Hurricane Preparedness for your Construction Site

With the next large hurricane due to threaten the East Coast it is important for construction sites to take action steps to prepare. Construction projects are particularly vulnerable to water and high winds which may result in damage to the building under construction and could cause long delays in the timeline. A proactive approach may save time and expenses…the best offense is a great defense and this is true with preparing construction sites for large scale storms. It is important for each site to have a specific plan to match the type of storm anticipated and the intensity/proximity of the storm. Remember to follow all local warnings and stay in communication with local response officials prior to and following the storm. Have a communication plan in place for all subcontractors working onsite as well as building supply/material delivery companies. Depending on the storm approach, it may be prudent to delay the delivery of some materials/building components until after the storm. Also, it may be important to take photographs or video of the project prior to the storm to document the condition and preparations. The information below is designed to assist you in these preparations and has been extracted from an article written by Kim Slowey “8 Steps to prepare construction sites for hurricane threats” who interviewed Justin Mihalik – President of AIA’s New Jersey Disaster Assistance Program. I have added a few items for further enhancement. In addition, see the document from the AGC that provides an example of a construction hurricane preparedness plan with a detailed checklist.

Pre-storm evaluation

Develop and implement a storm preparedness plan

This plan should identify specific action steps to complete by each subcontractor on site in advance of any storm.

Monitor the weather and conditions

Keep a weather radio on site which will give updated information on approaching storms.

Secure job site materials

Once it looks like a storm will be passing close enough to a project, it’s time for jobsite personnel to perform critical tasks, such as securing materials, trash, tools or other debris that can take flight in heavy winds, including items like dumpsters and portable bathrooms — the latter of which are typically made of lightweight fiberglass.

“Any construction equipment that essentially can become thrown around in a heavy windstorm needs to be tied down, needs to be removed from the site, needs to be protected,” Mihalik said.

Protect all underground piping and underground drains to prevent any accumulation of sand inside. Confirm all storm water inlets and catch basins are free of any material that can lead to obstruction.

Store inside buildings small items that can be carried away by storm winds or rapid flowing waters.

Also, secure all portable toilets. Portable toilets can also be anchored adjacent to L-shaped walls and they can be weighted down with concrete blocks or sand.

Have subcontractors move any uninstalled materials to a safe location. Prepare to protect materials or equipment that cannot be moved. Use netting, banding materials and self-tapping concrete anchoring screws to secure and anchor materials that cannot be removed or securely stored.

Dismantle all scaffolding and secure properly if this is a concern due to exposure to high winds.

Cover and secure all window and glass by protecting with plywood or other material if possible. This may also include glass cabs of mobile equipment.

Construction equipment should be moved to a location as far as possible from trees, structures or electrical wires, which could fall on them during a storm. Equipment, with brakes set, should also be relocated to as high an elevation as possible to reduce the likelihood of water damage and improve future access to equipment.

Be prepared for oil or fuel spills with appropriate clean up materials. Ensure chemicals are off site or kept in a safe location on site.

Lower all scissor lifts, boom trucks and aerial lift baskets. This requirement is particularly true for cranes. A tragic example of how higher-than-normal winds can adversely affect the safe operation of cranes occurred in an accident earlier this year in New York City. Buffeted by wind gusts estimated to be in the 30 mph-40 mph range, a crawler crane boom collapsed onto a Manhattan street, killing one pedestrian and injuring three others.

Generally, tower cranes should be allowed to weathervane (move with the wind to minimize the forces acting on the crane). Check with the crane manufacturer. Lubricate the tower crane turntable prior to the event. All power at the base of the tower should be disconnected. All rigging must be removed from the hoist block.

Items like fence screens and job site signage also must be removed, and any in-progress utility systems must be protected from sand or seawater intrusion if there is the possibility of storm surge. Now is also the time to take any moveable electronics and project documents from the construction trailer and transport them to a safe location offsite. Power to the site must be turned off, if possible, and fuel must be made available to power generators if there is no power post-storm.

Plan for water removal

Mihalik added that planning for water removal is also key. He said that many contractors will place pumps in excavations or basements in advance of a storm so that pumping can begin as soon as it’s safe to do so. Getting rid of excess water is not only important for project cleanup but also to protect adjacent properties. “An influx of water … could be extremely dangerous as it relates to a neighboring property because that water could soften the ground that is supporting the neighboring structure,” he said. “So you don’t want water to be standing on site because it could then compromise the structural stability of the … building.”

To discharge water safely and responsibly, Mihalik said, it must be emptied out onto the street so that the stormwater system can take care of it. If the system is overwhelmed, it’s still important to get the excess water off the site, even if that means hiring a tanker truck to haul it away, he noted.

Secure hazardous chemicals

Another important step is to make sure that any hazardous chemicals are moved or secured. “Construction firms and others in the building industry should take the steps before a natural disaster to ensure they have a qualified team in place to handle their hazardous waste management program,” Maricha Ellis, of Stericycle Environmental Solutions, said. Ellis referenced the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of chemicals included in the agency’s Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act (EPCRA) and said that if any of these chemicals are in danger of being released into the environment, contractors must have a third-party team ready to come in immediately after the storm passes to perform cleanup.

Ensure the security of the structure

Now that the items on the periphery of the project are secure, it’s time to safeguard the structure itself. If the work is a renovation — or if work has progressed on a new building to a point where water can significantly damage the interior — crews should board up any openings and accessible windows and place sandbags around the perimeter.

Post-storm evaluation

Assess the damage with caution

When the storm has passed and local authorities have given the go-ahead, it’s time to return to the project site to assess damage and start to clean up. It’s important to use caution when navigating every area of the project site, especially those with standing water, as the accompanying sharp or jagged debris could pose a danger. It’s also essential to use the same care when entering a building after a storm because, depending on the extent of the damage, some structural elements could be compromised.

Determine if the site is safe to enter and what hazards are present. Also, determine what trades and personnel should return to the site.

Recovery workers should have proper immunization if they are working in areas where there is a potential for disease exposure. Contact your local medical provider or the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for assistance.

Establish repair priorities. Identify critical hazards that must be abated prior to allowing the entire construction staff to resume construction.

Use care as electrical devices and conductors may be energized. Have qualified electricians inspect all electrical systems and ensure that they are safe to be energized.  Watch out for downed power lines.  Contact the power company with any questions and concerns.

Prepare a list of damages and contact your insurance agent and insurance carrier for assistance.

Wrap Up

Remember that hurricanes and other such large storms can be extremely dangerous and destructive, especially to construction projects.  Plan accordingly and communicate the plan to all involved.  With proper planning you can get ahead of the storm and reduce some of the negative effects and time delays.