September 2016, Vol. 243, No. 9


NiSource Opens Employee Training Center Featuring ‘Mock Town’

Special to Pipeline & Gas Journal

MONACA, PA – Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania, a subsidiary of NiSource, recently opened a modern, centralized training facility for employees who operate and maintain its natural gas distribution system.

The $10 million, 22,000-square-foot facility is the first of four leading-edge training centers that NiSource companies will build and operate in its service territory by 2018. Other centers are planned in Ohio, Massachusetts and Virginia.

“A well-equipped and highly trained workforce helps reduce risk and keep our customers and communities safe, and ultimately provides a better customer experience,” said NiSource President and CEO Joseph Hamrock. “The center’s focus is on developing the next-generation utility worker with the skills necessary to further enhance safety, system reliability and customer service.”

The new center features modern, innovative teaching environments designed to train new employees and employees transitioning into higher-skilled positions. In addition to enhancing current employees’ skills, the center will be used to coordinate training with local emergency responders on responding to natural gas emergencies.

Hands-on Environments

One of the main features of the center is the outdoor “Emergency Response Safety Town” – a mock neighborhood of mini-homes and businesses complete with underground utilities and meters – where instructors can create and control various emergency training scenarios, including natural gas leaks. Instructors will also use this area to teach critical skills such as line locating and marking, leak detection, corrosion monitoring, and re-establishing gas service.

Other features include:

  • Simulator area: Training simulators will allow employees to experience various work activities in a controlled and safe environment. For example, a slip, trip-and-fall simulator will teach employees how to avoid falls, which are the leading cause of lost-time injuries at NiSource and most utilities. It also includes an excavator simulator and health and safety simulators.
  • Hands-on labs: The “service” lab contains a variety of gas appliances, allowing employees to learn how to safely relight equipment and identify an improper operation. The “street crew” lab allows employees to practice laying new distribution pipelines, operate valves, and respond to emergency situations. The “measurement and regulation” lab lets employees practice maintaining system meters and regulators using compressed air.
  • Demonstration areas: Trainers will gather equipment and material from across the company to use in demonstrations. This will include understanding the operation of older equipment still in service and the new equipment used to replace it. Due to the age of the distribution system, over time materials and installation practices have changed. Through the demonstration area, employees will learn how to recognize and replace obsolete equipment.
  • Excavator school. A designated outdoor space where operators can practice maneuvering heavy equipment in a safe, controlled environment, as a complement to the classroom simulator.
  • Fire safety training area. A controlled outdoor area to practice fighting natural gas fires in monitored exercises. Trainers are able to start and stop the controlled fires with specially designed valves while other instructors stand alongside students as they extinguish the fire.

In designing the new training centers, NiSource incorporated best practices for employee training from utilities, companies in other industries, trade schools, labor unions and law enforcement.

“With a changing workforce and changing technology, training the utility worker of today is much different than training was just a few years ago,” said Mark Chepke, NiSource vice president of training. “Building these new centers is one way we’re being responsive and evolving our training. Our single-best asset is our workforce and this is an investment in their future.”

For further information regarding the training center, visit

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