Evacuation drill empties Nikiski plant

Posted: Friday, August 11, 2000

Alaska Nitrogen Products put 350 people on the street Wednesday morning during a test of its emergency preparedness system.

A facility evacuation drill for all employees and onsite contractors began shortly before 11 a.m. and concluded at 11:50 a.m.

"(The drill) is done for the purpose of keeping people aware of their responsibilities to account for themselves in case of an emergency in the plant," said Rick Warren, the emergency preparedness and response coordinator for Alaska Nitrogen Products.

ANP's process area evacuation alarm was sounded just before 11 a.m., Warren said. This alarm, which is an on-and-off tone resembling a fog horn, tells personnel to evacuate the area and report to their supervisors. The supervisors then report for their groups to their department heads, who report to the logistics chief, who then collects the personnel accounting for the entire system and reports it to the incident commander. Any missing people are reported at that point, and a search-and-rescue operation is initiated.

Next, the facility evacuation alarm, a continuous wavering tone similar to an attack siren, was sounded at 11:32 a.m. This alarm tells everyone -- with the exception of operators in each plant wearing personal protection equipment -- to evacuate the facility.

"While an emergency response is mounted by the operators in the plant, the plants will also be shut down, if needed," Warren said.

The facility evacuation scenario left nearly 350 employees and onsite contractor personnel standing in the main parking lot, one of three evacuation sites, next to the highway along plant property on the Spur Highway in Nikiski.

ANP, as well as the Phillips Petroleum Company and Tesoro refinery plants, have emergency warning systems that require testing. Tesoro tests its sirens every Thursday at noon, generally runs a drill including the evacuation of contractors twice a year, trains its fire brigade every two weeks and has a drill for its operations staff, said Steve Hoogland, the safety manager for Tesoro Refinery. Phillips Petroleum Company could not be reached for its emergency testing schedule.

ANP's alarms are tested every Friday and drills are conducted on an annual basis. In addition to Wednesday's evacuation drill, ANP also runs an emergency response scenario to practice responding to a chemical release or fire, which, according to a risk assessment, are the two most likely emergencies to occur.

"We have had actual emergencies that we have responded to, and over the history of the plant the majority have been fire emergencies," Warren said. "A few have been chemical emergencies."

However, ANP has never had to do a complete evacuation before.

"That's exactly why we do this, to practice the worst-case scenario for the protection of our employees."

In the past, Warren said, out-of-the-ordinary drills and exercises have generated community interest.

"We found that we're not letting the public know about events like this and heard that the public was interested in what was going on as it saw and heard things as they were driving by," Warren said. "So we wanted to make sure we provided this service in the future."

To do so, ANP has created a Nikiski area industry community information service that can be reached at 776-3225. This number is a recorded message stating the current operation status of the plant, which is updated in case of an anomaly. ANP's normal business number is 776-8121 and can be used for specific questions.

"We'd be happy, and are always available, to answer questions for people that are interested in the drills and training that takes place here," Warren said.

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