When a magnitude 7.2 earthquake shook Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico, on April 4, 2010, its impact forced a local Frito-Lay Sabritas plant to shut down all three production lines. Concerned workers were left wondering how badly the facility was damaged and when, or if, production could resume.
Answers and assistance were needed quickly as the city felt the effects of Mexicali’s strongest earthquake since 1892. Schools were closed, homes were damaged and power was out throughout the city, making it difficult for families to plan for the days ahead.
In need of help, Frito-Lay Sabritas turned to Haskell, who originally built the 105,000-square-foot snack food processing plant in 2002. Haskell’s Luis Jiménez, who was project manager on that project, recalls the nature of Frito-Lay Sabritas’ request.
“Their message was clear: ‘We had an event. We don’t know exactly what happened, but we need you to come here and help us,’” said Jiménez, who now is President of Haskell’s International Group.
Haskell’s answer came “without hesitation,” Jiménez said. Haskell would travel to the Frito-Lay Sabritas facility to assess its condition. If they determined it was salvageable, Haskell would work to restore production at the facility as soon and safely as possible.
Understanding the importance of a fast response after a critical event, Haskell quickly chartered a private airplane from Jacksonville, Florida, into Baja California, Mexico, carrying a team of professionals that included structural, electrical, and mechanical engineers. Also aboard the flight was John-Paul Saenz, who was director of construction on the original Frito-Lay Sabritas project and now is Haskell’s Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer.
Within three days of the earthquake, Haskell had boots on the ground at the Frito-Lay Sabritas plant to launch the response and recovery effort.
After carefully assessing the facility and its electrical, mechanical, and structural elements, Haskell’s team provided Frito-Lay Sabritas with a detailed report describing the extent and impact of damages as well as what needed to be done to restart production, fully restore the facility and mitigate risk in case of a future seismic event.
Frito-Lay Sabritas learned that, while there were significant cosmetic damages, structural impacts were minimal and could be repaired. Given the significant challenges already facing a recovering Mexicali community, this report offered a much-needed morale and confidence boost to plant workers.
“This was a stressful event that left many people worried what would happen with schools, jobs, and life in general,” Jiménez said. “They were very thankful that we could provide them with reassurance so quickly.”
Once Haskell’s team members determined that the Frito-Lay Sabritas facility was still structurally sound, they wasted no time putting the recovery effort into action. Widespread damage throughout the area created a scarcity of human resources, but Haskell leveraged strong relationships with local partners and subcontractors to secure crews who had experience with the facility and could mobilize immediately.
Meanwhile, Haskell was organizing an internal team that featured engineers, designers, site managers, and key personnel from the 2002 project, including the superintendent, quality manager, project manager, and director of construction. Their familiarity with the facility meant the team could fast-track their response.
“We knew exactly what we were dealing with,” Jiménez said.
With experienced professionals from both Mexico and the United States now converging on Frito-Lay Sabritas, the recovery effort that followed would be best described by Jiménez as a “surgical process” – characterized by swift and measured precision despite many moving parts.
As builders of the facility, Haskell had instant access to all drawings, specifications, and purchase orders, which enabled them to quickly identify and order replacement materials. Again, Haskell leaned on its existing relationships, this time with vendors and suppliers, to secure the items their customer needed.
Before production could resume, several elements in the facility needed to be put back in place. To expedite matters, Haskell utilized a number of temporary partitions, ceilings, and other materials that made the plant fit for production until more permanent solutions could be provided.
Most of the recovery work concentrated on the facility’s seasoning, process, packaging, dry mix and dust collector areas. Crews repaired or replaced ceiling grid/tile, light fixtures and HVAC grills, and ensured the facility was properly equipped with specialized accessories to mitigate risk in case of another earthquake.
Throughout the effort, Haskell’s superintendent stayed in close communication with Frito-Lay leadership at the local and corporate levels. This was critical, Jiménez explained, as the Mexicali plant was the sole producer of its specific Sabritas product.
“There were a lot of eyes on the recovery of the plant,” he said. “Communication was key.”
By mid-July, Frito-Lay Sabritas was back in production. Jimenez credited this quick turnaround to his team’s ability to leverage project experience and strong connections to avoid potential delays.
“We were very familiar with the facility, the customer, and the area,” he said. “We’ve been able to develop really good relationships here, so we were able to mobilize very quickly despite the demand of resources.”
Once production resumed, Haskell shifted its focus to fully restoring the facility without interfering with Frito-Lay Sabritas’ production schedule. Together, the two companies coordinated exactly when and where the remaining work would be done. During scheduled sanitation times, crews entered process areas to complete final repairs in a safe, timely manner.
Less than a month after production resumed, the Frito-Lay Sabritas restoration project was completed. This effort was accomplished without any interruption of ongoing production, which Jiménez said was no easy feat.
“It was a lot of work to coordinate the final repairs,” he said. “But we had a great partnership (with Frito-Lay Sabritas) which benefitted us both.”
Jiménez, who began his career with Haskell in 1998 as a project manager, credits his team for answering Frito-Lay Sabritas’ initial call without hesitation, despite not knowing what they would find at the damaged facility.
“In a situation with so many uncertainties, some companies might try to protect themselves, but we jumped on the airplane immediately to assess the building and educate the customer,” he said. “Not many companies do that.”
What drove that decision, Jiménez believes, was Haskell’s understanding of the implications when a business suffers a critical event—not just property damages or lost production, but the emotional health of employees and their families.
“They had just lived through a traumatic event,” Jiménez said. “It was very important for us to give them peace of mind.”
Partner with Haskell to ensure that you’re ready when disaster strikes. Contact Chad Kunkel, Director of Business Resiliency Services, to learn more about Business Resiliency Services.
Haskell delivers more than $1 billion annually in Architecture, Engineering, Construction (AEC) and Consulting solutions to assure certainty of outcome for complex capital projects worldwide. Haskell is a global, fully integrated, single-source design-build and EPC firm with over 2,000 highly specialized, in-house design, construction and administrative professionals across industrial and commercial markets. With 20+ office locations around the globe, Haskell is a trusted partner for global and emerging clients.