Magazine article Security Management

Surviving in the Oil Patch

Magazine article Security Management

Surviving in the Oil Patch

Article excerpt

CRISIS MANAGEMENT IS SOMEthing that is of far greater concern to a company like ours because it can bankrupt us if it is not handled well," explains Lorne Earle. He should know. He's the corporate security director of Petro-Canada-Canada's largest domestically owned and controlled oil company.

Created in 1975, Petro-Canada today has assets of more than $6 billion (Canadian) and in 1990 reaped a revenue of nearly $5 billion. The company, headquartered in Calgary, develops oil and natural gas and operates 3,200 retail gas stations in Canada. It owns four refineries and explores for gas in such far-flung countries as Vietnam, Yemen, and Colombia.

Despite these tantalizing figures, Petro-Canada has been affected by the recession that has hit companies worldwide. A preliminary prospectus filed in May this year noted that Petro-Canada suffered a $52 million loss in the first quarter of 1991 compared with a $40 million profit a year earlier.

One major effort to alleviate the effects the poor economy has had on the company took place this past summer, when the government put 20 percent of the company's shares on the market to pay down Petro-Canada's short-term debt to remain healthy.

Another effort comes from PetroCanada's security department. Earle and his team of security professionals have their own techniques for weathering this recessionary crisis and boosting the company's image. His agenda includes safely maintaining all home and foreign operations, protecting executives, managing industrial disputes, investigating losses, managing crises, and dealing with disgruntled employees. WHAT EARLE HAS DONE IN HIS REALM OF responsibility is to make security an integral part of all operations. Integrating security "also makes for an interesting potpourri of assignments as we move through the evolution of the company," he adds. His staff is made up of advisers, consultants, investigators, technologists, and a proprietary guard force.

"Our approach is a blended approach. We out-source any additional needs," Earle explains. "If we need surveillance or additional investigators for international support, we hire individuals or other security firms. For example, we have several individuals that we can call when we need to in Colombia, Pakistan, or here at home in Canada."

The key to security operations at Petro-Canada is to be strategic, efficient, and low-key. No matter what the operation or problem, the security personnel gather the facts, recommend a course of action, and then step back and help manage the situation.

Take Petro-Canada's operations during the Persian Gulf War. The company had ongoing operations in Jordan and Yemen during the war, with several drilling operations on the Iraqi border.

"We had to go in and survey those facilities, determine where the risks were, and determine what to do if personnel couldn't evacuate in time," Earle explains. "We set up procedures for maintaining personnel in the area as well as getting them out. Despite the threat, we were able to maintain operations throughout the war."

Earle's security team prepares evacuation plans for every country Petro-Canada does business in. "The Gulf War was merely one example," Earle adds. Operations in Pakistan have required different crisis management strategies.

According to Earle, Pakistani bandits pose a relentless problem for the indigenous population as well as temporary residents. "In those places we've been faced with kidnappings and local disturbances where shots have actually

been fired. So we set up our employees' security arrangement, which includes, among other procedures, risk assessments and guard force support."

Petro-Canada employees based at foreign operation sites also receive an intensive security briefing. "These briefings not only include security but also a full cultural and political review of the area," stresses Earle.

Also included in the briefing are hostage survival skills for employees and their families. …

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