Contractors evaluate hurricane preparedness

Now that the hurricane season is winding down, plumbing and HVAC business owners in Texas are evaluating the steps they took to prepare for Hurricane Dolly and Ike, and figuring out how to prepare for future hurricanes.

The Hurricane Season wreaked havoc on Texas when Hurricane Dolly and Ike hit the state this year. Now that the hurricane season is winding down, plumbing and HVAC business owners in Texas are evaluating the steps they took to prepare for Hurricane Dolly and Ike, and figuring out how to prepare for future hurricanes.

Hurricane Dolly, the second hurricane of the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season, hit southern Texas this July. The storm was strong enough to have wind speeds of 96 mph. National Guard troops were put on alert and a disaster declaration for 14 low-lying counties was issued by Rick Perry, the governor of Texas.

“Mansfield, Texas, was ill prepared for Dolly since the storm didn't veer away as expected,” said Jo Rae Wagner, president of CTO Inc. in Harlingen, Texas. “It was predicted to be a Category 1 storm, but it ended up being a very strong 2. The hardest hit areas happened to be the low income areas where people don't usually have insurance.”

According to Steve Jones, a partner at Raven Mechanical in Houston, people did not take Hurricane Ike seriously because when Hurricane Rita hit, three years ago, everyone was evacuated from the city because the worst was expected after seeing what happened in New Orleans. However, Hurricane Rita was not that bad, and many people thought the state overreacted by evacuating the entire city of Houston.

Yet, on Sept. 9, 2008, thousands of people left coastal areas of Texas in preparation for Ike, which was rated a Category 4 hurricane by the National Hurricane Center.

“Houston usually sees small tropical storms, but nothing major,” said Steve Jones. “This was probably the biggest storm in 20 years.”

Before the storm hit Houston on Sept. 12, Ray and Steve Jones, partners at Raven Mechanical in Houston, held a staff meeting to make sure their staff was prepared for the hurricane. Employees at Raven Mechanical put computers in a safe area, moved equipment from low to high ground, stored vehicles in a safe area and picked up loose debris on company grounds. An employee contact list was printed out, and personnel were instructed whom to contact if computers went down.

“It is simple sounding, but you need to have food and water on hand for yourself and employees,” commented Ray Jones. “Also, if the company computers go down, it is important to have plenty of paper and pencils on hand.”

Raven Mechanical was up and running with power the Monday after the hurricane hit even though there was no power for approximately two weeks in Houston.

“The foreman was going to jobs and trying to get all the crews of contractors working,” stated Steve Jones. “Everyone on the staff pitched in and helped — we were fully functioning on Thursday, about one week after the storm. I could not be prouder of the crew. Everyone reacted quickly and everyone did their part. No one person can take credit. It was a team effort, and we did really well.”

The only damage done by Hurricane Ike to Raven Mechanical was to the roof of the annex. All the employees living there were relocated to the classroom, which is on the second floor of the main building.

According to Steve Jones, in preparation for another storm, it is wise to store gasoline for trucks and look into installing a generator to run power for basic things like the phones and air conditioning.

“Even though electricity was still out in some areas, businesses continued operations using generators,” commented Patty Frank, vice president of Milton Frank Plumbing in Spring, Texas, which is about 25 miles north of Houston.

There are other measures business owners can take to be ready for a hurricane. It is easy, however, to overlook the preparations unless a business owner is accustomed to experiencing these storms.

“Power is the most important item to have on hand because when the power goes out there are no phones or computers,” said Steve Irwin, president of Farmer & Irwin Corp. in Riviera Beach, Fla. Farmer & Irwin was hit by Hurricane Wilma in 2006.

Business owners should also take the following steps to prepare for a hurricane: ensure all fuel tanks are filled on-site and vehicles have a full tank of gas, have a contact list of all employees, create an emergency response team (they will prepare for the storm and clean-up after the storm), bag computers and place them in a safe room, have cash on hand (if power is out, credit will not work), have a hurricane plan in place stating what to do at different stages and make sure everything on the business property is secured.

According to Irwin, business owners in hurricane-prone areas need to have insurance coverage, including flood and wind damage insurance, on building and facilities.

“The first priority during a hurricane or any natural disaster is life and the second priority is lively-hood,” stated Irwin.