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As the nation enters the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season, home builders near the Gulf and East Coasts have an even closer eye on the weather. The NAHB also constantly monitors weather events and disaster risk factors on behalf of their members. Jonathan Falk, NAHB disaster relief and preparedness field specialist, shares his knowledge and experience to support the home building industry in natural disaster preparation, response, and recovery.

Jonathan Falk, NAHB disaster relief and preparedness field specialist
Jonathan Falk, NAHB disaster relief and preparedness field specialist

Throughout Falk’s career, he has served disaster-impacted individuals and communities. His around-the-globe experience ranges from leading boots-on-the-ground residential rebuilds to program management and humanitarian logistics. He joined NAHB in 2020 to assist the federation's over 600 state and local home builder associations in disaster relief and preparedness. Predicted to be an above-normal Atlantic hurricane season, BUILDER sat down with Falk to learn how builders and their crews can prepare.

BUILDER: What is your go-to advice for home builders preparing for a hurricane?

Falk: When it comes to hurricanes and other natural disasters, my No. 1 piece of advice that I give all home builders is: An ounce of preparedness is worth a pound of response. Taking the time to plan and implement preparedness and mitigation measures ahead of a storm will help builders avoid unnecessary losses, keep their workers safe, and ensure the job continues as quickly as possible once the storm passes.

One of the measures I especially recommend to all builders and professionals in the home building industry to prepare for hurricane season is to take a close look at their IT systems and infrastructure. In today’s day and age, most business processes are completely digital, from communications and billing to accounting and legal. These systems and equipment can be especially vulnerable to damage and extended outages caused by hurricanes. They also can be extremely costly and difficult to replace.

Builders can help to reduce these IT-related risks by ensuring that systems are being backed up regularly either to a cloud or physical external drive, creating offline or paper versions of specific processes that can be used during a network outage, or making physical improvements to office space that houses servers or other computer hardware.

BUILDER: Are there any helpful items home builders can stock in preparation?

Falk: During hurricane season, storms can develop and strengthen rapidly, sometimes with little notice. My recommendation for home builders is to prepare emergency kits for their trucks or offices that can be quickly accessed should the weather turn for the worse or an evacuation order is called.

Kits should include items that can be useful in an emergency, items such as:

  • Battery-operated emergency radio
  • External battery bank for phones/electronics
  • Manual can opener
  • Lighter
  • Tire plug kit
  • Small fire extinguisher
  • Small multi-tool
  • Small LED lantern
  • Headlamps with batteries
  • Contractor bags, duct tape and heavy gloves
  • 5-gallon water cube or a couple of liter bottles of water
  • Box of small nonperishable foods
  • Small first aid kit
  • Paper map

It is also a best practice to include copies of any important documentation in a waterproof document holder and a small amount of petty cash, should it be needed for purchases during an electrical outage.

BUILDER: How can builders secure a jobsite for a coming storm?

Falk: Hurricanes can pose severe safety risks for those on the worksite as well as cause impacts on their company's core business functions, stakeholders, and finances. It is important for all builders to have both an Emergency Plan and a Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) prepared in advance, so that should the worst occur, they are prepared for both emergencies on the worksite and minimize potential business disruptions that follow.

Within the builder’s emergency plan, it is important to include worksite preparation plans for imminent tropical weather. These preparation plans should be consistently updated and be communicated frequently to ensure that stakeholders understand the different pieces of the plan that they are responsible for.

Some of the recommended jobsite preparations include:

  • Having emergency supplies, personal protective equipment, and communications devices such as radios staged should an evacuation or shelter-in-place order be called;
  • Securing the jobsite and reasonable area around the construction zones to ensure all loose debris or equipment is removed or properly secured to prevent damage to the project or the surrounding areas;
  • Creating a safety zone around the project or building and remove combustible or loose materials and keep the volume of vegetation to a minimum;
  • Communicating any changes in planning, worksite activities, and disaster preparations to workers, ensuring that all stakeholders are aware and engaged with emergency alerts and communication systems;
  • Having any subcontractors secure or remove unnecessary materials or equipment from jobsites; and
  • Making sure your offices and jobsite trailers are properly secured with any copies of records either removed or copied. All electronics should be backed up.

In preparing any worksite or office for a hurricane or tropical system, always pay close attention to the local authorities and officials’ reports regarding the changing weather conditions and any evacuation orders to ensure the safety of all those on site.

BUILDER: What about a project in mid-construction?

Falk: Measures should be taken to protect or reinforce any structures that are still under construction. By removing debris or loose materials and ensuring more sensitive aspects of the work are protected, builders can reduce the risk of damage during a storm.

Some of the recommended measures for securing a jobsite mid-construction include:

  • Covering any work that is highly vulnerable to damage by wind or rain;
  • Turning off power at circuit breakers to any temporary electric service to homes under construction;
  • Policing the jobsite and reasonable area around the construction zones to assure all loose debris, equipment or building materials have been removed or properly secured;
  • Halting material deliveries with suppliers;
  • Completing tasks such as concrete work if it may prevent damage to the jobsite;
  • Taking special precautions for jobsites with cranes to secure this equipment, as these could be affected by high winds;
  • Covering windows and glass doors;
  • Making sure the dumpsters or shipping containers have been emptied, removed, or secured;
  • Removing and securing scaffolding or ladders; and
  • Making sure your offices and jobsite trailers locked are properly secured.

BUILDER: If a disaster does occur, how can NAHB help home builders?

Falk: NAHB is committed to helping home builders and their communities through the entire disaster cycle, from preparedness to response and long-term recovery. Throughout the year we provide training and resources to help HBAs and their membership prepare for disasters on topics such as business continuity, communications, and operations.

And should the worst occur, the NAHB disaster relief team works in close collaboration with our government, nonprofit, and private partners as well as our internal staff teams, such as government affairs, regulatory, communications, and membership, to coordinate direct technical support and quickly disseminate resources to the impacted local home building industry.

In addition, we publish the Disaster Response and Recovery Toolkit with resources, templates, and videos that have been developed and carefully curated to support those working in the home building industry through all phases of the disaster. The NAHB Disaster Response and Recovery Toolkit is always available to be accessed through our website.

BUILDER: How quickly should home builders check on their jobsites after a storm?

Falk: Home builders should always wait and follow the official guidance from local authorities and officials on how and when to reenter areas that have been impacted by storms. Many times, depending on the level of damage an area sustained, authorities may close roads or require documentation to allow passage to a property as a public safety measure in the days and weeks following a storm.

Once the official guidance allows for the reentry to a property or jobsite, builders should always use extreme caution when surveying impacts or beginning to work as the site could be rife with safety concerns.

Some safety tips for visiting a jobsite following a storm:

  • Power lines and other utilities may become downed, damaged, or exposed during the storm. Keep a safe distance and report any damage to the utility company. Trained utility workers must perform repairs;
  • Projects under construction may have sustained structural damage by high wind or flooding. Have buildings that may have sustained structural damage examined and cleared as safe for work by a registered professional engineer before entering;
  • In wind-damaged areas, beware of downed trees, as they can be lodged, bound, or roll in certain ways that can increase risks;
  • Always avoid active flooding or wading into standing flood waters as these waters can be deeper than they appear or can be contaminated with biological or chemical agents that can cause irritation, injury, or death; and
  • Have a qualified electrician inspect all electrical equipment that has gotten wet before energizing it.

BUILDER: What has been one of your most memorable experiences out in the field after a disaster?

Falk: Disasters highlight that in times of crisis and sometimes unimaginable loss, communities rally together to assist their neighbors in need. My most memorable experiences in the field are working with local builders, organizations, and volunteers to organize and expedite the repair and rebuilding of homes after a disaster.

From the tornado outbreaks in the South to hurricanes through the Gulf states and wildfires through the West, in recent years there have been a record number of historic disasters. No matter the size of the disaster or where it was located, the HBAs I work with are dedicated to finding ways to support their communities in new and innovative ways.

BUILDER: What do you want to make sure builders know about disaster preparedness?

Falk: The importance of disaster preparedness and business continuity planning is not just about keeping a business open and operating through a storm, it is about strengthening the community’s resiliency.

When disasters strike, it is home builders and remodelers that support the rebuilding and repairing of homes that were damaged or destroyed. By preparing for disasters and having a plan to continue operations safely, builders can increase their community’s ability to respond and recover more quickly.