February On The Floor

For On The Floor: What’s Your Site’s Capacity For Disaster?

EP Editorial Staff | February 21, 2013

rick carterBy Rick Carter, Executive Editor

Industrial professionals have always lived closer to the potential for disaster than average citizens. But the frequency and scope of catastrophic events today (from natural disasters to armed, disgruntled workers to fires and explosions) seem to defy conventional ability to prepare for them. We asked our Reader Panelists about the disaster preparedness of their own operations.

Q: What type of disaster plan does your operation have in place? How effective do you believe it to be?

“My company’s mandated emergency response plan covers natural or man-made disasters, with or without malicious intent. The plan has procedures for when to initiate the plan, roles and responsibilities and escalation. It is required to be tested and practiced periodically.”

… Maintenance Engineer, West

“Our site has an excellent disaster plan with a horn signal system. Our plants are split into zones, each with a different number of signal blasts. A full plant evacuation is signaled by a series of single blasts; a tornado by a solid three-minute blast. We have two evacuation drills per year and one tornado test. All trades people have specific roles in case of a disaster.”

… PM Leader, Midwest

“In an emergency, our system shuts down the entire plant and can be activated at several locations. Each location has a light that indicates when it is the one that was triggered, and each is tested regularly. We have a safe zone outside the plant where workers are trained to gather when the alarm is sounded. And we have a sign-in/sign-out policy to verify who is in the plant at any given time, so if an emergency should occur we know who needs to be accounted for. We also have two underground storm shelters that will accommodate the number of people at the plant on a normal day.”

… Senior Maintenance Mechanic, South

“In [my geographic area], the natural disasters we’re most likely to face are tornadoes, micro-bursts, heavy snow, forest fires and high winds. Otherwise, chemical leakage seems to be the main event most plants in this area train for, especially an ammonia spill. This type of training is done every few months and covers how to leave the building, what to shut down, personnel counts, final sweeps, 911 contacts, etc. Food-industry operations often contract with companies that can supply portable chilling and power units in an emergency.”

… Former Senior Maintenance Engineer, now Teacher, West

“Our plans feature a redundancy component for tank leaks with retaining/containment walls that are designed to contain leaks entirely within the building. When we’ve had leaks, these plans have worked.”

… Lubrication Specialist, Midwest

“We have a plant-wide evacuation plan and severe-weather alert tones. Each section of the plant has a designated assembly area based on the type of alert issued. We test our systems quarterly and treat each drill as if it were real.”

… Reliability/Maintenance Engineer, South

“Our disaster plan considers issues such as extended electrical power outages, extended compressed air loss and extended chiller loss, though it has not been updated recently. Also, I am not aware of a plan that covers how to respond if our only facility access—a single bridge—collapses. We do not conduct drills.”

… Maintenance & Facilities Project Specialist, New England

“Our main concern with a natural disaster is the uncontrolled release of natural gas at high pressure. To handle this, the entire station is equipped with an emergency shutdown: The flow of gas to flares, boilers, etc., is cut off with solenoid valves, and gas piping is blocked off and blown down with hydraulic control valves. The plan also designates meeting areas for staff, and we have a sign-in/sign-out sheet to ensure all employees present are accounted for. All components of the emergency shutdown system are tested biannually. Firearms are not allowed on-site and plant access is restricted. The maintenance staff is actively involved in the disaster program through the repair of any faulty components in the emergency shutdown system, as well as monthly PMs that ensure all materials needed for disasters or spills are on-site and stocked.”

… Storage Mechanic, South  

Q: What key elements should any disaster prepar-edness plan include?

“Every plan should define the types of events that fall into the ‘disaster’ category and explain how and when to enact the emergency response plan. Specific people should be designated as leaders for specific situations, and leaders should know when to escalate from a plant response to one that involves local government or state emergency responders.”

… Maintenance Engineer, West

“The best way to prepare for any emergency is practice. Our fire-brigade members are required to have eight hours of training, which includes first-aid, fire-suppression and hazard-identification. Also, we meet during the year to review any calls that we’ve been involved in to see what went right and what could have been different.”

… PM Leader, Midwest

“A good plan will have clearly defined instructions that are regularly communicated and tested. It should detail who is covered by the plan, what they should do if a particular alarm is sounded, when they should respond to the alarm, how long they should assemble in the safe area, and the location of the safe area and how to reach it. There should be a roll call at each assembly area to ensure everyone is accounted for. There should also be a person designated to perform a sweep of each area to ensure everyone in a particular work area has been evacuated to safety.”

… Reliability/Maintenance Engineer, South

“Take every situation into review. All [events] that could happen should have a plan to deal with that situation.”

… Lubrication Specialist, Midwest

“Have more than one action/option for each possible disaster scenario. Place printed copies in multiple locations both inside and outside the plant, such as town offices.”

… Maintenance & Facilities Project Specialist, New England

“Employee involvement and input is the most important part of any disaster plan.”

… Storage Mechanic, South

A word from the witnesses
Few Panelists have personally experienced on-the-job disasters, but those who have corroborate the need for plans built on real-world possibilities, not budget constraints or head-in-the-sand denials. For example, a Panelist who was on-site when a hurricane destroyed an industrial park reports there were no plans or preparations for such an event. Why? “Because management (which didn’t believe this could happen) didn’t want to spend any money.” Another says that only after a stray bullet came through the front-office window during hunting season did his plant post the property. Yet another Panelist described managers that preferred to see the plant in an ideal world, and insisted that a proffered list of worst-case conditions was way off base. But problems obey only one rule, he warns: “If conditions allow, the worst will happen.” MT






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