Kautex manager shares lessons learned from August tornado

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Windsor Star/Dan Taekema



Kautex plant manager Steve Phillips was sitting down to dinner with his family when he got a call that a tornado had torn through his plant. Less than an hour later he was walking through a disaster area.

“I’m so used to the plant being spotless,” he said, describing a scene where roof debris littered the floor and water from sprinklers and torrential rain had flooded parts of the building.

“There were forklifts where they had just stopped,” he added. “I’ve been to Pompeii, it’s where time stopped and that’s what it was like, walking though a place where time had just stopped.”

In 79 A.D., Pompeii was buried in metres of ash and pumice from the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius near modern-day Naples, Italy, virtually freezing the city and its residents in time.  

Phillips was a keynote speaker during an emergency preparedness seminar focusing on business recovery and resiliency hosted by WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation Tuesday morning.


He shared his experience and some lessons learned that he said he hoped could help other area companies prepare for the worst.

On Aug. 24, an F2 tornado touched down in Windsor before ripping off part of the plant’s roof and peeling away walls.

“People on the floor literally had to grab on to things,” said Phillips. “They could see the roof coming off, they could see the walls flying through and they just hid as much as they could underneath whatever they could grab on to.”

After the storm an army of recovery workers descended on Kautex, which makes fuel tanks for cars, and just five days after the tornado one of the company’s production lines was back in business.

Peter Kimbell, acting manager of the Ontario Storm Prediction Centre, said a full report into the tornado will not be available for “some weeks yet.”

“The people who are writing the report are the same people who are putting out daily forecasts so we have to wait until they have time,” he explained. “The information is all there, but it has to be assembled into a coherent fashion.” 

Near the start of Phillip’s speech a cellphone that had an alarm for a ringtone went off leading the plant manager to joke that the past few months had left him shaking at the sound of a siren.

Phillip’s presentation included CCTV footage from a camera that survived the storm and showed the moment a calm exterior shot was suddenly overtaken with pounding rain before a transformer exploded with a flash and swirling debris filled the frame.

“You’re in the eye of a tornado now,” he told the group as audience members gasped.

Phillips explained that safety measures such as bolting down equipment likely saved lives and passed along recovery strategies and best practices to other area companies should “worse come to worst.” 

Among Kautex’s concerns is the fact that Windsor does not have any sort of tornado warning system, so Phillips said it’s up to the company to find a way to make sure staff feel safe. 

He said one possible solution is having large screens connected to radar that can keep workers updated about what’s going on outside.

“My fear is that during the next significant thunderstorm people are going to be nervous,” he said. “They’re going to feel very insecure.”