December 21, 2020:
Dear BUET conference attendees, I am in Europe, it is 6:20 am, so good morning! Sam Mannan, I got acquainted with in 1998 in his early days as director MKO, the Mary Kay O’Connor Process Safety Center, when he attended the triennial European Loss Prevention Symposium at that time in Barcelona, Spain. His personality impressed. I was at the time conference chairman, so I had little time to chat, but at later occasions in Stockholm, 2001 and Prague, 2004 and later (Slide) Sam presented MKO work with much confidence. In 2007 he invited me to attend the October College Station MKO conference, visit the lab, and as his style was, he awarded me and proposed in attendance of Michael O’Connor to visit MKO twice a year for a month, what I did since that time. I coached many students. The spectrum of research topics grew fast and we had to work hard, also as coaches, to keep track of all developments as we wanted to stay at the front of knowledge! When we had a constraining material problem, Sam solved it. I also invited him to Holland and we toured the safety research groups I had coordinated. From that visit came also his interest in human and organizational factors.
Sam was a top ‘connector’ and he attracted a number of process safety experts to help in the MKO expansion process. During the annual conferences he was sitting upstairs in a big room in the Hilton, inviting people and making arrangements. So, he became known in the US and was asked by the Senate a couple of times to give his opinion on accidents as the one at Bayer in West-Virginia (the old Union Carbide plant), or the West Fertilizer Storage plant ammonium nitrate detonation in Texas in 2013.
Sam also invited me twice to BUET to lecture on your conference (Slide), showed me Dhaka (Slide) and I met his old class mate friends (Slide). The second time we gave lectures at your engineer association (Slide) and I recall the nice outside lunch sitting on the ground and eating your fish with my fingers as tools. At that occasion we also toured to India and we were supposed to be next day in Chennai for a meeting and a lecture. However, for some reason our flight was cancelled and Sam got mad. So, he pressed the people behind the counter to suggest an alternative. That night we made a stop in Kolkata so that we could be next day in Chennai at a reasonable time. I have been used to taxi drivers, in my student time I have been one myself, but the Kolkata taxi driver was the ultimate: superfast, fiercely honking in the dark of night, and one time a car came right towards us with his headlights full on us, but somehow the maneuvering of our driver was successful. Quite a few times, Sam and I have recalled that moment. We had dinner in the hotel and after dinner we heard from a side room Bengal music and a girl singing, so we had coffee out there and Sam became very emotional because he understood of course the song verses. Next day we arrived in Chennai and the morning after we should lecture. 9.00 AM no Sam yet. My stomach was a bit upset, but Sam’s even more, although after my phone call to him he came down. Meanwhile, I filled the time gap with talking to the audience.
In 2011 Sam organized a meeting inviting Process Safety professors worldwide (Slide) to draw up a research agenda to present to top authorities. He was an excellent host, so from time to time we had very pleasant socializing events, also with guests and other coaches (Slides) such as Professors Maria Papadaki, Adam Markowski, and Simon Waldram.
Sam introduced me to a few typical American practices, e.g., American football in the Texas A&M Kyle stadium. At first sight, I didn’t understand what the players were doing on that field besides just pushing and wrestling with each other for a non-spherical ball. At both sides of the field, you had guys with a high stick indicator, who moved up and down with the entangled players. So, later I started to see, that it was a kind of complicated game we used to play in school in Holland called “landje pik’, what means ‘land grab’. But impressive it was with all the music and the 100.000 visitors and (Slide) Sam being honored that time at the field because of his achievements as professor.
During the October conferences we had always at one night a dinner and I forgot the year but I saw a face that was somehow familiar to me but I couldn’t place it, till I got the Eureka response; it was Naz Karim, who I had seen at the BUET conference. Naz was of a different build: slim but with a strong voice and his Texan ‘Howdy’s’ were really loud! So, he appeared to be the new chief of the Texas A&M Chemical Engineering Department. It took me a while to really getting him to know. In the morning, Naz was always early, Sam was late. After I arrived for a stay, Naz came early to greet me, of course, Sam did too but a little later. Naz was a process control man and I was at the time thinking why process safety specialists and process control ones were a kind of separated closed clubs. I didn’t recall a safety conference where a presenter talked about process control. Writing a book myself on risk assessment, I decided to have a chapter on process safety aspects of process control, so it turned out be a topic of common interest with Naz. Over time Nazmul’s interest in risk analysis grew, and Sam, Naz and I had some common lunches and chats.
When I arrived first time at MKO for a visit, Sam suggested to me I should see the lab and the students and tell what I missed. Probably, he expected that I would tell him about a certain equipment that was lacking. Of course, there are such instruments and there still is, but I felt it was important to tell him that he was lacking permanent staff. To that conclusion he had come himself too, but he never got the support to expand. After the Macondo disaster and the founding of the Ocean Energy Safety Institute just captain Pettigrew came to reinforce the staff. Also, companies were grateful for the work done (Slide). Finally, I think it was March 2017 that Sam told me in a very good mood he was awarded three professor positions. But that appeared to be a bit biased and was part of a frustration at the end. In June of that year we met in Trondheim, Norway for a top European Safety conference, and also for him to search for a candidate in one of the positions. He made a bit of a distracted and tired impression. I was accompanied by my wife (rule was that I paid my own travels, June in Norway may be nice, and I found a student home for my wife and me to sleep). Sam arranged a dinner with the host/organizer of the conference just at the day my wife had her anniversary. Now, my wife and Sam always went along quite alright, so we had a bottle of wine because she likes that. Sam asked for a double Scotch with ice. The girl servant replied that it was not allowed to serve a double but just a single one! You should know that the Scandinavians love this kind of drinks and therefore the prices are sky-high and the selling restricted. After a grumble, Sam was okay because we had figured out, he would order another one after the first. Alas, in September he succumbed, a shock to all of us.
In October 2018, I was at MKO again and Naz had temporarily taken over and Prof. Jim Holste was MKO interim director. Belgian Professor Genserik Reniers, organizer of the European Loss Prevention Symposium that in June 2019 after 45 years would return to Delft, the place where I had helped to start the series in 1974, attended the 2018 MKO conference. He asked Naz to present a keynote on the life of Sam. Because I was also part of the symposium organizing committee, Naz asked me to arrange travel to Delft and in March 2019 he mentioned to me he was going to have heart surgery, but he had it all figured out he would be fully fit again in time to come to Delft in June. So, I arranged for him business class travel, which for the Delft University was something unusual. At the reception at the start of the June Delft conference I met the professor’s triumvirate sitting together: Karim, Amyotte and Khan, the latter two from Canada, known from dust explosion safety, inherent safety and risk assessment. And by the way, Dr. Faisal Khan becoming the new MKO director soon. Naz made the impression to be healthy. Second day of the conference we had the symposium dinner and my wife and I shared the table with those three. The conference with all these attendees must have been tiring to Naz. Next morning were the keynotes (Slide) of Paul Amyotte’s one on Sam’s work, and that of Naz on Sam’s life. After the morning session both left. Naz wanted to stay a day or two to see Delft, because he had studied too in Holland before going to Manchester. Friday morning, I got the call from the TUDelft conference contact what had happened to Naz and whether I could help to liaise with Texas A&M University and find his family. What I did.
Yes, a very unfortunate course of events, which I deeply regret. On the other hand, BUET should be proud to produce these great professors helping to solve problems in the world. Right now, with the climate change and the transition to a carbon free world chemical engineering is extremely important. There is a challenge to all of us to adapt and to make true the endeavors of saving energy, strongly reducing pollution and create sustainable processes. As science deepens, methods become more complex, so the challenge stretches too to universities, because more effort is needed in education as the spectrum of knowledge expands, while students must absorb more and deeper knowledge. So, I wish you all much success on this path. Thank you.