Gas Training Takes Giant Leap Forward

By Jeff Share, Editor | February 2012, Vol. 239 No. 2

What does it take to make a dream come true?

First and most importantly, you start with a leadership that has a vision.

This is how Atmos Energy’s Charles K. Vaughan Center became a reality. For those unfamiliar with the natural gas industry’s leading technical training facility, let us make the introduction.

Completed in 2010 and officially opened on June 21, 2011, the $9 million Vaughan Center is located on an 11-acre site in the Dallas suburb of Plano. The Vaughan Center employs a staff of 80 and comprises nearly 50,000 square feet on land that was acquired from the The University of Texas at Dallas. As part of its growing relationship with UT Dallas and its recognition of the need for higher education, Atmos Energy also donated $100,000 to fund scholarships and academic programs.

But then that’s all part of the enduring legacy that Charles K. Vaughan created at Atmos, the nation’s largest natural gas-only distribution company with more than 3 million customers located in more than 1,600 communities in 12 states.

There are three main components of the Vaughan Center: Gas City, the Flow Lab and the Plano service center. The entire center is Leed (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver certified by the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council. The Vaughan Center is designed to train new technicians and veterans to be certified and recertified regularly. Atmos says its entire technical workforce must be recertified at least every four years to meet federal and state operator qualifications as well as its own stringent requirements.

Welcome To Gas City

Perhaps the most unique aspect of the Vaughan Center is Gas City, an area constructed behind the main building that is designed to enable employees to practice and enhance their professional skills. Atmos says Gas City was built to resemble a typical community with houses, mini-apartments and commercial buildings along with city streets having natural gas and other buried utility infrastructure.

The Vaughan Center leaves no manhole cover unturned. Want to know what it feels like to work in a confined space? They’ll open a manhole cover for anyone willing to climb down 10 feet to find out. In addition to teaching proper safety and operational practices, the Center stresses excellence in customer service. So technicians also improve their skills on turning on natural gas service, lighting their gas appliances and explaining how to use them safely and efficiently.

Inside the Vaughan Center are state-of-the-art classrooms and an advanced Flow Lab that Atmos says is focused on ensuring safety and reliability in the way its natural gas facilities are installed, monitored and maintained. Compressed air is used in the piping to simulate the pressures and situations Atmos technicians encounter in the field.

According to the company, the lab can be arranged with multiple scenarios using a variety of meters, regulators and other devices to train and certify its service technicians and field operators. It’s touted as the gas industry’s “finest example today of technical education and information transfer as well as a resource for testing the latest technologies and processes for the future.”

Finally, the Vaughan Center contains a service center from where technicians are dispatched to its 117,500 customers in North Texas communities.