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A learning fest at Albemarle Fine Chemistry Services

(Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of two articles recounting a safety drill at Albemarle.)
When the siren sounded on Thursday, January 21, 2005 at 9 a.m., the simulated incident, which was a gaseous release of anhydrous ammonia, jolted plant workers into action. As a safety precaution, employees are always informed that a response exercise is scheduled. They aren’t privy to the time, type or location of the release.
During the exercise, key Albemarle employees are positioned as proverbial “flies on the wall” to observe the response process and take copious notes about the strengths and weaknesses associated with the response effort. Steve Ellenberger, Safety Coordinator observed Tom Getz, Human Resources Supervisor and Ivan Riggle, Site Compliance Coordinator interact with the media.
“My goal is to reinforce what we do well and identify what needs to be corrected and devise a plan to correct it,” said Ellenberger. “It’s always better to find out what you can improve before you are in the throes of a real incident.”
Virgie Werner played the role of a print journalist and Carolyn Patton represented a state government agency. Both former CAC members were able to visit the site and ruffle a few feathers with pointed questions and aggressive personalities.
“I really think it was a tremendous idea to include community members in this drill,” said Patton. “I am hoping my participation in the event will help them present information the next time through. It gave a few people a jab in the arm, which is better to be jabbed now then when a real crisis occurs.”
Ivan Riggle was only one of the Albemarle employees to get jabbed! He greeted the media representatives more than four times over the course of the drill, providing updates and subjecting himself to a barrage of pointed questions.
“They did a fantastic job making me realize how information must be presented to our community,” said Riggle. “As chemists, we tend to focus on the science associated with an incident rather than the details the community wants to know. This was a valuable experience for me to remember to focus on the human side of the incident.”
Gary Dennis, Deputy Director of Emergency Services participated in the drill and accompanied Mr. Riggle on several occasions. Tom Getz was assigned the task of keeping the media in a safe location during the simulation. He realized quickly that whenever Mr. Riggle left the area, his arm got tugged.
“I learned that when the media wants information, they will take measures that I wouldn’t think about to complete their story,” said Getz.
Journalist Mike Pitterilli and Dan Yost decided to make a run for the plant to capture images of the employees’ response effort.
“This was a simulation and nothing would happen to them,” said Getz. “But if we were responding to a real event, we would need to monitor the environment to determine who can go where at what point in time in a safe manner. The safety of our employees, the community and the environment are our primary concerns.”
The actual drill lasted approximately 90 minutes. More than 30 employees assembled for a debriefing after the drill. Each participant offered commendations and recommendations for the next drill. The only unit to receive partial feedback was the employees manning the telephones. They could describe what they needed to do the job more effectively, but they didn’t really know how their communication with the CAC members was rated.
Mr. Sanders asked Ann Jabro to speak with each participant and have an assessment prepared for the CAC meeting later in the evening. Pat Campbell seemed to capture the consensus about the experience.
“I feel much safer and more confident that in the event of a situation at Albemarle, they will be able to handle the situation more competently as a result of this exercise. They have been there and know how to approach a crisis situation and respond correctly.”
The employees who manned the telephone lines were credited with being patient, kind, and offering more information than the callers needed to know.
John Molnar commented, “I felt the drill was professional and the telephone responders provided adequate information to satisfy my concerns. I thought this was a great way to get the CAC involved. It was an excellent experience.”
While Ms. Jabro engaged in an evaluation with participants about the drill, Mr. Sanders prepared his presentation for the community advisory council meeting that started at 5:30 p.m. Mr. Andrews began the meeting with the plant update and then explained the Responsible Care Code, Community Awareness and Emergency Response, which is a template for the company’s emergency planning and response efforts. Mr. Rod Bohner, Director of the Blair County Emergency Management Association attended the meeting.
In the event of a crisis that necessitated the assistance of people other than Albemarle employees, such as the Tyrone Hospital, Tyrone Police or Fire Department, Mr. Bohner indicated that the command structure shifted from Mr. Andrews at Albemarle to his unit. He explained that “joint incident command” is preferred, which is when his unit works in consultation with the company seeking assistance, such as Albemarle. However, Mr. Bohner is ultimately the only person who has the power to order an evacuation, shelter-in-place or other type of emergency response action.
When Mr. Sanders debriefed the CAC about the day’s activities, he reported the emergency response team handled the incident with flying colors. Mr. Andrews served as the incident commander, or the person responsible for making decisions and managing the multifaceted components of a response effort.
“We learned that we needed local area maps to decipher where our callers were located in relation to the direction of the simulated release, said Andrews. “This was a critical piece of information that we really needed to respond effectively, but a simple problem to solve.”
CAC members were also informed about the other areas that the company would invest time and training to manage. Dennis Reedy stated that he felt that, “Albemarle continues to be safety conscious in the community and I’m quite impressed with the on-going activities.”
Maureen Drain put the simulation in perspective.
“It identified the areas for diligence and speaks to larger issues. We need a unified communications effort to handle a crisis. The good citizen Albemarle does this, but we need to do these types of drills as a community so that we understand and rectify our weaknesses,” said Drain.
Mr. Sanders thanked the CAC for participating in the event and lamented on the numerous lessons learned in a 24-hour time period.
“I had never expected so many other people would benefit from this training,” said Sanders. “This has been an extremely informative and beneficial experience for our employees, for the members of the community, for the Robert Morris students, and for the CAC. We all learned something new.”
If anyone is interested in becoming a member of the Albemarle Fine Chemistry Services Community Advisory Council, telephone 1-800-484-7511, security code 3750 for more information.

Categories
News

A learning fest at Albemarle Fine Chemistry Services

(Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series recounting a safety drill at Albemarle’s Tyrone plant.)
The pristine blanket of glistening white snow was gently covering the mountaintops and simultaneously wreaking havoc on the roads leading to Tyrone on January 20, 2005.
Despite the inclement weather, current and former members of the Albemarle Fine Chemistry Services – Tyrone Community Advisory Council (CAC) gathered to assist Albemarle Corporation’s Director of Industrial Hygiene and Corporate Safety, P. Joseph Sanders achieve his goal. He was visiting Blair County from Baton Rouge, Louisiana with a mission to continue the company’s commitment to emergency preparedness and safe work practices. The goal would be accomplished by orchestrating an emergency drill designed by Mr. Sanders and Barry Sechrist, Senior Process Safety Specialist at the Tyrone plant.
Emergency response drills aren’t new to Albemarle’s highly skilled and trained workforce. The company boasts a safety record of .65, while similar companies in the same industry tip the scales at 3.65.
“The lower the number, the fewer incidents have occurred at a site or the more safely the company performs its business activities,” explained Mr. Sanders.
While employees respond to different simulated crises on a monthly basis, this simulation was different.
“I volunteered the employees at the Tyrone site to participate in this drill because it featured a component that was new to our team,” said Randy Andrews, Plant Manager. “I know I have a great group of employees who are always up for a challenge.”
This time, employees would not only respond to a simulated on-site emergency situation; they would respond to queries, concerns, and frustrations articulated by local residents, representatives from government agencies, and the media by telephone call-in or visits at the site, roles heretofore simulated by Albemarle employees at other facilities.
The details surrounding the simulation are kept highly confidential to protect the integrity of the drill.
“When you want to ascertain what your employees can do well and identify what areas need enhancement, every component of a response drill must be kept secret,” said Sanders. “If the employees know the details of the event, the drill is a wasted effort. Simulated crisis tests our employees’ abilities to think and respond quickly. We conduct these drills to determine if our workforce needs additional training, equipment, or changes in procedures.”
Albemarle’s community advisory council (CAC) began in 1992 and more than 100 Tyrone residents have met with company management six times annually for two-hour sessions to discuss different aspects of chemical manufacturing. Ann Jabro, a professor of communication at Robert Morris University, facilitates the group. When she learned about the sophistication of the exercise, she suggested to Mr. Sanders that he involve CAC members in the drill.
“The CAC are phenomenal representatives of the community, who come to the meetings with insightful questions and meaningful suggestions,” said Jabro. “It seemed logical that they would want to participate in and experience an emergency drill to better understand what Albemarle employees must manage in a crisis mode, especially since the group has learned so much about the precautions Albemarle has in place to protect its employees, the community, and the environment.”
While this was the first drill to involve community members, Mr. Sanders welcomed their enthusiasm and participation. Craig Rickards, Mickey Dutrow, Dennis Reedy, Maureen Drain, Greg Bock, Wendy Boytim, Pat Campbell, Miriam McClain and John Molnar participated via telephone while Virgie Werner and Carolyn Patton visited the site.
Over dinner at a local restaurant, drill participants were briefed about the specific roles they would play and how the simulated incident would unfold. Each participant was assigned a time to telephone the plant performing the role they had been assigned. For example, Wendy Boytim was instructed to telephone at 9:40 a.m. Her role was that of a woman whose husband was working at the plant when the news about the incident reached her. She was asked to make her conversation as “real” as possible. This genuine conversation would provide the Albemarle employees manning the phone lines an opportunity to experience what emotions, questions and concerns they would have to manage in the event of a real incident.
CAC member and emergency drill participant Mickey Dutrow, principal of Tyrone Elementary School commented, “This shows that Albemarle is willing to acknowledge that they could potentially have an incident that could impact the community. And, therefore, they feel the need to practice so that they are competent to respond, should a crisis occur.”
While the CAC members were learning their roles and bombarding Mr. Sanders with questions, Mike Pitterilli and Dan Yost negotiated the snow and ice-slick roads east on Route 22. They are communications students at Robert Morris University, who jumped at the opportunity to perform the role of professional journalists covering a simulated chemical incident.
“Few aspiring journalists get the chance to learn how to cover a chemical emergency. Even though this is a simulation, everyone at the plant will be literally responding to the situation like it is the real thing,” said Mike Pitterilli. “I wanted to ask thorough and detailed questions to ensure that I made the media part as real as possible.”
(Editor’s note: Part two of the series will appear in tomorrow’s edition.)