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Your Aviation Emergency Response Plan (ERP): Three Critical Items to Keep in Mind

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It’s something you need but hope to never use: an aviation Emergency Response Plan (ERP). For any flight department or pilot, this is your “go-to” when any incident, accident, or emergency occurs. Tailored to the size of your department and the way your organization is set up, an ERP can even vary depending on different locations. For example, departments in Florida might have a section on hurricanes, whereas those in Alaska will cover blizzards.

All ERPs are developed similarly, though. We recommend the following structure when putting together an ERP.

  • Initial reporting stage
    Applicable to every incident, it guides users through the very first steps of responding to any emergency.
  • Checklists
    Tailored to different types of incidents, such as an aircraft that’s gone missing, a hangar fire, or a medical emergency, the checklists provide the additional actions needed to respond to each unique situation.
  • Detailed policy and instructions
    The heart of the program, it explains company policies, procedures for the management of the ERP, and details about expectations and actions when responding to various emergencies.

Beyond these three structural elements, the content within each one should be customized to each operator. However, there are three core elements that will stay the same, regardless of the type of operation or emergency:

  • Regulatory responsibilities
  • Crisis communications
  • Notification of family and loved ones

Paying heed to regulatory responsibilities

This means taking care of “the legal stuff”. It may be legally required to report information regarding the incident to the authorities. An ERP should include contact details for the relevant authorities. In the event of an emergency occurring in a foreign country, an ERP can be especially useful to point a person in the right direction, since they might be unfamiliar with specific regulations.

Once an investigation has started, it’s recommended to remain involved so that you can learn from the incident and mistakes aren’t repeated.

Crisis communications

This covers handling of communication such as with the media. Usually one spokesperson is appointed to make sure there is a clear message. The importance of this has become particularly critical due to the prevalence of social media. With incidents now reported within seconds of occurring, flight departments must step up their game when it comes to social media monitoring and responsiveness. Companies should establish social media policies, such as not disclosing any investigation findings via their personal accounts – anything and everything can be picked up.

Notification of loved ones

Without question, this is the most critical item when handling an emergency or incident. This includes taking care of relatives and the loved ones of those directly involved in the accident, but also extends to providing colleagues and those indirectly involved in the accident with a place to go for information and support. In all instances, the company should be the most trusted information source.

With news spreading so quickly, it may be unavoidable that family members find out about an incident through a news source first. However, a company should strive to be the first to reach loved ones, even if it means managing unknowns.

Your role in an aviation ERP

Knowing the responsibilities of your role within a flight department can also help companies in an emergency scenario.

  • Schedulers and Dispatchers
    Their roles are vital during the initial phase. Keeping the crew and passenger manifest up-to-date and verifying flight routes might provide early recognition of whether an aircraft has been involved in any reported incidents.
  • Flight Department Administrators
    They take care of the day-to-day operations. Their role would be to manage media and family inquiries, so they should be trained how to handle sensitive situations. In cases of major or fatal aviation accidents, using an external crisis management firm would be advised.
  • Flight Department Managers
    They typically have the central role in an emergency ensuring the proper execution of the aviation ERP. Aside from monitoring adherence to regulatory responsibilities, they also ensure everyone in the department is coping and should provide resources for counseling.
  • Maintenance Department
    The maintenance department will most likely need to gather information such as aircraft maintenance data, logs and records in the case of an aircraft accident or incident.
  • Pilots
    Pilots may frequently be the on-scene responders. Apart from their normal pilot training, they should be trained in first-aid, emergency signals and managing in-flight issues.
  • Safety Officers
    They play a unique role after an incident or accident. They are key to ensuring the flight department learns from and takes steps to mitigate against events reoccurring. They gather information from an investigation and provide analysis and reports to help avoid future incidents.

Setting up that aviation ERP

Although many flight departments may have considered aviation accidents such as a crash, many don’t always consider other incidents, such as a hangar fire, an on-board medical emergency, or even an incident where the full nature of the emergency is unknown. Additionally, smaller companies that do not have the support of corporate resources available to them, may need to develop additional procedures to help them manage and stay on top of potential incidents.

This is why it’s important to have a unique ERP, customized to an organization. AviationManuals can help you develop your aviation ERP to suit the needs of your organization – big or small. Our partner, Fireside Partners, can help you with tabletop drills to practice your ERP and handling of emergencies should one ever occur. If you’re looking for a bigger safety management plan, be sure to check out ARC, our safety management system app.

Feel free to call us with any questions – we’re always ready to help.

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