From the Field
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Editor's Note: When Tragedy Strikes Our Industry

From our March issue... The national scourge of gun violence touched our industry on Feb. 15 at a valve manufacturing facility in Aurora IL. It serves as a grim reminder that all of us may need to plan more for crisis management.

As the deadline neared for this monthly editorial, I wrestled with what subject matter I should cover here. After all, this particular issue touches on several compelling topics, from the surge in net zero energy projects and the recruitment of more women into HVACR, to the benefits of increased energy efficiency and a cybersecurity wake-up call to the looming danger of the dark web. 

But my mind has continually drifted back to yet another gun tragedy that happened here in Illinois on February 15. Sadly, it reminds us that our own HVACR industry is not immune from the national scourge of gun violence. And the resulting spike in social media response that day on our own @HPACEng Twitter page tells me that you, our audience, is interested in this subject, as well. 

Now, in my November editorial in this space, I noted that it marked my 14th column as editor of HPAC Engineering, and the fifth written in the wake of yet another mass shooting somewhere in the U.S. Well, this now is my 18th such editorial, and it comes less than a month after the latest shooting at the suburban Aurora IL offices of the Henry Pratt Co., a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Mueller Water Products, one of the nation’s largest makers of valves for the potable water, wastewater, power generation and other industrial markets. 

On that Friday after Valentine’s Day, the termination of a Henry Pratt employee erupted in a shooting that killed five employees, including a 21-year-old Human Resources intern who was actually on his first day on the job. A senior set to graduate from Northern Illinois University this spring, the young man, Trevor Wehner, had been asked to sit in on the meeting to observe HR practices. 

According to Mueller Products President Scott Hall, the others killed were plant manager Josh Pinkard, 37; union rep Russ Beyer, 47; forklift operator Vicente Juarez, 54; and HR manager Clay Parks, 32. I will not list the name of the shooter here. 

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, Hall traveled to the facility and sent out this message to all employees: 

As we grieve together, we will provide information in the coming days on the counseling services and support we will be offering to the families of the victims and to all of our colleagues... I encourage us all to use this time to support one another and come together as one Mueller family. 

The following week, the company set up the Aurora/Pratt Survivors’ Fund, a charitable conduit to provide direct financial support to the families of the victims. It was created through the National Compassion Fund (NCF), with support from GoFundMe and Mueller Water Products. To donate: https://www.gofundme.com/auroraprattsurvivorsfund.

“We have chosen to partner with NCF because 100% of the donations are distributed directly to those harmed,” explained Hall. To learn more, go to www.nationalcompassionfund.com. 

I pray that none of our readers will ever have to implement a crisis management plan like this in the wake of any future natural or manmade disaster. But in the unfortunate event that you do, it seems instructive now to look at the way Mueller Water Products has handled this all-too-common tragedy. 

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