Last year, enormous hurricanes ravaged the southern US and the Caribbean, resulting in devastating loss of life and hundreds of millions in damage. In the northeast and midwest, larger storms are forming every winter, sometimes shutting down whole cities for days or weeks. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to have two “once-in-a-generation” storms arrive in the same year.
Natural disasters can strike at any time. Unlike an earthquake or tornado, hurricanes and blizzards offer contractors some time to execute a plan and protect the construction site. Not a lot of time, but enough to mitigate damage and prevent a total loss of investment — or, worse, a tragic loss of life.
OSHA requires general contractors to have Emergency Response Procedures established for every job site. Each plan should address emergency response basics, including:
- Set Evacuation Routes and Emergency Escape Protocols
- Assignments and protocols for who will stay on-site to run critical operations, as needed
- Procedures for post-emergency evacuation personnel counts
- An accounting of who can perform rescue and medical duties
- Protocols for reporting fires and other emergencies
- A list of which people in leadership can be contacted by employees for further info and detail into the plan
What else should your plan include? Here are some key considerations for general contractors:
Brace, Store, and Relocate
Job sites are full of large, expensive equipment. A lot of that equipment can’t be left exposed to a major storm, because of risks posed by debris, wind, flooding, or falling trees. The disarray that comes with an evacuation works as a great smoke screen for thieves, too. You need to have a plan for where you will move your equipment in the event of a storm — and how to keep track of it all.
Develop a plan for where can you relocate your equipment. Small equipment can be easily transported with workers to safe locations, but what about bigger items? Be sure to plan for how long it will take, and have a way to account for all the equipment moved when people start coming back to work.
For equipment that can’t be easily moved like cranes and large earth-movers, develop a plan to store and protect in-place based on several plausible of scenarios. Move forklifts away from trees and scaffolding to prevent potential for damage. Building materials similarly should be moved away from hazards and secured properly.
Scaffolding, tilt-up panels, masonry walls, and other building components that could be tossed by high winds need to be braced and secured. Same goes for anchor roof panels on partially installed roofs, which are especially vulnerable to gale-force winds.
If you have partially installed drywall, cover large unfinished window openings with a tarp if possible.
Know What Goes Where
Visual documentation is valuable for construction teams looking to better track as-built conditions for in-slab utilities, electrical, plumbing, and other complex structural elements. However, it can also be a valuable tool when planning for an emergency.
A combination of innovative techniques guarantees the most comprehensive and accurate visual documentation — including still photography, UAV aerial photography, immersive 3D reality capture, and live webcams. Contractors can use these images or live webcam feeds to better understand what hazards and safety considerations may exist during an emergency situation. They can also check in on recent worksite conditions to make smart and organized contingency plans for bracing and relocating equipment and materials.
When the sky clears, visual documentation lets contractors instantly review post-storm conditions to compare with previous as-built conditions and assess damage. Organized photos, videos, and webcam footage can clearly quantify the impact of the disaster on your project and can help substantiate any insurance claims.
Put Together a Preparedness Checklist:
Have a checklist ready to go for when a storm approaches — and when it arrives. Here’s a good start:
Checklist — When Storm Approaches:
- Monitor TV, Radio, and Cell Notifications for Warnings
- Charge Up Vital Devices
- Relocate Essential Records
- Collect Up Emergency Kits
- Review/Refill First Aid Kits As Needed
- Gas Up Vehicles
- Cover Windows (If Applicable)
- Fill Sandbags (In the Event of Flooding)
- Brace and Store Building Components
- Stop Work on Site 24 Hours in Advance
If you choose to stay on site during a hurricane, open leeward windows to release interior pressure caused by the storm overhead. As the eye passes overhead, be prepared to close those windows and open the ones on the other side.
Scan for Hazards
Construction often requires caustic chemicals and flammable substances that present a danger to workers, first responders, and the environment. When a storm approaches, you need to have a plan in place to deal with anything that could become dangerous.
Construction evacuation plans can be immensely complex. Your plan won’t work unless people are prepared to implement it. Running occasional drills lets you know who on your team knows their role and who will need more training. It’s especially important for your assigned medics and those with leadership roles.
Use Public Utilities (Until You Can’t)
Don’t crack into your emergency water supply when the faucet still runs. Use public utilities as long as you can to preserve your backup supplies. Batteries, snacks, and water bottles only last so long, and you can’t anticipate how long it will take until utilities are back up.
If Needed, Evacuate
When the authorities say to evacuate — do it! Nothing on your job site is so valuable that it can’t be replaced.