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.
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.”
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.”
United Way of Tanana Valley thanks TAPS
United Way co-chairs of Tanana Valley, Jerry Evans & Glen Anderson, presented Alyeska with “The Superstar Award” for being the top workplace donor during 2013-2014. Bill Bailey, Alyeska's Fairbanks Communications Manager, center, accepted the award on behalf of TAPS. Fairbanks employees & contractors contributed $119,454 to United Way in 2013. “A huge thank you to Alyeska's Lorena Hegdal & Ann Marie White for co-chairing the campaign in Fairbanks,” said Bailey. In 2013, employees & contractors companywide contributed a total of $597,933 to United Way & its efforts to support the communities of Alaska.
Driving Excellence: More than 1,000,000 miles on TAPS without an accident
Reginal “Reggie” Smyre is among those TAPS employees who have logged one million road miles – and done so safely. Smyre shared some thoughts on his experience during the past 16 years working on TAPS:
Q: How many miles have you logged? What was your typical route? What kind of cargo were you transporting?
A: I worked as the Northern Area Expediter for 11 years and recorded roughly 1 million miles driving from Pump Station 4 to Pump Station 1 daily, hauling passengers between the pump stations and to and from the airport in Deadhorse, while hauling various materials and equipment.
Q: How do you stay safe and focused on the job?
A: I stayed safe by focusing on the task at hand and my surroundings, and focusing on the changing situations that may occur on the road.
Q: What’s your motivation for staying safe?
A: My motivation for staying safe was being able to go home to my family safe at the end of each shift and making sure whoever I transported experienced the same.
Q: Share a memorable experience from your time driving on TAPS.
A: A memorable experience for me would have to be driving from Deadhorse to Pump Station 2 one evening. When I started my journey the weather was not bad, but three and half hours later I finally arrived at my destination, Pump Station 2. The wind was blowing so hard it was pushing the truck, and down the road since you could not see anything, it was like driving through cotton delineator to delineator, very slow moving. But that’s the northern, area where the weather can change fast and no trees protect you from the wind.
Q: What was your favorite stretch of road?
A: My favorite stretch of road would be from Pump Station 2 to Pump Station 3 because of the view and the road surface seems to always be in good shape.
Q: Anything else you want to add?
A: While I was expediting I was fortunate to meet and talk to a lot of good people, which made the time I experienced on the road enjoyable and safe.
Driving Excellence: 1,000,000 miles on TAPS without an accident
From Ernie Ford, Security Officer, Doyon:
I have been working on TAPS since May of 1995 (two days after retiring from the U.S. Army and was hired by Ahtna AGA) so in May of 2015 I will have 20 years on TAPS. I have logged well over one million miles on TAPS.
My typical routes as a courier, where I logged most of my TAPS miles, included patrol runs along the pipeline from Fairbanks to Valdez. I carried everything from food products, to HAZMAT materials, emergency parts- or “Hot” as they are classified- for immediate delivery for keeping TAPS running, transmissions, tires, automotive parts of all sorts. There was not much (back in the day) that we did not carry for TAPS and all of their contractors.
You are constantly challenged driving on TAPS, from the constant changing of weather to looking out for the other guy. “The other guy” for us is all of the industrial traffic that we are always encountering along TAPS, as well as the inexperienced tourist. Being vigilant and always on top of your game keeps you safe. Industrial traffic (commercial traffic or semi-trucks hauling supplies to the North Slope) can be extremely dangerous, especially when you have to face them in adverse weather conditions. Couriers drive thousands of miles over a two week period and we had to always be aware of our environment, and our space. It is a lapse in your concentration and that space that could get you in trouble.
It’s our culture as couriers to operate, understand, and practice, and set the example in our safety practices. We drive more miles than any contractor on the line, and with that it initiates a responsibility of setting the example when it comes to safety. We have a saying, especially those of us who have driven these roads for much of our careers on TAPS that if you do this job long enough, the law of averages, or “Murphy’s LAW” will catch up to you. We all strive to beat those averages and “Murphy’s LAW” by executing our day to day work challenges by focusing on safety as our watch word. I coined a phrase with my Director that we use, “Safety First, Safety Last, Safety Always” as a means of accepting our day to day challenges.
I have had many memorable experiences while operating on TAPS. It would be hard for me to put into perspective what one thing was the most memorable, but one that sticks out more than most was my response to a young lady who was riding on the Haul Road that was from Canada. She was riding for the “Make a Wish” foundation. You will have to excuse me for not remembering her name but I will give you what I remember from that time. I was heading north along TAPS on my daily patrol route heading for Pump Station 4 when I came upon this young lady who had apparently fallen off her bike and sustained, what was later diagnosed, as a broken collar bone. This happened in the vicinity of Beaver Slide as she had just left the Arctic Circle: her start point. I stabilized her and requested a response from the Pump Station 5 medic so she could be transported and flown out of Prospect Creek to Fairbanks for treatment. I stayed with her and assisted in getting her transported back to Pump Station 5 where the medic (Bernie Beatty) called for a Guardian Flight to get her to Fairbanks for treatment. I recovered all of her gear, bicycle, and basically everything she owned for this expedition. I inventoried and secured it. Since I was traveling back to Fairbanks the following day I would stop by Fairbanks Memorial Hospital and insure all of her personal gear was accounted for and locked in a safe place. This lady was riding for children out of Canada for the “Make a Wish” foundation and she seemingly thought that her trip, her desire, her passion, had come to an end. This was not to be...
Curtis Thomas, who at that time was the PR representative for APSC in Fairbanks found out about what had transpired and immediately got involved in assisting her with a hotel room after her release from the hospital. This event hit the front page of the Fairbanks Daily News Miner and with that came an outpouring of public support for her to assist her to meet her goal, and her dream. There were donations from many who wanted her to continue with her dream. A family took her in at Eielson AFB until she was fully healed and could continue on her trek to South America. The day finally came that she was healed and ready to start her trek again. I was honored to be a part of her send-off that we had in Fairbanks at the APSC Headquarters on Bidwell. She was given some gifts, money, and she gave us all a tearful thank you for being her “Guardian Angels”. Then, I mounted my bikes and, along with a police escort, rode with her to the city limits of Fairbanks where I gave her a hug, wished her well, and watched her head off towards Anchorage. I had heard that quite some time later she had accomplished her goal and it did my heart good to know that we all (APSC and contractors) had a part in making her wish, riding for all of the children in the Canadian “Make a Wish” foundation... come true.
Again, it would be hard to choose what part of the road systems that I drove were my most favorite. Each area has its own unique beauty….and challenges. One of the most picturesque areas of the pipeline is in the Yukon River area. The snow and ice clings to the trees in the winter time as you drop down into the Yukon River Valley. When the sun hits these trees they have a unique sparkle as if they had lights on them. If I had to pick one area, I believe this would be the one I enjoy most, especially in the wintertime.
I was a courier for a long time and to me it is one of the most enjoyable jobs or positions you can work. It allows and gives you the freedom to be out on your own, working in the most adverse weather conditions in one the most challenging states in the union. Every day was an adventure; you never knew what you were going to be faced with or have to deal with. Changing a tire at -40, stopping for a public assist to a third party, meeting all kinds of people from all over the world, or just enjoying the beauty of what this state brings to us every day. Traveling along TAPS can be one of the most challenging driving experiences you will ever face in your lifetime, but then again, it can also be one of the most enjoyable.
TAPS employees: delivering excellence and "true grit"
While recently discussing TAPS' new employee recognition program, President Tom Barrett shared thoughts on the excellence and "true grit" of pipeline employees. Click here to hear what he had to say and see video from the field.
17 billion barrels by late 2014
More than 2,000 people work on the Trans Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS). The men and women who work for Alyeska Pipeline Service Company – the company that owns and operates TAPS – as either an employee or a contractor come from a broad cross section of disciplines. From engineers to field technicians to administrative support to marine professionals, each contributes to safely and reliably moving oil across the state of Alaska.
Alyeska’s responsibility begins on the North Slope at Pump Station 1. Here TAPS personnel receive the incoming streams of oil from the North Slope producers. The oil is either managed through temporary storage on the facility or fed directly into the pipeline for transit to the port of Valdez, 800 miles south.
The flow of oil is controlled remotely from Anchorage by technicians who staff Alyeska’s Operations Control Center (OCC) with field personnel all along the pipeline supporting the oil’s movement southward. OCC technicians monitor the entire width of pipeline operations while Alyeska field personnel provide essential services such as pipeline maintenance, major project work and environmental oversight.
Once the oil has made the transit across Alaska, it arrives at the Valdez Marine Terminal. The Terminal is located on ice-free Port Valdez at the northeastern end of Prince William Sound. The Terminal occupies approximately 1,000 acres on the southern shore of Port Valdez. The facility’s primary function is to load tankers and to provide the storage capacity for TAPS and allow production on the North Slope to operate without impact-related delays from the marine transportation system. The Terminal operates with two tanker loading berths and storage facilities with a working inventory capacity of 7.13 million barrels of crude oil.
After tankers are loaded on the Terminal, Alyeska’s Ship Escort/Response Vessel System (SERVS) assist the laden vessels in the safe navigation through PWS. SERVS is comprised of a fleet of 11 tugboats, nine response barges and oil spill response equipment pre-positioned throughout the Sound. In addition, SERVS trains people from Alaska’s south-central fishing industry and other vessels of opportunity in the latest oil spill response tactics. SERVS contracts with more than 450 privately owned vessels to bolster Alyeska response readiness.
Alyeska’s mission is to provide safe, environmentally responsible, reliable and cost-effective oil transportation. Each of the more than 2,000 people who work on TAPS contribute to Alyeska’s success in meeting this mission. As of December 31, 2013, almost 16.9 billion barrels of oil have flowed through the trans-Alaska pipeline. This number, at current throughput rates, will surpass 17 billion by late 2014.
TAPS people deliver excellence
TAPS is often referred to as an engineering marvel. However, I believe the real marvel is the people of TAPS – people who, whatever their job, routinely deliver exceptional performance despite Arctic cold, mountains, permafrost and weather conditions that would halt others in their tracks. What I call “Alaskan True Grit” is present on TAPS every day. Tasks that carry a high degree of difficulty are routinely done safely and professionally. In 2013, TAPS reliability was perfect, at 99.7 percent, with the .03 percent resulting from scheduled short-duration shutdowns. Our people accomplish major project work while still safely moving oil. TAPS people are the system’s core strength.
TAPS gets smooth operations and project execution through people, we get innovation through people, we get prevention through people, we get performance through people – people from within our company and from our TAPS contractors. We achieve success from individuals and teams who make sound technical, operational and financial decisions, who seek out opportunities for improvement, who speak up and step up, who act with discipline on every task. Being human we know we are not perfect, but we have people who, if we have a problem, will face it openly, fix it and move forward.
When we discuss performance on TAPS, delivering excellence is always in the background. Whether the issue is safety, reliability, environmental protection or efficiency, our commitment, and our performance expectation is to apply the highest professional standards to every task we do along the pipeline, at the Valdez Marine Terminal or in our offices in Anchorage and Fairbanks. We talk about how simply “being good” is not enough. We want to be the best – to deliver excellence, safely moving oil for our stakeholders and for Alaskans.
Alaskans often refer to TAPS as the state’s “economic artery.” It’s the big straw from the North Slope, delivering the product that funds more than 90 percent of Alaska’s operating budget, the permanent fund dividend, and directly supports more than one-third of Alaska jobs. Our people understand the importance of what they do every day for our owners and for every Alaskan.
The continued safe and reliable operation of TAPS is the hands of our people. And they are strong hands, they are smart hands, they are hands with Alaskan True Grit toughness. We have a proud TAPS legacy to continue, and because of the strength of our people, we will continue it. I am incredibly proud to be part of the TAPS team; and every Alaskan can be rightly proud of the people of TAPS because of what they achieve for all of us, every single day.
Prudhoe Bay fashion accessories
Headed out into the field this winter and hoping to stay warm AND en vogue? Arctic gear is the answer! Fresh from the runways of Prudhoe Bay, this stylish ensemble protects TAPS employees from the harsh polar chill. Consisting of an insulated jacket with a fur ruff, bibs, and bunny boots, the outfit keeps its wearer warm down to -40 below, a temperature common along TAPS in the winter. Available in a stunning array of dark blue, navy and midnight, these pieces can be accessorized with balaclavas, hard hat insulators, sheep skin gloves, and of course, true-Alaskan grit. These outfits will keep you Haut. Haut Couture, that is!