Conference speakers urge chemical plants to prepare for storms

By KELLY POE - Special to the Advocate
April 18, 2013 at 8:02 p.m.
Updated April 18, 2013 at 11:19 p.m.

Louis Rodriguez presents information about hurricane management at the Mid Coast Hurricane and Disaster conference.

Louis Rodriguez presents information about hurricane management at the Mid Coast Hurricane and Disaster conference.

Professionals are urging chemical industrial plants to be conservative when it comes to hurricane management.

Pat Daigle, a safety specialist at Ineos Nitriles in Calhoun County, stressed preparedness measures as the most important part of hurricane safety Thursday during the Mid Coast Hurricane & Disaster Conference at the Victoria Community Center, 2905 E. North St.

"Any time a tropical storm comes into the Gulf, we start meeting, no matter where it is," Daigle said.

Hurricane safety is a costly procedure - any time a plant shuts down, millions of dollars of revenue are lost, Daigle said. She also reserves hotel rooms for disaster workers if it appears a storm might approach, though the rooms often are not used.

"That's just the cost of doing business," Daigle said.

Damage from hurricanes can cause fires - a fear relevant in the wake of Wednesday's explosion at the fertilizer facility in West, where officials estimate as many 15 people died, including five first responders, who were likely ambulance workers or volunteer firefighters.

In a large fire, plants should do only containment work and not fight the actual blaze for fear of an explosion, said co-presenter Louis Rodriguez, environmental, health, safety and compliance manager at Invista in Victoria County.

Robert DeLeon, emergency services security leader at Dow Chemical, said at the conference that Dow Chemical fights small fires only.

"If any kind of bigger structure burns down, we can rebuild it," DeLeon said. "We can't replace lives."

Every department at Ineos, a global chemical supplier, including accounting and human resources, has a hurricane preparedness plan, Daigle said.

Safety officials should constantly update their safety plans, Daigle said. Hurricane Claudette put her company in a panic in 2003 because it sped up so quickly overnight. Now, there's someone monitoring storms 24 hours a day - and midnight conference calls are not unusual, she said.

"You have to be conservative. If you shut down, and the storm misses us by 100 miles, you can't beat yourself up over that," Daigle said. "We'll do that every time on the chance that it's a Claudette that goes right over us."

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