With Hurricane Harvey approaching the Texas coast, KMCO, LLC, began preparations to meet the challenges the Category 4 hurricane would bring. And, through implementation of its hurricane preparedness plan and the dedication of its employees, KMCO weathered the storm, ensuring a safe shutdown and restart of its facilities, as well as the safety of its employees, communities and the environment in both the Crosby and Port Arthur, TX, locations.
“When dealing with a hurricane, it is critical to have a plan in place well before it happens,” said Keith Terhune, Vice President, Industrial and Supply Chain at KMCO, LLC. “We saw the storm coming a few days in advance, so we began operations to clean up the plant, secure items, and adjust our delivery so we could go to a ‘down’ state. And, we brought in additional generators and pumps to assist with flooding.” Employees also worked ahead to finish most of the batches before the storm arrived.
KMCO’s extensive checklist of preparations for 12, 24 and 36 hours from landfall was essential to getting the plant in safe condition prior to the storm.
“Our priority was the safety of the people and the security of the environment…making sure we took everything down without incident, with no spills or releases,” said KMCO CEO John Foley. And to that end KMCO was successful.
“There have been no spill or releases on site, and we have no expectations of finding any later,” Terhune said.
To ensure employee safety, KMCO called for an early release for non-essential personnel on Friday as the storm approached, said Kim George, KMCO’s Director of Human Resources and Communications. “This gave employees time to prepare personally, whether it was going to gather supplies or prepare their homes or evacuate,” she said.
The hurricane made landfall late Friday evening, and the management team stayed connected every day throughout the weekend to discuss how the storm was progressing, the impact it was having on its employees, and how to move forward.
As the magnitude of the storm was realized, KMCO soon made the decision on Sunday to proactively halt operations and bring everything to a safe and idle stop.
A “ride out crew” of process operators and maintenance personnel remained on site for the duration of the storm to safely manage operations. These operators maintained critical flood control in the process areas, ensuring that temperatures and wells were appropriately managed.
Terhune said critical pumps were put on generators prior to losing power so they could control their operations, and for safety purposes they powered-down to minimize the risks from flooded electrical equipment.
KMCO’s Crosby plant remained closed Monday through Wednesday, with all employees returning for a full day of work on August 31, George said.
Because of the storm and flooding, KMCO lost a week of production during the storm, Terhune said, and the company took several more days to carefully test every device, every piece of rotating equipment, re-fire boilers that were offline and ensure a safe restart. With KMCO being a batch manufacturing facility, it is common to stop and restart processes on a regular basis so start-ups and adjustments are not uncommon. But it is rare to have all units down at one time. Terhune said they are going through the process methodically to do it correctly and safely.
While things were improving at the Crosby facility, the company’s KMTEX LLC Port Arthur plant faced a similar situation just a few days later as Hurricane Harvey moved inland.
KMCO handled the circumstances at the Port Arthur plant with a similar hurricane preparation plan, closing the facility and having a “ride out crew” deal with any issues that arose at the plant during that time. “We were able to survive the storm and protect the plant,” Terhune said. “The plant did not flood in the processing areas, so I hope we are able to recover quickly.”
Employees returned to the Port Arthur facility on Tuesday, September 5.
As good stewards, company employees and management monitored the preparedness plan at both facilities throughout the storm to note any areas they can improve upon when facing any future weather incidents. The team plans to come together to debrief and review the storm procedures once operations are fully back up to speed, Terhune said.
Every storm is different, but the extensive hurricane procedure KMCO had in place was critical to the successful shutdown and restart of the facility.
“As an industry, there is a deep level of commitment to ensuring safety, and it was evident to me during the storm,” Foley said.
“It is very difficult to deal with a massive storm when you are uncertain of its impact,” Foley said. But he commended his employees for the dedication they displayed in keeping the facility safe and compliant throughout the event. “Not just the ride out crew, but a core group of employees came to the plant every day they could through challenging circumstances. Daily conference calls helped the company leadership team take key decisions and help pilot our actions. This speaks volumes about their dedication as they were also worrying about and taking care of their family and friends.”
And there are more stories like these, Foley said, with companies across the industry rallying around their employees and communities. “These people gave back at the expense of time with their own families,” Foley said.
KMCO employees not only supported the efforts at the Crosby facility, they also reached out to the local community center and purchased and delivered needed supplies. Others have helped fellow employees and members of the community who were impacted by flooding. “This is a great story of compassion and support,” Foley said.
About 20 employees were delayed in returning to work because their homes were impacted by flooding. But those employees are not facing this alone, Foley said. KMCO plans to make a significant contribution to assist them. “We are going to take care of them as best as we can,” Foley said. “They are going to be dealing with the after effects of the storm for some time.”