Rental Industry Preps, Respond To Hurricane Disasters

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

Once safety of employees is confirmed, attention immediately turns to providing equipment and operational support to communities hardest hit by the disaster. However, to be able to accomplish that requires preparation, and one advantage to responding to a hurricane is that forecasters are able to predict with reasonable accuracy when and where the storm will make landfall.

"Our corporate fleet manager and regional fleet managers started staging fleets almost a week before Ike arrived, says Kneeland. "By the time the hurricane hit, our Austin command center had a detailed list of available equipment that could be brought in from branches outside the area without materially affecting those markets. The list was very fluid, as more information became available about the extent of the damage and recovery.

“We have strong relationships with our customers in the Gulf region. They knew that equipment would be hard to get once the storm hit, so a lot of them put equipment on rent several days in advance. Once it was safe for us to resume operations, we were able to meet the needs of our customers as well as provide support to government agencies, the utilities and the state of Texas."

Chain of command

Logistics of marshaling and transporting equipment to affect areas is complex.

As mentioned earlier, a command center in Austin, with a point person at the company's Connecticut headquarters and a corresponding point person in the field. All requests for equipment went to the command center, either via corporate channels or through the multi lingual Customer Care Center in Tampa. All phone calls to the affected branches were rerouted to Tampa, which operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"The equipment specialists in Tampa used information technology that can check availability throughout our branch network and reserve equipment at the branch nearest to the customer," Kneeland adds. "It was very methodical and organized, despite the havoc created by the storm."

Because United Rentals has been a first responder in many situations such as Hurricane Ike, company management understands the types of equipment that will be needed.

"First requests are usually for light towers, generators and material handling equipment," Kneeland says. "We had an immediate call for generators ranging from 3.6 kW to 100 kW, and even larger – those machines were supplied by our Pump & Power branches.

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