Monthly Archives: December 2013

Unicorns, Pixies and Fairies



Leprechauns, wood nymphs, elves’… shall I go on ?

What am I talking about?  Well friend I’m glad you asked!

These are all mythical creatures of mystery and whimsy just like an unplanned outage that goes well.

Let me be completely clear, if you do not have everything planned out for your outage and then add in the fact that everything goes wrong, nothing is easy and people suck, you my friend are not going to have a great outage.

Thems the facts, it’s that simple, no ifs, ands, or buts

Back in the dark ages when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was just a little Mug (Freshman) in NY Maritime one of the first things we had to do was memorize this:

The “Riesenberg Saying”
“The sea is selective, slow at recognition of effort and aptitude but fast in the sinking of the unfit.”

If you substitute outage for sea you will see what I’m talking about.

Our business, Outages, are not for the faint of heart. We swear, yell and curse each other out and that’s when we are getting along.

To rip into a Boiler or Turbine, lay is guts out all over the place then put it all back together so everything runs right and no one gets hurt, does not happen via “decision by committee”. No one is taking a 360⁰ survey and spot-checking everybody’s feelings around where you should land the cover, it’s got to go where it’s got to go.

We don’t go into the boiler and say make the “final cut”  where you feel it would be best, you know, where it would make you the happiest.

Our business, at its worst, kills people and leaves the survivors racked with guilt, remorse and scars on their souls that they will carry their entire life.

So what is a pink footed, unicorn wearing, covered in glitter, scared little girl to do?


Do what I say!!!

Am I dick?…yes

Am I a control freak? …yes

Yes! Yes! A thousand times Yes! (couldn’t resist a little pride and prejudice)

Now that you think I’m an Ass, ask these questions:

  1.        Do the units get done on time? Yes
  2.        Do the unit’s perform better after the outage? Yes
  3.        Did the outage come in on or under Budget? Yes
  4.        Did anyone get hurt? NO!!!
  5.        How many times have you done this? Over 200

Aren’t these the questions that matter?  Does anything else matter in regards to performing an Outage?

My mentor Socrates didn’t have the Magic Finger because he was trying to pass on some pithy folksy wisdom. His number one rule was “trust no one.” Subsequently  that evolved the Magic Finger, because he would not trust anyone to actual mean what they say or do what they were supposed to do.

Even after we had all worked together for years he would still check behind us. We still had to start every job with the drum door gaskets nailed up over his desk (“beginning with the end in mind” for a little Stephen Covey vibe)

The Point

“The Outage Expert saying”

“The Outage is selective, slow at recognition of effort and aptitude but fast in the sinking the unfit.”

You can’t let up, it’s not fun, you have to be the designated adult. You have to think of everything. (your team does at least) The minute you think you’re invincible, that’s when the Outage Gods will rise up and bite you.

As far as the “Do what I say,” what I’m referring to is to follow the general principles that I have laid out in the blogs.

I would like to say that there is a bottomless well of knowledge about outages and that I will take me a lifetime to teach you…But the reality is that the principles can be taught fairly quickly.

However the “Secret Sauce” is not in the knowledge of what to do. It’s in the doing of the thing. To do Outages well there must be a dictator. Plain and simple. (a benevolent one hopefully)


That Dictator cannot waver from the rules (for the rules ) for if they do, like Icarus they will fall to earth and not in a good way.


Running a plant is collaboration; it’s a team sport, where even though there is a chain of command, opinions are considered and taken in, to form the final decision. That’s the way all the smart people do it, you never know what gem you may pick up from a discussion of an issue, even if the gem is to further strengthen your own opinion.

Outages are different; the planning phase needs to be collaborative on all levels you just never know who knows what and I’ve often been surprised about how much I don’t know. Right up to the minute before the outage you can have discussions. (I don’t recommend it but you can)

But the minute you start shutting the unit down there needs to be just one person in charge and that person calls the shots. It is the only way to maintain order and control and maintaining order and control is the way to be consistently safe.

The Story

For the story this week I will direct you to the preface for the blog:

Tuesday Morning. Everything was looking good, everybody was in the groove and I thought that it looked like we had a chance to make the 12 hours over the next 4 or 5 days. I would be very, very wrong.

About 11 am the lights went out. I’m not being metaphorical, they really went out. The whole plant was black no lights with 150 people in all sorts of places in and around the boiler. First order of business gets everyone safe and find out what happened.

We evacuated the plant, we had to get flashlights and climb through the boiler to get everyone out. Mission accomplished. Everyone got out and nobody was hurt.

When I got to the control room we had determined that the whole grid was down. To make matters worse, the Island mode on our switch yard didn’t work. So we were down as well.


There we sat, black plant with 150 contractors burning money with no idea what to do. We could not get an answer from the grid, so we didn’t know if we were going to be down for two hours or two days. Around two in the afternoon I sent the day shift home and told the contractors that I would make a decision about the night shift by 5 pm.

With still no answer from the grid, I got everyone in the plant together and asked what we can do about this. From the back of the group Joe piped up “why don’t we go after all the valves on the black plant list”. We had by this time successfully implemented Zone Maintenance™ and we had a running list of Black Plant items. The planner (a different one than Outages 101) said he would be right back. In a few hours we had a plan.

Purchasing got every gas or diesel welding machine they could get their hands on, we bought every portable light that Home Depot had and set up all the jobs in a completely black plant. We got valve packing rushed in and went after everything we could.

By Wednesday, around noon, I felt pretty good we had turned lemons into lemon aide. However, we were still down and it was about 10⁰F outside and now we have been down for 24 hours and we had an air cooled condenser that we were freezing up.

We went after the ACC with torches opened up all the drains and drained each cell as best we could.

Then we realized all sorts of lines were freezing though out the plant. We ran around with welders & torches and whatever we could to drain lines. It was like shoveling sand against the tide, but what else were we going to do?

The grid came back up around midday on Thursday. We started to get the plant back up as best as we could depending on what lines were frozen and what we could get running. By Friday end of day shift we had the boilers up and we were starting to get one of the turbines going. We were starting the outage back up with full crews that started since Thursday night shift.

As I was walking to the 6pm meeting, I passed by the Ops manager, whom was playing with the steam dump valve from the steam header to the condenser. When I asked him what was going on, he said, he was trying to calibrate the dump valve. He didn’t think that is was working correctly. I said just leave it until we get the turbine up and all the cells of the ACC hot and running and then we take a look at it. I turned and walked away figuring that he would listen….he did not.

During the 6pm meeting (about 15 minutes after my conversation with the Ops manager) we blew the rupture disc on the turbine. Steam shot straight up out of the turbine. We evacuated the plant again (this time with lights) and got the steam to stop shooting out of the top of the turbine. After a few shifts we changed the ruptured disc and there were no more major problems. We eventually finished the outage.


Gee, Jay how did it all turn out? Well I’m glad you asked.

We finished the outage only 30 hours over the planned schedule. We overcame a 12 hour delay from the sandblast, a 54 hour delay from the grid going down and an 8 hour delay for the rupture disc. The total was a 74 hour delay that we made up 44 hours of, in the middle of all the mess.

We didn’t even go over budget, we spent more than we should, but we were able to manage just a $60,000 overage from traditional spending.

The best of all is, the grid got dropped because of a sudden ice storm. We had insurance, so eventually we got a check from the insurance company the made the outage a profitable event.

Rules of Thumb

  • Outages are different remember that (first of the ten commandments)
  • Every Outage needs a boss (#4 also see )
  • If you’re the Boss, It’s no fun but if you adhere to all the rules you can make it fun for everyone else and that’s the highest level of the game, getting everything done well and safe while having a good time. It’s easier than you think, it’s just hard to do