Preincident Assessment of Industrial and Manufacturing Properties

By Ben Peetz

Industrial and manufacturing facilities can present many challenges for a safe, efficient response. Many of these facilities are large or complex, and a response must be reviewed and planned ahead of the incident instead of trying to develop plans and establish needed resources during an event. Every facility is different, and this means every incident will present a different response scenario. Some incidents will involve production processes; others may be limited to storage. Some fires may be kept in check with limited loss; others could quickly grow to consume an entire facility.

Pre-emergency evaluation and planning also present challenges, but these preincident activities also provide incident commanders with plenty of time to assess needs and gather additional information where needed. How do you go about pre-emergency assessment and planning of these types of locations?

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When it comes to the initial evaluation, the core question that must be examined is, what makes this particular property a greater concern than a typical response? These concerns will then translate into decisions that must be made with regard to response needs like advanced tactics, special equipment, increased staffing levels, and additional water supply. Unfortunately, the answers will vary greatly, as every property will present different challenges. The construction of the buildings, the equipment used, the fire loading, the presence of hazardous storage–among many other variables–will ultimately give you the sum total concern for the location.

Where should you start? How do you even begin to evaluate a million square-foot production facility? Where should you focus your attention? This seemingly monumental task must be broken into a few basic steps: (1) Assess the hazards, (2) evaluate the risks, (3) consider the capabilities and resources needed for a response, and (4) establish an action plan.

Assessing Hazards

The hazards that need to be considered initially are the same for all properties. Consider the basics of the property, like construction and exposures. How will these factors contribute to a fire’s growth or spread? Facilities that are primarily of combustible construction will obviously present more hazards, as will buildings with lightweight or truss construction features.

Now, look at the materials and processes that make up the occupancy. Is the raw material or the final product combustible? Does this facility include any type of hazardous material storage; if so, how much volume? Consider the storage practices and also the packaging for the materials. Are you looking at bulk-tank storage of flammable materials, or do you have only some five-gallon pails?

Process hazards must not take into account only the materials being handled but also the process itself and the equipment being used. Be sure to examine the particular elements that make this facility stand apart from others. High-voltage electrical installations may provide an above-average ignition hazard. In some cases, the equipment may present more of an actual hazard than the product itself. For example, in a metal-stamping facility using large hydraulic presses, the equipment may contain hundreds of gallons of hydraulic fluid even though the product is noncombustible. If flammable processes are involved, are there any ignition sources that could cause this to be a higher-hazard operation?

Evaluating the Risk

Once you have established the primary hazards, you will again need to look at the specific circumstances that make this property different from the standpoint of making a response. Think through all of the things that could go wrong, from the simplest possibilities to the worst-case scenarios.

Look at the complex’s construction and fire isolation features. Evaluate the fire prevention programs, protection equipment, and mitigation plans to determine how quickly a fire will grow and how much property will be involved. For example, a noncombustible facility with a well-designed, adequately supplied automatic sprinkler system will certainly be deemed less of a concern than a nonsprinklered, wood-frame facility in a rural area.

In many situations, using a risk assessment matrix approach can help you analyze what you have in front of you. The matrix is simply a tool to guide you in determining what smaller incidents may occur within a facility and then estimate the overall effect. For this type of planning and assessment, a modified risk assessment matrix may be appropriate, where the user evaluates the size and severity of fire that is likely to result from a particular event, combined with the likelihood that the event will occur and that a fire would be ignited.

SEVERITY

Catastrophic
(5)

Major
(4)

Significant
(3)

Marginal
(2)

Negligible
(1)

LIKELIHOOD

Always
(5)

Catastrophic loss will occur.

Major loss will occur.

Significant loss will occur.

Marginal loss will occur.

Little loss will occur.

Likely
(4)

Catastrophic loss is likely to occur.

Major loss is likely to occur.

Significant loss is likely to occur.

Marginal loss is likely to occur.

Little loss is likely to occur.

Sometimes
(3)

Catastrophic loss will sometimes occur.

Major loss will sometimes occur.

Significant loss will sometimes occur.

Marginal loss will sometimes occur.

Little loss will sometimes occur.

Possible
(2)

Catastrophic loss could occur.

Major loss could occur.

Significant loss could occur.

Marginal loss could occur.

Little loss could occur.

Unlikely
(1)

Catastrophic loss is unlikely occur.

Major loss is unlikely occur.

Significant loss is unlikely occur.

Marginal loss is unlikely occur.

Little loss is unlikely occur.

Example of a risk assessment matrix that may be used to evaluate the risk of major fire loss in an industrial or a manufacturing property, based on a given event. The result produced by the matrix can be used as a guide in determining needs for pre-emergency planning.

Basically, this tool asks you to evaluate two questions, and then it guides you in determining the sum criticality of these two answers. First, you must look at the event and determine how bad the result will be if it occurs. Then, you will take that same event and give thought to how often you expect it to occur. By combining the two answers, the matrix can give you an idea of how much risk the particular event poses in terms of a response. The higher risk events may then demand more attention than those events deemed less of a risk.

Determining Response Capabilities

Once you have determined the potential events and how likely they are to occur, you can then begin figuring out how prepared you are for an incident. Will the incident present more challenge than a routine call?

Take a look at staffing and personnel needs. Will you have adequate staffing, or should you plan to call for mutual aid? Will you have an adequate water supply available? Perhaps you will have plenty of water at the onset of an incident, but what about those potentially large-scale incidents or when you are about six hours into the response? 12 hours? 24 hours?

What do you expect the fire load to involve? Decide if you have adequate resources to address a given situation. Will you be able to use water-based suppression? If so, will you need any foam additives? Will you need any specialty extinguishing agents?

A look at response capabilities should not look only at staffing and equipment; it should also include a look at your training and personnel capabilities. Can you foresee a situation where you may need additional or advanced tactics that are not currently a part of your bailiwick? For example, a fire in a dust-collection system presents a number of specific dangers that necessitate that personnel be adequately trained and informed.

Action Planning

Based on everything you have established at this point, you can then formulate plans for the scenarios you identified. Events that present the highest criticality should take precedence, especially those where special actions or resources may take additional time to put in place. Although those with higher risks may take precedence, it may be prudent to plan for some of the events that present a lower risk, especially for those situations that may occur frequently.

Plans should include actions your personnel should take as well as requests that will be made for mutual aid. Be sure to specify what you anticipate needing from mutual-aid companies, and inform them of your plan.

Action plans must also address what may be needed to isolate a scene. Traffic control may be needed to limit civilian vehicles from clogging a scene. Does this facility present the risk of a chemical release or another situation that may necessitate some level of evacuation? If so, the plan should determine who would be likely to be evacuated and identify who will issue the evacuation order and carry it out.

Overall, a preincident assessment and plan do not need to be complicated or overly difficult. If personnel take the time to look at a property ahead of an emergency call, the needs assessment and planning can be performed relatively easily, and everyone will be better prepared when the call comes in.

BIO

Ben Peetz, ASP, CFPS, is a senior loss prevention specialist and fire protection consultant for a commercial property insurance carrier, specializing in forest products and other manufacturing industries. He is a second-generation fire service veteran with the Napoleon (IN) Volunteer Fire Department, where he is an officer and has served more than 20 years. Peetz is an IFSAC-certified fire instructor II/III and a Fire Department Instructors Conference instructor. He is a National Fire Protection Association-certified fire protection specialist and a Board of Certified Safety Professionals associate safety professional. He has degrees from Purdue University.

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