The ‘Expert Q&A’ series highlights the experiences of practitioners and thought-leaders in the field of Emergency Management, Communications, & Response.
Jerry Haynes is a Senior Operations Specialist at EOG Resources (Enron Oil & Gas Company) located in San Antonio, Texas.
Omnilert: Tell us a bit about yourself and your position within EOG.
Jerry Haynes: I have been with EOG coming up on 9 and a half years. EOG is an oil and gas company. We do drilling and have some pipeline services. I work in their IS department. I started out doing division support for the offices we have in a few other countries and scattered around the United States and so I used to do project support for them. I’d go in and assess needs for things that needed to be upgraded and changed or modified and then come back and work with teams to make sure it was accomplished.
About five years ago I got into the regulatory side with field communications with the FCC. For all of our field communications we build a lot of our own infrastructure out in the oil and gas fields that we operate in because there’s nothing else out there to use. They are usually in remote areas and you have to follow certain federal guidelines on communications when you are using towers that exceed certain heights. I manage the compliance for all of that. I work with some outside consultants and we put a lot of towers through the process.
As things started to wind down on that project I was handed disaster recovery. When I was in Houston (a hurricane target sometimes) we had Hurricane Ike about six years ago, so we talked about the need to notify people when they didn't have company phones or couldn't get an email. That’s how we came across Omnilert. But disaster recovery is how I really got into it.
I’ve been in IT for 25 years and have done lots of different things.
Omnilert: What do you most enjoy about your job/position?
JH: I divide people into two groups: what I call “front office people” and “back office people”. “Back office people” are people who like programming and writing code and don’t like to interact with other people. But I would rather call someone then send an email. I like interacting with people, working on projects, maintaining relationships within the company and with vendors outside the company (I have some vendors I have worked with for over 11 years) - I love relationships. Also, the research. I really like when someone gives me a problem and asks me to figure out who we can use or how we can accomplish something. That’s what I like to do.
Omnilert: How does your position tie in with emergency communications? Who is responsible for sending messages?
JH: Well, my current position really doesn't tie into it anymore - but when I came here, to the San Antonio office, they didn’t have Omnilert set up. I had created all the documentation for it in the Houston office and then distributed it to the other offices where we deployed it, like Denver, Oklahoma City, and Corpus Christi, but we didn't have it in San Antonio when we got here. But I got them set up and made the office specific documentation and trained a few people on it. Every once in awhile I will get a question from HQ (the Houston office) on something about Omnilert. But the documentation and support you guys have is really good and it’s really easy to use. If nothing goes on and there aren’t any disasters and no reason to launch it, people are going to forget things. So we’ll see how much people remember and how much the documentation is helpful down the road, but as far as first line support for that and what goes on internally, that now falls to another colleague of mine.
Our Health Safety and Environmental group and HR may send notifications out - but I am more the nuts and bolts guy. Someone may call me to ask about how tomake a recording, or how to send out a notice, and as I mentioned, I’ve created documentation for how to do it but no one wants to look at documentation when the time comes. They would rather call somebody and ask. I would not be the one generating messages.
Omnilert: How is Omnilert implemented at EOG?
JH: We have groups and each Division office has their own portal. For example, the Denver office can sent out a notification and it won’t alert people in Houston or Corpus Christi or wherever, so we have it divided up by division office. Some of the divisions have what we call “big field offices” where you may have a couple hundred people working out of a field office and it gets further subdivided from there.
We did create some Scenarios in Houston and it’s in the documentation. To my knowledge, I don’t know if any of the other division offices did. Here, in San Antonio, we don’t use scenarios - it will be a simple recording and then a notification goes out to whatever information people have provided regarding how they want to be contacted. We don’t have 100% participation because HR decided that we couldn’t make it mandatory for people to provide their personal phone numbers and email addresses so we use opt-in. We sent out emails and gave people the opportunity to click on a link and sign up and provide whatever phone number or email they wanted and how they wanted to be notified. I haven’t looked to see what our participation percentage is here in San Antonio, but in Houston it was about 60% of the employees in that office that opted in and signed up.
Omnilert has been implemented at EOG for about three, going on four, years. Prior to using Omnilert, we would send an email or contact those who had company phones. HR would get with the General Manager and figure out what to say and send out an email to the entire office and that’s how people would get notified. But not everyone had a company phone or could access company email after hours, or in a timely manner.
Omnilert: Can you tell me about your team? Who helps with planning or when something actually happens? Who is at the table?
JH: The San Antonio office will have the General Manager that, depending on what emergency is coming, will get with HR on the phone or in person and discuss how they will notify people, do they need to notify people, what will they need to tell people, etc. So at this office it may involve the IT Manager and a few other people. It’s not a big complicated decision on the level of a national emergency, but more of a simple situation where we get bad weather coming in or major flooding, so we simply have to decide if we are going to tell people not to come to work.
We also implemented this in our Calgary office in Canada and only a third of those people in the office had company phones and could not get company email after hours before Omnilert. So the Calgary office General Manager, HR Manager, and IT Manager, got on a phone call to figure out how they were going to notify all these people to not come in when they had a big flood event. Some people had to come in to shut equipment down in the server room, so they had to coordinate that with the local Manager. I remember talking to the IT Manager in Calgary and he said people were still coming in and walking in waist deep water to come in the office. He was so confused and wondering why they were doing that. So that was their attraction to Omnilert.
Same thing at our Corpus Christi office - they had tropical storm come in. And we couldn’t notify people if they didn’t have access to their work email.
Regarding process, it isn’t complicated for us - the decision whether or not to send an alert - and doesn’t require a lot of signatures or a lot of people to get involved. One of the things about EOG - it’s a relatively flat organization. We don't have layers and layers of management. Things don't have to be signed by six different people before you can move ahead so the General Manager can just get with with local HR person and figure out what, and when, to tell people. That's it. Not an extravagant show to put out an alert.
Omnilert: Is there typically one person who is responsible for how things go during an incident, or is it more of a team approach?
JH: It’s the same people. The General Manager over the entire division office and HR person that is in the same office. Probably also the Environment Health and Safety Manager. Those three would be the people to make the call and then would probably let the corporate office in Houston know what’s going on.
When I was in Houston we do have a more complex and comprehensive plan for if there was a natural disaster. When we had Hurricane Ike come to Houston certain company officers had to be at least 250 miles away. So they would go to the Fort Worth office. Like the San Antonio office, and most of our major offices, we have backup power. Usually a natural gas or diesel generator that keeps the core systems up and running in case of emergency like that, but in Houston we had to get certain people out of town, and we had to make the decision whether or not we were going to fail over all of our data systems to our Fort Worth office - which is our backup site. There are teams that are put in place to accomplish the fail over and then to help revert it back once the emergency is passed. They may be notified by a group in Omnilert, but people get on the phone and emails start flying back and forth after, so Omnilert is used for the initial notification.
Omnilert: Can you talk about a time EOG has had to utilize Omnilert during an incident?
JH: As far as the San Antonio office, in the three years they have been using it they have only used it once for freezing rain. They sent out a notice to people who had opted in to use their own discretion or to not come in because of the ice storm. To my knowledge that is the one and only time they have used it here. We send out an email, too, and there is a toll free number they can call in to hear information that is tied into Omnilert. We had our emergency toll free number set up and we tied into the Omnilert system, so the people who are responsible for setting up a notice didn't have to record multiple messages in multiple places. So the best example here at San Antonio would be the freezing rain.
Omnilert came after Hurricane Ike in Houston, but I know our Denver office uses it for snow days when they get snowed in and they need to tell employees not to come in. But there hasn't been, I don't want to say “routine”, but there hasn’t been anything where we’ve had to use it and we can say we’ve ‘saved lives’.
I can see where there would be scenarios where an active shooter situation occurs where you need to notify people there's someone with a gun and I can see the appreciation of Omnilert for a situation like that. But there hasn't been anything life threatening for us.
The curious thing is we do have it for our Oklahoma City office, and that's tornado alley, but the office has fortunately never been hit and they’ve never had to tell their people to shelter in place. We have been fortunate, plain, and mundane.
Omnilert: What advice would you give similar organizations regarding emergency response plans and coordination?
JH: You have to have it documented. I tell people the purpose of documentation and having a system to alert people of issues is that you have to have your redundancies. You can't have it sitting on one person's shoulders. (That comes from when I wear my disaster recovery hat.) For instance, if Bob is the only one who knows how to do this, suppose Bob gets in a car accident and can’t make it to work? Then what? Where is your documentation? HR is technically the only department that is supposed to send out alerts, but other people have the documentation if someone from HR is not available. So to me, the most important thing for any disaster scenario is thinking about replacing computers, think about getting power back on and continuing the business, but one thing that gets underestimated is the people. Suppose your key people are unavailable or injured. You have to have that documentation in order to function and bring systems back in line without those key people for any disaster scenario. Documentation in multiple places will always be worth its weight in gold. That would be my advice for those looking into something like Omnilert. Have your documentation, and have your designated primary, secondary and even tertiary responsible parties ready to go. What if your first two people get in a car accident on the way to the office? You need to have your redundancies in place.
As I mentioned before, before we had Omnilert we could send an email but everyone doesn’t get email. Well how can we reach more people? What are our other options? What is backup to using email? What if email is down? That is what Omnilert is for. Got to have your back ups.
Omnilert: Within an enterprise like EOG, what are the most difficult aspects of getting an emergency communications program implemented? What would you say are the biggest challenges coordinating people, process, and technology?
JH: I could probably say for most companies it would be convincing management and decision makers for the need of the system. The first thing they are going to say is “we already have email why do we need this?”. I didn't have to fight that battle here at EOG, but I can see it being an issue with other companies. “We’ll just call people or just send out an email” - that is assuming email will be up, you’re assuming the phones will be working. When an SMS text goes out they operate on different bands than phone calls so you may be able to get a text but not a phone call. So convincing management of those scenarios where your primary systems are unavailable and you have a need to contact all employees or certain employees - getting them to see the value of that - would probably be difficult for other companies and users. You can’t just rely on one thing. You have to have your backups. You can’t just have one system and be done and think you can use that for any emergency situation. That is something I can see being the most difficult. To convince people you need redundant systems.
Omnilert: What’s your favorite color?
JH: Blue? Most common, I know.