Eastman Alert: What’s Your Emergency?

Eastman Alert: What’s Your Emergency?

October 4, 2017 was a scary day at Eastman Chemical Company’s Kingsport, Tennessee, headquarters.

Eastman Chemical Company, a global specialty materials manufacturer based in Kingsport, Tennessee, was originally established in 1920 to manufacture photographic chemicals for Eastman Kodak. The company has 47 manufacturing sites worldwide and employs approximately 14,500 people.

BlackBerry Limited, a Waterloo, Canada-based supplier of intelligent security software and services to enterprises and governments worldwide.


Casebook Study: Managing a Crisis

A series of explosions that morning had the company’s emergency management team, on-site firefighters, and first responders scrambling to ensure that employees, contractors, and neighbors were safe. The company fired off rapidly dispatched shelter-in-place notifications to pagers, two-way radios, and several other communication devices throughout the manufacturing campus and the nearby community.

Keith Bennett, who retired in January 2021 as Eastman’s emergency services manager, still has a small piece of shrapnel, a part of a pipe that was destroyed that day.

“There was equipment that literally self-destructed, and there were pieces as big as cars that were thrown a football field or farther,” Bennett recalls.

Surprisingly, the people injured needed only first-aid treatment; there was no loss of life or impact to human health or the environment, according to company documents.

Bennett credits the facility’s emergency notification system, which runs on BlackBerry’s AtHoc crisis communication solution, as one of the reasons why the company was able to respond so quickly and avoid more serious injuries or fatalities.

“We had our worst safety event in 50 years. That the emergency notification system performed as it was designed, and we were able to ensure people received communications about how to keep safe, shows how fast and how well that alert system works,” says Bennett, who has worked in the industry for 42 years and was involved with Eastman’s emergency response department for 14 years.

Improve Critical Communications

Eastman Chemical Company’s roots go back to 1920 when it began producing chemicals for Eastman Kodak Company’s photographic business. The global specialty materials company, which had nearly $8.5 billion in sales in 2020, maintains 47 manufacturing facilities and equity interests in three manufacturing joint ventures in 14 countries that supply products to customers throughout the world, according to the company’s 2020 annual report.

Kingsport, Tennessee, is home to the company’s largest manufacturing operations and five operating divisions; the Kingsport campus is one of the largest manufacturing centers in the United States. Many of the chemicals made there end up in automotive parts, medical devices and packaging. Other bulk chemicals are shipped off and used by other companies.

Additionally, the company makes glare-reducing materials used in the layers of glass and plastic found in TVs, mobile phones, and other devices with screens.

The Kingsport site sits on 850 acres of land with about 7,000 employees and 3,000 contractors spread across 650 buildings. And, with safety top of mind, the campus also has its own on-site firefighters, emergency management technicians, and fire maintenance teams.

BridGing the Gap

A gap, however, existed in its emergency notification system. Critical communication alerts were passed over an antiquated system of ringdown phones (phones used to call shop-floor managers and employees), two-way radios, and pagers. The system began to fail, presenting opportunities for inconsistent messaging across the large-scale manufacturing operations, says Bennett.

The inherent complexity of such a big site involving thousands of people also required greater standardization, reliability, and efficient modern device technology.

In 2011, Eastman Chemical started an 18-month journey to strategically evaluate this much-needed communication system and identify ways it could improve its situational awareness, visibility, and control, says Bennett, who oversaw Eastman’s safety department and its emergency response program and was involved in the search for an alert notification upgrade.

“We had a very simple vision,” Bennett recalls. “Instead of cascading information through our ringdown phones—where the phone rings, somebody picks up, and then calls other people to start a chain of communication to inform everyone—our vision was 100% direct notification to everyone at the same time.

“That vision came with the need to change technology,” he adds.

Bennett and his team evaluated several vendors, and, in 2012, chose Waterloo, Canada-based BlackBerry Limited, which supplies intelligent security software and services to enterprises and governments across the globe.

BlackBerry’s premiere critical event management AtHoc solution had several features Eastman was looking for at the time. Two important factors were:

  • Eastman’s ability to retain its legacy systems of indoor speakers, local pagers, and two-way radios (foundational pieces of communication in a chemical manufacturing environment where mobile phone technology may pose a risk). 
  • Its desire to expand its alert notification network to other devices, such as email, computer pop-up messages, work and personal cell phones, desk phones, mobile apps, phone text messages, indoor speakers, digital signs, and team collaboration tools such as SharePoint. 

    While these features initially aligned with Eastman, many years later BlackBerry AtHoc’s overall functionality has helped the Kingsport facility to continuously keep improving not only the emergency notification system but also its overall emergency preparedness and response.

    Another aspect that allowed the rollout to gain traction and campus-wide approval stemmed from the system’s branding and the customization BlackBerry helped Eastman establish.

    “One of the core things BlackBerry brings to the table is the ability to help companies communicate through many different channels,” says David Wiseman, BlackBerry’s vice president of marketing and secure communications.

    Internal Branding

    BlackBerry encouraged Eastman officials to think about the notification system as an internal brand and use it in a way to increase end-user awareness and speed reaction time once a message was sent and received.

    “This is the kind of expertise BlackBerry brings when we work with customers,” Wiseman says. “We’re able to take our generalized knowledge and refine a library of templates of messages to help everyone.”

    Concise wording and instant notice recognition become crucial in emergency situations. By tapping into a marketer’s sense of branding, employees eventually become familiar with the information they expect to see on a pop-up alert and clearly know what action step to take next.

    “Companies have to think ahead about how they target these communications messages,” Wiseman advises. “You want to have a concise message that people can quickly understand.

    “Depending on who is receiving the message, a company may need to tailor the alerts,” he adds. “The safety response team is going to need a different level of detail than another group working at the facility, say, the landscaping team.”

    Through what is now known as Eastman Alert, the chemical company’s emergency notification system’s logo, coloring, and message wording provides a unique look and feel that’s now familiar to everyone working at the campus. When people see these alerts pop up across multiple devices and announcement systems, they can more quickly take action and avert dangerous situations.

    The time-sensitive messages alert people to various levels of risk, including:

    • Severe weather (tornadoes, high winds, severe thunderstorms)
    • Fire
    • Site evacuations
    • Criminal or police activity
    • Safe haven/shelter-in-place notices
    • Hazardous vapor release
    • Other situations that could put people in harm’s way.

    Some alerts are critical and require immediate action, while others may be more informative and direct employees to avoid certain areas of the campus affected by a particular situation.

    The company sends about 600 operational-related alerts and about 30 or 40 weather messages annually, Bennett says.

    Alert Notifications Successes

    Although it’s hard to measure precisely the impact an alert notification system has—particularly when employee and site safety are the main concerns—Eastman has seen several positive outcomes.

    Among them are:

    • Reaching as many as 10,000 people at one time.
    • Seeing alerts be received or acknowledged within the first minute after being sent.
    • Reducing notification time to all employees at the Kingsport site to less than three minutes.
    • Ensuring high levels of safety during various emergency situations.

    BlackBerry typically reviews and updates the AtHoc solution once every quarter, depending on a customer’s needs.

    A Company Standard

    The AtHoc-based Eastman Alert emergency notification system has become a company standard and has been rolled out at multiple other sites, according to Bennett. But what’s most beneficial is that the notification system can be configured to meet the emergency response needs of each specific site.

    “Other Eastman sites are smaller and manufacture different products,” he notes. “They have different kinds of issues so they need a different configuration of devices.”

    To date, Eastman has implemented the BlackBerry AtHoc solution in five or six other facilities and expects to bring it to additional sites as needed.

Casebook Study: Managing a Crisis

THE Challenge

Eastman Chemical wanted to reduce and streamline the complexity inherent in crisis communication. It also wanted to improve the way it alerted and notified employees during a critical event, such as a fire, explosion, hazardous vapor release, severe weather condition, or other serious or life-threatening events.

THE Solution

AtHoc from Waterloo, Canada-based BlackBerry Limited, provides intelligent security software and services to enterprises and governments worldwide.

The Results

  • Reduced notification time to all employees from 15 minutes to 3 minutes or less.
  • Notified as many as 10,000 people (employees and contractors) on an 850-acre campus. Most messages are received within the first minute of being sent out.
  • Safely navigated the explosions at its headquarters on Oct. 4, 2017, demonstrating the capability to ensure everyone was notified and responded to shelter-in- place alerts until the site was made safe.

Next Steps

Eastman continues to recommit to improving its safety emergency management and emergency notification procedures. The AtHoc-based Eastman Alert emergency notification system has become a company standard and has been rolled out across multiple sites.

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