Extreme IT: Hurricanes, High Winds and Heavy Seas

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Alternate Forms of Communication

How are they communicating with you if all the communications are out?

Gibson: We still have other ways. We have a very extensive two-way radio system, so they may be talking to the platform next to them, and that platform's relaying the information to us. We also have handheld satellite phones, and we're able to get in touch with the field that way.

So what's your work schedule like?

Gibson: We are a 24/7/365 support group. Our industry does not go to sleep -- our production facilities still flow oil and gas at night, and our drilling operations are drilling 24 hours a day. So we have to be readily available to support their needs during any crisis they might have, at any time.

We typically work a normal workday, but we have folks on call after hours. And we officially work a 40-hour week, but I'd say 50 to 60 hours is more of a typical week for me or most of the people in our IT group.

I don't think that's going to come as a surprise to Computerworld readers.

Wilson: We do offer 9/80 compressed workweeks. In other words, if you choose to, you can work nine hours a day and have every other Friday off.

Gibson: So in a two-week period, you work nine days rather than 10 days. It should be a worldwide standard. Four tens would be even better.

Wilson: I'm working on that.

How long have you had your position?

Gibson: I've been in this position for four years, but I've worked in IT with Chevron for 27 years. Actually, 27 years ago, it really wasn't IT. I'm a former Tenneco employee, and when Chevron acquired us in the '80s, we were just touching on information technology.

At the time, we were concerned more with the geological and geophysical support roles, so I was in more of a data management position. I moved from data management to applications support and programming, and from there into the infrastructure roles.

What's the most outrageous thing that's happened to you in this job?

Gibson: I would have to say the 2005 hurricane season. We were just coming out of the 2004 season, with a few bad ones in Ivan and Dennis. Then the '05 season started early, in July.

As the season progressed and built up into the Katrina/Rita-class hurricanes, we lost better than 90% of our communications infrastructure offshore. We lost our main office in New Orleans, and we lost a lot of the communications that went into that city.

[Editor's note: See Timoney Group's Google Map of the Gulf oil platforms that were damaged or destroyed by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.]

Reconnecting our facilities and reestablishing communications took us all the way into the early part of 2007. We had to stop working on other optimization efforts we had going on just to focus on re-establishing communications to our environment offshore. It was definitely a big challenge for this group -- in fact, we're just really coming out of it now.

What's the biggest thing you've learned from your work?

Gibson: I would say it's the constant change in the oil industry. We're always looking to make ourselves more efficient. We're constantly moving out further and further into deeper water, so we're always having to look for technology to adapt to those environments. There's just no room for complacency. We have to be able to adapt and adjust.

The other thing I've learned is that in IT, you tend to want to chase technology a lot because you like the new gadgets. But the oil industry is the wrong place to chase technology. We need good, stable communications and infrastructure so we can keep our business operating. Chevron prides itself on being a very technological company. We don't lead, but we follow very closely.

Jake Widman is freelance writer in San Francisco.

This story, "Extreme IT: Hurricanes, High Winds and Heavy Seas" was originally published by Computerworld.

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