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3 Tips to Help Prepare Construction Sites for Hurricanes

BY ERIN ROTZ, HEAD OF BUSINESS, THE HARTFORD
A MEMBER OF MULTIPLE AGC CHAPTERS

In August 2020, Hurricane Laura made landfall, traveling through the Gulf Coast and matched the strongest hurricane to hit Louisiana. This resulted in significant damage to homes and buildings and left nearly a million people without power.

The devastation that Hurricane Laura caused isn’t uncommon though. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office expects hurricanes and tropical storms to cause $54 billion in damages annually, which is why it’s so important to develop a preparedness plan.

Emergencies and disasters can strike at any time on a construction site. Planning and preparing for crises, like hurricanes, before they strike is essential in protecting employees and jobsites.

PRE-PLANNING: BUSINESS CONTINUITY MANAGEMENT

One of the most important things contractors can do to minimize damages to jobsites and keep their employees safe during a crisis is to preplan. That’s where a business continuity management plan focused on recovery and restarting company operations can help. Here are three key tips to help create a thorough policy:

  1. Address Property Upgrades to Reduce Hurricane Damage
    With wind speeds that can range from 74 mph in a Category 1 hurricane to 157 mph in a Category 5, these storms have the potential to cause extensive damage. If jobsites are in the path of an incoming hurricane, it’s a good idea to examine buildings to see what can be susceptible to damages.

    To reduce the potential for substantial damage, builders can make some upgrades to help mitigate the situation. This includes adding more roof and exterior cladding fastening, modifying roof ballasts, bracing rooftop components and providing various graded films to windows.

    And don’t forget about water damage. When a hurricane makes landfall, its storm surge can tower up to 20 feet higher than the normal tide. So, it’s imperative for builders to review the building’s water damage prevention plan (WDPP) and make any necessary changes. Because jobsites are each unique, each construction project should have its own plan.

    Some common sources of water damage include:
    • Adjacent properties
    • Groundwater
    • Irrigation systems
    • Windows and doors
    • Plumbing
    • Fire sprinklers
  1. Make Life Safety a Priority
    The National Hurricane Center will issue a hurricane warning if a storm will impact an area. If this happens, safety should always be the first priority, and a plan should be in place that details what should be done in the first few minutes of a hurricane. Some action items can include:
    • Issuing a warning to evacuate, shelter or lockdown
    • Calling emergency services with full and accurate information
    • Training employees in first aid so they can help injured employees
  2. Take Measures to Stabilize and Preserve Property
    Slow-moving hurricanes or storms that stop over a location for a period of time can cause devastating damage. That’s why it’s important to put measures in place to stabilize and preserve property at construction sites.

    A plan should include a process that addresses:
    • Damage assessment
    • Salvaging
    • Cleanup
    • Resources to have on hand or quickly available

    One of the best things builders can do is to regularly look at the weather forecast if in the path of a hurricane or severe weather events.

    Knowing in advance what kind of storm is coming or the strength of a hurricane when it makes landfall is crucial information to have, because it will give the business the best opportunity to reduce damages and conserve property. Builders and contractors should pay attention to how strong the winds will be and how much rainfall a hurricane or storm will bring while it passes through the area, especially low-lying areas of the building site or where equipment is stored.

REVIEW, PRACTICE TO CREATE A SUCCESSFUL PLAN

A key part to having a successful business continuity management plan is to regularly reassess and practice it. An annual review helps keep the plan current and can identify gaps that need to be addressed.

Holding drills to practice the plan ensures employees know what to do in the event of a hurricane. Evacuation drills are the best ways to see if your plan is effective and efficient before an emergency actually happens. The last thing a construction company wants to happen when a hurricane is coming is having a lack of preparation cause chaos or leave the business with no pre-plan where to move people, equipment or materials.

Emergency preparedness in construction involves more than just having a plan to follow during an event. Having a business continuity management plan that addresses how to prepare for a hurricane or another type of emergency is a critical first step.

Erin Rotz was recently named head of inland marine & builders risk at The Hartford, a member of multiple AGC chapters. Prior to this role, Rotz was regional vice president for Construction and Inland Marine Western Division.