Area plants plan ahead, focus on communication during hurricanes


May 26, 2010 at 12:26 a.m.

When a hurricane approaches, many people board up windows, gather supplies and leave town.

For larger entities, preparedness is more in depth.

Officials at area chemical plants say it takes planning, monitoring and communication to stay ahead of the curve.

Plants maintain hurricane preparedness plans they hone and adjust over time.

Before hurricane season begins, Inteplast's Lolita plant runs a tabletop exercise, said Brenda Wilson, the plant's human resources manager. Using information from Hurricane Rita, the staff goes through what to do, and when.

"We take it all the way down to if we had to evacuate the plant," she said.

Lyondellbasell drills emergency response teams, forms a team of volunteers to remain on site during a storm and purchases supplies before storm season begins, said Gayden Cooper, the plant's regional public relations manager.

Lyondellbasell also encourages employees to plan ahead at home, Cooper said, explaining that includes having supplies on hand and supplying the plant with emergency contact numbers.

Once a storm starts brewing, plants launch into action.

Formosa Plastics in Point Comfort goes on alert whenever Port O'Connor is included in a tropical weather or hurricane watch or warning area, said Jim Shephard, who works in communication services. The plan aids in preparing for a storm, maintaining environmental and safety systems and restarting the facility, Shephard said in an e-mail.

Point Comfort's Alcoa activates its hurricane plan as soon as an alert is issued, said Laurel Cahill, the plant's spokeswoman. It begins preparing for safe and orderly shutdown once a hurricane watch goes out.

The plan is a guideline, Cahill said, explaining that doesn't mean the plant will necessarily shut down.

Each department follows its own steps when it comes to preparation, she said. And, if a storm does hit, a small number of essential personnel - those who work to ensure safe and orderly shutdown, who help with communications and assist with security, medical and food service - stay throughout the storm.

Invista maintains an extensive hurricane preparedness plan, said Amy Hodges, the plant's spokeswoman. The plan covers a variety of measures, including safe and systematic shutdown of the facility of that becomes necessary, she said.

Communication is important, representatives said, and they keep in touch through websites, area media outlets and phone numbers set up on secure land lines.

Each storm differs but, depending on the damage it brings, plants can often get back online quickly.

At Inteplast, for instance, if the plant didn't see any damage and still had power, it could be up and running at full capacity within 12 hours, Wilson said.

Hurricanes are unpredictable, Cooper said, but it helps to be prepared.

"You never know where a storm really is going to hit and when," she said.



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