How to Prepare a Job Site for a Storm

Follow these 10 steps to secure your equipment against hurricane-force winds and high water.

If you have a lot of material, tools and equipment at job sites, you can minimize your losses in the event of a hurricane or other big storm if you take the following steps. Print it out and give copies to your project managers, lead carpenters and foremen. And keep it somewhere obvious—if you ever have to put this plan into action, you'll have more important things to think about than where you put that darn list.

Step 1: Get help. When you know a storm is approaching with high winds (more than 60 mph), you need to protect your construction investment and limit your company's exposure to damage from flying debris. Depending on the size of the project, there's probably far too much for one or two people to do. Don't try to nickel-and-dime your preparations, even if you're unsure the storm will strike your area head-on. Get help!

Contact a day-labor firm and hire enough people, and then put yourself or your employees in charge of pointing out what needs to be done. Do this as soon as possible, because everyone wants to get home to protect his own family and belongings. Also contact all your subcontractors and ask them to come and "batten down the hatches" on their own portions of the job. In high-risk areas, require them to do a full cleanup and make sure everything is secured every day during the storm season. By the time a hurricane is imminent, they also may be short of help and trying to handle multiple sites.

Step 2: Contact your disposal company. Disposal companies are going to be extremely busy before a storm hits, so get your company's name on the list as soon as possible for a pickup as late as possible. That will give you have time to dispose of as much trash and debris as you can.

Step 3: Pick up around the site. Have your help pick up and throw away any loose boards, plywood, insulation, construction paper or shingles that may have been thrown down during construction. Move all construction materials and tools to the interior of the structure. Loose windows and appliances should be moved inside an inner protected wall. And remember that any unsecured plywood could be stolen.

Step 4: Secure unfinished construction. Especially where trusses are exposed, roofing or shingles are incomplete, or exterior walls and siding are unfinished, someone must add secure bracing to prevent a collapse. Cover everything as securely as possible to minimize water damage.

Step 5: Turn off utilities. Turn off water, gas and electricity in all uninhabited structures, including your construction sheds and offices.

Step 6: Secure job-site buildings. Make sure that construction trailers and sheds can withstand the blow. Trailers that aren't tied down (and some that are) will blow over or be blown apart, and so will temporary sheds. Do what you must to strengthen and secure them, and move whatever you can't afford to lose to a safer place.

Step 7: Safeguard windows. If you have plywood on the job, use it to cover all windows securely. If the roof is incomplete, open or remove the windows. If the roof is finished, close and lock all windows and doors to keep wind pressure from blowing the roof off.

Step 8: Secure your signs. The first things destroyed during a hard blow are all the signs in and around the property, so take them down or reinforce them to keep them from being damaged or from becoming missiles that can do much worse damage.

Step 9: Anticipate high-water damage. While the codes in most coastal areas require construction that will withstand storm surges, hurricanes can bring high water to areas far inland. So if there's any sort of body of water near your construction site, move or raise anything that could be damaged, such as air-conditioning units, furnaces, water heaters and appliances. And where high water is likely, floor coverings should be removed.

Step 10: Don't forget your models and main office. Whereas most of us think first of the possible damage to new construction from a storm, don't forget that your business may depend on your model homes and on the paperwork in your main offices. So don't overlook the need to secure everything there. Besides protecting windows and securing against possible high water, take a look at the landscaping and fences. The second-most common damage in a storm (after signage) results from falling trees and fences, so they may require bracing or even removal.

Jim Wheeler is an award-winning writer, teacher and contractor.

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