Energy

Lessons From Harris County: Petrochemical and Incident Response

Incident response and petrochemical companies.

Two weeks ago, the ExxonMobil complex in Baytown, Texas caught fire after a petrochemical unit exploded. This was the latest in a series of incidents at petrochemical units in the area: in March and April a series of fires occurred at the same ExxonMobil complex and nearby petrochemical storage facilities, releasing pollutants.  Harris County, the county where these facilities are located, conducted an analysis of how local agencies and officials were responding to these incidents.  As a result, the county decided to focus on improving communications during incident response—specifically, improving communications between agencies responding to the incidents and keeping the public informed.

Harris County’s decision to focus on communications after their analysis hit the nail on the head—communications is the key ingredient in any strong incident response plan. After Hurricane Harvey in 2017, for example, interviews with executives from oil and gas companies revealed that the success of their response plans was directly connected to the strength of their communications. Using tools that made it easy to quickly connect with the relevant people—including first responders, response teams and regulators—improved decision-making and response time. Texting in particular allowed companies to contact crisis managers to keep them informed without disrupting them in the same way that a phone call would. 

Standardized communications processes and procedures are an important part of strengthening communications—without them, information can become dependent on personal relationships. This is risky because there’s no guarantee that the people available during an incident share a strong rapport and are able to quickly share relevant information with each other. When it comes to incident response plans, standardized communications are strong communications. With standardized and automated processes, it’s guaranteed that the correct stakeholders will share and receive effective information during an incident. Having a standard procedure in place for communications during an incident also clarifies everyone’s roles and eliminates situations where information is requested from multiple parties, slowing response times down. 

But picking the right tool for standardized and automated communications can be tricky. Tools like phone trees, emails, fax, and texting typically don’t offer the ability to ensure receipt and confirm acknowledgement and rely on manual labor, pulling attention and resources away from other critical tasks. So for petrochemical companies, which are facing high stakes when responding to an incident,  tools that streamline and automate their communications, allowing them to focus on the incident at hand, are especially important. At Vaporstream, we offer just that.

Using Vaporstream, petrochemical companies can automate critical notifications and simultaneously send them through secure private messages, SMS, and email and have them reach phones, tablets, and desktops immediately. Vaporstream eliminates manual messaging, freeing up personnel to focus on important matters while ensuring that everyone stays informed. 

Harris County was right when they recognized that communications lie at the heart of incident response for the petrochemical industry—but that doesn’t mean it has to be difficult to implement a strong communications response. Learn more about how we can help you simplify and streamline your communications here.

Contributor: The Vaporstream Team