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Will You be Ready When Disaster Strikes?  

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As evidenced in the headlines, terrorist attacks, natural disasters and infrastructure failures can occur without warning, creating catastrophic results for an unprepared facility. For this reason, many chemical processors are developing crisis-management plans to preempt, deal with and, ultimately, survive disaster.

While each facility’s strategy varies depending upon the potential crises they are most likely to encounter, all preparedness plans should cover the basics, including creating plans of action, conducting practice drills for each possible scenario and making arrangements to stay in business following catastrophe. Further, any crisis management plan worth its salt should include internal and external integration.


Planning for disaster

Terrorist attacks are the latest focus, but are just one of many potential disasters that might strike a chemical processing facility. “Possible scenarios run the gamut from terrorist attacks to process interruptions, [such as] a reactive-chemical incident, to product contamination to weather-related events,” says Tim Scott, chief security officer and global director for emergency services and security at Dow Chemical Co. (Midland, Mich., “But the key to crisis management is to cover all the various scenarios that could impact a site, business or company, and put plans in place for how each scenario will be addressed.”

Experts suggest that each site within a company assemble a committee that meets on a regular basis to review probable events and disaster scenarios and then determine the proper course of action to mitigate each situation. For all plans, drills should be conducted, and all parties engaged in or dependent upon those plans should participate in the trial runs.

“We suggest the ‘Plan, Do, Check’ approach,” says Scott Jensen, American Chemistry Council (ACC) spokesper-

son (Arlington, Va., “This means they create a plan for each scenario, execute on that plan and then check to make sure it went as expected.”

Dow’s Scott notes that it’s likely, and acceptable, that things will not go as planned during drills. “Running drills helps you find gaps. For sure you will discover holes during practice, and that’s okay. It’s finding out in realtime that is not good. Practicing allows you to identify areas that need improvement and fill in the missing pieces before you actually need to use the plan.”

Staying in business

A major aspect of crisis management includes planning to stay in business after an event occurs. To do this, Erin Streeter, acting director of the DHS’s Ready Campaign (Washington, D.C., suggests first determining what is necessary to keep a business operating. “Chemical processors, like all other businesses, need to assess their function, look at business flow charts and identify the operations that are essential for survival,” says Streeter. “Steps to ensure that essential functions can and will remain operational during and after a crisis should be developed.”

James Cooper, senior manager of government relations with the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association (SOCMA; Washington, D.C., stresses the importance of devising a business continuity plan, which focuses on logistics and supply chain management in a crisis situation. “It’s about knowing where you source raw materials, knowing where your products end up and making sure your customers can get the products they need even if it’s through a temporary business arrangement,” says Cooper. “In addition it’s making sure you can get the products you need if there’s a disruption in your supply chain. It requires a lot of pre-work, a lot of thought and having a lot of redundancies in place.”

Steps to safeguard the company and its assets should also be part of crisis-management plans. Meeting with insurance providers to review coverage and double checking to be sure there is coverage for physical losses in cases of flooding or other damage is essential. And, DHS’s Streeter mentions making provisions for the greatest asset — employees. “Payroll continuity must be considered, as well as emergency communications for employees so they know the procedures for returning to work.”

Since utility outages are likely during an emergency, it is also necessary to have a strategy for avoiding utility-related disruptions. “Plan ahead for these issues and talk to utility providers about alternatives that may help keep you operating,” suggests Streeter.

Integrating the plan

Even the best-laid plan may fail in real time if it is not properly integrated with internal and external sources, says Dow’s Scott. “Without proper integration, a crisis management plan can become a solitary approach, which is not an efficient way to handle emergency response or crisis,” he says. For this reason it is important to keep the process integrated vertically and horizontally. “You can have a good plan, but if it’s not vertically integrated within the company and horizontally with the community’s emergency responders, suppliers and customers, the plan will simply not work.

“Chemical processing facilities are dependent upon outside influences and things can easily get out of control during an emergency if plans are not integrated vertically and horizontally. Integration ensures that everyone’s plans are in sync.”

Knowing when to escalate to the next level is also crucial to success. “There should be a command structure at the site level that takes care of a vast majority of incidents that happen on site, but there needs to be a trigger that signals when the issue is too big to handle at the site level and should be made a company or area issue,” says Scott.

This level of the command structure looks at the bigger picture and considers the impact of that particular event on the company as a whole. If there is a shutdown, will it require working with the supply chain to move product, or a shift in production capacity? Will there be a national medial impact? “Each level of the plan has more and broader oversight until it reaches the corporate level, which is very strategic and asks, ‘What should we do from a company level to achieve a good reaction to this scenario?,’” says Scott.

Similarly, there should be triggers in place that determine when it is time to contact local law enforcement and emergency responders. This is especially important when it comes to timing company evacuations with community ones.

What it boils down to is that whether the disaster is natural or man made, developing scenarios, plans and drills that make provisions for staying in business and integrating them with internal and external parties will help processors cope when and if a crisis hits. “You hope this is an insurance package that you’ll never need, but if you do need it, you’ll be glad it was there,” says Scott.