Avoid Losses From An Active Hurricane Season
6 Steps to Avoid Losses from 2020’s Hurricane Season
Weather forecasters are warning severe weather may throw another challenge to contractors’ profitably this year. In May, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued its forecast for the 2020 hurricane season that extends from June 1 through the end of November. NOAA experts predict an “active” season that will likely see a range of 13 to 19 named storms. About half of these storms will become hurricanes.
This 2020 Atlantic hurricane season outlook is an official product of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center (CPC). The outlook is produced in collaboration with hurricane experts from the National Hurricane Center (NHC) and the Hurricane Research Division (HRD).
An increase in the number of predicted severe weather events will affect contractors everywhere. According to a National Weather Service (NWS) report that tracked tropical storms and hurricanes from the previous century, hurricanes have affected every coastal state along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico from Texas to Maine for one hundred years. Scientists advise that residents of the eastern half of the U.S. should be aware how storms could affect their lives and businesses. Storm remnants travel hundreds of miles affecting jobsites with torrential rainfalls, tornados, and flooding before running out of energy.
ATLANTIC TROPICAL STORMS AND HURRICANES AFFECTING THE UNITED STATES: 1899-2002 Donovan Landreneau National Weather Service Office Lake Charles, Louisiana Tropical storms and hurricanes have affected every coastal state along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico from Texas to Maine.
In 2019, Hurricane Barry first interrupted construction activity when it made landfall in Louisiana on July 13. The slow-moving weather system then moved northward bringing record hourly rainfall levels to non-coastal states such as Arkansas, Tennessee, and even Missouri. Barry left the NWS radar as a storm after moving eastward and finally weakening over New Jersey six days later. Insurance experts estimate Barry’s damage was close to $600 million.
Contractor exposures from these named and unnamed storms, as well as tropical depressions, are not often included in the official damage estimates. The storm’s havoc can bring unplanned costs to jobsites, disrupt critical paths, and even result in insurance claims in some cases.
Fortunately, contractors can take six planning steps to buffer the storm’s fury.
1. Are you covered if a storm hits your jobsite?
Contractors should double check the list of perils included in their construction risk insurance policies. Often called “Builders Liability Insurance,” these policies provide damage coverage at building sites from common exposures to fire, tornados, lightning, and hail. However, as weather intensities have increased, many construction risk insurance policies do not cover earthquake, flood or hurricane damage. This is especially true when working in coastal regions identified as hurricane zones.
Subcontractors should also coordinate their jobsite exposures with their general contractors and project owners. A common concern is the exposure of floors and slabs. Damage to these elements is usually not covered under a basic builder’s liability insurance policy.
2. What does your contract says about weather-related delays?
When negotiating contracts, builders should check the documents for conditions with respect to establishing entitlement time extensions for weather delays. Contractors should try to protect themselves by setting guidelines in the event that weather significantly delays the project, or their mobilization to the project.
These discussions should focus on “contract time,” i.e. the contract completion date to be defined by the contract. Contracts should specifically address how weather-related time extensions will be determined and administered.
3. Do you have a plan when storm warnings begin?
Today’s weather forecasting provides contractors up-to-the minute status of impending tropical storms and severe weather events. It’s important to establish simple procedures for your crews. The first step is to establish a “Storm Leader” that will be responsible for crew assignments. To provide consistent information, many contractors ask workers to download one specific weather tracking app. Android Authority, an independent publication focused on new technology, recently posted reviews of the best hurricane apps for the 2020 season (some apps reviewed also work on iPhone).
Hurricanes are about the only bad reason to live on a coastline. That’s probably why so many people live there and why they deal with hurricanes. Hurricanes are fairly common phenomenon, especially in tropical or tropical-adjacent regions of the world.
After an initial warning, contractors should focus on work that, once completed, minimizes a storm’s impact. These activities should include closing structural openings, such as roofs, doors, and windows. Contractors should control rainfall or ground water flow that might enter the building and excavations (e.g., grading, berms, sandbags, pipe caps, etc.).
Prepare to protect materials or equipment that cannot be moved. Obtain netting, banding materials and self-tapping concrete anchoring screws to secure and anchor materials that cannot be removed or securely stored.
Finally, just before leaving the jobsite, make a video/photographic record of the jobsite and surrounding properties to document the project condition and work status prior to the storm.
4. Do you have the proper safety procedures for a safe return?
One new planning resource for this season is the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) “COVID-19 Pandemic Operational Guidance for the 2020 Hurricane Season.”
Published in early June, the report provides safety directors with updated checklists and resources on FEMA operations that include additional COVID-19 related guidance.
The new FEMA doc complements the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Hurricane eMatrix, a comprehensive information source that covers post storm activities. OSHA information includes thorough planning tools for activities most commonly performed during hurricane response and recovery work. There is detailed information helping contractors protect workers with recommendations for personal protective equipment, safe work practices, and precautions for each recovery activity.
Hurricanes are a form of tropical cyclones that are capable of causing devastating damage to communities. Hurricanes are storm systems with circulating air and sustained wind speeds of 74 miles per hour or higher. The strongest hurricanes can have wind speeds exceeding 155 miles per hour.
OSHA standard requires that contractors protect recovery personnel by equipping them with appropriate personal protective equipment. This should include, but not be limited to, hard hats, steel-toed boots, eye protection, gloves, respirators, chemical protective suits, etc. Also, be sure to maintain proper first aid equipment and clean water to aid in disinfection.
As a result of COVID-19, contractors have included more worker health considerations in their safety programs. OHSA recommends specific considerations for post-storm work. Workers should have proper immunization if they are working in areas where there is a potential for disease exposure.
OSHA’s Hazard Exposure and Risk Assessment Matrix for Hurricane Response and Recovery Work: Purpose and Use
This Matrix includes In addition, the guidance in this document may also be used in any of the 26 States which operate OSHA-approved State Plans should hurricanes or other natural disasters occur in these jurisdictions. State job safety and health standards must be at least as effective as Federal OSHA standards but may include different or more stringent requirements.
5. Ready to return to work?
Even with the best planning, ramping up work on a storm-damaged construction site presents unique challenges. Carefully inspect the construction project and determine the extent of the damage. It’s important to have clear communication regarding who is responsible for any repair and clean-up. Contractors should notify the owner and their insurer before making repairs.
While making your initial post-storm inspection, make a second video/photographic record of the jobsite and surrounding properties to document the project condition and status prior to the return. Try to conduct the inspection in the same order as the pre-storm survey.
The initial concern is often the structural integrity of the building, formwork, and scaffolding. High winds can displace bracing, level supports, and even fracture anchors. Be sure to have a good supply of reinforcing supplies on hand to make prompt repairs.
Removing standing water is often the second priority. Contractors should have enough dewatering equipment including hoses, pipes, intake strainers, and foot valves as conditions warrant. One common item overlooked is the condition of fuel standard safety cans to supply gas-powered equipment.
Before re-powering the site, check all electrical conditions and junction boxes. Double check all grounding. A receptacle tester can help detect any common wiring problems in standard receptacles. Pay close attention to the condition and placement of extension cords. Consider using 3-Way GFCI ground fault circuit interrupting cords as an added level of protection.
6. Can you account for all losses if storms disrupt your work?
Disruptions to construction are expensive. There’s the immediate measurable costs of labor and materials involved in de-mobilization and re-mobilization due to storms. Then there are additional repair costs resulting from the storm itself.
One expense often overlooked is the storm’s effect on the contractor’s work schedule. On many projects, the general contractor is monitoring activity using the critical path methodology. Some delays from storm activity will directly affect the project’s critical path. But on many projects, storm related delays may not be easily identified.
Subcontractors need to document how storm-related delays limited their work. Daily reports must include notes on any disruption to their own schedules. These reports should identify days when the crews were sent home or were unable to work due to weather, field conditions, and even delays caused by other crafts.
Another reporting tool is comparing the number of days that the actual precipitation from the storm exceeded the monthly average. This type of reporting is also useful when work is disrupted from either very cold or hot conditions that restrict safe work.
Being prepared is important
The Congressional Budget Office predicts that expected annual economic losses from most types of damage caused by hurricane winds and storm-related flooding total $54 billion. $9 billion of this estimate will affect commercial businesses. But by taking time to plan now, contractors can mitigate their exposure to this season’s storms.