by Brian Nixon, PAS Alarm Management Engineer
A vital component to fulfilling America's energy needs comes from sources located beneath the ocean. The offshore oil and gas industry exists to service this need. As you can imagine, extracting oil and gas from beneath the ocean is a bit different from extracting oil and gas on land. The iconic images of an oil geyser shooting oil out of the ground would be an environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The offshore platforms have to be designed with the utmost respect for safety and the environment. In order to protect these valuable assets many companies have identified Alarm Management as an essential requirement in mitigating abnormal situations and preventing catastrophic losses.
As offshore platforms are unique, a unique set of training is required prior to any visit. The first component of the training involves getting out to the platform. This is typically done with a helicopter or a boat. Either way, the vessel has to travel over a good deal of water before arriving at the platform. The first component of the training involves how to survive in the water should the worst happen. The water survival course is half classroom lecture and half hands-on experience. The classroom lecture is informative and gives you a good overview of the different personal floatation devices and when to use the different types. It also covers the proper ways to approach a helicopter and how to get on and off a boat in rough seas. In the hands-on portion, you're allowed to get your feet wet, literally. Everyone dons their Flame Resistant Clothing (FRC) and jumps into the pool. In the pool, you practice the proper ways to get into a life raft from the water, how to use your FRCs as a floatation device, and how to group together with your fellow floaters to make it easier to be spotted for a rescue.
After these lessons, one of the more
daunting parts of the training occurs: Helicopter Underwater Egress Training (HUET). In HUET training, you're strapped into a helicopter chassis, dunked underwater, turned upside down, and forced to find your way out. If you've travelled in a number of different airplanes, you may have noticed there are a lot of different types of emergency exits. Some involve more levers and handles than others. In HUET training, you're given the opportunity to practice with several different types of emergency exits available on helicopters. These range from simple "push-out" windows, to more extravagant designs involving levers and handles. Upside down in pitch black water is not the time to try to figure out where the emergency latch is on the door. Even the great Houdini practiced his escapes for years before performing underwater escapes in front of an audience. In total, the typical training involves getting dunked about 6 times. The first time is just a test to make sure you're not going to panic. After that, you get the opportunity to try out the different types of emergency exits at different locations in the helicopter simulator. It took about 3 days for me to clear the smell of chlorine out of my nostrils.
The second component of the training is learning how to make as little environmental impact as possible. At a conventional facility, litter and trash are fairly easy to clean up. Walk over, pick it up, and place in a trash can. On an offshore platform, anything that goes overboard is not as easy to pick up. The training stresses that if you drop something overboard, the company has to make an attempt to retrieve it as long as it is safe to do so. Explaining to your supervisor that you lost your hardhat over the rail and now someone has to be sent out to retrieve it is not a conversation I'd like to have. The best way to clean up marine debris is to not create it in the first place, and this is stressed during the training.
The final component of the training is company specific training. This training provides more emphasis on the specific requirements of the company that operates the offshore platform. The company safety policy, environmental policy, and other such company specific information.
Once you've finished the training, a whole new adventure of small floating cities and industrial platforms awaits you. Good luck, and stay dry!