The horrific devastation that struck New Orleans and other cities, and the plight of victims in Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Storm surge and tornadoes spawned by the hurricanes have been particularly deadly and damaging. Indeed, as I write this, restoration contractors from all over the United States are descending on or have already set up shop along the Gulf Coast.
"But surely," the Casual Observer says. "These hurricanes and their ensuing damage represent an opportunity for the disaster restoration industry to impress the public."
Unfortunately, there are many problems preventing us from being the solution to the victims of wholesale storm and flood damage.
1. The damage is wholesale: there is simply too much for an industry of about 12,000 restoration firms to respond to everything.
2. Much of the damage is so severe that our restoration services simply won't be needed. Demolition and eventually rebuilding with new materials is the only practical solution.
3. Communication, power and municipal services have been disrupted. There is no electricity or water available except from generators and in on-board water tanks.
4. Likewise, there will be no gasoline to power equipment, such as truck-mounted extractors, pressure washers or generators. Plan to transport your own fuel on an open trailer.
5. In many cases, roads into storm-damaged areas were impassible because of downed trees and power lines, and roads and bridges washed out or under water.
6. Many areas are under martial law. The National Guard or local police will not allow service persons into the area, regardless of their good intentions.
7. The media (TV, radio, print) all warned storm victims about unscrupulous restoration contractors and price gouging, and the need to put off hiring loss mitigation companies. At the same time, they were reluctant to inform victims about how to qualify reliable contractors.
8. You'll probably have a hard time finding food and water. Take a supply or plan for re-supply on a regular basis by someone from your company or from outside the area.
9. Same with accommodations for crews unless you have a motor home that operates independently without an external power source. You may have to stay at an available location several miles from the disaster area, if you can find one. Anticipate problems from family members of crews that are tied up in a disaster area.
10. Insurance companies are overwhelmed and, therefore, slow to respond with much needed information about what to do and about coverage issues. Moreover, storm victims are being told to do nothing until an insurance company representative arrives - weeks later - after ensuing water damage and mold have escalated both the scope and cost of losses tremendously.
11. Nevertheless, there still may be plenty of business farther inland. But consider that, while you and your crews are handling business in the disaster area, business back home will be lost. Good customers may turn to competitors for services that you can't provide.
12. Last, but not least, consider how to finance your response. Storm victims may be in dire straits financially. Insurance companies will be up to their ears in paperwork to process.
The ‘04 hurricane series was no exception, only the damage was so massive, so wholesale that, even if all 3,500 IICRC-certified firms and 36,000 technicians were qualified and experienced in disaster restoration categories (and they aren't!), it still would have been impossible to provide the needed services. The same situation applies to the recent devastation in the Gulf region. So what to do?
IICRC marketing and technical advisors decided that the best thing to do was to use our knowledge about professional procedures to inform storm victims about self-mitigation strategies. The intent was to have those who were able engage in procedures designed to limit the scope and cost of losses, while waiting for professional help from the insurance and disaster restoration industries to arrive with further advice and assistance. Part 1 of the two-part media information package outlines the nature of the problem and how damage escalates, and Part 2 outlines self-mitigation strategies that may be reasonable and prudent when professional help is not available. This information, plus radio interviews with the IICRC technical advisor, is available for consumers on the IICRC Web site at www.certifiedcleaners.org.
So what can a restoration contractor do to help or generate business in flood-ravaged areas? The answer is two-fold: First, you can donate to disaster relief agencies that are experienced and prepared for such wholesale disasters and who have the programs necessary to administer to human needs - food, medical services, clothing, shelter. The Salvation Army and the American Red Cross both have stellar track records in these areas.
Second, an IICRC-certified firm can contact other certified firms in disaster-damaged areas. If your firm can spare a vehicle with an IICRC-certified journeyman or Master Water Restorer, you may be able to serve as a subcontractor with the local firm that has the contacts and resources to provide leads and follow-up services.
Storm damage - it's never as simple as it seems.