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Hurricane Isaac

September 18, 2012

Practice, preparation minimize hurricane impacts

When Hurricanes Gustav and Ike hit the Texas and Louisiana coasts with a 1-2 punch in September 2008, they caused about $7.5 million in damage to Bristow facilities and impacted base operations for months. Fast-forward to August 2012 and the arrival of similar-sized Hurricane Isaac, and Bristow’s damage was estimated at less than $50,000 and the bases were able to resume operations almost immediately.

But unlike Isaac’s eerie arrival in Louisiana on the anniversary of notorious Hurricane Katrina, the ability of the company to better prepare and recover from hurricanes is no coincidence.

“We start off with a very detailed evacuation plan for the Gulf of Mexico and practice it before hurricane season starts,” says North America Business Unit (NABU) Director Danny Holder. “Once a system moves into the Gulf, we ramp up preparations to safeguard our clients, employees and equipment and be long gone by the time the storm hits the coast.”

Anticipating Isaac

Prior to the storm’s Aug. 28 landfall, Bristow flew nearly 3,000 people from the offshore rigs to safety. Once flight operations ceased, bases in Venice, Galliano, Intracoastal City and Patterson were evacuated and all people and equipment moved to New Iberia.

“We evacuate to the west side of the storm’s path to avoid the most-severe impacts,” Holder says. “For Isaac, we moved all of our parts, computers and communications equipment in large leased trailers we keep on standby. Then we moved a total of 65 aircraft to New Iberia.”

Because Katrina destroyed many employees’ personal vehicles left at bases, NABU now rents car carriers to bring the cars to the evacuation site. Then it’s time to ride out the storm in nearby hotels.

Back in action

The day after Isaac passed, Bristow was back in the air for clients seeking damage assessments of their platforms. Over the next few days, about 3,300 people were returned to the rigs to get ready to resume production.

The return process can take longer, Holder says, because Bristow requires round-trip fuel plus 30 minutes since the condition of the offshore refueling stations are unknown. “It limits the number of people you can carry but it’s a margin of safety that neither Bristow nor our clients will compromise.”

Recovery also requires cooperation, and Bristow offers assistance wherever it can. “One client’s base was flooded, so they operated from our Galliano base for several days,” Holder says. “We also assisted the local power company, made bases and fuel available for the National Guard, and worked with the government to make sure the offshore terminal that supplies the Strategic Petroleum Reserve was operational.”

Contingency plans

In the event that Bristow’s critical flight-following capabilities from New Iberia fail, a back-up data center in nearby Lafayette can be ready to go in two hours. The site supports hospitals and other key functions and is rated to withstand 150 mile-per-hour winds.

“We also have two portable satellite trailers that enable us to do flight following from almost anywhere,” Holder says. “All we need is a hotel parking lot and the people to operate the equipment.”

When it comes to dealing with hurricanes, Holder notes, having employees who are long-time residents of the area are a real asset. “They’re used to these storms and are a big part of the reason why none of our bases took water, no aircraft were damaged, and we maintained Target Zero safety throughout the entire event.”