How to identify if an emergency response service provides advice or just information.

How to identify if an emergency response service provides advice or just information.
25 March 2022

When it comes to telephone emergency response services, a lot of people don’t know the difference between advice and information. Many emergency response providers don’t offer advice, which is fundamental to the quality of support a caller receives at the scene of an incident. Having a service that provides advice can have a positive impact on your organisation.

We found that 46% of organisations don’t know if their emergency response provision provides advice.

Telephone emergency response is seen by a growing number of organisations,  as a tool that can be used beyond compliance and can be integrated into wider organisational plans, such as risk management. With so many telephone emergency response providers offering a lot of the same features, including 24/7 availability, multilingual service and local numbers, choosing the right one can be difficult. A poll carried out by NCEC found that 46% of organisations don’t even know if their emergency response provider offers advice, but it can make a big difference to the level of service you receive.

The difference between information and advice, simplified.

What is information?

Telephone emergency responders who provide only information will typically gather the facts of an incident and provide the caller at the scene with information from product documentation and safety data sheets. This is often information the caller already has access to. Emergency responders providing just information may have only generic knowledge of chemicals and be able to give limited information to the caller, that may not be in the context of the incident.  

What is advice?

For an emergency responder to provide advice, a different approach is required. The emergency responder must understand the factual information the caller provides – information from product documentation and chemical databases and details specific to the incident – by asking questions that will allow the caller to explain the full situation. The emergency responder will collate the relevant information and relay advice, tailored to the incident and pitched at a level the caller will understand, so they can take action to manage the situation.

James Smith, Senior Emergency Responder with NCEC, says: “NCEC’s emergency response team have a number of resources available to them that allow rapid access to product information, as well as degree level qualifications in chemistry. An experienced responder will use the information gathered and their chemical knowledge to explain to the caller how these hazards convert to risks. They will also look at what risks could occur as the incident evolves. One leaking product may be flammable and the other corrosive, what if they mix, does this add new hazards? Where are the products flowing? Does this take them closer to an ignition source?

“Extensive training of this thought process with our team is key to the NCEC responders providing advice to support all of our callers.”

How do you know if an emergency response service gives advice?

If you want to find out if an emergency response service can provide advice, and not just information, there are some questions you should be asking them.

1. Are their emergency responders trained chemists and do they have experience in handling incident calls? 

To provide advice, emergency responders should be knowledgeable in chemicals and have tactical response experience and expertise to enable them to support callers at the scene of an incident. A combination of knowledge and experience will enable them to tailor the advice depending on the caller’s understanding of chemicals, making the advice actionable. NCEC’s emergency responders’ advice is underpinned by insurance, demonstrating the quality of the advice being provided and the high level of expertise they uphold. 

2. Do their emergency responders ask questions to understand the full scope of the incident?

The quality of advice will always be linked to how well a responder understands the incident. NCEC’s emergency responders understand the importance of efficiently gathering all of the relevant data. Starting with questions that encourage the caller to provide a description of the overall incident, before confirming specific details that are needed in order to formulate the best response.

Michele Twilley, a certified industrial hygienist with AIHA, who is responsible for the organisation’s Emergency Response Planning Guidelines, explains what questions a telephone emergency responder should be asking the caller: “They should be trying to address where the spill occurred? What was released? How much was released and the source of the release?”.

The emergency responder will also want to know how stable the chemical is, and whether it is possible for the hazardous product or material to change and cause further harm. Michelle explains: “They need to know what the physical state of the hazardous material is? Is it liquid, multi-phase, gas, vapour, solid? Is the release affected by weather? Are you dealing with a spill in the home, one in a retail establishment, in a chemical plant or refinery, on a road or railway, or near a waterway? All of these have unique considerations. 

“Emergency responders should also be asking, When did the spill occur? Where is it heading? Who is impacted? Was there a triggering event?  Earthquake, flooding, fire, explosion, vehicle accident, terrorism, etc. Are there physical safety considerations? Who is responding to the spill? The permutations are endless.”

James adds: “We receive a variety of different callers who dial a chemical emergency advice line.” He added, “Aside from asking the questions Michele outlines above, we also ask questions to understand the competency of the caller to understand to what extent they can deal with the incident, whether they have equipment or PPE available to them or if we need to be involved in contacting emergency services or remediation organisations.”

Without asking questions to understand the full scope of an incident, an emergency responder is unable to provide advice, and is therefore unable to fully support a caller in effectively managing risk or mitigating the escalation of a chemical release into the environment. 

3. Does the emergency responder provide advice that goes beyond the initial stage of response?

To protect the environment from remnants of chemicals from an incident, an emergency responder must have a strong knowledge of chemicals to advise callers on how to effectively clean them up. Michele explains: “After a spill response, we have to consider the impact to air, surface water, sediments, groundwater and soil. Emergency responders need an understanding of the fate and transport characteristics of the chemical that was released and ensure that the clean-up is completed to acceptable levels.”  

This high level of support from a robust telephone emergency response service, that provides advice at all phases of incidents, including clean-up operations, will allow your operations to continue, reducing disruption to the supply chain and therefore mitigating reputational damage from impacted stakeholders.

Why you should choose NCEC as your telephone emergency response partner

1. You need a telephone emergency response partner who puts your needs first. At NCEC, we build partnerships with our customers by working closely with you to understand your needs, so we can create a bespoke service that supports your organisational requirements, such as global compliance, risk management and sustainability obligations.

2. You want a trusted telephone emergency response partner, who is available at all times to provide advice to callers at an incident. Our emergency responders are qualified chemists with tactical awareness, combined with ‘real-life incident intervention’ experience, which enables them to support callers to safely intervene at the scene of an incident.

3. You need an emergency response partner to reduce your financial and operational risk throughout the supply chain, by mitigating the impact of incidents before they escalate, causing disruption throughout the supply chain and impacting your assets and reputation. Our emergency responders provide advice that is proportionate to the incident, to reduce over-responding that could result in unnecessary costs.

Our service is available 24/7, 365 days of the year, through a network of international telephone numbers and local language speakers, so it looks and feels like a local service. Our team take into consideration your organisation’s needs, as well as any global regulations, to build a service that will meet your requirements, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. 

If you would like to speak to a member of our team to see how you can get support from a telephone emergency response provider you can trust, then please contact us through the form at the side of this page or email us at [email protected].