Renewed base support agreement sharpens Sandia’s emergency management focus

By Luke Frank

Photography By Randy Montoya

Thursday, November 19, 2020

emergency responders assist an injured victim during an exercise
PRACTICE RUN — Sandia emergency responders conduct an emergency exercise with Kirtland Fire Emergency Services.

Sandia’s emergency management program has seen some changes this year, first with a move to Environment, Safety & Health, and then embracing a broader strategic vision to a comprehensive emergency management system.

Through that lens, the Labs more recently seized an opportunity to elevate its emergency management program as NNSA’s base support agreement with Kirtland Air Force Base came up for renewal.

“Historically, Sandia has focused its resources and efforts heavily on emergency response, a vital component of emergency management, to be sure,” said David Stuhan, Sandia’s new emergency man­agement senior manager. “Under the new base sup­port agreement, we have shifted key emergency response capabilities, like incident command, haz­ardous materials, technical rescue and others, to Kirtland Fire Emergency Services 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This move enables us to rein­vest resources to strengthen our overall emergency management program.”

This isn’t entirely new. KFES has long pro­vided technical rescue, hazardous materials, fire and emergency medical services for Sandia after business hours and on weekends. By eliminating this duplication of services and bringing in KFES response full time, Sandia will reapply resources through a strategic approach to improve the Labs’ overall emergency preparedness, response, recov­ery and mitigation across the site.

Sandia emergency planner Deborah Espinosa, who is leading the transition, said that although out­wardly not much is changing for the average Sandia employee, on Nov. 12, Kirtland Fire Emergency Services became the primary field emergency responders and will now serve in an incident com­mand role for all emergencies at the Labs. Sandia will remain a critical part of the incident command system and also will add personnel to its Emergency Management Communications Center to make key, time-sensitive, emergency management decisions 24 hours a day.

“We’ll still have rapid, on-site emergency response by highly qualified professionals, but we will be able to reinvest some of our emer­gency response resources into other components of our emergency management program,” said David, who came to Sandia in September from Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he led its emer­gency management division.

Although KFES will assume emergency response duties immediately, response services will transition gradually and methodically to allow KFES personnel to get familiar with Sandia’s vital mission work, singular operations and unique haz­ards. “We will take our time in ensuring KFES has the knowledge, relationships and keen understand­ing of our facilities,” said Shawn Howry, team lead for Sandia’s emergency readiness program.

This longer-term transition will include facility walkthroughs and targeted presentations to high­er-risk areas at the Labs, along with integrated drills and exercises that will guide Sandia and KFES to better build and evaluate teams, functions, duties and procedures during an incident.

“We understand that Sandia brings a unique mis­sion, and the potential for it changing from day to day is there,” said KFES Chief Jaime Jimenez. “But Kirtland Fire Emergency Services capabilities include what you would see in any city. We cover structural firefighting, hazardous-materials and con­fined-space responses, high-angle rescue and emer­gency medical services, with both emergency medi­cal technicians and paramedics.”

Managing Sandia emergencies

After months of strategic planning by Sandia emergency management personnel, this new emer­gency management vision is coming into focus to improve Sandia’s overall level of preparedness to ensure that workers know exactly how to respond during an incident.

The Labs will be involving Sandia employees more in emergency management, so they are more knowledgeable and better prepared to ensure their safety and the safety of their colleagues.

“We can better focus now on immediate responses within a facility to protect workers and their critical infrastructure,” David said. “Improved preparedness across Sandia will provide all mem­bers of the workforce with swift protective actions to take during an emergency, before emergency responders arrive. We’ll sharpen our focus on facil­ity-level preparedness.”

firetruck spraying water on brush fire in remote area of Sandia property
WATER WORKS — Kirtland Fire Emergency Services responds to a brush fire on Sandia property.

During this period, Sandia will provide agency representatives to an incident command post in the event of an emergency. “These are our folks who know our facilities, mission-critical operations and distinct hazards and will support KFES incident commanders in making decisions about a rescue response,” David said. “We’re also investing in duty officers within our Emergency Management Communications Center who will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to assist in making key emergency management decisions in Sandia’s interests.”

Another area of focus in building out the Labs’ comprehensive emergency management system will be expanding and solidifying Sandia’s partnerships and collaborations with critical local and state emergency management agencies and homeland security agencies, along with DOE headquarters.

“These are important support entities during a large-scale incident that can quickly marshal resources, ideas and experiences in the throes of an event, whether at Sandia, on Kirtland Air Force Base, in the community or at the national level,” David said. “Emergency management professionals and first responders are part of an extraordinary community devoted to supporting one another in times of need.”

Familiar look, new focus

Effective emergency management programs use a proven, sound architecture and strong foundation, upon which a program is built. The underpinnings of such a comprehensive emergency management system are based on a Federal Emergency Management Agency National Incident Management System developed in the late ’80s and proven effective through cataclysmic events from the World Trade Center attack to Hurricane Katrina.

Consistent with this model, Sandia will continue staffing and managing its Emergency Management Communications Center, which takes 505-844-0911 calls from Sandia cell phones and 911 calls from Sandia landlines, monitors alarm and other alert systems, and dispatches emergency personnel to incidents at Sandia.

And, the Labs’ Emergency Operations Center will remain prepared to activate and respond to emergencies on-site. Other vital emergency functions also will continue, including Sandia Medical and Protective Force support. Sandia’s program is designed to protect its employees, the public, property and the environment.

This reimaged Sandia emergency management blueprint will add to a comprehensive emergency management system that drives mitigation, emergency preparedness, response and recovery. “We’ll build out and refine all of the pieces of our emergency management program to be better prepared for incidents at Sandia or Kirtland Air Force Base,” David said.

“The Sandia team is making this transition a lot easier and more seamless,” Chief Jimenez said. “I look forward to the special partnership we already have built getting even stronger with time.”