The Umatilla Chemical Agent Disposal Facility has been honored by the Project Management Institute as the winner of its prestigious PMI® Project of the Year Award for safely destroying chemical weapons ahead of schedule and below budget.

The award was presented to URS Corporation Oct. 20 during the PMI?Awards Ceremony in Vancouver, British Columbia. UMCDF, PMI’s Project of the Year for the Pacific Northwest Region, was one of three finalists for the award.

The award recognizes the accomplishments of a project team for superior performance, exemplary project management execution and innovation in project management processes. URS was recognized for helping the United States Army-owned facility comply with the Chemical Weapons Convention Treaty. This treaty, signed by 187 other countries, mandated that those countries with declared chemical weapons must have their stockpile destroyed by April 29, 2012.

“High stakes, high complexity and enormous risk made this project a unique challenge where success was non-negotiable,” said Mark A. Langley, president and CEO of Project Management Institute. “By leveraging strong project management practices, innovative ways to identify and mitigate risks and top-notch team-building expertise, URS Corporation conquered that challenge and safely completed a critical initiative that had worldwide implications. PMI commends URS and the entire project team for these results. We are honored to name them the 2012 Project of the Year Award winner.”

Because of the project’s complex environmental and regulatory requirements, a myriad of challenges loomed from start to finish. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency had oversight of the project and the thousands of munitions marked for destruction. These munition included rockets, mines and mortars ranging in size, shape and state of decay. In addition, there was a limited pool of experienced chemical weapons destruction workers from which to staff the project.

“Our biggest risk was that we had a new workforce that hadn’t handled chemical weapons before,” said Kim Jackson, plant operations manager at the facility. “It wasn’t just about learning the systems, but also teaching them how to operate the plant.”

Safety precautions were paramount. To mitigate the talent gap, project leaders hired personnel a year prior to the project’s launch in order to ensure sufficient training time. Experts who developed specialized tools for similar initiatives at other disposal sites trained the new workers.

The team also simplified their process of incinerating each weapon, setting up mini-campaigns that segregated the chemical weapons and incinerated each in its own appropriate manner. Once each campaign was completed, the team retooled the worksite and continued to the next one. The team also ensured that air, water and soil quality surrounding the area was unchanged as a result of the chemical weapons destruction activities.

As a result of the project team’s diligence, the project was completed in October 2011, six months ahead of the international treaty date. It came in millions of dollars under its $1.4 billion budget and with an Occupational Safety and Health Administration recordable injury rate of 0.46 — a figure more commonly seen in industries like financial services, not in high-risk sectors like chemical management.

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