Thought Leadership

Egyptian Spring comes to Chicago

June 15, 2011

Ahmed S. AZZAM, QHSE Country Manager for Ideal Standard Eqypt, told us an almost unimaginable crisis management story on Sunday at the conference. Ahmed is VP of the ASSE Egyptian Chapter, which has 260+ members. He is attending the conference with the chapter’s president and treasurer.

During the uprising, “phenomenal, a shock to everybody,” says Ahmed, he contended with curfews, blocked roads, downed communication, the release of criminals, a police force that vanished, and day to day, hour by hour anxiety, tension and confusion. Ahmed oversees seven facilities and 3,000 workers who produce bathroom ceramics and acrylics. For two weeks the company operated at about 40% capacity, he says. It never shut down completely. Ahmed spent most of his time on security, not safety, ensuring the security of facilities and trying to account for the workforce. Only locals close to operations were able to travel to work; a number had to work three shifts consecutively due to curfews that forced workers to stay on the job once at work. Still, Ahmed shakes his head and says, “No, no, there was no spike in injuries, no more accidents.”

Operations have ramped back up and Ahmed shares several lessons: crisis management scenarios must be in place, without dust, and must anticipate the worst, communication breakdowns and multiple unknown security risks. Systems must be regularly tested. Security and safety need to be integrated at the operations level. A system needs to be in place to relocate expatriates to safety (Ahmed says BP’s system enabled 180-200 expats to be quickly relocated to secure areas.) And he makes a good point: “Look at the natural disasters happening around the world. What are you going to do?”

Ahmed looks us square in the face: “It is a miracle,” what happened this spring. He shows us on a computer screen in the press room an aerial photo of thousands rallying in Tahrir Square. The revolution without blood in the streets.
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