Emily Moorehead: Reducing workplace disasters

Emily Moorehead
Hometown: Waverly, N.Y.
Age: 21
Major: Chemical Engineering

Emily Moorehead left her internship at FM Global with a bang. Literally. The chemical engineering student spent the summer of 2012 conducting explosions for the insurance company.

To learn how to prevent disasters, FM Global engineers run controlled burns at the company’s research facility in Glocester, R.I. And they invited Moorehead to play a major role setting up the instrumentation to measure the burns and blasts and analyze the results.

Emily Moorehead
Emily Moorehead pauses while setting up a demonstration of a dust explosion in FM Global’s engineering testing facilities.

When everything was in place, the engineers huddled in a hardened concrete bunker and remotely triggered a spark to ignite a mix of air and methane. They left the door open a crack to hear the explosions, some of which shook the bunker and all of which ignited cheers from the engineers. On other days, engineers set small burns to test ways to prevent a small fire from engulfing an entire warehouse.

“It never got old,” Moorehead says. “It was just so much fun.”

The work was not just fun and games. FM Global collected dozens of data points on each explosion using a collection of cameras, mass spectrometers and engineering software. Engineers later used the data to gauge the effectiveness of fire-suppression systems. Quality systems received an “FM Global approved” seal and were recommended to clients.

FM Global executives say the proactive research reduces risks to clients and the company. In turn, the work keeps the company’s premiums competitive and its balance sheet strong.

The research also offers a window into a specialized field. Few companies conduct sophisticated disaster-prevention research or provide the opportunity for such hands-on research. Besides the burn lab, Moorehead also worked at the earthquake shaker table lab.

Moorehead says FM Global engineers encouraged her to ask questions and took pains to explain every step of the experimental processes and take on responsibility for different aspects.

“The thing I took away the most was confidence,” Moorehead says.

Moorehead hopes to leverage that confidence into a job after graduation. After a career on her own, she dreams of taking the reins of Chemite, her family’s chemical production plant in upstate New York.

In the meantime, she’ll continue to work with fire in her job as a volunteer firefighter for the Watch Hill Fire Department in Westerly, R.I. After all, it’s a great way to see how the systems FM Global reviewed operate in the real world.