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Virtual training enhances incident preparedness in Shetland

27 August 2013

BP’s Sullom Voe terminal on the Shetland Islands is one of the world’s first terminals to adopt virtual training in their quarterly training program. Virtual training enables the terminal’s Emergency Response Shifts (ERS) to safely train and prepare all aspects of possible incidents at the site, in order to increase preparedness in case of a real incident. BP uses the virtual incident management simulator RescueSim for this purpose, which is developed by Dutch simulator company VSTEP. 

The approach to Sullom Voe - Photo: Alan Franck
The approach to Sullom Voe - Photo: Alan Franck

The virtual training simulator puts the emergency response team of the Sullom Voe terminal in a true to life virtual 3D environment in which the incidents are simulated. It includes a specialised module for industrial incidents and allows an instructor to feed environment and incident parameters into the program in real-time, forcing the participants to adapt and respond to the critical situation at hand. 

Due to the confidentiality of the project and the different steps involved to introduce this new way of training to BP’s emergency services, it took an intensive pilot period spanning several months before the purchase decision was made. This pilot period was used to thoroughly test the simulator and investigate the new possibilities that virtual training offers. This period was also used to make absolutely sure that a tangible and significant training enhancement was obtained following implementation of the virtual training. Following the testing period, the decision was made by the Sullom Voe Terminal to continue the use of the RescueSim virtual incident training and include it in the obligatory training curriculum for their incident commanders and ERS. 

Using the virtual incident simulator, the various Emergency Response Shifts are able to train many different incidents. Training will take place on a quarterly basis and will include a range of incidents most relevant to the key topics of that specific quarter and in line with BP’s corporate concerns and policy.  The virtual training will also enable the ERS to train in their ‘dead-hours’. Both individual and full team training is possible as participants enter the virtual world simultaneously and tackle incidents together. Dealing with incidents that will hopefully never happen, the ERS can train on broadening their incident knowledge and response strategy in an interactive way. The recording options of the simulator allow after action discussion and debriefing.

To allow realistic training for the ERS in a recognisable environment, the complete Sullom Voe Terminal was recreated in 3D for the simulator. Training of any thinkable (and even unthinkable) incident is possible as they can all be created with ease using the simulator’s interactive instructor toolbox. During BP’s pilot period, many incidents were simulated for testing, including unaccounted gas releases, liquid spills, installation explosions, road traffic incidents, fires and many more. Although easily created by any instructor, the training coordinator at BP closely supervises creation of any incident, to ensure the relevant topics are addressed.

To allow realistic training for the emergency responders in a recognisable environment, the complete Sullom Voe Terminal has been recreated in 3D for the simulator
To allow realistic training for the emergency responders in a recognisable environment, the complete Sullom Voe Terminal has been recreated in 3D for the simulator

During virtual training, the response teams start the actual training from the very first call to action all the way to the final stages and the cleaning up of the incident. The ERS team can train the exact manoeuvres and actions they would normally take during the actual real life incident. The training is based on the decision-making process and on ensuring all team members understand why the decisions are made. This training enables an easy overview of each incident and it’s best approach and is aimed at improving efficiency in team-efforts.    

The instructor determines the available resources during the incident. This can include standard monitors, hose lines, water cannon and even oil booms, to name a few. The constraints of real-life resources can also be brought into the scenarios to further increase the real-life experience. Hazardous materials training is also possible as the teams have a wide range of advanced firefighting equipment available in the simulator, including an advanced explosion meter, radioactivity meter and a PID meter. By using this meter, specific hot, warm and cold zones can be identified based on the substance involved in the incidents. 

Another parameter important to every incident is the environment. The virtual training allows training of both shore based and water based incidents, or a mixture of both, either with or without the inclusion of relevant ships. These include chemical, oil, cargo vessels and/or others and allow for a whole new range of incidents to be trained. Incidents such as ship loading errors, collisions, leakage or even an explosion following incorrect loading can all be created. 

Incidents simulated for testing include unaccounted gas releases, liquid spills, installation explosions, road traffic incidents and fires
Incidents simulated for testing include unaccounted gas releases, liquid spills, installation explosions, road traffic incidents and fires

The virtual training will enable the responding emergency response vessels to train together with the terminal’s ERS. It also enables other Sullom Voe terminal staff to train for incidents and their consequences, which for example is useful knowledge for the maintenance staff.  Crisis teams can also be trained on the tangible effects a disaster/incident will have on the environment, the surrounding terminals or the residential estates in the area. It also allows them to train in dealing with people that were injured or killed during the incident. 

As one of the first organisations regularly using the virtual training platform RescueSim, the terminal ERS are able to train for relevant incidents first hand, learning from all the decisions being made and their subsequent effects on the environment and team members. A pioneer for this new way of training, BP’s Sullom Voe Terminal staff is already thinking ahead to extend the training possibilities even further over the years to come.

BP Sullom Voe Terminal

The Sullom Voe Terminal is located in the north of the Shetland Islands and was built between 1975 and 1981, covering 1,000 acres. Its main purpose is to act as a buffer between the producing fields offshore and tankers waiting to ship oil to refineries worldwide, and is designed to allow continuous production offshore, even in bad weather.

BP is spending £300m renewing and expanding the site - Photo: Alan Franck
BP is spending £300m renewing and expanding the site - Photo: Alan Franck

It handles production from more than two dozen oilfields in the east Shetland Basin, between Shetland and Norway. The terminal is also increasingly handling oil and gas production from BP’s West of Shetland operations. Two massive projects are set to extend the life of the terminal to 2040 and beyond – the £3 billion Schiehallion development and the £4.5 billion Clair Ridge project.

BP is spending £300m on renewing the terminal over the next few years and will invest even more in the construction of new plant on the site, including a £500 million facility to remove hydrogen sulphide from sour gas piped to the terminal from fields both east and west of Shetland.

As a result of its remote location, the Sullom Voe Terminal has to be entirely self-sufficient, particularly where emergency services are concerned. On site there is a fire brigade and a pollution response team, both of which hold regular exercises to test their readiness to cope with emergencies.


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