Fermilab’s emergency services and preparedness

In any organization, including a national laboratory, emergency preparedness is vital for the protection of workers and business continuity. In January 2020, ES&H changed the name of the Emergency Management Department to Emergency Services and Preparedness, or ESP, to better reflect what it does. Little did any of us know that a global pandemic would put a pause on our communicating our new name.

The ES&H Section’s Emergency Services and Preparedness Department ensures that Fermilab is ready to respond to and recover from emergencies in order to maintain mission continuity. ESP prepares for technological threats, human-caused events and natural disasters, while coordinating resources internally across the site and externally with public sector response organizations.

The ESP Department provides emergency management, fire protection and security. Though technically not part of ESP, Fermilab Occupational Medical Office personnel, managed by Kelly Dombrowski, work very closely with ESP as an additional resource for handling complex medical emergencies. Throughout the pandemic, ESP and FOMO have worked together to adjust operations and develop procedures in alignment with the DOE COVID-19 Worker Safety Framework.

The ESP Department plans and trains for emergencies that could involve more than 4,000 people —laboratory employees, users, affiliates, including those who live in the Village area, contractors and visitors — all spread out across the 6,800-acre site.

Fire Department

Fermilab’s Fire Department employs 20 people, led by the new fire chief, Steve Hernandez. Eighteen firefighters, divided into three six-person shifts, provide around-the-clock service. Each shift works 24 hours, then two days off.

The Fire Department responds to fire safety issues large, small and unique. It addresses small-scale incidents that most fire departments do not cover, such as vehicle fluid leaks. The lab presents some special circumstance that other fire departments don’t encounter. For instance, experiment halls contain radiation areas with special engineering instrumentation and equipment, e.g., vacuum pumps and pipes. There are also cryogenic and oxygen-deficiency hazards unique to the lab.

The department is also responsible for the fire safety and prevention equipment throughout Fermilab. Once a month, the fire department members inspect and maintain more than 1,300 fire extinguishers; they also conduct quarterly inspections of approximately 140 fire protection suppression systems.

Finally, the Fire Department extends beyond the laboratory’s campus. Part of a mutual response system, the department not only brings backup crews to Fermilab, it also sends members of the lab’s fire department off-site to resolve community area incidents.

Security Department

The Security Department strives to foster an open, safe and secure environment, and protect assets for Fermilab. It is further divided into two main groups: Physical Protection Program, which includes the Security Operations Center; and Protective Force Operations, which includes the DFW Security Protective Force subcontractors. The Security Department is led by Security Chief Joe Rogers and Deputy Security Chief Lori Limberg.

The Security Department employs six people who are responsible for the physical protection activities for the 10-square-mile Batavia site. Their duties include monitoring Fermilab’s gates, preforming roving patrols, providing perimeter protection and facilitating the site-access approval process. The Security Department also installs and maintains all the security equipment for the site, which includes security cameras, the card access system, security lock shop / issuing keys and acoustic threat detection. This department is also responsible for the DOE-certified Fermilab UAS / Drone Program and handles all of the FAA and DOE approvals in order to safely operate a drone onsite.

The Protective Force Operations Program is led by Chuck Morrison, who is responsible for managing the operations for the Security Protective Force subcontractor. Morrison is also the aviation safety officer responsible for the Fermilab UAS / Drone Program. Alex Morris is the assistant aviation safety officer and the resident technological expert as the security technician for the department.

Donna Iraci leads the Physical Protection Program. Under Iraci, the Security Operations Center, once known as the Communications Center, employs 10 people, led by Mike Liscano and two lead members, Charles Shaw and Cortez Ragland. It operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, by a minimum of two emergency dispatchers. Emergency dispatchers are certified through the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials.

The SOC is centralized and monitors the lab by preventing, detecting, analyzing and responding by dispatching to incidents. Most of these functions are broken down into five categories:

  • Fire (fire alarm, fire suppression system, alarm activation)
  • Emergency (call-ins for someone who is injured or an alarm, such as oxygen-deficiency hazard and radiological).
  • Security (report of something missing to clearing a visitor coming onsite).
  • Utility (examples of critical sump pumps or emergency generators that require a duty mechanic or electrician to investigate)
  • Trouble (Alarms indicating a system, such as fire alarm, is not functioning correctly, dispatching a technician to investigate.)

SOC also monitors the weather, assisting the Facilities Engineering Services Section and Roads and Grounds if, for example, snow accumulation warrants activating snowplows after hours on site. Finally, the SOC also manages the site badge card access, allowing access to the site and at various buildings with card readers on campus.

Emergency Operations Center

David Esterquest, Fermilab’s emergency manager, oversees the Emergency Operations Center. When a local emergency takes place and Fermilab needs additional resources, Esterquest activates the EOC and assembles the appropriate internal and external resources necessary for mitigating and recovering from the emergency incident. The emergency manager ensures the Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan and the Emergency Planning Hazards Assessment are current.

In addition, his role is to plan and schedule tabletop exercises, drills and other training activities. Emergency management will monitor day-to-day activities, provide situational awareness, such as inclement weather forecasting to operations, and, when necessary, prepare and provide situation reports, such as statistics of COVD-19 cases surrounding the communities of Fermilab.

Throughout the pandemic, ESP has been on site at Fermilab, responding to fire, emergency, medical and security issues, along with participating in developing COVID-19 documents and mitigations. It continues to enhance the occupant emergency plans, protecting workers in any foreseeable emergency, and providing coordinating and participating in drills and exercises — all to keep workers safe and maintain operational continuity.

Jim Niehoff is Fermilab’s emergency services manager.