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Teamwork, dedication keep TAPS running year-round

The pipeline never sleeps.

On Thanksgiving, the kickoff to the holiday season, you watch the parade on TV, heap turkey on your plate, surround yourself with friends and family. And at Pump Station 1, the on-shift operator keeps watch over the facility, where all incoming lines from the North Slope converge and the trans-Alaska pipeline begins.

It’s Christmas Eve, a tranquil evening. You wrap gifts, arrange presents beneath the tree, set out cookies. And at the Operations Control Center in Anchorage, two people work 12 hours in a windowless room, monitoring giant screens that fill with data, lights, colors, the quiet cut only by the occasional alarm or phone call.

Christmas day. Shredded wrapping paper litters the floor, stockings are unhung and emptied, and Santa has come and gone. On the Haul Road, near Delta Junction, a lone courier approaches Pump Station 9, a station busy with activity – supervisors, technicians, security offers, a baseline maintenance team, all on-duty and working the holiday shift.

At midnight on New Year’s Eve, you toast the New Year, raise a glass, sing Auld Lang Syne. And at the Valdez Marine Terminal, in the tower at the Power Vapor Facility, a team trains eagle eyes on tank pressure levels and loading operations.

New Year’s Day: you sleep in, watch football, enjoy a lazy day. And a tugboat chugs through the wintry darkness of Prince William Sound, its crew navigating the challenging waters, escorting a laden tanker to sea.

On any given holiday, while most employees are doing – well, whatever they want – there are dozens of people making sure the pipeline runs safely. It has been this way since startup more than 36 years ago.

“It feels like a small honor to be valued so much that we must be at work,” said Janna Miller, Operations and Maintenance Supervisor at Pump Station 1. “Coming to work is always easier when you know someone is counting on you and truly cares about what you do.”

These essential personnel ensure operations go on reliably, a mission critical to Alaska. TAPS delivers an estimated $24 million a day into the state’s coffers, and accounts for more than 90 percent of the state’s budget.

Employees work at pump stations, on barges and tug boats, and in labs. They load tankers, guard security checkpoints, measure and test crude oil, and drive the length of the pipeline, hauling cargo and supplies. They manage the ballast water facility, fly helicopters, and launch and pull cleaning pigs.

At the Valdez Marine Terminal this Christmas Eve, a new team of technician trainees report for their first official day of work. Others will spend the holiday shoveling snow off the acre-sized tops of the Terminal’s crude oil tanks.

Those who work holidays say the quieter pace gives them a chance to catch up on work, maybe complete company-required training and sort through old emails.

“There is a certain peace in working a holiday,” said Andres Morales, director of the Ship Escort/Response Vessel System in Valdez, who worked holiday shifts for many years. “Everyone else is off and engrossed in his or her own activities. It lets you see what work is critical to the moment-to-moment operation of TAPS.”

And employees who have spent years working holiday shifts say no matter where you are on the pipeline – on board a ship, on shift at pump station, or in a control room – people try to make it feel special.

“I love working the holidays because it seems like we all come together as a group to make the holiday at work a little more enjoyable,” said Dameon Kowalke, a Utility Rover based out of Pump Station 9, who has spent more than 14 years working holidays in the field. “It’s great being part of the TAPS team over the holidays. We help make it as fun and festive as we can and we give the other shift a chance to spend time at home with loved ones.”

That’s a reoccurring theme: field-based employees say they are glad to make the sacrifice of working the holiday shift so their counterparts can enjoy the time off. One Environment Team member said she chooses to work holidays because “it’s more important for my alternate to have the holidays off than for me.”

Those on shift say they make the most of sharing the time with each other.

“When you work in the field, the personnel at the pump stations become like a second family to you,” said Susan Graham, a Pump Station Assistant working out of Pump Stations 5 and 7. “If you can’t be with your actual family, being with these friends is next best.”

We asked employees to tell us more:

Question: What do you like about working holidays?

“I love working the holidays because it seems like we all come together as a group to make the holiday at work a little more enjoyable.” - Kowalke, Dameon Kowalke, Utility Rover, PS 9

“Holidays tend to be very quiet so it is a great time to catch up on those “do later” jobs.” - Sue Graham, Pump Station Assistant, Pump Station 5/Yukon Response Base/ Pump Station 7

“Everyone is wishing each other a merry Christmas or happy Thanksgiving and seems to go to a bit more effort to smile and be kind to each other.” - Janna Miller, Pump Station 1 O&M Supervisor

“No matter where you are, you are with others who are missing the holiday and their homes. People pull together to make the day special. You see the best come out in co-workers and leadership on holidays or when you have to work on a traditional day of rest.” – Andres Morales, SERVS Director

Question: What’s it like to be away from home and friends and family on a holiday working?

“I don’t think that it will ever be ‘just another day’ for Christmas / Thanksgiving. Even though you are concentrating on the task at hand, your thoughts do slip back to your family once in a while. We had a family tradition when the kids were little where we always went ice fishing on Christmas Eve. So on the years that I had to work Christmas, two days before I went back to work I would announce that it was Christmas Eve and we would go ice fishing. The kids loved it. The following day it was ‘Christmas’, of course. The kids were excited when they got up, opened their presents and we cooked the turkey, watched Christmas movies, etc., just like it was Christmas Day. Kids don’t watch the calendar like adults do so I was able to pull the wool over their eyes for a few years before they caught on. “– Paul Eckman, Electrician / Fire Systems Tech, Pipeline Operations

“It has become the norm over the last 14 years but I still miss my family and friends every time I have to be away. … All in all its what you make of it.” - Dameon Kowalke, Utility Rover, PS 9

“The only holidays that seem “different” to me are Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s always nice to be with your loved ones and I find myself thinking of them several times during those days.” - Sue Graham, Pump Station Assistant, Pump Station 5/Yukon Response Base/ Pump Station 7

“Being relatively new to the experience, it is a bit strange for me, especially at Christmas which is so family-focused. I’ve seen some folks bring things from home, such as birthday cards, that they wait until the actual day to open. I’d like to try that, too, to make the day a bit more special.” - Janna Miller, Pump Station 1 O&M Supervisor

Question: How does it feel to be part of the core group of essential personnel that keeps TAPS going during these times when most others are off shift?

“It’s great being part of the TAPS team over the holidays. We help make it as fun and festive as we can and we give the other shift a chance to spend time at home with loved ones.” - Dameon Kowalke, Utility Rover, PS 9

“I’m working for NMS as an embedded tech for the winter here at Pump Station 7. We have to maintain a running Mainline Unit to add temperature to the crude oil as it flows down the Pipeline to North Pole Metering. It is very important that we keep the oil above a certain temperature for pipeline integrity. When I’m not working in Operations, I’m working on maintenance on the Pump Station Fire System which is important for the safety and protection of personnel and equipment. I feel it is important to maintain and keep things tip-top shape even though we have to work holidays to do it.” – Paul Eckman, Electrician / Fire Systems Tech, Pipeline Operations

“When you work in the field, the personnel at the pump stations become like a second family to you. If you can’t be with your actual family, being with these friends is next best.” - Sue Graham, Pump Station Assistant, Pump Station 5/Yukon Response Base/ Pump Station 7

“It feels like a small honor to be valued so much that we must be at work. Coming to work is always easier when you know someone is counting on you and truly cares about what you do.” - Janna Miller, Pump Station 1 O&M Supervisor

Question: What does a holiday look like at your facility? Do you do anything special?

“Holidays at Pump Station 9 are great! We always make sure to cook a meal and invite everyone in the asset area to join us. This year will be a bacon-wrapped turkey.“ - Dameon Kowalke, Utility Rover, PS 9

“Our catering / housekeeping crews always do a great job at decorating for the appropriate holiday and of course there is always a special dinner which is greatly appreciated.” - Sue Graham, Pump Station Assistant, Pump Station 5/Yukon Response Base/ Pump Station 7

“The PLQ looks very Christmassy with a tree and decorations. We also we have a small tree in our Control Room. It’s decorated with lock-out chain, caution and danger tags, crane inspection tags, equipment tag metals, earplugs, flags, etc. It even has a homemade Moravian Star. It’s one of a kind and I like it.” – Paul Eckman, Electrician / Fire Systems Tech, Pipeline Operations

“Often the break room and office are decorated for Christmas with stockings, tinsel and knickknacks. Our PLQ doesn’t have an active kitchen and we brown bag lunches every day. For holidays we order appetizers from our camp then call everyone over the radio to announce when the food is ready. We invite baseline, projects, and other support groups to join us. Everyone fills a paper plate, the big screen TV typically has The Game on, and we dine, cheer and visit. We realize people’s hearts and minds are elsewhere so it’s a day of simple work tasks. We remind ourselves to look out for each other and stay focused. Lots of people duck out for a few minutes to call home then return to work smiling. We make the most of it.” - Janna Miller, Pump Station 1 O&M Supervisor

General thoughts:

“Working at the station is fun on various holidays, because we really are a family. We normally will cook a big or special meal on the station – turkey, ham, or in the summer holidays a big barbeque. For my part, I like Thanksgiving time best at Pump Station 9 because my family bakes pies – so many pies. This year there was only one shift impacted so for the station we made seven pies, but the past two years we had our shift change out day on Thanksgiving, which impacted both shifts of technicians. Those were 14-16 pie years for the station!” - Jessica Lipscomb, Pump Station Assistant, Pump Station 9

“The Christmas days I spent with the O&M teams on the Valdez Marine Terminal were wonderful. We pulled together, visited other teams, and had huge meals together. Often, there was snow removal to help us burn off the Christmas calories. When I worked for Crowley in the office, my wife and I would buy a gift for all the people who were working on the tugs for Christmas. I would deliver then on Christmas morning and stay to visit for a few hours.” – Andres Morales, SERVS Director

Alyeska's 13th annual Military Appreciation Luncheon

After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, many military personnel stationed in Alaska were unable to go home for the holidays. Alyeska employees wanted to find a way to support these men and women. Since a hallmark of the holiday season is time with family and friends around a dinner table eating a well-cooked meal, Alyeska’s employees decided a luncheon would be a great way to bring the holidays to some of the military personnel serving on Elmendorf and Ft. Richardson.

In this spirit, an annual tradition of conversation, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, turkey and prime rib was launched. Every year, employees from departments throughout Alyeska pair up with military personnel from every branch of the American Armed Forces. Employees and service members get to know each other while enjoying the aforementioned traditional holiday meal.

“2013 is the 13th year that Alyeska has had the opportunity to show our support and appreciation for the military folks stationed in Alaska,” said Patti Altom, Sr. Communications Assistant. “It is truly a privilege to share this meal with the men and women who serve our country.”

2013 electronic holiday card

’Tis the season, and this year’s APSC holiday e-card is now online! To view, go to www.apscholidaygreeting.com. The file is large, so if you pause it and give it a moment to load, then hit play, you will have a smoother viewing experience. The people who work on the pipeline wish all of you a safe and happy holiday season.

 

Alyeska's Russian Jack School Business Partnership

The School Business Partnership that Alyeska currently enjoys with Russian Jack Elementary School began more than two decades ago when Alyeska’s original headquarters were housed on Bragaw Street, right down the street from the school. Alyeska’s employees have a legacy of volunteering and supporting the communities in which they live and work, and over the years, Russian Jack has offered a number of opportunities for employees to get involved.

The biggest component of employee involvement centers on the Russian Jack reading program. Alyeska employees who participate typically spend one hour a week reading with students. This hour offers a chance for employees to help improve students’ reading skills and to mentor the children who take part in the program.

The relationship shared between the school and Alyeska deepened unexpectedly in the late 1990s. A fire at Russian Jack on the evening of December 27, 1998 caused extensive damage throughout the school, and it was no longer habitable. During reconstruction, students were housed in alternative sites to finish out the school year. To ease disruption for some of the students, Alyeska offered a portion of its office space to serve as classrooms. Students attended “school” in the headquarters until the restoration of Russian Jack was complete.

While the fire was a tragedy, a positive outcome was the solidified relationship between Alyeska and Russian Jack, a relationship that continues today.

The reading program is as strong as ever, with employees and students still spending a portion their week strengthening reading skills. Alyeska also sponsors a Super Citizens program in which high-achieving students visit the new Alyeska headquarters and are treated to pizza and a fun overview of pipeline operations. The students get the biggest kick out of watching security footage of wildlife that inhabits the pipeline corridor.

And, of course, the Thanksgiving dinner supplied by Alyeska and served by Alyeska volunteers has become a beloved tradition. Now in its 16th year, the students of Russian Jack and the Alyeska employees alike look forward to the annual Thanksgiving feast.

The favorite dinner combination over the years has been mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, turkey, and – drum roll please – chocolate milk.

2014 internship recruiting is underway

Recruitment for Alyeska’s 2014 Internship Program is underway. The application deadline is January 15, 2014. The internship program is a key component of Alyeska’s overall workforce development strategy to build and sustain a high performance culture.

“Management of the internship program is closely aligned with the company’s long range plan to attract, develop and retain a high potential workforce,” said Tabetha Toloff, Alaska Native Program Director. “People are the key to our success and through the internship program we identify new and diverse individuals who epitomize Alyeska’s cultural attributes.”

If you know a highly motivated college student currently attending an accredited university, participating in an undergraduate or graduate degree program, click here to download the 2014 internship application and program requirements.

Alyeska tests response capability in Prince William Sound drill

     Response and prevention is a big part of our business, and Alyeska conducts over a hundred spill response drills and exercises each year. These events can range in size from a few people to a few hundred. Last week, the company participated in the annual Prince William Sound response exercise, one of our largest and most complex ever. Alyeska, ConocoPhillips and many others worked to support Polar Tankers on the effective execution on this drill.

     Employees from all over TAPS converged on Valdez for a two-day incident management team tabletop with 24/7 operations, simultaneous field deployments and a transition to Anchorage. At the end of the exercise, almost 600 people had “played” in the drill, including participants from Alyeska, industry and regulatory partners.

    “The team’s efforts were always focused, deliberate and thoughtful, and everyone honored the need to protect people’s safety first,” said Andrés Morales, SERVS director and Incident Commander. “I am so proud of this team.”
 

Alyeska President reflects on the passing of Stan Stephens

Alaska lost a true champion this past week with the passing of Stan Stephens of Valdez, a man whose passion for protecting Prince William Sound translated to every aspect of his life, a man I was fortunate to know and call a friend. Stan and I shared a relationship dating back many years, long before I became president of Alyeska Pipeline Service Company in 2011. His passing has prompted reflection across the state about his legacy and character. I want to share my thoughts on the life he led, and the legacy of stewardship and integrity he leaves in his wake.

Stan was a practical man and a sailor through and through, a straight-talker and storyteller whose character was defined by strength, patience and practicality. I viewed Stan as an advocate -- never an adversary. Together, we believed positive and practical solutions could be reached. Our rapport dates back to my days as commander of the United States Coast Guard for Alaska, when Stan weighed in on environmental and safety issues. His prowess, acumen and knowledge reflected rich understanding of the unique ecosystem of Prince William Sound, and revealed his innate energy around protecting its waterways and shorelines.

Our paths also crossed with the formation of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council, an organization whose work is synonymous with Stan himself. He helped create the group and remained devoted for decades, active until he retired from its board of directors in 2012.

Stan had a sweeping impact on our industry. He dedicated thousands of hours to RCAC. A Legislative citation issued in 1995 called him a shining example of how “citizens can constructively influence decisions that affect their lives and communities.” Stan’s passion, hard work, and commitment exemplified how a single person can have a profound impact. In his steady and even way, Stan campaigned for vapor recovery systems for tanker loading berths and championed air quality improvements. He advocated for redundant systems to improve safety on the Terminal, and was a staunch supporter of improvements to oil spill prevention and response readiness.

He shared his connection to the Sound with thousands of strangers, shuttling visitors to some of the Sound’s most pristine, special places. He understood that Valdez’s distinction as the terminus for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System helped make the town successful, and demanded that a strong level of responsibility and care accompany that success. From our earliest to our final conversations -- talks that took place across the breakfast table at the Totem Inn in Valdez, on decks of boats, and at his hospital bedside -- Stan focused on protecting Prince William Sound. He believed in the compatibility of the missions of RCAC and Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, and in the importance of always continuing to improve the relationship between the two.

Stan kept a weather eye on the horizon. He mentored others, in particular a new generation of boat captains and citizen leaders. This exemplified his leadership -- a belief that a captain is only as good as his crew. In our final meeting, just days before he died, Stan expressed high confidence in Amanda Bauer, whom he mentored closely and who is now Chairman of the RCAC, carrying on his legacy.

What I will remember most about our last visit in his office at the Valdez Boat Harbor, the port spread out behind it, the mountains rising up, is that we were reflective together, like sailors standing at the rail on a calm ocean.

Thank you for everything, Stan. Alaska will miss you.

Alyeska Fire Brigade wins 14th Governor’s Trophy

Alyeska’s award-winning firefighters have again won the Governor’s Trophy in the Alaska State Fire Conference. Participating in the week-long competition, the Alyeska Fire Brigade successfully defended their 13-year title and secured their 14th win in this prestigious event.
 
The Alaska Fire Conference is an annual event and consists of 40 hours of intense training, as well as competition, to enhance emergency responder skills across the state.
 
“The Alyeska Fire Brigade showed that by acting with discipline and ensuring each task is done right every time, they not only remain champions but are able to provide best-in-class emergency response on TAPS.” said Brian Beauvais, Alyeska Fire and Safety Manager.
 
Alyeska President Tom Barrett offered his praise. “Emergency response personnel who protect our people are a key to safely and reliably moving oil,” said Barrett. “Clearly, with 14 consecutive wins, we have a world-class team. Please join me in congratulating the Alyeska Fire Brigade.”

TAPS United Way campaign update

Alyeska's 2013 United Way campaign raised $597,933. Alyeska President Tom Barrett is currently serving as the Anchorage United Way Workplace Campaign Chairman. Smiling for the camera at the United Way kickoff, Sept. 4, are Tom Barrett and Alyeska employees Pat Walden, Diana Swenk, Michelle Egan, Tabetha Toloff, Michael Levshakoff, and Angela Walters. Kneeling are Susan Parkes (also serving as a United Way board member) and Janet Guerra.

Alyeska employees and contractors annually rev up to contribute to United Way with direct contributions and through a variety of volunteer positions throughout the organization. This year Alyeska’s campaign crossed the finishline with $597,933 raised to improve education, to ensure financial stability and to better health standards for all Alaskans.

Alyeska's 2013 United Way campaign

“This year, our campaign encourages people to surpass previous years’ support or become involved for the first time,” said Tabetha Toloff, Alaska Native Program Director, co-chair of this year’s campaign. “Without a doubt, individual and collective support for United Way has an incredibly positive impact in people’s lives and does Drive Change!”

By donating to United Way, you support a network of services that together serve the entire community, said Mel Williams, Business Practice Officer/Employee Concerns Program Manager and also a campaign co-chair.

“By supporting United Way, you support all the services a family needs to prosper,” said Williams. “Food, affordable housing, tutoring, mentoring, job training, child care, after-school programs, elderly services – join us by becoming a leadership giver, or surpass last year’s giving by $99, and make all of this possible.”

Rev up your engines, make a donation, make a difference in your community and leave poverty in the dust! Drive Change the United Way!

So far, Alyeska employees & contractors have raised more than $217,000, well on the way to exceed last year's total of $644,000.

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