Tips to help your plant weather a hurricane

U.S. Department of Energy
Tags: energy management

The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Industrial Technologies Program (ITP) is joining with other national, regional and local groups to help industrial plants plan and prepare for hurricanes. The deadly Gulf Coast storms of 2005 caused an estimated $20 billion in damages, including $5 billion in commercial losses alone. By mid-2006, some plants in the region still hadn't reopened, including facilities that produce nearly 20 percent of the region's oil and more than 10 percent of its natural gas. ITP works closely with companies in hurricane-prone regions, and many are DOE Allied Partners as well as Save Energy Now participants.

Plants need to know how to prevent such devastating human and financial losses in the future. Here's what some of them have been doing — and others can do — to weather another hurricane.

Minimizing Risks, Maximizing Resources

Many plants are back in operation. For example, a Domino Sugar refinery east of New Orleans had been producing about 6 million pounds of cane sugar daily (nearly 19 percent of the nation's supply) before taking in 9 feet of floodwater. To get back on its feet, the company helped set up a trailer park nearby to temporarily house most of its 300-plus employees.

Tom Beardon of the Public Broadcasting Service interviewed Mickey Seither, Domino's vice president for operations, in the aftermath of the storms. Seither said, "We can fix anything; we can rebuild anything. If it's broken beyond repair, we can buy another one and put it in its place. But if we don't have employees, it's for naught."

Many of those employees worked long hours along with local electricians to repair or replace damaged equipment. As a result, the refinery was up and running again in time for the winter holiday baking season.

Some plants have been assessing their vulnerabilities and taking steps to minimize them. After Hurricane Katrina sent a wall of water roaring over an earthen levee and into a large DuPont plant in DeLisle, Miss., the plant had to shut down its titanium dioxide manufacturing process for more than four months. While repairing equipment as quickly as possible, DuPont also set up temporary housing and provided other help to hundreds of employees. To help stave off future damage, the company extended the levee with a 12-foot-high steel flood wall.

A number of companies are including energy efficiency in their recovery work. When Katrina caused severe flooding at a ConocoPhillips plant in Bellechase, La., hundreds of motors were damaged. After conferring with experts at DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Information Center, plant managers decided to repair about 500 motors larger than 50 horsepower and to replace some 600 smaller motors with premium-efficiency ones. They estimate that the new motors will trim their energy use by 2 million kWh per year.

What Plants Have Learned

Manufacturers can try to weather severe storms — and help save lives — by planning and preparing for them. Planning helps plant managers know when and how to shut down operations and start them up again. Being prepared helps to speed evacuations and minimize downtime, property losses, and damage to assets.

The Louisiana Chemical Association has been coordinating with member companies in the Gulf region to document and share the lessons they learned in 2005. For example, to keep lines of communication open, many companies are establishing in-plant or mobile emergency operations centers and keeping important contact information up to date. Many others have purchased satellite phones and set up toll-free numbers outside the region for all employees to use. Some have installed satellite dishes to maintain Internet connections during emergencies.

To house employees and keep critical operations going, companies are stocking up on portable generators, cots, tents, water, non-perishable food and first-aid items. One plant installed showers in some bathrooms and purchased a washer and dryer for its administration building. Another plant plans to stock emergency supplies at the beginning of each hurricane season. And, some plants that set up emergency housing in 2005 are keeping electricity and water connections in place even after returning the borrowed trailers, just in case.

Companies are also hiring employees skilled in making electrical and other repairs. And they are creating checklists needed to restart key equipment in case trained staff are not available. They are also stocking as much inventory and as many spare parts as possible and coordinating with key suppliers on emergency plans.

Here are some basic guidelines emerging from the lessons learned:

  • Establish several ways to maintain critical communications with managers, suppliers, and customers during and after an emergency; consider creating a mobile emergency operations center.
  • Be prepared for flooding, which is usually the most serious obstacle to restarting operations.
  • Prepare to quickly shut down key utility supplies like air, oxygen, nitrogen, steam, natural gas, and other raw material feeds.
  • Establish plant evacuation routes, know the routes for your area, and inform employees about them.
  • Update internal contact lists so you can locate employees quickly; update contact information for emergency response groups.
  • Investigate how to provide temporary housing, basic amenities, and medical services to employees, if necessary.

What Your Plant Can Do

Knowing your plant's vulnerabilities can help you minimize them. First, assess your plant's current situation. Then, determine how and when to obtain emergency backup power, supplies, and parts; coordinate with local emergency teams on evacuations; and shut down and start up operations.

Many federal, state, and local resources can help you plan and prepare. A guide produced by the Federal Emergency Management Agency helps plants, industries, and businesses prepare specifically for hurricanes. It recommends ways to establish a planning team, analyze capabilities and hazards, and develop and implement a plan. Here's a summary of these guidelines.

How To Plan and Prepare for a Hurricane

1. Establish a planning team

  • Choose a leader and staff based on skills and capabilities.
  • Assign specific tasks to individuals or teams.

2. Analyze capabilities and hazards

  • Assess current preparations, potential risks, impacts of power failures and structural damage, and ways to mitigate damage.
  • Contact your local floodplain manager or other official to learn your flood risk; use flood-resistant building materials; erect physical barriers; anchor tanks and other structures.
  • Reinforce roof and siding panels against high winds; cover windows and doors; anchor tanks; remove loose objects from your site.
  • Have emergency backup power — e.g., a generator, battery storage, or combined heat and power (CHP) system; keep utility contact information handy for power outages.

3. Develop your plan

  • Plan for before, during, and after an emergency; establish protocols for employees' safety and site readiness.
  • Prioritize a list of site preparations; update emergency power and supply options.
  • Establish emergency communication systems and backups; determine staff responsibilities and procedures for shutting down, recovery, and restarting.
  • Develop an evacuation plan, including support for employees.
  • Establish procedures to shut down utility and process operations safely.
  • Find ways to protect business records, materials, and inventory.
  • Update critical contact lists.

4. Implement your plan

  • Track the storm's path and intensity through the National Hurricane Center.
  • Stay in touch with your state's emergency operations center and with corporate headquarters, other plants, employees, customers, and suppliers.
  • Carry out procedures for site preparation, emergency backup, shutdown, and evacuation.

If your plant produces materials needed for restoration and recovery, be sure to let local emergency operations centers know how you can help. And if you haven't already, please start planning today!

For more information on hurricane preparedness, please see the ITP "Hurricane Ready" Web site and the related links:

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