Rensselaer Alumni Feature
Dan Titus '01
Chief Executive Officer, HRP Associates, Inc.
The Logistics of Health and Safety
When COVID-19 Struck, Rensselaer at Hartford Alumnus Dan Titus Pivoted
For Dan Titus, Chief Executive Officer of HRP Associates, 2020 started with a bang. Sales were up and the Farmington, CT-based engineering consultancy was on track to have the best first quarter in its 37-year history. After much planning, he was opening an office in California and his 100-plus employees were flying worldwide for civil engineering projects, soil and groundwater remediation, and health and safety initiatives at factories around the globe.
And then COVID-19 happened
Like every company, HRP had to pivot and pivot fast. Travel, especially overseas, stopped immediately. Lucrative contracts with Fortune 100 companies were not outright cancelled, but were postponed to summer, then to fall, and later to mid-2021. Work from home, always part of HRP’s culture for road warrior consultants, was now mandated for everyone. And then came the real pivot, not one of changing what they did but who they served and how they articulated what they were doing - a communications objective unlike any they had ever contemplated.
A lifetime of pivots
After high school, Dan Titus intended to serve in the Army and then become a police officer. He joined the military police and quickly learned that law enforcement was not his calling. After discharge, he went to college with the intention of becoming an attorney. As an undergraduate, to meet a science requirement, he took the easiest course he could find, a “Rocks for Jocks” geology class. Much to his surprise, he loved the course, ultimately graduating with a master’s degree in Geology and Hydrogeology, with a focus on glaciers and glacial drainage.
This esoteric degree aligned perfectly with the needs of HRP’s Environment Health & Safety clients working to contain the “dirty dirt” and “dirty water” at industrial sites in order to comply with increasingly stringent environmental regulations. Dan was soon selling his time by the hour, much like an attorney or CPA, at his first private-sector job.
Quickly, he realized an important fact: selling and marketing highly-technical professional services to corporate management is hard, necessary work for which his undergraduate degree did not prepare him. So, he decided to go back to school in order to learn communications and marketing and enrolled at Rensselaer at Hartford. The decision paid off in 2001 when Dan received a graduate business degree and quickly rose through the ranks at HRP, becoming a Vice President in 2011 and CEO in 2018.
The 2020 pivot
Dan’s big revelation in 2020 was that, aside from its well-documented medical issues like infection and mortality rates, COVID-19 is an environmental health and safety issue because of its airborne transmission. Although he has little insight into the medical aspects of the virus, he does understand the “logistics of safety” because his teams have applied them at industrial settings worldwide for decades. Dan knew that, through engineering, infection rates can be minimized, at least at the workplace. In other words, he realized that engineers can treat COVID as an environmental hazard and take logical action to reduce its impact.
The challenge for Dan became a communications issue, which he relied on his Rensselaer graduate degree to support. He needed to clearly and consistently communicate to his staff of engineers that their expertise could transfer seamlessly from one domain to another and from a narrow category of clients to a much broader set. Lastly, he reached out to his existing and prospective clients with the important message that strategic engineering can dramatically increase workplace COVID-19 safety.
To illustrate the impact of engineered safety solutions, he highlights the meat processing industry - which suffered such severe outbreaks early in the pandemic that there was genuine concern about the stability of the US food supply. Thankfully, environmental health and safety teams engineered solutions that have drastically improved safety at those plants - and the food supply is again stable, as is toilet paper and other essentials.
Extrapolating that experience, Dan and his team focused their Fortune 100 clients on engineering additional safety into their workplaces, not just factories but professional offices and common spaces as well. HRP also redefined who could be a client by offering health and safety engineering for non-industrial clients, including their own insurance broker’s office.
In possibly their biggest pivot of all, HRP is now offering an affordable health and safety playbook for hundreds of small companies who can’t afford topflight safety engineers but are willing to put in the time and effort to create a safer workplace for their employees. With regular updates, much like computer software, the HRP playbook has directed best practices in workplace health and safety across the country during this time of need.
The “Logistics of Safety”
The key, according to Dan Titus, is to think through the “logistics of safety”. The standard CDC guidance of wearing masks in public, maintaining six feet of social distancing, and avoiding crowded indoor spaces are a starting point of engineering safety. Other factors include one-way hallways and using ultraviolet lights to sanitize workspaces and HVAC systems. The latter is not part of CDC guidance but is frequently used in wastewater to kill viruses.
Of course, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link and special attention must be paid to every factor of workplace safety. As an example, Dan described how his son’s high school did everything right to increase on-campus safety with an extremely limited budget. But the plan failed to account for a major risk factor: every morning and every afternoon, the school piles students into buses that lack basic safety requirements and undermines all of their hard work.
Thankfully, the school has not had any serious outbreaks but the incident underscores the lesson that has so profoundly affected Dan Titus and those he works with and for: in the midst of chaos and confusion, communication matters more than ever and making that pivot is the basis of leadership in the coming years.