Petrochemical Industry Prepares for Hurricane Season

Some in the petrochemical industry paused to take a look at hurricane preparedness today. Houston Public Radio's Capella Tucker reports those from Houston heard from those who lived through the experience of Rita last year.

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Mary Burns is the Senior Safety Engineering Supervisor at CITGO Petroleum in Lake Charles. It was hit by Hurricane Rita. Burns was in Houston at the Impact Weather 2006 Hurricane Seminar to share lessons learned. She says companies need more than an outline of what to do if a hurricane threatens.

"Within a facility everybody during normal operations knows their roles, knows their duties. But when you start dealing with a hurricane timeline everybody isn't always as sure of what are my tasks, what is my timeline. So you need to be sure that you've outlined a time line that you're going to work within."

And that time line needs to be shared. CITGO was going through shut down procedures before the hurricane Rita. The problem, says Burns ... their suppliers shut down before they did. As a result, Burns says they had to move to emergency shut down procedures. While CITGO had a business plan, Burns says they didn't realize they would have to provide shelter because the employees' homes were destroyed.

"We had to bring in daily tons of food, trucks of water, ice. There was no infrastructure in our area. There's no Wal-Mart, there's no corner gas station. We became the corner gas station for that area. And so, just bringing in thousands of mattresses, pillows, blankets, sheets, towels for people, laundry facilities, I mean we became a city within our selves."

One difficult thing about planning is no one really knows what's going to happen this year. Impact Weather's Lead Hurricane Forecaster Chris Hebert says everything indicates this year will have more activity than an average season.

"In the type of pattern we are in now, we might be looking at four or five major hurricanes. Last year we have seven which was unusual. We had five of those in the Gulf of Mexico which has never occurred before in recorded history since 1850 when we kept records. Very unusual. We don't expect it to be nearly as active."

But Hebert says no one should rest easy. It only takes one storm to make it the worst season.

"In 1983, there were only four named storms. And if anyone was in Houston in 1983, you remember Hurricane Alicia was one of those four named storms that moved right into Houston Galveston, caused a lot of damage."

Also, people shouldn't breathe easy if the hurricane season gets off to a slow start. Hebert says the conditions seem to be such that there may be one or two named storms by August. He suspects the activity will pick up after that. Capella Tucker, Houston Public Radio News.

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