20 Minutes to Armageddon: What I learned That Will Help Your Line Crew

20 minutes Until Armageddon: What I Learned That Will Help Your Line Crew

The Lineman Life Podcast Logo

Have you ever thought you might have only 20 minutes to live? On Saturday, January 13th, 8:00 am, I was standing on the driving range at Kona Country Club on the big island of Hawaii. It was a beautiful day, sunny and about 75 degrees—typical weather for Hawaii. I was the only resident on the range, as the rest were tourists over for a visit to the islands.

I’m a big golfer, so I would spend almost every Saturday morning at Kona Country Club hitting balls for an hour or so before heading back to my condo. Without warning, my cell phone started screaming an alert alarm. I started thinking, why would an alarm be going off on this beautiful morning? I had only heard that alarm sound before when we had a flash flood warning. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I picked up my phone to see the message from the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency: BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.

The “this is not a drill” part got me. It must be real because someone would never add that part in a test. I looked around at other people on the driving range; no one had any kind of reaction. I realized I was the only one who received the alert.

I picked up my clubs, and as I walked by the range attendant, I asked him, “Hey, did you see this?” I showed him my phone.

His only response was, “Interesting.” He walked off.

I walked up to the other people on the driving range and told them what the message said. They looked at me like I was crazy. My mind was racing, trying to process what a nuclear attack would mean and what I needed to do. My only thought was, if this is a real missile attack, there is nothing I can do to be prepared. I had heard on the news that if North Korea launched a missile, it was only 20 minutes to Hawaii. Did I have only 20 minutes to live? I lived about 5 minutes away from where I was, so I decided to head towards the condo I live in because it was concrete and might offer some protection.

When I reached the parking lot of the golf course, a man about 65 years old skidded up in his golf cart, threw his clubs in his car’s back seat, and jumped in the driver’s seat while yelling at me, “Go, go, go!”

My thought was, where are you going to go? I didn’t think I’d be able to outrun a nuclear bomb. On other parts of Hawaii, panic-stricken messages were being sent to loved ones, people were taking shelter in bathtubs, and people were running out of buildings into the street. I saw people speeding and running red lights. I made it to the house, and as I sat in the parking lot, I typed out a text to my wife, who was on the mainland. “I don’t want you to worry, but I got this strange message about a missile attack.”

Her response was, “Oh boy, I love you.”

When I walked inside the condo, I went straight to the TV, but there was nothing on the local news. I was at peace, just waiting it out. I’m not going to lie—I did ask the big man upstairs if this was the end of my run. I was hoping it wasn’t, but if it was, I wanted to be prepared. Twenty minutes came and went; nothing happened. Then 25, 30 minutes; no flash, no boom. Finally, after 38 minutes, another alert came through. I nervously looked at my phone: FALSE ALARM. I went from, “Thank you, Jesus!” to, “Seriously?! False alarm? Why did you wait so long to tell everyone?”

Later, I found out that the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency had no plan on how to react in case of a false alert being sent out. There was no message to cancel a false missile alert. Do you think there was confusion and panic after they realized what they had done, but they didn’t know what to do? The aftermath of this false missile alert in Hawaii has been huge. At the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, the person who sent out the message by mistake, along with most of his department, is unemployed now.

What also came out was how unprepared the state of Hawaii was. What would have happened if this was real? There are no shelters, plans or strategies to mitigate a nuclear attack. Hawaii has an alert system, but no plan on what to do in case of a real attack and no plan on how to cancel a false alert. The time to plan for disaster is before something happens.

This little situation got me thinking about how things happen on the job, when disaster strikes. It strikes quickly without warning. It can be the most beautiful day and then, boom, an incident, just like the alert going out. I went back and looked at our emergency response plan just to make sure I was ready in case of an injury on the job. How about you—do you have a plan? Or are you like the state of Hawaii, with no plan? Does everyone on your crew know exactly what to do when things go wrong?

You will receive some tools today to get you prepared for when disaster strikes on your crew. You might not be able to stop what happens, but quick reaction can be the difference in saving someone’s life or preventing a more serious injury.

The most important thing you have to have is a written emergency response plan. The policy needs to include:

Initial Steps to be done by whomever is on the job:

  1. Who will call your trouble/load dispatch to prevent re-closing. (May day, may day, I’m declaring an emergency)?
  2. What phone number to call for emergency (911) fire and ambulance?
  3. Who will promptly perform a safe rescue (pole top, vault, bucket etc.)?
  4. Who will get the AED, first aid kit or the burn blankets?
  5. Who will flag down the ambulance?
  6. Who will assist ambulance personnel?
  7. Who will ride with the injured in the ambulance?

These next tasks need to be in the emergency response plan but will probably be performed by management personnel:

  1. Who will notify the family? Where are family phone numbers?
  2. Who will notify upper management?
  3. Who will notify your safety department?
  4. Who will notify your corporate communications department?
  5. Who will ensure proper care of the victim?
  6. Who will be there to support the family when they come?
  7. Who will assist the crew in the aftermath? Will counseling be needed?
  8. Who will make sure information is collected at the scene?
  9. Who will make sure photographs are taken at the scene?

These are the things that need to be addressed in a response plan; this plan has to readily available to everyone on the crew. A step-by-step plan can eliminate panic! When an emergency arises, there will be no time to look for paperwork. The plan has to be in view. Many companies, including mine, have made sure the plan is written on a pre-job briefing form booklet so the written steps can be referenced during the pre-job briefing. The plan is always available because it is right next to something we do in every job: a job briefing. The first 5 steps above must be addressed during the pre-job briefing. You must specify who will be doing what. See my other article on doing a thorough pre-job briefing so everyone is engaged and knows their roles. You have to assign exact jobs.

The other part of this is training; you have to train like you work. Most of us do pole-top rescue training on a yearly basis. Add this to the training. Before you perform the rescue training, do a pre-job briefing, assign the tasks above, and then go through the exact steps word for word while doing the training. Switch it up and let different people go through the plan.

At least one truck on the crew should have gel packs that are used for electrical burns. In one case, at a company I used to work for, the doctor attributed those gel packs as a main factor in preventing more serious burns to one of our linemen. They were applied within minutes of the injury. Make sure everyone knows exactly where they are on the truck. There should be visible markings on the bin doors, and it should be pointed out in the tailgate meeting. You also have to check the expiration date; you don’t want to pull them out in an emergency only to find they are dried up and unusable. You could also add this to the pole-rescue training so they can be checked at least yearly.

When is the last time you checked your AED? AEDs are a modern advancement and much better than doing CPR. It is a good idea to have at least at least 1 on each crew. They also have to be placed where they are readily available, and have a sticker on the outside of the truck bin noting their location. Why not place all first aid kits, gel pacs, and AEDs and fire extinguishers together and in a standard location on your trucks. This makes it easy for everyone to know exactly where they are. Again, the pre-job briefing is your best friend. Point out their locations daily. You have to check the batteries of AEDs on a monthly basis. The last time we checked ours, 2 had dead batteries. It is a good thing nothing happened because they were useless. Assign someone to inspect rescue equipment on a monthly basis.

So, let me summarize:

  1. Have a written plan readily available in case of emergency.
  2. Assign specific tasks from this list each day in the pre-job briefing.
  3. Train like you work; when training for pole-top, bucket or vault rescue, assign emergency response tasks before each rescue scenario.
  4. Know exactly where emergency response equipment is located in the baseyard or on the truck. Know exactly what condition that equipment is in.

Serious accidents can happen any time while out in the field. When will your “missile alert” come? Will your crew be ready to act with a plan so no one is confused or panicking on what they need to do? With a written emergency policy plan readily available, all employees can read and train with specific instructions. Having this plan could make one of your brothers “20 minutes to Armageddon” a false alert by getting them immediate care in an emergency.

Aloha, David