In each instance, government regulations require the companies involved to respond immediately and safely.
And any error in emergency response, documentation or reporting, could compound the problem, not only endangering people but also potentially devastating a company's brand.
At 3E Co. in Carlsbad, the goal is to help companies avoid this risk, said chief executive Robert Christie. The solution: Walk companies through regulations to prevent emergencies, safely respond to a crisis and properly document the response.
Any company can attempt this itself, but Christie maintains that it is safer and more efficient for companies to delegate the responsibility.
“You don't have a choice; you have to be compliant,” Christie said. “It's not just a fine. It can ruin a brand with one stupid mistake.”
3E keeps a database of compliance regulations, works with companies to develop compliance records and hosts round-the-clock teams of telephone operators fielding calls that range from mundane documentation questions to emergency assistance.
Founded in 1988, 3E began as a two-person firm dedicated to “environmental and ecological engineering,” its Web site says.
Operators field about 30,000 phone calls per month, Christie said. When clients call with a problem, operators provide directions for how to respond: isolating a spill, for example, or identifying government agencies that require notification.
In the past, 3E has helped companies manage plane crashes, leaking pipelines, poisoned lakes, fertilizer spills, gas leaks in store parking lots and natural disasters.
“We've been involved in any hurricane you can name in Florida, Louisiana or Texas,” Christie said.
Locally, 3E stepped in when a grocery truck flipped on Interstate 5 near Camp Pendleton, Christie said.
“There was meat spilled everywhere,” he said. “We don't do the cleanup, but we made the emergency calls, dispatched, filed all the documentation and did the ongoing documentation. That shut down (I-5) for six hours. It was a disaster for CHP.”
Other 3E services include helping maintain records for companies and classifying materials for transportation, storage and disposal.
Emma McClees, a safety specialist for the city of Chula Vista, said 3E's online services save her time. McClees tracks chemical inventories for 50 facilities, including swimming pools, police station crime labs, a veterinarian operation room and a public works area where large quantities of gasoline, diesel fuel, paints and solvents are stored.
“The most valuable thing in the world would be time,” she said. “The time it would take me to physically go to locations, read labels, look up binders, get on the phone, calling companies saying, 'fax me this,' and then waiting at the machine to see if I can even read it, and making photocopies – it was a nightmare the old way. I can't imagine going back to that.”
The Carlsbad-based company also maintains offices in Maryland, Tennessee, Ohio, Copenhagen and Montreal. In 2007, Inc.com ranked 3E Co. No. 40 of the Top 100 companies in the environmental services industry, noting a jump in revenue growth from $18.5 million in 2003 to $40.9 million in 2006.
Christie joined the company in 2004. He had worked as an acquisitions consultant at Credit Suisse First Boston and completed management stints at McGraw-Hill Book Co. and Thomson Learning, an education information company.
Originally from New Jersey, Christie graduated from Rider University with a degree in management and organizational behavior. He moved to Carlsbad in 2004 to head 3E.
“3E has the attributes of what I like in companies,” Christie said. “It's subscription-based, which means high renewals and a good cash flow. There's the global issue. It has a sustainable competitive advantage. I thought, 'This could be a lot of fun.'”
Christie said 3E is well situated to evolve with trends in business, such as increasing foreign trade and the “green” movement.
He said the European Union's stringent chemical reporting requirements demand “every secret ingredient.”
Companies seeking the “green” moniker can use 3E data to document and track small environmentally friendly improvements over the years, Christie said.
“How do you show continued improvement?” Christie said. “You measure, to prove to regulatory bodies efforts to be environmentally conscious.”