As severe weather in the Gulf of Mexico increases in frequency and intensity, chemical facilities and others need to reconsider the worst-case scenario assumptions upon which current emergency plans are based.

The ongoing investigation into the fires at the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, which occurred as a result of Hurricane Harvey in August, continues. U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) Chairperson Vanessa Allen Sutherland issued a statement updating the investigation progress as well as a 2D animation of the events leading to the fire.

A two-member CSB team deployed to Houston on September 5 and arrived on-site September 6, according to Sutherland’s statement. The team photo-documented the site, identified evidence of interest and had initial company meetings. The CSB remained on site two weeks to collect evidence and conduct site interviews. During the last week of October, the team conducted interviews at Arkema’s corporate headquarters in Pennsylvania.

According to the CSB, due to Hurricane Harvey, the water rose so rapidly at the Arkema site that the first combustion occurred less than 72 hours after flooding commenced. The facility was not prepared for such heavy rainfall, which led to a rapid flood rate. Facilities across the Gulf Coast experienced similar problems.

As tropical storms in the Gulf of Mexico increase in frequency or intensity, it is imperative that facilities have effective emergency response procedures in place. The backup generators at Arkema were elevated 2’ off the ground, whereas the flooding exceeded 3’ in the vicinity of the generators.

The CSB said that there is a lesson facilities in the Gulf should note: “Reassess continuity of operations plans and worst-case scenario assumptions. Plan and plan again. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of safety by thinking that it can’t/ won’t happen here.”  

Click here for an animation of events leading to the fire at the Arkema chemical plant.