With peak wind speeds that exceed 186 mph, engineering and construction firms that operate in the “hurricane belt” are acutely aware of the hazards that hurricanes pose to construction sites.
Structures under construction often have incomplete or temporarily supported weakened structural systems, unsecured building envelopes, loose materials and debris, temporary structures and susceptible construction equipment.
Construction debris can become projectiles, damaging building components and structures. Windows, doors, roofs and building openings, even if secured, can be damaged and allow water to infiltrate the building envelope. Partially secured walls, shored floors and structures under construction may be at high risk for collapse from wind loadings.
A storm surge can flood and damage low-lying structures, foundations and retaining walls. Cranes and other equipment can collapse and/or be damaged by high winds or flying debris.
With proper planning, contractors can minimize the impact and expedite project recovery from this extreme weather event.
Prepare a hurricane action plan
Hurricane preparedness should be considered if the construction site is located in a hurricane-prone area with construction ongoing between the months of June through November in the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico region; May to November in the Eastern Pacific region; and June to November in the Central Pacific Basin.
If the site is located in these risk-prone areas, a Hurricane Action Plan should be assembled. It is critical that this plan is created during the site planning stages of the project and not left until news of an impending storm. If the plan is to be useful, project-specific thought and consideration are required.
Pre-construction planning checklist ahead of a hurricane
Key personnel should maintain hard copies of all critical lists and the Hurricane Action Plan in the event that electronic files cannot be accessed due to loss of electrical power. Like all good disaster recovery plans, the documents should not be solely stored on the project site, which could be impacted by the event and therefore be inaccessible to key personnel.
Establish a Person-in-Charge who will take control during an emergency, initiate the established plan and assign emergency responsibility roles. This person should also be responsible for ensuring all roles are filled, and team members are trained regularly, typically the project manager (PM) or assistant PM.
Develop two teams: a Hurricane Response team (for the period before a storm event) and a Hurricane Recovery team (for the period following a storm event).
Maintain an emergency phone list for all hurricane response and recovery personnel and key subcontractors and vendors. The phone list should be kept current and should include both work-related and personal home numbers, cell phone numbers and e-mail addresses. Create a flow chart indicating the order of who is to be called.
Establish an off-site “war room” and emergency communications control center in the event that an evacuation is required. This can be as simple as a hotel room, home office or a corporate office location. Determine procedures for communication and a rallying point, as well as when a return to the site is expected.