Preparing Facilities for Extreme Weather

How to Prepare Facilities for Extreme Weather

Elizabeth Ruiz

Posted on 9/13/23

Extreme Weather is a Threat to Facilities

Due to a particularly harsh and active hurricane season, the US Chemical Safety Board is urging chemical companies to properly prepare facilities for extreme weather as soon as possible. 

With increasingly frequent and damaging weather on the rise due to climate change, it is important to have a plan in place for hurricanes and other natural disasters to protect the site personnel and people living in the surrounding area from harm and danger related to compromised production facilities.

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center updated their prediction about this year’s hurricane season from a near-normal level of activity to a 60% chance of an above-normal level this week. This, along with two incidents from 2017 and 2020 prompted the CSB’s statement about facility preparation for hurricanes. 

Hurricanes aren’t the only culprits, with tornadoes destroying a North Carolina Pfizer plant in July and a Texas Deer Park chemicals facility in January. An earthquake caused a chemical spill at a Kennecott smelting refinery in Utah, also in January. These weather events and the damage they cause reminds us that all types of facilities should prepare for all natural disasters.

Prepare facilities near water for flooding

How to Prepare Facilities for Extreme Weather

Follow these steps from the Center for Chemical Process Safety Control’s monograph:

1. Identify Hazards – Determine which natural hazards are relevant to the facility using resources such as codes and standards, insurance reports, and site experience. 

2. Gather Data – After identifying relevant hazards, gather data from sources such as experts from the facility’s insurance carrier, FEMA, USGS, ASCE, among others. This data includes the probability of occurrence and the severity level of different natural hazards. Use this data to evaluate facility design and designing for reliability in relation to natural hazards, assessing risks, and emergency planning.

Back up any data related to site conditions should and make it accessible on site and remotely at all times. Considering natural hazard data as “process safety information” is a good practice.

3. Identify Equipment to be Addressed in Natural Hazards Assessment – When preparing facilities for extreme weather, identify any equipment that is necessary for safe operations or that, if compromised, could lead to a process safety event or harm to the site personnel, surrounding community, or environment. Examples of this equipment include nitrogen generators, wastewater pumps, firewater pumps, process control and safety instrumented systems, and cooling systems.

Cooling systems are necessary for safe operation during an emergency

4. Evaluate Against Design Criteria – Evaluate the equipment identified in Step 1 and compare to the data gathered in Step 4 about likelihood and severity of the natural hazard. If the current or planned design doesn’t meet the standards of the design criteria for the hazard(s), address the gap in one or more of the following ways:

A challenge in preparing facilities for extreme weather is that systems and equipment (and existing layers of protection) may be affected by the same hazard at the same time, or in rapid succession. Keep this in mind when designing for weather hazards. Apply design criteria addressing natural hazards to new projects.

Getting Back on Your Feet

The last two steps cover how to come back from the aftermath of a natural disaster.

5. Recovery – Keep in mind that the site personnel will be dealing with damage to their homes and concerns for their families’ safety. Identify a process for the company to contact and/or in some way get messages to employees and families.

  • Assess and stabilize damage to consider potential hazards and protect against them to avoid injury.
  • Repair or upgrade damaged equipment. Use a management of change procedure to validate the decision to upgrade and to obtain necessary permits. 
  • Address contamination.
  • Address hidden or silent features.
  • Identify new hazards associated with old equipment.
  • Handle typical startup challenges and focus training on recognizing anomalies in the startup sequence and how to correct them.

6. Recommissioning  Recommissioning involves preparing equipment and personnel again for all of the tasks associated with operating the facility. Develop a recommissioning plan for recovery from the specific natural hazard impacts such as wind and water damage. Things that may have worked properly before the disaster may not work after it. Don’t assume that equipment will perform as expected. Confirm it.

Conclusion

Take these steps into consideration if you are involved in preparing facilities for extreme weather. A facility designed with weather protections and emergency processes can help with cost related to damage caused by natural hazards, reduce downtime and lost production during the recovery and recommissioning period, and most important of all, provide a safer facility for the site personnel, the people in the surrounding community, and the environment.


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