Travelers’ Bob Kreuzer shares tips for contractors facing the risk of severe storms
by Kathy Wells
November 21, 2018

After the devastating effects of Hurricane Florence crippled the East Coast economy, local businesses owners were left to pick up the pieces. In late September, thousands of residents and evacuees began the process of recovery from the estimated $38 billion in damages and will continue to recover for months to come. And, just as this issue went to press, Hurricane Michael reached the Florida coast, creating catastrophic damage and leaving 18 dead in its wake.

According to the National Hurricane Center, the official hurricane season for the Atlantic Basin (the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico) is from June 1 to November 30, and the peak of the season is from mid-August to late October. However, deadly hurricanes can occur anytime during the season. With 14 storms and 99 fatalities already this season, CBO turned to the experts for insight on how contractors can prepare and recover.

Bob Kreuzer is vice president of construction risk control at Travelers, one of the United States’ largest commercial property casualty insurance providers and writers of personal insurance through independent agents. With many construction projects currently underway, and the livelihood of their companies hanging in the balance, business owners face a unique set of risks while this dangerous storm season continues. To learn more about what all of this might mean for you, your teams and your jobsites, read below for Kreuzer’s insights.

CBO: What preparations should be made as the threat of a major storm grows?

BK: As a best practice, we suggest contractors have a business continuity plan to prepare for the unexpected, and part of that should include contingencies in the event of severe weather, such as hurricanes. Ideally, this would be a well-thought-out plan, in writing, communicated to employees in advance to increase its effectiveness and to help reduce pre-storm anxiety.

Some items to include in this plan are a checklist of the specific areas to protect against water and wind; a relocation plan for workers, equipment and vehicles; a list of supplies to be gathered in advance (like tie-downs, anchors and banding material); and an evacuation strategy.

Protecting incomplete construction projects can be a challenge and may take a significant amount of time to complete. If your business is caught off guard without a plan when a storm is imminent, there are still several things that can be done to protect employees and property, such as identifying areas for potential water intrusion and temporarily sealing what can be sealed; moving at-risk equipment to another area; securing loose materials; anchoring equipment; and installing additional bracing to walls or roofs, if necessary.

CBO: For jobsites using existing infrastructure, what considerations can be made to help recovery in flood-prone areas?

BK: There are several steps that can be taken if a jobsite is in a flood-prone area, such as installing temporary drainage systems, moving large equipment, and installing finished products only when the building
is watertight.

Because some storms are unpredictable, we recommend a site-specific plan for every job, outlining ways to protect the jobsite (including the unfinished building), equipment storage and evacuation procedures. The more contractors can prepare in advance, the faster they can recover following an event.

CBO: How can contractors ensure subcontractors are diligent in their hurricane preparedness?

BK: The general contractor is in the best position to see that subcontractors brought onto a site are properly trained for severe weather preparations. We recommend that general contractors include weather preparedness as part of their site-specific plan and discuss this with subcontractors frequently to ensure plans are understood.

CBO: If a storm hits and contractors want to take on post-storm recovery work, what are some things they should take into consideration before doing that?

BK: It’s a good idea for contractors to ask themselves a few questions before getting started, including: “Do I have enough qualified employees to handle this work? Do they have the proper training to navigate this hazardous area? Can I mobilize my workforce in a safe way? Will I have the materials necessary to successfully and safely complete the job?”

The demand surge for labor and materials, coupled with unfamiliar locations and the unique jobsite hazards associated with post-event situations, can create significant risks and challenges for contractors. The potential for worker injuries increases dramatically for new workers. Travelers Construction claim data shows that more than 40 percent of worker injuries occur in the first year of employment. As contractors hire new workers, it is imperative to include robust onboarding procedures with a focus on safety.

Normal suppliers may not be able to provide the amount of materials necessary for a job. Now may not be the right time to seek out a new supplier for the first time, since the quality of materials is critical to the success of the project. Using materials that have not been vetted for quality and working with new suppliers without taking the time to research them can lead to construction defect issues down the road.

In addition, many workers in these post-storm situations end up working extended shifts and traveling to unfamiliar areas, increasing the risk for accidents and injury, so contractors should select drivers who have safe driving records.
Storm work can be fast-moving, and sometimes responding companies may feel pressured into expediting safety procedures. It is at this time that contractors need to be even more disciplined about safety best practices, such as supervisor on-site management, daily walkthroughs and site inspections, as well as robust risk-management plans that include thorough safety training when onboarding new hires for the additional demands of storm work.

IRMI’s 10 Things You Need to Know About Your Hurricane Insurance

As recovery continues, this year’s storms have left economic damages estimated at $45 billion. Victims covered by the proper insurance will begin the claims process, filing damage claims and wind-damage losses across various insurance companies.
To help with the details, the International Risk Management Institute (IRMI) has shared insurance tips for individuals, corporations and business owners affected by these deadly hurricanes. Visit irmi.com/hurricane-faqs to get the answers to the following frequently asked questions about property and auto insurance matters to consider and more:

  • When should I contact my insurance agent or insurance company about my property damage?
  • I can’t remember whether I have flood insurance. How do I find out for sure?
  • What if I have a flood loss, but no flood insurance?
  • Does my personal or commercial auto policy cover flood and wind losses to my vehicle(s)?
  • When should I inspect my home or business?
  • What about my additional living expenses or business interruption expenses?
  • What are some tips for filing claims with multiple insurance providers?
  • What if I am dissatisfied with the claims process? What are my options?
  • How do I go about finding a reputable contractor to repair or rebuild my home or small business?
  • What additional disaster relief resources are available?