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The dance of tugs docking tankers in Port Valdez

On a recent morning, the tug Stalwart pulled away from the SERVS dock, headed out to meet the tanker Alaska Legend as it entered Port Valdez. A dense fog hung over the port and every few minutes, foghorns called out in the distance.

Looking out at the pea soup, Captain David Sweeney remarked that he'd take his time crossing the bay.

"We’re not in a rush," he said, "and it's a good idea to slow down in the fog."

Much has been written about the five world-class and purpose-built escort tugs in Prince William Sound, owned by Crowley and under contract to SERVS. With 10,192 horsepower engines and rapid response capabilities, these vessels are the show horses of SERVS' fleet, and rightfully so. Introduced in 1999 and 2000, the three Prevention and Response Tugs (PRTs) and the two Enhanced Tractor Tugs (ETTs) have revolutionized tanker escorts in the Sound.

But there are other tugs in Valdez, like the Invader-class Stalwart, that support SERVS' mission as well. They are also owned by Crowley and move response barges and personnel as needed. And, like today, they help tankers safely dock at the Valdez Marine Terminal.

Docking a tanker is a routine job for one of these tugs.

"Pretty simple if you know how to do it," said Sweeney, as he pulled up alongside the Legend. "A little challenging for a new captain."

For this docking, the Stalwart is located near the starboard bow of the Legend. The fog has already burned off, and we can see the tug Bulwark at mid-ship and the Alert aft. Crews from the tanker throw messenger lines from above, eventually leading larger working lines – the circumference of a baseball – through the bullring on the bow before it is made up on deck. The Legend is going to berth on its starboard side, requiring a U-turn up Port Valdez. The tugs are along for the ride as the tanker glides past the terminal, but as the vessel begins to make its right-hand turn, the tugs' engines engage.

"Right now, the engines aren’t really pulling or pushing, they're kind of twisting the tanker into place," explains Sweeney.

Soon enough, the tanker nears the berth. Over the radio, a calm voice offers a slew of directions for each tug.

"Bulwark, touch down." (get ready to push)

"Alert, push."

"Stalwart, stretch" (get ready to pull)

"Stalwart, back." (pull)

Slowly and noisily, the tanker gets nudged and tugged into place.

Captain Sweeney directs the Stalwart's line boats, the Gus-E and Roger, to tie up the lines to the mooring dolphins at the berth. Soon, a SERVS boom boat will appear to encircle the tanker with boom before it can load crude oil.

A voice comes through on the radio: "Thanks, gentlemen," says the pilot. "That was fun."

TAPS TALKS videos debut with "Legacy In Our Hands"

Alyeska President Thomas Barrett was recently featured in a video that was developed to inspire staff participating in a frontline leadership development class. The video, "TAPS TALKS: Legacy In Our Hands," features Barrett sharing his experiences and thoughts on leadership and the legacy of TAPS. Since debuting with the leadership development class, the video has gone viral in a sense -- it was posted for all TAPS staff to view on Alyeska's intranet and is now being shared externally to Alyeska's partners, stakeholders and the public.

The video is the first in a series of TAPS TALKS that will feature TAPS employees discussing Alyeska's Cultural Attributes and company values, the pipeline's history, personal stories about working on TAPS, and more.

Click here to watch "TAPS TALKS: Legacy In Our Hands".

Alyeska volunteers keep special Thanksgiving tradition alive

Every Thanksgiving season, Alyeska employees are thankful for opportunities to give back to those in our communities. For the past 17 years, Anchorage-based Alyeska employees have visited Russian Jack Elementary to supply and serve Thanksgiving meals to students and staff. It's an event that Alyeska employees and the school’s students and staff look forward to every year.

This year, 21 Alyeska staff volunteers served Thanksgiving standards like turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, buns, pumpkin pie and other fixings to more than 500 Russian Jack students and faculty. For some of the school's students, this is the only Thanksgiving meal they will have this year. A few students mentioned that they had never eaten turkey or dressing before.

Many Alyeska volunteers sign up for this event every year; all are excited about the chance to serve and chat with the excited children. The students shared their appreciation by giving huge thank you banners and cards, and even a few thank you cheers, to the volunteers.

"We love all the students and faculty at Russian Jack Elementary," explained Patti Altom, Alyeska's longtime Senior Communications Assistant who helps organize the event. "This has been a great partnership for the students and for our employees."

Alyeska's Anchorage staff has a long partnership with Russian Jack Elementary School, dating back to when our offices were located in East Anchorage near the school. Alyeska's offices have moved a couple times over the years, but the relationship continues today as Alyeska employees visit the school to read to students, and standout students visit Alyeska's offices quarterly to learn about our work and their future career opportunities.

Commendable cleanup efforts in Valdez

This year, TAPS employees working on projects at the Valdez Marine Terminal went above and beyond in their efforts to protect the environment. The 2014 project work generated and removed a record amount of waste and recyclable metals -- nearly 2.8 million pounds!

The cleaning work included:

* Five crude tanks

* One biological treatment tank

* 4,036 feet of ballast water piping

* 4,072 feet of vapor piping

* 35 truck loads of reyclable metals

In addition, one recovered crude tank was demolished and a significant amount of spent abrasive was bagged and sent for disposal. All activities took place without a significant spill or release to the environment.

"Environmental performance was a huge task for the VMT Projects organization in 2014," explained Kent Peterson, area project manager for the Valdez Marine Terminal. "I am very proud of the entire VMT Projects organization, APSC Environmental Coordinators, and TAPS Contractors who supported this work. They did an outstanding job getting the material containerized, labeled, tested and sent out to its final disposal site."

This work embodies TAPS employees acting with discipline to ensure waste and other materials are handled safely to protect people and the environment.

TAPS employees fuel United Way giving

This year, the Alyeska United Way campaign theme is Drive Change. Driving change means investing in community goals that lead to a better life for all.

Alyeska employees and contractors set a campaign goal of $610,000 and are well on their way. They revved up their engines, gave donations, volunteered services and advocated to make a difference in our Alaska communities.

"Companies like Alyeska and the people we depend on everyday embody the generous support and volunteer efforts needed to drive lasting change," said Tabetha Toloff, Alaska Native Program Director, co-chair of this year's Alyeska companywide campaign. "We engage our TAPS workforce by sponsoring fun events intended to raise support for a shared goal. We can all play a role in creating a more united community. So let's drive change together!"

The Alyeska United Way campaign supports driving change through Giving United Support. G.U.S. the Giving Pig was launched from Pump Station 1 and is traveling the pipeline to Valdez encouraging United Way giving along the way.

The campaign was set to wrap up on October 31.

Yukon Responder

The Yukon Responder is Alyeska’s newest oil spill response vessel and it is a beast with a 34-foot hull, 12-foot beam, twin Yamaha 250hp outboard motors, 300-gallon fuel tank, seating for 12, and a weight capacity of 7,000 lbs. This vessel is different from other TAPS response vessels in that it is a twin screw catamaran, specifically designed for river response but fully capable of operating in Prince William Sound.

“Yukon River is an iconic Alaska river, and it requires an icon response vessel,” said Earl Rose, Oil Spill Coordinator for Alyeska, during the christening ceremony on the Yukon River. Present for the christening was Tom Barrett, President of Alyeska, who lauded Alyeska’s Vessel Operating Committee (VOC) for successfully designing the Yukon Responder and integrating it with the TAPS response fleet.

The christening occurred during an exercise where operators completed 8 engine hours of hands-on training with the Yukon Responder, consisting of deep and shallow water maneuvers, anchoring, engine failure, refueling, towing, man overboard and rescue, operating with a loaded deck and beach landings.

“The advanced training is required of operators because it significantly increases safety and mitigates risk on the water,” Rose said. “Responders acquire a better understanding of river hydrology which helps with oil spill tactics and it reinforces and enhances field leadership.”

Yukon Responder has the capacity to carry the equivalent of a 2015 Yukon Denali SUV. But one of its most remarkable custom-built features is the capability to refuel other vessels. The 300-gallon fuel tank is not only used to power its 500hp propulsion but also to provide refueling of other vessels, which is unprecedented functionality for TAPS oil spill response.

Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) joined the christening and the exercise where the Yukon Responder successfully refueled a separate response vessel. ADEC’s Elizabeth Stergiou was impressed and said, “The Yukon Responder’s underway refueling system is incredible.” Stergiou rode along for the refueling and participated in the transfer. “The underway refueling on the water seemed much more stable than an on-shore refueling.”

Also present for the christening was Doyon Ltd. vice president of administration, Geri Simon. Doyon Ltd. is the Alaska Native regional corporation for Interior Alaska and a valued partner and stakeholder in TAPS. Right before Simon christened the vessel with a bottle of Martinelli’s sparkling cider, she expressed appreciation for the care and concern given to oil spill response. “Alyeska continues to demonstrate its commitment to the partnership with the village response teams in protecting the subsistence areas along the pipeline corridor,” Simon said.

Alyeska VOC co-chairs Earl Rose and Ben Pennington and committee members Milton Moses, Fred Bethune and Larry Nutter are hard at work on the Copper Responder, a twin-engine 36-foot airboat landing craft, that is set to arrive on scene spring 2015. In terms of power and versatility, Yukon Responder is the Incredible Hulk where the Copper Responder will be like Iron Man.

TAPS employees complete 2014 shutdown work

Alyeska Pipeline Service Company crews have wrapped up a summer's worth of major maintenance shutdowns on the Trans Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS. “Alyeska maintains the pipeline as part of our commitment to the continued integrity and long-term viability of TAPS,” said Senior Director for Pipeline Operations John Baldridge. “We planned the work for months, using an extremely thoughtful and disciplined process.” Alyeska, the pipeline operator, completed various projects during the scheduled shutdowns, including work at pump stations, testing on mainline valves, and projects at the Valdez Marine Terminal. Shutdowns range from 6 to 24 hours in length, depending on the work. Alyeska conducts pipeline system shutdowns to conduct projects and maintenance that can only be done while the pipeline isn’t in its regular operating state. This allows crews time to work on projects simultaneously along the pipeline and at the Valdez Marine Terminal. A successful shutdown involves a majority of the TAPS organization and months of thorough preparation and coordination between field locations and the Operations Control

Employee training increases safety, saves lives

Life and death situations arise in an instant, at any location, in any environment. Remote field sites, urban settings, even on a casual drive home. Ask Cindy Keuler, Alyeska Environment Program Specialist.

On the evening of April 4, Keuler and her sister were returning from Wasilla to Anchorage when they noticed a vehicle pulled off to the side of the road. The driver was standing alongside his vehicle talking on a cell phone while tending to a passenger still seated in the vehicle.

“I could tell something wasn’t quite right.” Keuler asked her sister to turn around. “As we approached the scene, the driver said his friend was having a heart attack.”

Keuler and another passerby immediately began to perform CPR on the man in distress. Keuler ensured there were no obstructions to the man’s airway and began to perform mouth-to-mouth; the man lending assistance started chest compressions.

While relaying their actions to a 911 operator, Keuler noticed the victim was turning blue. “I could tell that the man assisting me was not administering his chest compressions fast enough or strong enough.”

One of the onlookers said that he couldn’t because he (the other responder) had a broken back. Based on this injury, “I told him we needed to switch. It was definitely a situation that required me to Speak Up, Step Up.”

Shortly after they changed positions, emergency personnel arrived on scene, took over the lifesaving tasks and loaded the victim into an ambulance.

After the medics departed, the victim’s friend was still in a state of shock and appeared confused. Knowing that assistance sometimes extended beyond the act of CPR, “I suggested that he allow me to drive his vehicle to the hospital and he ride with my sister.” Keuler and her sister stayed with the man until he’d recovered from his shock and another friend came to the hospital to provide support.

Keuler was initially reluctant to share her experience. “I really don’t want the spotlight to be on me. What’s important is the training that allowed me to help. Although I have used my First Aid training many times in the past, I’ve never used my CPR training in a life-or-death situation and I thank God I knew what to do.”

As one of Alyeska’s Emergency Response Coordinators (ERCs) at Centerpoint West, Keuler receives training that keeps her current with First Aid/CPR/AED.

“Having a group of trained emergency responders at Alyeska facilities aligns with the company’s cultural attribute of Learning, Improving, Innovating,” said Casey Ahkvaluk, Aviation and Facilities Lead. Ahkvaluk tracks Alyeska’s ERCs certification. “I want to thank Cindy and the rest of the ERCs for taking on this responsibility and for providing this added level of safety for our employees and contractors. This shows that our ERCs think well on their feet and obviously it paid off on April 4.”

In talking with her sister afterward Keuler said she, too, had never witnessed CPR performed in a real life situation. “It was a true awakening for my sister, and she realized how important it was to know how to respond in emergency situations. She’s now decided to become certified.”

In the days following the incident, Keuler made several trips to the hospital to check on the man and his recovery. “While he was still in Cardiac Intensive Care, I was informed that although he had a long road back he was expected to recover.”

Safety Stewardship from Shore to Sea

Crowley is a key partner in Alyeska’s Ship Escort/Response Vessel System. The company owns and operates the tugboats that escort tankers through Prince William Sound and docks them at the Valdez Marine Terminal. Crowley also maintains and staffs the other vessels in the system, like the oil spill response barges located around the Sound. There are over 100 Crowley employees on shift and ready to respond at any given time. These employees may be separated by several miles of land and ocean, but their commitment to safety is bridged from shore to sea.

That bridge is personified by the Safety Advocate Program, started in 2009. Safety Advocates are usually long-time vessel captains or crew who take on year-long assignments to facilitate and improve safe practices in the fleet. Longtime advocate and Crowley Master Richard Frost says he’s a liaison between deck and shore, observing jobs with a keen eye towards safety, and raising concerns from the fleet.

In a normal six-week shift, Frost is in the field about half the time, tagging along on tanker escorts, crew changes, mid-Sound tether drills and other jobs. Crowley has recently implemented a ship visit program, where deck officers from Crowley will visit a tanker and exchange perspectives. Frost credits these visits with a recent reduction in line handling incidents. Crews consistently sit down before each job- no matter how routine- and go over roles, risks and concerns. This ensures that everyone is on the same page before heading to work.

“I continue to be impressed by participation,” said Frost from his shore-side office. “Everyone is very conscious now.”

Feedback runs in both directions. In December, a tug crew brought up an issue: much of their personal protective equipment had water-sensitive lights that would activate if they ever fell overboard, but their work vests did not. Frost went to work researching available models and two weeks later sent two choices into the field for testing. The crew performed a thorough assessment, made a recommendation, and several weeks later Frost distributed lights to crews around the Sound.

“Having crews see their input taken is important,” noted Frost. “It makes them take the process seriously.”

Driving Excellence: Darrel “Murph” Murphy

I started working on the pipeline on March 5, 1975 for Wackenhut Security, so I have 39 years on TAPS.

I have driven around 1,600,000 miles on TAPS. The majority of these miles have been logged while working as a Security Courier. Security has provided daily courier service on TAPS for approximately twenty-five years. During that period, security couriers have serviced the following areas: Pump Station 1 to Pump Station 4; Fairbanks to Pump Station 4; Fairbanks to Valdez; and Fairbanks in town courier. Due to budget cuts, the only courier service functioning at the present time is from Fairbanks to Pump Station 4 and returning. The courier position is responsible for hauling people, mail, newspapers, “Hot” parts, normal parts and freight to ensure the daily operations of the pipeline continues without shut down. This position is very important to the operational needs of the pipeline as well as to the morale of the TAPS workers. Everyone likes to get to their work location and receive a newspaper and mail from family and friends on a daily basis.

Having the proper equipment to do the task at hand is one of the major reasons things are done in a safe manner. During construction of the pipeline and through most of the 1980’s safety was not stressed like it has been the last twenty-five years. The slogan back then was more like “Getter done whatever it takes” compared to the present slogan of “Get it done, if it can be done safely”.  Having new vehicles with the necessary equipment to perform the mission in a safe manner is the starting point of being a safe driver. After the proper equipment it is then up to the driver to perform the driving part in a safe manner. We all know what this entails prior to getting behind the wheel and departing on every trip. SPSA and Journey Management evaluations are a must. Next, you have to get the latest road condition report for the area you are traveling in and to. Weather is probably one of the most important factors all drivers should be aware of. The 365 miles between Fairbanks and Pump Station 4 will have many different changes throughout the day and you need to be aware of all of them to have a safe journey. 

Unfortunately, not all travelers on the haul road share the same safety concerns as those working on TAPS. A number of truckers are concerned about hurrying to their next location. They are not making money if their truck is not moving. There are a number of people, some TAPS employees, but mostly tourists that are driving the haul road for the first time. Most of these individuals will feel comfortable with taking up their lane and a part of your lane and will have tunnel vision. This is where slowing down and pulling over when meeting oncoming traffic pays off.

The one thing that you need to do when driving the haul road is to be thinking ahead. Although you may know the road well, you still have to think about what you might find around the next curve or over the next hill. Tourists will stop anywhere on the road to get that picture of a lifetime and truckers or others can breakdown anywhere. You can drive the haul road every day but the haul road is never the same. Weather and Alaska Department of Transportation maintenance can change the conditions on the haul road from one hour to the next.

My motivation for staying safe is very simple and is two-fold. First, and most important of all, is returning home to my family safe after each trip. Second, I want to complete each trip safely so that I do not lose my job.

There are a number of experiences that I have had over the years, but since this is pertaining to safety I will just keep it geared towards safety. In the late 1970’s when the Haul Road was first built, the road was very narrow. There are still areas of the old road between Fairbanks and Pump Station 6 that show just how narrow the road really was back in those days. Driving back then, you literally had to slow down and practically come to a stop to pass an oncoming vehicle. Numerous side mirrors were broken passing oncoming vehicles. Thank goodness those days are behind us.

The best memories are when you have the chance to help someone that is broke down or in need of medical assistance.  Unfortunately these opportunities happen more than one would like to have happen.

There are a number of areas that are special between Fairbanks and Pump Station 4. Of course, the time of the year also plays a part in my decision. My favorite time of the year for driving the Haul Road is in the summer time, and I enjoy the stretch of road between Coldfoot and Pump Station 4 the most.

As far as any other ideas I might have on driving safely I have just one thought I would like to include. I do think it is kind of comical that Hollywood decided to make a reality television show on driving the very dangerous Dalton Highway. Ice Road Truckers has been a big hit across America. Many people have made lots of money as a result of this show. People around the world have had a small taste of the challenges drivers face on the Haul Road.  People working on TAPS have done this for years and will continue to do this for years to come. We don’t have camera crews nor do we have scripts to follow to make the drive easier or safer. As the saying goes, at the end of the day, hopefully we have checked our equipment before departure, went over our pre-trip check list, used common sense, followed the traffic laws, remained alert, and with a great deal of LUCK, reached our final destination for the day…..SAFELY.  No two days on the haul road are alike, and each day I return home safely I know I have been blessed.

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