Restoring Utilities After Disasters

Contractors Face Unique Challenges In This Critical Work
By Jeff Griffin, Senior Editor | September 2013, Vol. 68 No. 9

Law enforcement officers, firemen, medical emergency teams and other first responders will be in the area, followed closely by Red Cross, Salvation Army and other relief agencies, and then by volunteers wanting to help.

Obviously restoring damaged infrastructure is much different than routine utility work, said Mattiford. Challenges and hazards vary with the type of disaster, area of the country and season. Restoring outages resulting from an ice storm are much different than conditions in hurricane ravaged, flooded areas. Each event poses its own challenges and risks and requires different personal gear.

Henkels & McCoy was heavily involved following Hurricane Sandy in the Northeast and Katrina in the Gulf Coast and New Orleans.

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“With Sandy,” said Mattiford, “hotels and motels were available in areas where there was power, so personnel had a level of comfort during their time there. However, fuel supplies ran out, and for a time the utilities and National Guard had to haul fuel in to keep work going.

“After Katrina, food had to be brought in, and we were sleeping in tents and on church pews. Church members were taking some crew members home with them for a place to sleep. It is not unusual for workers to stay in schools and community centers.”

Dressed for conditions
In addition to equipment and tools, emergency workers must have safety and personal gear clothing appropriate to the circumstances. Ice, snow and freezing temperatures make work difficult. After hurricanes and floods, there are mosquitoes, spiders and other insects and both displaced pets and wild animals roaming the area for food and shelter. There often is risk of exposure to infectious materials and sewage contamination.

After earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes, there is extensive damage which compromises the structural integrity of buildings. Another concern is who will acquire or prepare daily food? Some personnel have dietary restrictions for diabetes and other health problems. Workers must bring medications and copies of prescriptions.

Flooding and accompanying hazards can affect areas outside the flood zone. Swift moving waters dislodge equipment and materials, weaken roads and bridges. Fast-moving water only six- inches deep can knock a man off his feet. Two feet of water can cause a car or truck to float.