Lessons learned by one plater can benefit you.

Aetna Plating Co. Inc., Cleveland, burned to the ground in the spring of 1997. While the cause cannot be determined to any degree of certainty, Peter Sobey, the company's owner, speculates that an electric process heater was the culprit. If a disaster like this happens at your facility, will you know what to do?
Dis-as-ter dis·as·ter, n., a calamitous event, esp. one occurring suddenly and causing great loss of life, damage, or hardship, as a flood, airplane crash or business failure. (Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language)

Although usually thought of as natural occurrences, disasters are not limited to floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes. Plane crashes and planned terrorist attacks also fall into the disaster category, and they don't stop there, either. Disasters can happen right in your plant. If one of your processing ovens, heaters or dryers were to explode, would you be ready? Would you know what to do? Would you be covered by the proper insurance?

Nobody likes to think about "what if?," but, to borrow part of the title of Rabbi Harold Kushner's book, sometimes, "bad things happen to good people." What if you encountered a disaster at your facility? A business operator must acknowledge the financial risk of failing to properly insure the property loss, business interruption and extra expense risk. When a fire occurs in a processing line, the costs for cleanup, repairs and replacement can astound even the most savvy business operator.

According to Peter Sobey, owner of Aetna Plating Co. Inc., Cleveland, doing your homework is essential. Unfortunately, Sobey learned that lesson too late. Aetna Plating burned to the ground on March 23, 1997. He speculates that the cause was an electric process heater with fusible links and low level controls, but there is no way to know for sure, he says. "Essentially, everything was vaporized. I probably will never know exactly what happened," Sobey says.

Until that day, Sobey had assumed his property insurance coverage would adequately protect his losses in a disaster. Five years later, Sobey is still in the process of building his business. Along with Gerald J. Curran Jr., Ph.D., a certified public insurance adjuster at Moorehead & Associates Inc., Cleveland, and D.J. Kramer Cornelius, A.S.A., a senior appraiser at Appraisals International Ltd., Cleveland, Sobey is helping to educate other business owners and managers about the importance of planning for the unexpected.

Immediate Aftermath

Inevitably, there will be confusion when a disaster strikes. Reporters will attempt to film and interview anyone they can find that has some position in the company. Sobey says that if someone who is not informed or trained provides misinformation, the result will be a poor public relations position for your company. He suggests you assign a representative of your company to be the spokesperson during such an event. He also advises that you train all of your employees about procedures. Organization, training, preplanning, drills, compliance reviews, appraisals, insurance reviews, etc., are all the things that you will wish you would have done before a disaster and not after, Sobey says. He adds that it is easy to put off these sorts of things because dollars get tight and there never seems to be enough time to get them done.

"I can tell you from personal experience that your company and employees' lives can be drastically affected by procrastinating on these items. You cannot turn back time. ... Learn from [my experience] and don't make the same mistakes. You can save yourself and the company a tremendous amount of grief and money by proper planning," says Sobey.

In the next issue, I will cover the types of questions you will be asked by the fire department and hazardous materials response crews in the event of a disaster as well as what homework you can do to ensure an easier go of a disaster, should one strike.