Contractors Prep Job Sites Well Before Hurricanes Hit

Mon July 18, 2005 - Southeast Edition
Bonnie L. Quick

Hurricane Dennis didn’t live up to the forecasts, but contractors all along the Gulf Coast had to prepare for the worst.

As the category IV storm neared land, crews halted construction tasks in order to batten down and tighten up work sites and road projects. The higher the category of the anticipated storm, the more preparation and precautions are taken by construction crews all throughout the Southeast.

In Alabama, where construction crews were still repairing and rebuilding beach property damaged by Ivan less than a year ago, crews pulled heavy equipment, including cranes working on high-rise condos, back from the beachfront.

Florida contractors are required to turn in a hurricane plan as part of their contract, no matter what the job.

While the state departments of transportation own the roadways and are responsible for overall running of the operation and safety during evacuations, the individual contractors are responsible for their own hurricane plan and preparation in the state of Florida. Contractors on all construction projects assume liability and are responsible for securing their work sites, much as a renter is responsible for the interior of an apartment. The contractors hold insurance on their equipment and buildings.

“It is up to individual contractors to ’safe-up’ the area, by removing unnecessary equipment. Taking away excess markers like portable signs, barricades and cones and cleaning up debris give the area the best possible chance of absorbing the impact,” said John McShaffrey, Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) spokesman.

“Typically, contractors will do whatever they need to protect their equipment including putting it into storage, moving it to higher ground or parking it in garages. Sometimes they run cables through several pieces to make it more stable and leave it on site. It depends on the path and the strength of the storm.”

Contractors sometimes help with the evacuation process, too.

“FDOT works together with contractors to ensure public safety and smooth movement of traffic to keep sites clear and aid in preparation of evacuation routes,” added McShaffrey.

In general, contractors and the departments of transportation in areas directly affected by hurricanes adhere to similar safety requirements for equipment and personnel as well as the general population. The same requirements for safety and preservation of equipment are followed along the coastlines of Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and the entire state of Florida.

Tennessee, while not directly affected by hurricane force winds, may get spin-off tornadoes and torrential downpours. According to Kim Keeler, spokeswoman of the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT),

“Tennessee is impacted by an increased number of travelers from the south escaping primarily affected areas. We [TDOT] work with the Tennessee Emergency Management Association [TEMA] to provide extra highway patrols to help stranded travelers by making sure debris and flooded areas are cleared.”

Like other states, equipment is moved to higher ground and increased numbers of crews work to pick up unnecessary markers and road signs.

On roadways, a routine is followed before and during the storm.

Each contractor checks the entire job site for any loose items, which are moved to a secure location on the site or away. All loose material will be removed from bridge decks. Post-mounted signs and bulletin boards are taken down and securely stored to the maximum extent possible while taking safety issues into consideration. Any stockpiled overhead signs need to be taken from the project. All scaffold planks, portable signs, barricades, etc., are removed to the maximum extent possible. Consideration is given to place barrier walls along highways to protect drop-offs instead of using only drums and barricades because of visibility and safety issues.

Crews also may open and widen ditches to facilitate run-off of large volume of water and place standby pumps in areas prone to flooding. All mobile equipment goes to higher ground out of the flood plain.

In addition, crews check and turn off all electrical power breakers and electrical motors that can be damaged by standing water and move them to higher ground.

All equipment that could be damaged by blowing dust and sand is covered.

All project temporary buildings are tied down with anchors and the windows are boarded.

High mast lights are lowered on their poles, unless an evacuation route is an extremely dark corridor; DOT may make the decision for safety’s sake not to lower the high mast lighting rings.

On large building projects and developments, many of the same precautions are taken as on highway projects.

“We clean up and secure loose debris outside on the site,” said Joe McGeehan, owner of McGeehan Construction Inc., in Clearwater, FL. “We might take a half a day sometimes to prepare a site like the large Shoppes of Pinellas Park Project in Pinellas County, Florida. We buckle down and move supplies and equipment around. We tie down the trailers with anchors and make sure they are secure.”

In addition, McGeehan crews fill all deep excavations they may have dug on a site to prevent equipment from getting bogged down in a hole filled with water or mud.

Since the uniform building code was adopted by Florida in 2002, much of the construction is designed to withstand winds up to 150 mph.

“We have Builder’s Risk Insurance that covers whatever damage is done, so that helps,” said McGeehan. “We are required by contract to carry it. Depending on the location and the severity of predicted weather, we may move our equipment to higher ground, or station it behind large edifices or barricades. After the storm we run our pumps to dry out the site, so we make sure they are in good working order.”

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the prediction for the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season is for 12 to 15 tropical storms, with seven to nine becoming hurricanes, of which three to five could become major hurricanes. CEG

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