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Industry Responds to Haiti’s Needs

Wed February 24, 2010 - National Edition
Giles Lambertson

General contractors and equipment dealers in the United States have limited options right now in responding to Haiti’s destructive earthquake. Contributing funds to recovery efforts is the big-ticket response at this point. Shortly, however, the companies’ skilled personnel and equipment will be in greater demand.

The 7.0-magnitude quake that struck Haiti just before dusk on Jan. 12 collapsed thousands of concrete-block homes and larger buildings. The next morning’s light revealed wholesale destruction and loss of life in the nation’s capital, Port-Au-Prince. Deaths are estimated at somewhere between 75,000 and 200,000, with another 200,000 injured. Because Haiti generally is considered the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, recovery is expected to be slow amid enormous human suffering.

Numerous heavy equipment manufacturers responded swiftly to the disaster. They did so for genuine humanitarian reasons as well as in recognition of the fact that a voluntary response was appropriate. After all, major reconstruction efforts eventually will require their equipment.

A preliminary sampling of manufacturer relief effort responses shows:

• Volvo Construction Equipment North America matched employee donations that were contributed by Feb. 1. The total amount will be consolidated with donations from other Volvo business areas and business units in North America into one Volvo Group NA gift. In addition, Volvo Group NA will be providing support on the ground, and both Mack and Volvo Trucks NA will make corporate contributions;

• Hyundai Construction Equipment Americas (HCEA) provided an R110-7A to its dealer in the Dominican Republic, Tokmakjian. This machine will in turn be donated to the earthquake relief efforts in Haiti along with an R210LC-7 that will be provided by Tokmakjian directly.

HCEA President John Lim also visited the Dominican Republic and traveled to Haiti to assist in the relief efforts first hand.

• The John Deere Foundation is donating $250,000 to the Red Cross for Haiti and the corporate office is matching employee donations up to $1,000 per employee;

• Case New Holland has been involved in efforts to relieve the humanitarian crisis in Haiti since the country was stricken by a mammoth earthquake and subsequent aftershocks. The company is supporting relief efforts by providing Case, New Holland and Kobelco construction equipment and companywide monetary donations.

“Soged S.A., the Case dealer in Haiti, immediately deployed available excavators, wheel loaders and other equipment to assist in recovery efforts. And EDOM — Empresas Dominicanas C.A., a New Holland/Kobelco dealer in the Dominican Republic, was able to offer delivery of up to 10 machines within 24 hours,” said Jim McCullough, president and CEO, CNH Construction Equipment. “Our Case, New Holland and Kobelco brands will continue to support recovery efforts in the coming weeks,” he added.

CNH also has offered several pieces of heavy construction equipment to Haiti, including crawler excavators ranging from 7 to 16 tons (6.3 to 14.5 t), a tractor loader backhoe and motorgrader, through the United Nations.

• Kubota Corporation’s affiliated companies in the United States and Canada, including Kubota Tractor Corporation (KTC); Kubota Credit Corporation (KCC); Kubota Manufacturing of America (KMA); Kubota Industrial Equipment (KIE); Kubota Engine America Corporation (KEA); and Kubota Canada, Ltd., have donated $50,000 in equipment in-kind for ongoing relief efforts in Haiti. Kubota has provided Kubota generators and other electronic and first aid supplies through the California-based Operation USA.

“Kubota employees around the world would like to express our sympathy for the victims and their families of the recent earthquake disaster in Haiti,” stated Satoshi Iida, president, Kubota Tractor Corporation (USA). “Kubota sincerely hopes for the eventual recovery and re-settlement of those impacted by this crisis. It is our hope that this donation will be helpful to the significant humanitarian work ongoing toward relief efforts in the aftermath of the earthquake.”

In addition, Kubota Corporation of Osaka, Japan, has already made a contribution of $110,000 to the Japanese Red Cross Society for earthquake relief assistance. The combined Kubota Corporation worldwide donation also represents contributions from affiliated companies in Europe, Asia, and Australia.

• The Caterpillar Foundation is making an initial contribution of $200,000 to international Red Cross and Red Crescent relief efforts. The Foundation also will match dollar-for-dollar Caterpillar employee, retiree and Cat dealer employee financial contributions to the Red Cross to a total of $300,000

Cat corporate executives also are working through a dealer in Haiti called Haytrac in the deployment of equipment and operators to the stricken area. A few pieces of equipment have been sent already. Two backhoe loaders and three hydraulic excavators were donated to Haytrac and hydraulic excavators and wheel loaders are being transported for use in Haiti via Rio Haina in the neighboring Dominican Republic. Caterpillar also temporarily suspended fees for emergency parts orders from Haiti and quickened the parts ordering process.

These and other contributions by manufacturers helped support the early work of recovering bodies and establishing emergency medical and food supply centers. As many as one million Haitians are believed to have been displaced by the quake. Only after completing the task of caring for and stabilizing them will the effort shift to clearing away entire blocks of debris in the capital city and elsewhere. That demolition activity eventually will be followed by repair of infrastructure and construction of new buildings.

In some respects, the reconstruction will be just a continuation of pre-quake activity in Haiti. Two months ago, for example, the World Bank authorized tens of millions of dollars for transportation projects in the country including rebuilding of farm-to-market roadways. Some of that money was to replace infrastructure damaged by hurricanes and tropical storms that struck in 2007 and 2008.

Now, many more rebuilding dollars will be needed.

Before demolition and construction bidding can begin, relief organizations and volunteers are being relied upon to do the work. They have begun the process of clearing away the latest layer of debris from Haiti’s soil. Among those helping with this early work are members of the First Response Team of America.

“We loaded up equipment yesterday and are just about ready to hop on a ship,” Tad Agoglia reported Jan. 26 from a Florida harbor. Agoglia and three other team members subsequently crossed the Atlantic waters to Port-Au-Prince where Agoglia expects to spend three months demolishing and hauling away destroyed buildings. The other members of his team will spend one year in the country

The First Response Team is a nonprofit outfit that responds immediately to natural disasters anywhere in the United States. Because of the proximity of Haiti to the United States and the level of destruction involved, Agoglia decided to send responders to work the disaster.

“In the days immediately after the quake,” Agoglia explained on his Web site (, “the team struggled with deciding whether or not responding to the needs of Haiti would jeopardize our commitment to respond to disasters in the United States. But at the end of the day, our focus is on humanity. And how could we turn our backs on such an epic disaster, so close to home, that has left a large portion of Haiti wondering if there will ever be another tomorrow.”

Appealing to manufacturers who have supported his nonprofit work to date, Agoglia managed to assemble a small stable of equipment suitable for the Haitian task. The Pete Store in Knoxville, Tenn., donated a tri-axle Peterbilt dump truck. Cleveland Brothers in Pennsylvania contributed a Caterpillar 312 excavator.

A donated trailer was a serendipitous find. Agoglia was on his way to Litchfield, Minn., to express his gratitude to Towmaster Trailers president David Lundin for previous equipment donations when he heard about the destructive quake. The disaster naturally came up in conversation with Lundin and the company executive realized he had a trailer in inventory that could help Agoglia in Haiti. A 19-ft. low-profile Towmaster T-40 40,000-lb. capacity trailer now hauls the excavator from tumbled building to tumbled building in Port-Au-Prince.

“I knew he had to get his equipment together quickly,” Lundin said, explaining his rapid decision to donate the trailer. He noted that his company has pledged to aid the First Response Team for some time to come. “I know it’s a financial commitment, but it’s the right thing to do as a company.”

Bob Piper knows something about responding to natural disasters. Piper is vice president for industry relations of Associated Builders and Contractors. In the days immediately following Hurricane Katrina, he was involved coordinating the response of ABC chapters in the Gulf area. He was part of an effort to deliver a truckload of water and clothing. Piper subsequently helped raise funds and train volunteers for reconstruction efforts in the region as part of a Business Roundtable campaign.

As for Haiti, Piper doesn’t yet see comparable opportunity for a coordinated intervention.

“The best anyone can do right now is to send dollars. We will become more involved once the rebuild actually begins.”

Piper said a couple of ABC members have contacted him asking how to respond.

“A line company out of Nevada is wanting to send some crews to help, for instance. But until we actually have a source of information on the ground, we’re not sending anyone. We will continue looking for avenues to get involved and when they open up, we will put it out to our members.”

Several general contractors in the Charlottesville, Va., area were involved in Haiti long before the quake rattled the country. The contractors — most of whom are members of Associated General Contractors — constitute a nonprofit organization called Building Goodness Foundation. It was started 11 years ago by a few builders and architects who volunteered to help build a rural community center in Haiti.

“After I came back home, I was fairly disturbed by what I saw,” one of those builders, Jack Stoner, said of his introduction to Haiti. “One man said to me that it was one of the most important things we’ve done in our working lives and asked me how we can do more of it.”

The stricken consciences of Stoner and his volunteer companions sparked formation of the organization, which employs their skills to improve the lives of needy communities at home and overseas. Over the past decade, Building Goodness Foundation has erected community centers, clinics and housing in several states as well as in Haiti, Guatemala and Honduras. In all, some 1,200 volunteers have expended approximately 80,000 volunteer hours working on nearly 240 buildings.

Haitian projects have included construction of two medical clinics, 15 small houses and a 6,000-sq.-ft. headquarters compound as well as repair of school buildings.

“All the houses we built are hurricane proof and now have proven to be earthquake proof. The concrete houses fell down but our wood-frame houses survived. There is a real demand now to have us come back and build some more.”

Stoner said the organization is working on prototype structures that can be adapted for use as schools, clinics or business places.

“We probably are two or three months away from sending in teams for rebuilding,” the co-owner of Alexander/Nicholson Inc. said. “It will be an overwhelming task. Normally we would send four to five groups to Haiti in a year. Now we will have to send 15 to 20 groups to have an impact.”

What Building Goodness has discovered is that more skilled volunteers are needed to work with unskilled Haitian partners on projects. Stoner said more attention also will be paid to raising the skill level of the Haitian workers. Such training was frowned upon previously because it was feared the building-trained workers would leave for the city instead of staying in rural areas where their agricultural skills are needed. Now, however, building talent will be at a premium in many parts of the country.

Stoner welcomed the interest of anyone wanting to volunteer or contribute to the organization — or to start a Building Goodness unit in another part of the country, for that matter. He believes the work remains vital both as a humanitarian response and an industry outreach.

That combination is what inspired the men to form the nonprofit. The group of builders realized that a lot of good nonprofit groups needed buildings and infrastructure “and had no idea how to put them together. It just sort of grew out of that.”

He believes “a lot” of public misconceptions exist about the construction industry as regards the public interest. He sees volunteer construction activity as visible promotion of the industry and a genuine contribution to communities.

After all, Stoner observed, “the humanitarian crisis in Haiti wouldn’t be there if the buildings hadn’t fallen down.”

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