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Chemical industry prepared for new storm heading to U.S. gulf coast

With another hurricane season underway, the chemical industry is prepared to build on the successful actions taken to weather previous major storms.

During previous storms such as Katrina and Ike, American Chemistry Council (ACC) members’ emergency preparations worked as planned. Not one employee at a chemical facility was injured, and neither the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) nor any state agency reported a significant chemical release from ACC member facilities in the Gulf.

In fact, most chemical facilities returned to full operational status in a matter of days, a tribute to planning, preparation and the fundamental design of ACC members’ facilities.

Preparation equals safety

Chemical companies know well to avoid the dangers of being unprepared for any threat, be it a hurricane, an accident, or something more sinister. This is why our member companies place great importance on implementing emergency plans focused on protecting the safety of employees and surrounding communities. Under Responsible Care®, our trademark health, safety, environment and security program, all ACC members have long-established emergency plans, which are activated in close coordination with local, state and national authorities, other businesses and transportation systems, along the path of the storms.

The well-rehearsed emergency plans for hurricanes involve many actions taken in advance of the storm. Depending on the severity of the storm, they include:

  • Complete shutdown of facility following strict safety and operating procedures
  • Evacuation of personnel
  • Preparing the facility by activating generators, filling tanks and physically securing equipment
  • Removal of unnecessary vehicles and other equipment

ACC members don’t just rely on short-term contingency plans when it comes to hurricanes, they also consider them when designing and building chemical facilities to be safe. Specific construction elements can include hardened equipment, dikes and levees.

Read more on weather safety here.

Cascading impacts on chemicals and customers

As previous storms have demonstrated, the impact of hurricanes can go well beyond the potential threat to employees and physical damage to facilities and their communities. Those storms served as a reminder of the interdependent nature of the nation’s critical infrastructure.

While most facilities did not suffer major structural damage and were operational within days, many were unable to resume normal production because of other external consequences of the storms. Extensive damage to the local infrastructure blocked the flow of key supplies, like electricity and natural gas, necessary to manufacture chemicals, while damaged roads and rail lines prevented the delivery of products to consumers.

Ultimately, this led to higher fuel costs for everyone and curtailed the delivery of chemicals essential to producing important everyday items like clean drinking water and life-saving medicines.

Recovering from the storm

After a storm passes, specially trained teams visit the site to evaluate damage before response crews or other employees are allowed to return. Once it is deemed safe to return, employees begin the delicate process of restarting operations, which can take several days depending on the size of the facility.

As we have seen in the wake of past storms, the recovery operations of many companies extended past the fence lines of their facilities. On their own, through ACC and the state chemistry councils, and working directly with the Red Cross, Salvation Army and other organizations, America’s chemistry companies and their personnel responded compassionately, donating tens of millions of dollars for relief assistance, volunteering time and providing much-needed supplies. This industry-wide effort included companies and facilities from all parts of the nation.

In many instances, member company facilities became vital community resources, providing a wide range of support, including temporary housing and meals for employees, their families and even the broader community, in some instances.

Preparing for the next storm

While it is impossible to predict the exact path of Harvey or the potential impact on member facilities, ACC member companies will continue to make sure all of their facilities are prepared to weather the storm and assist in the recovery.

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