When Hurricane Harvey hit, some members of ExxonMobil’s Regional Response Team had already assembled outside Chicago to conduct a pre-planned emergency response drill.
Training instantly became real life, and those volunteers turned the Tinley Park Convention Center into an ExxonMobil Hurricane Harvey emergency response center. It’s where they would handle, among other crucial storm support efforts, the logistics for delivering vital supplies to their coworkers.
While coordinating a response from outside the hurricane flood zone was, for the most part, advantageous, it also presented challenges. The team had to secure a fleet of helicopters that could deliver thousands of pounds of cargo to employees stranded at job sites several states away.
“Urgency was key,” said Michael Clark, a procurement manager at ExxonMobil and the company’s North American Regional Response Team (NARRT) logistics chief. “Our job was to try to get the folks on the ground whatever they needed, as quickly as possible.”
Luckily, most of the exercise attendees who made it to Chicago were members of the NARRT, ExxonMobil’s volunteer emergency response organization. They had participated in several drills over the years to prep them for just this type of situation.
Specifically, the team was charged with overseeing the delivery of goods – such as water, food, toiletries and clothing – to employees impacted by the hurricane. Most of the supplies went to the Houston area and the refinery communities in Texas that were significantly impacted – Beaumont and Baytown.
As could be expected, transportation was the greatest barrier to the immediate delivery of goods. Many roads were impassable in the southeast Texas area, and there was limited access to ExxonMobil facilities.
The team took to the sky and secured several aircraft to get goods to stranded communities, which required synchronizing efforts with the NARRT Air Operations Branch, led by Chuck Ross of ExxonMobil Corporate Aviation.
The idea to airlift supplies is straightforward, but without helicopters, nothing gets off the ground, literally. The fact that there was just one available helicopter on hand initially was a stumbling block, to say the least.
“We knew we had so many pallets to move, and we had to do something,” Ross said. “But because everybody in the area was going through the same thing we were, those assets were very difficult to find.
By leveraging assets across the company and with several contractors, ExxonMobil was able to assemble a fleet of seven helicopters, which transported some 62,000 pounds of cargo to stranded employees in record time.
“We couldn’t have done this without having everyone committed to helping out for the greater good,” Ross said. “We focused on our training, didn’t take any shortcuts, and just did what we knew were the right and safe things to do. Everything flowed in natural order and worked out really well.”
On September 7, after successfully completing its operation, the Hurricane Harvey NARRT team officially stood down.
But there was no rest for the weary, as Hurricane Irma was on the horizon. The NARRT volunteers, who had relocated to the ExxonMobil Houston-area Campus, stood right back up, ready to assist with the next big storm.