Rental Industry Preps, Respond To Hurricane Disasters

By Jeff Griffin, Senior Editor | November 2008 Vol. 63 No. 11

As is the case with all national disasters, immediately following Hurricane Ike's devastation of the United States Gulf Coast last September, much of the equipment used by emergency crews, including utilities, immediately following the storm was rented.

With several small coastal communities engulfed by water and wind, much of the Texas and Louisiana coastal areas were without power and communications for an extended period of time. Early reports recorded 68 deaths with more than 200 people still missing, and preliminary damage estimates ranged as high as $27 billion and are certain to rise as clean up, repairs and rebuilding continues in the coming months.

With much of the equipment owned by area utilities and contractors, rented equipment became a key element in responding quickly to the emergency. Because the inventory of most area rental centers was damaged or out of service, rented equipment was brought in from other parts of the country.

Although every disaster is different, all have common problems, and United Rentals, the world's largest equipment rental company, has emergency protocols in place for all types of national disasters.

"Our hurricane disaster protocol spells out a systematic approach for the days leading up to a storm, during the storm and in the aftermath," says Michael Kneeland, United Rentals chief executive officer. "The protocol is essentially a framework that guides our emergency response team. Each disaster brings different challenges, but the end goals are the same."

Priorities

The company's first priority in disasters, Kneeland continues, always is the safety of its employees and their families. The protocol covers issues such as payroll, temporary housing, water, food, fuel and insurance, as well as damage containment relating to company facilities and fleets.

"Our employees in the affected areas are able to contact our Customer Care Center to report on their situations and request whatever help they need," he continues. "In the 48 hours after Ike hit, when communications on the ground in Texas were disrupted, the center played a key role in ascertaining that our employees were safe and accounted for.

"We also have a Disaster Recovery Vehicle equipped with satellite communications and computers. The DRV enables a branch to continue operations even if the branch has lost power and phones. It can even be used to cook meals if needed. That's exactly what happened at our trench safety branch in the Houston area, after Ike moved through."

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