Emergency response business plans address what plants and refineries must do to survive following a major disaster. Primarily, it lists accounts with local vendors to supply living quarters, generators, pumps and all the other necessities required to get the facility back online.
But what happens if the local vendors are stressed as severely as the industrial facility by said disaster. To illustrate this point, Shelby Startz of HMHTTC Response Inc. presented a photograph of Holly Beach, LA, an ocean-front community all but swept away by Hurricane Rita.
"We are going to talk about events that are wide ranging and extend beyond your facility," Startz said. "They can have an impact that affects a wide area, not just your plant."
Startz spoke to a general session audience of the Industrial Fire World Emergency Responders Conference and Exposition. Beaumont, the city playing host to this year's conference, was one of those hardest hit by Hurricane Rita in September 2005.
HMHTTC Response Inc. is an emergency and spill response company that responds to and manages hazmat and non-hazardous materials incidents throughout North America and Europe, including highway transportation incidents, chemical and diesel spills, aircraft disasters, train derailments, chemical plant explosions and fires, hazmat training, hazardous material handling, building collapses, chemical and biological releases, and weapons of mass destruction disasters, as well as natural disasters and hazmat cleanup.
Natural disasters such as Hurricane Rita quickly overwhelmed emergency response business plans that were in place along the Gulf Coast, Startz said. Events conspired to strip away many of the resources that plants and refineries would ordinarily have depended upon to recover.
"Hurricane Rita occurred approximately three weeks after a major catastrophic event called Katrina," Startz said. "You folks probably remember both of them. Katrina affected the entire Gulf Coast tremendously. It used up all the resources needed to respond to a large scale event such as Rita."
Generators, pumps and, in particular, personnel were simply unavailable.
"Everything available had been thrown at Katrina," Startz said. "And it wasn't enough. All the planning in the world couldn't have prepared us for something like this. And then came Rita."
One of HMHTTC Response's biggest immediate tasks following Rita involved a 205,000 barrel fuel storage tank containing 40,000 gallons of diesel, barely 20 percent of the tank's total capacity. Made buoyant by the floodwaters, the tank lifted off its pad and floated out into a federally protected wetlands marsh near Sabine Pass in Texas.
"This was three miles out into the marsh," Startz said. "The storm surge was estimated at between 12 and 15 feet. When the storm surge came in, this particular tank wasn't anchored securely. It floated up, went inland a ways, then when the storm surge went out, the tank went out with it, bouncing along the way."
As the tide went down, the buoyant tank began to drag along the bottom. Ultimately, a nine-foot hole tore open, pouring diesel into the marsh. Fortunately, the tank came to rest in a position that all but plugged the hole. Still, a small amount of fuel continued to leak from the tank. "Our crews mobilized a lot of specialized equipment - air boats, shallow draft barges, modified pumps," Startz said. "Keep in mind this is 48 hours after the wind has stopped blowing. There is nothing to eat or drink. There are no facilities to sleep. Logistically speaking, this is a nightmare."
Local vendors were nearly non-existent at this stage, he said. The closest place to obtain needed items was nearly two hours away in Houston.
"To try and sustain beyond 72 hours when faced with this is a challenge," Startz said. "It means using incident command to its fullest. The fellows handling logistics and finances must really want that job."
Establishing a base camp meant bringing resources from across country, Startz said.
"Remember, all the RVs that FEMA could find in an eight state region have already been purchased to satisfy the needs in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana," he said. "The RVs we used were found in New Mexico and New Jersey."
Hot meals were essential. In 72 hours, HMHTTC Response Inc. had a special unit capable of heating food to feed 300 people per meal adapted for the project. It took another 24 hours to deliver it to the scene.
"By then, the crews were ready for a hot meal," Startz said. "Sandwiches and field rations such as MREs get a bit old after awhile."
As for the leaking tank, containment booms were used to surround and recover the fuel. As for draining the tank's contents without damaging the ecosystem of the marsh, HMHTTC Response Inc. developed a plan that involved running a 12,000 foot continuous feed line across the marsh as a means to pump the tank into a waiting barge.
"We dragged that line into the marsh using air boats," Startz said. "We were one week into the equation before we could get that done. That's how long it took to get equipment and personnel to the scene."
Considering the monumental parameters set by the government, nothing short of a full blown response could have dealt with the Sabine Pass emergency.
But equally important to the nation was getting the many refineries of the region back online as soon as possible.
"That's what HMHTTC Response Inc. has to offer," Startz said. "We can help to sustain an emergency response beyond that magic 72 hours that the standard emergency plan allows for."