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PR Strategies developed information guidelines for enterprises with a major hazard and dangerous enterprises

The PR Strategies team had the honor of implementing a project commissioned by the Estonian Rescue Board, during which new public information guidelines were created for enterprises with a major hazard and dangerous enterprises, taking into account the possibilities of the national siren network.

According to Reelika Kuusik, an expert from the Safety Surveillance Department of the Rescue Board, enterprises with a major hazard and dangerous enterprises must be able to promptly notify all individuals in the danger zone in the event of an accident, as required by the Chemicals Act.

"There are various options for this – some companies use sirens, but depending on the severity of the situation, notification can also be organized through telephone calls, SMS, door-to-door visits, or loudspeaker announcements. It has not been determined by law, regulation, or any guideline which notification methods are sufficient in each case. Therefore, it was not uncommon for a company with over 100 people in the danger zone to rely on phone calls and emergency services in the event of a major accident," explained Kuusik, emphasizing the need for guidelines.

Changing circumstances

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the Rescue Board has been tasked with developing a nationwide siren network to better inform residents in densely populated areas, employees in large industrial zones, and individuals in other strategic areas about potential emergencies.

Several enterprises with a major hazard and dangerous enterprises fall within the planned national siren network, and some companies may receive these systems on their premises in the coming years. In the past year, there have already been several opportunities to tests the national SMS-based safety notification system, EE-ALARM.

However, according to Reelika Kuusik, companies cannot rely solely on the government for safety notification. Therefore, the Rescue Board sought a partner to analyze current methods of public notification and reasonable possibilities for notifying the public in enterprises with a major hazard and dangerous enterprises.

"We wanted to get a better overview of suitable ways to organize initial safety notification, as well as create guidelines for companies that would help them inform the public adequately in the event of a major accident. We also wanted to support the companies in describing the organization of this notification in their company documentation," said Reelika Kuusik.

Thorough groundwork led to a clear structure

PR Strategies was chosen as the partner to carry out the project because of the agenc’s client portfolio that includes several enterprises with a major hazard and dangerous enterprises. The agency also has extensive experience in crisis communication, crisis management training, and crisis communication consulting.

At the beginning of the project, the PR Strategies team reviewed laws, regulations, and drafts related to the notification obligations of companies at risk of dangerous incidents. They also examined guidelines for developing emergency response plans and risk analyses, summaries of safety notification practices in other countries, and other materials relevant to the field.

"Our first task was to establish criteria for classifying cases and companies. We wanted to define which notification methods are adequate in different cases. For example, if only a few people live in the company's danger zone, door-to-door notification may be a reasonable option. However, in the case of an ammonia leak, going to the streets to notify residents is life-threatening – the only option for immediate notification is to activate the siren," described Helena Loorents, the strategic consultant leading the project.

Best solution emerged through teamwork

According to Loorents, meetings were held with a working group, which included representatives from the Rescue Board, the Emergency Response Center, the Ministry of the Interior, and the Women's Home Defense.

"As a result of our discussions, we reached a classification based on two features – the number of people in the company's danger zone and the criticality of the emergency situation, or how quickly initial safety notification must be organized to protect safety and lives," Loorents explained.

The completed document classifies guidelines into red, orange, yellow, and green classes. Loorents admitted that reaching this classification was unexpectedly challenging because initially there seemed to be many indicators that could justify creating a separate notification class.

"At first, we were convinced that whether the company can use a national siren or the siren on its own territory is definitely a factor that should determine the class according to which it should organize safety notification. However, we finally found that the fewer different hazard classes there are, the easier it is for the company to choose notification guidelines based on the points described in their risk scenarios," Loorents described the work process.

In the final stages of the project, after guidelines had been created for each hazard class, they were sent to companies for review and feedback.

"It was truly satisfying to read the extremely constructive feedback from companies. Some found the guidelines entirely understandable and acceptable, but there were also companies that made very thorough and useful suggestions that helped us further simplify the guidelines," Loorents said.  

Life-saving notification

Helena Loorents added that the entire project was new and extremely significant for the PR Strategies team in many ways. "So far, our work has focused primarily on informing the public through the media, this time we were dealing with a level where the goal is to save lives. This gave the project a completely different dimension and level of responsibility. I believe that thanks to this experience, we can be even better partners for our current and future industrial clients," said Helena Loorents.

The completed guidelines have been added to the Rescue Board's website, and in 2024, the work will continue to present them to enterprises with a major hazard and dangerous enterprises. "The completed guidelines provide a solid foundation, and based on this, we plan to introduce changes to the regulations that outline the compilation of mandatory documents for enterprises with a major hazard and dangerous enterprises, as well as the information and notification regulations for the public about accidents," said Reelika Kuusik, a representative of the Rescue Board.

According to Kuusik, the Rescue Board chose the PR Strategies team because the agency had the clearest vision and plan for implementing the activity based on the initial task. "The Rescue Board provided initial information about the situation and desired results, but Helena and her team quickly took the lead in this regard, and through various discussions, classifications, and repeated rewriting of guidelines, we reached a solution that provides much clearer guidelines for organizing public notification. PR Strategies agency and Helena are very good cooperation partners, and the Rescue Board recommends working with them," Reelika Kuusik summarized the project.

 Photo credit: Estonian Rescue Board

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