Volume 13 | Issue 3 | Year 2010

No one can control when disasters or accidents occur.
However, manufacturing executives and plant operators can control the aftermath; that is, they can accomplish what needs to be done to quickly restore functionality.

And it begins even well before disaster strikes.

Proactive measures, such as smart, well-documented recovery plans developed well before an incident helps companies more efficiently resume operations. Disasters may overwhelm, so the best time for clear thinking is before the unthinkable happens.

Consider one set of circumstances: The 2010 Atlantic hurricane season puts operations from Texas to Maine at risk. Forecasters predict above-average activity this year with as many as 16 tropical storms, including up to eight hurricanes. But storms aren’t the only threats. Now consider what manufacturing and industrial facilities recently endured:

  • An April underground explosion killed more than two-dozen coal miners at Massey Energy Co.’s Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, W.Va.
  • An April heat exchanger failure at Tesoro Corp.’s refinery in Anacortes, Wash. scorched an area half the size of a football field, killing at least five workers.
  • A February explosion at a Kleen Energy Systems gas power plant outside of Hartford, Conn., reduced the facility’s largest building to rubble and killed at least five people.

Here’s more: Since 2005, monumental storms in New Orleans, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas forced multiple industries to continuously worry about water removal and health concerns from flood contaminants. GE Energy Services provided recovery efforts to organizations in those regions. Based on those experiences and others, GE developed a disaster-preparedness regimen applicable to manufacturing and industrial facilities of all sizes.

It begins with effective back up. Recovery teams work most accurately and efficiently when gaining immediate access to engineering data and drawings. To safeguard information, engineering data should be stored remotely at a data center. The plant should also back up any programs for smart devices, such as programmable logic controllers or protective relays, to ensure any new equipment installed uses the correct settings. Some companies store documents on location – making the information vulnerable, whether digital or on paper. GE, for instance, routinely backs up information to a remote data center as an extra precaution.

Operators should document the sequence that equipment needs to come back online. This record will help contractors quickly and strategically get the plant running. Consider these questions: What do I need up and running first? What components or processes are most critical?

Safety requirements following a disaster may be different than those for normal contractor site visits. Communicating contingency safety requirements will help prepare contractors to properly respond the first time, decreasing overall downtime. Example: The last thing a plant needs is a contractor ready to help but unable to enter the facility due to improper or insufficient personal protection equipment, which can include everything from a specific-color shirt to electrical testing equipment.

Following a disaster, a number of logistical issues, when planned for, will improve the efficiency of the recovery process.

These include preparing for on-site management and local logistical contact information for the responding contractors. More specifically:

  • Project management: Plants will be outside normal operating rhythms, so it is important to designate a person in charge of site management. This person will help coordinate those involved in the disaster recovery effort. For example, a site manager will conduct safety meetings, coordinating work among multiple contractors.
  • Local logistics: Have a list of contacts that contractors can use to help address supply issues. Where can the contractor obtain fuel for equipment (diesel and gasoline)? What lodging facilities are near the plant? Where can the contractor purchase food? Where will they access clean water? How will the contractor dispose of wastewater?

Once a disaster has passed, the plant must be inspected for damage. But keep in mind that some damage may not immediately present itself. For example, salt water flooding can damage a machine in ways not immediately detectable. If dam- aged machines must be brought back online, seriously consider replacing the damaged units. Changing a few parts may be cheaper in the short-term but may create costly reliability issues in the future.

A disaster’s impact may be widespread, significantly affecting the company, its industry and the community it serves. Further, individuals involved will experience the limits of physical and emotional endurance. A proactive recovery process is essential; it will accelerate the recovery when the unthinkable happens. It’s like making a will: The most financially astute know that you don’t compose a will on your deathbed but when things are going well.

As such, today’s disaster preparation conserves the resources (e.g., manpower and capital) necessary to deal with tomorrow’s potential disasters.

Jim Rogers is the General Manager, Industrial Services & Motors, at GE Energy Services based in Atlanta. GE Energy Services works with utilities and power consumers to find cleaner, smarter and more efficient energy solutions.

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