Despite 291 industrial emergencies worldwide posted to the IFW website Incident Log in November alone, there is no doubt that the number of fires and explosions in industry are down significantly from decades past. However, any fire chief who thinks that is cause for complacency is wrong.

For one thing, complacency is not a matter of thinking. It is a matter of not thinking. Complacency, says the dictionary, is contentment based on being blissfully unaware of danger. After the World Trade Center fell, every pundit referred to the lack of foresight that such a horrific thing could happen as “a failure of imagination.”

If the lawyers get you into court, you will learn another name for it – “willful ignorance.”

Look at the hazards and acquire the resources you need to protect them. For example, if you have a marine loading dock for LPG carriers, that is a special hazard. How is loading or unloading propane different from crude oil, dog food or any other commodity? If it catches fire, what unique resources are you going to need to bring the situation under control?

Sure, the refinery will still run if the loading dock burns up. But if you cannot transport the product, what good is the refinery? Worse, if the carrier at the dock catches fire and sinks, that might shut down the entire harbor a few days.

The most likely problem is in the piping and the pumps used to transfer the product. Typically, there will be some fire fighting capability available on the dock but nothing close to a five-alarm response. Would some big 3,000-5,000 gpm monitors help? Do we need more fixed systems? Do we need more fire trucks to supplement the available pumping capacity?

Planning for specialized hazards is the part that never seems to get done. It is not flashy or fancy but it is necessary. If your resources are inadequate, what needs to be improved? If you do not have a plant fire brigade, you may need to start one. The answer could be a mutual aid agreement with nearby plants or hiring a private contractor to provide fire protection.

It is not as difficult to determine the necessary resources as you might imagine. If your refinery has coker units, the drill deck may be 150 to 250 feet above the ground. Does the nozzle on your fire truck have the reach to hit that deck? The simplest way to find out is go out and try. If that nozzle cannot reach the target, it may be time to invest in a monitor big enough to do the job.

Some plants have business interruption insurance. Others do not. Being ready for rapid and effective response to minimize losses is your part of the plan.

Knowing exactly what level of emergency response your fire protection can provide is vital, particularly in the current economy. Fire chiefs face cutbacks on personnel, training and equipment. It is hard enough to balance the immediate issues against hazy predictions about what the worst case scenario could possibly be. But rather than focusing on a few worst case scenarios that are easy to spot, the fire chief has to think about an entire range of worst case scenarios, some more likely than others.

Freak mishaps that almost never happen can be just as costly to deal with as any of the more expected calamities that your firefighters routinely train to resolve. Stretching your pre-planning and training to include those special hazards can save a lot of heart ache if the unexpected happens. You will look much smarter in the aftermath as well.

Too many fire chiefs limit their thinking to the two or three worst things that can happen, usually stuff from past headlines. Fate does not necessarily re-read the newspapers to fill its planning calendar. It has all those business management best sellers about “innovation” and “thinking outside the box” that you keep meaning to read.

“Success breeds complacency,” said Andrew Grove, former chairman of Intel. “Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.”

Keep asking “What if?”