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Solving Some of America's Biggest Problems

The following article was originally published in the June/July 2018 issue of BIC magazine. It was written by Bryan Bulling, one of RedGuard's subject matter experts and our Northeastern US Regional Area Manager. 

As a building designer, I watched some of last year’s disturbing events unfold with both great sadness and professional interest — Hurricanes Harvey and Irma; the mass shootings in Las Vegas and Parkland, Florida; and the seemingly endless list of cyber-related breaches. These all revealed areas where we can and should begin to address new safety and security measures.

During this critical moment in environmental health and safety, I would like to offer some topics and insights that might prompt engineers and designers to improve the safety and security for the occupants of your buildings.

What Can We Take Away from These Disasters?

Who in the oil and gas industry can forget the flooding, damage and subsequent costs associated with Hurricane Harvey? The storm was one of the worst hurricanes ever seen, presenting lessons for tomorrow’s engineers and designers who are developing, siting and budgeting future buildings.

Refineries and chemical facilities are typically built on water sources with fluctuating levels; designs with strong environmental considerations are opportunities to address the apparent changes in climate and the seemingly escalating severity of flooding. Preserving operations and control during an event by designing to increasing environmental hazards is more relevant today than it was 30 years ago and deserves attention in the design phase.

Although Hurricane Irma did not affect our industry like Harvey did, it stands as a reminder of the critical importance of sound energy and power infrastructure and the results when the maintenance of those systems is ignored. While it may seem outrageous, consider the ramifications of a massive event in which power and communications infrastructure are destroyed across a large area, like Houston, or an entire region, like the Gulf Coast.

How would your facility fare during a prolonged outage? Reliable, protected and well-designed facilities with backup plans offer protection against outrageous and unthinkable events.

Other Areas for Improvement

Another area where safety can be improved through building design is addressing active shooter strategies. Much of my work is related to creating an on-site safe haven during toxic releases, fires or explosions. I now include at least some discussion around protecting staff against an active shooter, treating it just as I would any other hazard.

To increase survivability in these worst-case scenarios, building plans could include:

  • Hard, physical architectural elements that act as obstructions,
  • A technology that allows for communication,
  • And an operational plan that goes into effect during a hazardous event.

In most O&G facilities, these attributes already exist; improving each element through better building design is feasible and realistic. Automatic locking doors, hardened safe rooms, and reinforced or ballistic glass throughout a building are easy opportunities to upgrade security.

Facility siting also presents an excellent opportunity to address this specific safety threat. While surveillance and security measures are robust and present in most facilities these days, the ability to quickly identify a dangerous intruder is not. Using the Las Vegas attack of October 2017 as an example, how would most facilities stand up to a shooter outside the fence line?

Situating a security building or control building with an active shooter scenario in mind — such as on a higher elevation, with improved sightlines, and at a distance that offers an opportunity to activate alarms and quickly lockdown — can dramatically reduce the abilities of a threatening presence.

By now, we are all aware of the effects of cyber-related terrorism on various online platforms. While most of the attacks occur hidden in a digital dimension, we cannot lose focus on the vulnerability of the hard assets, including servers, networks, power/backup power components and central processing equipment typically found in facilities.

While there are no absolute solutions to the rather unpredictable and sometimes horrifying situations that affect our safety and security, we do have the skills and abilities to outthink and maneuver with protective measures.

For more information, or if you or your facility have any interest in starting a discussion around facility hazards, visit www.redguard.com or contact me at bbulling@redguard.com.

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