in virtual reality the next. This all adds to the realism and immersive nature of the programme. However, we did manage to use some specific techniques from the gaming industry to help expediate the project. In video games, players don’t interact with the background – it’s simply there to add realism and colour to the main action. In the same way we created a ‘Lego set’ of pipework in virtual reality which we could pick and choose to make the background environment feel real but different every time. Digital recordings of real actors were used to ensure the characters on screen moved like real people. The entire project was highly innovative and unique, and will significantly help oil and gas personnel in learning lessons from past events and potential hazards to ultimately improve safety in the industry.”
Gary Tomlin, Head of Research and Testing, UK and West Africa at DNV GL said: “Our virtual reality programme has proved extremely popular with clients and we are now planning to develop this further. We want to work with our clients to add more scenarios and learn more about how this type of application can help individual businesses and the industry in general. Eventually we hope to extend the learning to help control operations and incident findings.”
As well as being well received by clients, the DNV GL programme has been recognised by the oil and gas industry for its approach after reaching the final of the Society of Petroleum Engineers’ Offshore Achievement Awards.
Unfortunately, there will always be crisis situations to manage around oil and gas pipelines globally. Training people through engaging technology and proven techniques helps to improve the response to a crisis. It ensures senior personnel make the right decisions with a cool head, preventing extreme situations from escalating to an even bigger crisis.