Healing Through a Hurricane
In August of 2017, somewhere in the Caribbean Sea a storm was brewing. A storm so intense that by its end, it had caused more than $120 billion in damages, impacted nearly 13 million people, and taken over 80 lives. Its name was Harvey.
by Jennifer Layer
At the same time that Harvey was just beginning to form, the Huntsman Corporation was about to start a large scale turnaround at its Port Neches facility. Mike Asquini and Jennifer Layer from T.A. Cook Houston met with the Huntsman team to reconstruct the dramatic events that unfolded.
“When we are planning a turnaround, there’s always a concern about weather because they usually fall during hurricane season, just due to business reasons,” explains Maintenance Team Lead, Dillon Williams. “So there’s precautions that we take, to have extra water, an evacuation plan, a ride out crew, and so on. We were hoping this time was going to be like all the other years where you buy everything and don’t ever need it.”
“If we see the path of projection leading towards us, we have a hurricane procedure that goes into effect,” says Event Team Leader, Keith Landry. “Starting in January we begin hurricane prep, up to and including when the hurricane enters the gulf. There are certain preparations we make including shutting the plant down early enough, clearing plastic off the structures, and all non-essential staff are released so they can get with their families and evacuate.”
As Huntsman let their crews go home to be with their families, many, expecting the usual slight wind and rain, decided to wait out the storm in their homes. As the rain began to fall, people went about their business unconcerned, many even enjoying this forced time off. For most, the first sign of distress was losing power, followed by anxiously watching the water inch closer and closer to their vehicles and homes. Before they knew it, their cities were drowning.
“What sent chills down my back, was hearing all the airboats coming in and out of our neighborhood rescuing people,” said Williams. “But if you get on one of those boats, they’re going to take you somewhere, but you won’t know where you’re going. It’ll just be some random shelter, possibly states away.”
Like Williams, a few days into the storm, over half of Huntsman’s essential turnaround team had flooding in their homes and the turnaround was forcibly put on hold. It wasn’t until a week later when some people were able to get back to the plant.
“There was like 18 inches of water in some of the units which effected the equipment,” said Landry. “We came in and got things prepared. We had to assess the damage and come up with a game plan for what needed to be done, like getting the damaged equipment replaced, so we could be in a position to restart the turnaround.”
“Everything we had done for the turnaround thus far we had to redo because we had lost power for so long that we lost our air conditioning to these reactors and they now had rust in them,” said Re-cat manager, Brent Broussard. “So that nearly doubled our time. And this was not a simple task with the little manpower we had.”
“Staffing was a big concern at this point. The contractor staff and my execution team had received a lot of damage at their homes and of course we expect that to be their first priority,” said Landry. “In response to this, Huntsman assembled a contractor team to go out and demo the damage at our employees homes, and got their homes into a position where they could be drying out.”
Once Huntsman and those committed volunteers stepped in to help their impacted employees and neighbors handle the damage to their homes and get back into a non-crisis state, many were able to focus their attention back to the site.
“When those guys came back they were on it. Once I told them it was go time, they knew what to do and were ready to go,” said Operations Coordinator, Richard Hernandez. “The re-cat operators were quite busy and had to deal with a lot of unexpected challenges. Under the circumstances and the distractions of Harvey it’s really incredible to see how hard everyone worked.”
“You think you know the character of people as to how they do their every day jobs, but whenever the chips are down, and when the going really gets tough, you get to see a different side of people’s characters,” said Site Director, Chad Anderson. “People will absolutely amaze you by the things they do and the way they step up. You get to see the true grit, and it really made me realize that we have by far and above some of the most phenomenal employees you could ever want. Just by the way they act and care about their fellow associates.”
“Huntsman went above and beyond for their employees,” said Broussard, “but they always do. This is the second time my house has been affected by a hurricane and even the first time Huntsman offered to send contractors to help repair the damage.”
Like Broussard, Port Neches is no stranger to natural disasters. Thirteen years ago the same area was hit with devastating storm surges from Hurricane Rita.
“Well when hurricane Rita hit in 2005, when we didn’t really have a plan, we learned that, yeah, it’s a hurricane and it’s going to affect your business and your assets, but most importantly you have to understand how it effects your people,” said Anderson. “So we really learned from Rita how to take care of our people, and how to insure we have the resources where we need them when we need them.”
A team of Huntsman leaders and executives went door to door, during the aftermath of Harvey, to personally hand out Walmart gift cards to those people whose homes were destroyed. Huntsman made sure to not only help out their employed family members, but all those in their community that needed the assistance.
After meeting with so many impacted Huntsman employees, it’s clear that their devotion to the company does not come simply from a duty to the job, but from an appreciation of the people who they work with.
As Turnaround Leader, Cris Gotangco puts it, “the people are the greatest resource we have in anything that we do. And when you take care of your people they will come through for you every time, and this was proof of it.”