Preparing Chemical Facilities for Hurricane Season
Recently, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board issued a call to chemical facilities to prepare for a harsh hurricane season based on an “above average” outlook on hurricane activity from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This year, NOAA has stated that there’s a 30 percent chance of an above-average-intensity hurricane season. NOAA’s predictions also estimate a range of 12 to 17 total named storms this season. NOAA gave its predictions a 70 percent confidence rating.
Just last week, Hurricane Idalia collided with the Gulf Coast of Florida, where the storm is estimated to have caused $12 to $20 billion in damage and lost economic activity, according to CBS News.
Chemical facilities pose a special risk
Hurricanes can cause significant damage to chemical facilities, in particular, and potentially lead to environmental and safety hazards. Chemical plants are complex facilities that often handle hazardous materials and if not properly managed during a hurricane can pose serious risks to the people working at the facility and nearby communities.
There have been many fire and explosion incidents over the years due to lack of preparedness during hurricanes. One, for example, was the Arkema, Inc. chemical plant fire in Texas in 2017, during which a hurricane disabled the facility’s refrigeration system and water flooded the equipment and caused the stored chemicals to burn. Another incident occurred at Bio-Lab’s Lake Charles facility in Louisiana in 2020 after water from a hurricane came into contact with chemicals stored inside the facility, causing a chemical reaction which initiated a fire.
NFPA offers solutions
There are plans that can be put into place that cover what can be done to reduce the possible impact of hurricane damage causing fire or explosions. One of the plans that can be used is NFPA 1660, Standard for Emergency, Continuity, and Crisis Management: Preparedness, Response and Recovery, which provides guidelines for creating, implementing, assessing, and maintaining effective disaster/emergency management and business continuity programs. It covers a wide range of topics related to disaster preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation, as well as continuity planning to ensure the continued operation of organizations in the face of disruptions.
NFPA 1660 emphasizes a comprehensive approach to emergency management and continuity planning, encompassing various aspects such as risk assessments, planning, communication, training, and ongoing improvement. More specifically, NFPA 1660 addresses hurricanes in multiple chapters in Annex A, along with multiple chapters advising incident pre-planning processes. Preparation for natural disasters often goes beyond evacuating the plant and may even require additional isolation and containment measures.
Some facilities may be required to have an emergency action plan from NFPA 1, Fire Code, or NFPA 101, Life Safety Code. Those plans should address hazards that are normally outside of the scope of the Code to the extent practicable. Other NFPA codes and standards that address hurricanes are NFPA 110, Standard for Emergency and Standby Power Systems, NFPA 1250, Recommend Practice in Fire and Emergency Service Organization Risk Management, and NFPA 59A, Standard for the Production, Storage, and Handling of Liquefied Natural Gas, just to name a few. Utilizing any of the NFPA codes and standards that address hurricane hazards can help to create a framework for developing emergency management and business continuity plans.
Overall, the interaction between hurricanes and chemical plants underscores the importance of comprehensive disaster preparedness and response plans. These plans should be regularly reviewed, updated, and tested to ensure that the facilities can effectively manage the risks associated with hurricanes and minimize their potential impact on both human safety and the environment.