Construction sites are extremely susceptible to extreme weather events, and storms can result in project losses. Tropical storms and hurricanes are just some examples of wind events that can disrupt and cause damage to a construction project.
It’s imperative that disaster planning is done in advance and the response team individuals understand their roles and responsibilities well before a storm arrives.
The most challenging aspects of preparing for a potential storm event, from a contractor’s point of view, are project disruption, as well as the time and money spent preparing the project. This is especially challenging as often there is no real guarantee that the project site will be affected by the storm, however, site preparations do have real and definite costs. Weather prediction is not a perfect science, and often a storm can either completely miss a project or arrive stronger than anticipated.
While preparing for a storm event requires some cost and effort, it is often a valuable expenditure that greatly reduces losses and is a worthwhile investment. Taking a wait-and-see approach regarding storm preparations is a gamble that can result in far greater project disruption and damage.
Building codes and engineering standards provide guidance regarding the minimum design and resistance of structures. In locations that are exposed to extreme weather events, such as the coast of Florida, design wind speeds are increased due to the likelihood of potential exposure. However, note that designing to modern codes and standards does not guarantee that structures are undamaged by extreme storm events.
Additionally, during construction, many structural systems may be incomplete and the structure partially erected and temporarily shored. A partially completed building with openings protected by tarps and materials stored at low levels on the construction site may be at a substantially greater risk of damage. A storm event that is well within the structure’s design tolerances may be at risk of severe damage while partially constructed. Tornado wind speeds—perhaps as high as 317 mph– are so high that it is typically not economical to design structures for this event. Only very special structures are designed to withstand the largest tornados, such as facilities handling dangerous biological agents, aerospace facilities, nuclear power facilities, etc.
Typically, hurricane events provide the most notice, forming far out in the Atlantic Ocean; however, many storms provide at least some notice, which allows the contractor time to prepare (lower crane booms, secure materials, shore up partially supported structures, etc.). A contractor can take measures to protect the construction site from extreme wind events. For example, prior to construction, the company can establish a person in charge who will take control during an emergency, develop a response team and a recovery team, maintain emergency phone lists, discuss action plans at weekly meetings, establish an emergency control center and monitor the weather.
Once the contractor becomes aware of a storm, many activities that can be taken to protect the project commensurate to the severity of the event, whether it is expected to be a tropical storm, hurricane watch and hurricane warning. And once an event occurs, measures can be taken to recover more quickly and reduce losses.
Additionally, a best practice is to have lists of action items and supplies on hand to assist in preparation and recovery following the storm. One resource, The Calm Before the Storm: Construction Site Hurricane Protection, can educate construction managers on how to secure property against hurricanes or other wind events, as well as recommendations for crisis communication and business continuity activities afterward.