When natural disasters strike, people, communities and businesses feel the uncertainty of what lies ahead. For decades, PCL Construction has put hurricane preparedness, safety and responsiveness at the forefront of its work in hurricane-affected states to help alleviate this uncertainty. In particular, the PCL team in Florida faces the brunt of hurricane season every year. This year over year experience enables the team to provide peace of mind to clients and partners when a hurricane disaster strikes.
In hurricane-prone states, these inevitable storms affect millions of people and businesses. According to the National Weather Service, there are an average of 12 tropical storms from June 1 to November 30 each year – approximately half of these storms forming into hurricanes over the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, or Gulf of Mexico. Hurricane predictions are useful, but they do not remove the uncertainty about how strong the storms will be, where and when they will make landfall, and what damage they will leave behind. However, people and businesses can prepare for these storms and be ready for the emergency response after the storm hits.
Far in advance of hurricane season, PCL lays out the groundwork for an emergency response on-site, applying the lessons learned from past storms to deliver continuous process improvement in support of its clients and partners. PCL’s internal preparation is truly a year-round effort to ensure teams and sites are always ahead of the danger when disaster strikes.
“We have a project-specific hurricane preparation and safety plan as part of each project site,” says Philip Miller, health, safety and environment (HSE) supervisor. “It contains sections from both insurance companies and our own internal protocols. The document continually grows from lessons learned, general ideas shared and additional needs as a storm comes. There are four phases for when predictions show the hurricane path is headed our way: one week out, 72 hours, 48 hours and then 24 hours out from the storm. There are post-storm assessments as well.”
PCL prioritizes ensuring the project-specific hurricane preparation and safety plans and checklist are up to date, always communicated and ready. The company invites feedback from employees, clients and others to ensure the practices are continually improving. Afterall, making these individuals feel safe and heard is of the utmost importance.
Communication is another important element of preparation. Before a project begins, the team creates a dedicated hurricane plan that is unique to each client and climate to ensure it meets specific needs of the project. “Our priority is building trust with our clients in what we do both on routine days and when a disaster strikes,” Miller says. PCL closely monitors the storm through the four phases and matches its preparation to the storm’s scheduled impact. Not a minute is wasted as teams are constantly monitoring the storm and using company resources to get the site and its people prepared for whatever destruction comes.
Hurricane Ian struck in 2022 and was one of the most catastrophic hurricanes in Florida’s history. There was a high degree of uncertainty with the storm track, but the PCL team kept a minute-by-minute eye on the path of the storm. Once the team knew the severity and where the storm would make landfall, the team acted immediately. John Fiori, senior superintendent, says, “We worked 24/7 monitoring the storm to make sure the project was prepared for the unknown that lay ahead.”
The safety of PCL’s people, and the protection of its clients’ assets, are two of the most important focus areas when a hurricane strikes. For example, on the Ritz-Carlton Naples New Tower Expansion project, this included protecting the furniture, fixtures and equipment assets that were already on-site. The PCL team physically moved these all to higher ground within the hotel to prevent damage and protect from the 12-foot storm surge height.
Hurricane Ian, the third costliest storm on record in the United States, wreaked havoc with approximately $114 billion dollars in damage, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Much of this damage was due to a loss of equipment and construction materials on projects near the coastline.
Although this damage cannot be completely avoidable, the preparation and post-storm emergency response keeps project timelines on track and sets the team up for success.
“Once we saw that Hurricane Ian was going to hit our Ritz Naples project, we ensured preparation continued,” Miller says. “The project team already had conversations with our subtrades prior to the storm and explained the need for their assistance as soon as the storm passed. The subtrades did just that: They arrived on-site as soon as it was safe after the storm hit.”
PCL’s emergency response wouldn’t be possible without its key subtrade relationships. Like John Jenkins, vice president at NorthStar Contracting Group, says, “At NorthStar, we pride ourselves on our ability to act fast and efficiently to provide deconstruction and demolition services wherever the need arises, and that is exactly what happened after Hurricane Ian. Due to our long-standing history with PCL, we knew our relationship would ensure a safe and successful response to the damage after the hurricane. Our similar operating styles and experience working together set us up for success to get these projects back up and running when disaster strikes. We both know the safety of the people and success of these projects are extremely important during hurricane season.” These relationships allow PCL to respond immediately, ensure the safety of the people and the property, prevent further damage and repair critical infrastructure.
Brandon Allen, district HSE manager, says, “Once we were able to get on-site following Hurricane Ian, we assessed the extent of damage, evaluated what needed to be done, and created an action plan with the client to start addressing the most important areas first.”
It takes a village to make the recovery efforts so successful. From those already onsite to bringing in other PCL employees not directly on the project in to assist, each and everyone is there and ready to help. By prioritizing its people, clients and job sites, PCL effectively mitigates the lasting effects of a hurricane. “Every PCL team member is looking out for each other and our partners, and we're going to rise to the challenge to do whatever is needed to get done. It’s all that we know how to do,” says Fiori.