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Be prepared: Contractors take extra care during hurricane season

Construction
Travis Boland
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June marks the beginning of the Atlantic hurricane season, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting up to 16 named storms.

Daniel Skinner, director of safety, quality assurance and quality control for Columbia contractor Mashburn Construction, said an average storm could cost a contractor weeks of work if companies do nothing to prepare.

“Last year, we had a few close calls with storms making landfall,” said Skinner, whose company also dealt with the aftermath of area flooding in October 2015 from rainfall associated with Hurricane Joaquin. “In South Carolina, a storm doesn’t have to hit land to make an impact. Even just the grazing of a storm can cause increased winds and rising waters. When we see a storm warning, we take a breath and begin paying attention to the news around us.”

Builders across the state share Skinner’s concern. A recent report by the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety ranked South Carolina third in residential building codes among 18 hurricane-prone Atlantic and Gulf Coast states.

South Carolina’s score of 92 out of 100 ranked it behind Florida and Virginia but remained unchanged from 2015.

The Richburg-based IBHS Research Center evaluated 47 key data points to determine the effectiveness of states’ residential building codes, including code adoption and enforcement, building official training and certification and construction licensing requirements. Researchers conducted tests on the effects on homes of severe weather, including hurricane-force winds, heavy rain, hail and fire.

The report noted that South Carolina requires registration, certification and licensing for building but recommended the state require continuing education for licensed contractors. It also urged the state not to pass proposed legislation to lengthen the cycle of code adoption from three to six years.

Debra Ballen, IBHS general counsel and senior vice president of public policy, said benefits of strong, updated codes include an increased sense of security for residents, greater protection for first responders and a level playing field for designers, builders and suppliers. Strong codes can also reduce construction costs and landfill waste from damaged or destroyed homes.

When a storm approaches, Skinner said he gathers information and starts communicating with superintendents and subcontractors on projects that may be in its path.

“Normally, you can begin to see a possible storm a week prior to it making impact,” Skinner said. “From there, you start to track the progress of the storm every day.”

Skinner said he gleans information from the Weather Channel, the National Weather Service and the South Carolina Emergency Management Division’s Twitter feed.

“You can start to get a good feel for the possible effects of a storm by listening to local and state government officials,” Skinner said.

Skinner said he develops a checklist for all contractors and subcontractors and makes sure to stay in contact with everyone on project sites. He also conducts simulations so workers can experience an emergency situation and understand their responsibilities.

The checklist includes:

  • Updating each contractor on the potential danger of the storm.
  • Making contact with out-of-state subcontractors and drivers regarding road closures.
  • Evacuating any equipment that can be moved off-site.
  • Tying down and covering anything loose that can’t be removed from the site.
  • Acquiring temporary power (fuel and batteries) for any equipment that may help on-site after the storm.
  • Acquiring and storing equipment that can be used for cleanup after the storm, such as a chainsaw for cutting away downed trees.

Skinner urges each contractor to document a job site status before and after a storm. “If any damage does occur, you will be able to track your items and account for them after the event,” he said.

Travelers Insurance released its hurricane preparedness checklist earlier this month. That list advised a regular review of insurance coverage to make sure businesses are sufficiently protected.

“Before taking on a job post-storm, consider whether or not you have enough qualified staff to handle the work, the necessary materials to complete the job and adequate insurance coverage for the situation,” Rick Keegan, president of construction at Travelers, said in a statement. “Weighing the risks and putting safety first are important to protecting a business’s livelihood and employees.”

After any storm, Skinner said his company first ensures workers and their families are physically, mentality and emotionally unharmed. The next step becomes gaining access to the construction site.

“When we had the flooding in the Midlands (in 2015), we were subject to roads being closed. Trips that normally take 15 minutes were becoming over an hour,” Skinner said. “In the aftermath, it’s important to prioritize the requirements for what it will take to get the job back on track. If you try to look at the whole picture, it’s going to be overwhelming. That’s why it’s called a catastrophic event.”

Reach Travis Boland at colanews@scbiznews.com.

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