When a disaster strikes, especially a large-scale catastrophic event that has widespread damage and traumatic consequences for the masses, the value behind a restoration project goes well beyond restoring property. People feel a genuine sense of loss, loss of residence, loss of security when a place of business is hit, and a loss of community when a school or other community facility is damaged or lost. Companies and contractors of all shapes and sizes, specialties, and intentions (good and bad) flock to the disaster area. While their services may be desperately needed, they can fall victim to the “lumber, bricks and mortar” syndrome and fail to see the big picture of quality restoration.
The value of a restoration project depends not only on timely craftsmanship and associated costs, but also on a company’s ability to understand and respond to the many “faces” of disaster. Several decades ago Elizabeth Kubler-Ross studied grief and outlined five universal stages of grief when personal loss occurs. People progress from Denial, to Anger, to Bargaining, to Depression and, finally, to Acceptance. While Kubler-Ross was talking about the death of a friend or loved one, it still applies to loss of a home, job or community organization such as a school.
UNDERSTANDING THE IMPACT
Through the power of television, the Internet and social media, we now see the devastation of large-scale catastrophes faster and better than ever. Yet, watching it unfold electronically still does not compare to being up-close, being on site, and standing literally amongst the chaos. You can “see” it, and “hear” it, and “feel” it, and maybe even understand it to some degree, but only when you “live” it 24/7 - as a restoration team or as a survivor – will you truly understand its impact. As time goes on, the grind of daily recovery takes a toll on energy and can lead to despair.
Take Henryville, Indiana, for example. Being in the Midwest, just 20 miles north of Louisville, the rural community of Henryville is no stranger to unpleasant weather. But, it took less than 23 seconds for a massive F-4 tornado to rip through the small community and leave an unimaginable path of destruction behind destroying homes, businesses and the school that was the heart of the community.
Homes and businesses were leveled into piles of rubble. Debris was scattered for miles. The community’s only school campus - elementary, middle and high school classrooms – took a direct hit. A school bus weighing approximately 11 tons was tossed like a heat-seeking missile into a nearby building.
The recovery project required an immediate response. As the demolition, cleanup and reconstruction phases progress, step-by-step, the needs and concerns of many “faces” in the aftermath have to be addressed.
Dealing with the psycho-social needs of the community are, by far, the most important and sometimes the toughest issues following a catastrophe. In addition to being overwhelmed emotionally, survivors often experience stress, anxiety, uncertainty, fear and other loss-related reactions. In many cases, life as they knew it has been turned upside-down. There are concerns about power, water and food shortages, short and long-term sheltering, safety, security and financial obligations.
While many of these issues are attended to by local, state and federal agencies, non-profit organizations and volunteers, restoration companies must take this into account as they go about the recovery and restoration of properties. Plus, the restoration team itself is not immune to suffering from levels of stress and physical exhaustion. Are they making the right decisions? Do they have a clear picture of the work that needs to be done?
Restoration companies that can empathize and help alleviate emotional turmoil will give survivors two very valuable assets – strength and hope – while creating a more positive project atmosphere where decisions are based on facts or need versus emotion.
At first glance, the task at hand and the struggle ahead seem insurmountable. What those affected by the tragedy need most are answers and reassurance that the task ahead is doable. For both survivors and local authorities, the questions are often the same. What resources are available to help them cope? How do they go about rebuilding their homes, businesses, schools and lives? How do they deal with insurance carriers and what can they expect?
This fundamental need for information is all-inclusive for every “face” of disaster. Specific project plans, dedicated timelines and consistent project meetings are essential, but so are typical basic ways to effectively communicate.
Experience from people who have done this before and are part of the recovery can be a significant source of hope to those in the midst of the devastation and chaos.
Restoration companies should extend the reach of their crisis communications beyond the project plan. Project managers and company representatives can serve as ambassadors within the community by attending town hall meetings, speaking to local groups and organizations, participating in fund raisers, and more. Being open to discussion and available as an information resource creates an advantageous “bond.” Their presence alone establishes the restoration company as an “active trusted partner” in both the recovery and restoration process and the quest for normalcy once again.
The value and benefits of pro-active networking in a catastrophe are endless. In rural communities, the sight of a key community center like a school being restored and rebuilt can be a symbol of hope for damaged lives.
There are certain critical functions that must continue. Safety and emergency-oriented services are mandatory. Businesses need to recover and re-open as soon as possible for economic reasons. Power and fuel shortages need to be resolved. Restoring stability and ensuring continuity within the disaster zone is the key to recovery. When emergency recovery moves to rebuilding, a real threshold of progress is felt by the community.
Many communities have disaster plans and many businesses have business continuity plans. In a perfect scenario, those plans go into effect without a hiccup. This is not always the case, though. It depends on the magnitude of the disaster. A restoration company that can support or assist with continuity adds value.
STANDING OUT – NOT JUST ANOTHER FACE IN THE CROWD
“Our town just stopped breathing when our school was broken. In a place like Henryville, where everybody is so closely connected, the school is the heart of the community,” said Vicki, a pre-school teacher at the elementary school in Henryville. “We were hearing rumors about it may take months. Oh no, not months, it’s going to take years.”
Knowing this and understanding the huge impact on this community, it was extremely important for the “faces” in Henryville to be confident in their restoration company. They needed to be reassured that the recovery and reconstruction of their school campus was a high priority.
When the project began, one promise was made to the community. The restoration company would rebuild and restore the school campus in time for students to return to class the very next semester.
Working with school board officials, administrators, local authorities and the insurance adjuster, a plan was put in place to quickly relocate all students to temporary locations so that their educational needs could be met. By acting quickly to put students back in classrooms, even in a temporary space, some bit of normalcy returned for students and their families.
The restoration company negotiated with supply manufacturers to fast-track orders and deliver materials needed for the job site. To increase manpower and minimize overtime costs, they secured a ruling from the labor board to use both union and non-union workers.
Approximately 70 percent of the 220,000-square-foot facility was gutted to a shell and rebuilt. The remainder was totally demolished and rebuilt entirely. Crew sizes varied but an average of 300 workers were present every day. The entire school received a new roof deck and roof, new HVAC equipment, and new electrical wiring. All drywall, ceiling tiles, floor covering, cabinets and 75 percent of all windows were removed and replaced. Contents were inventoried, packed out, cleaned, repacked and stored off-site until the restoration was complete.
A team of environmental specialists, including an Industrial Hygienist, tested surfaces and air for unhealthy levels of mold or other irritants.
As the work progressed and neared completion, the confidence level in and the value of the restoration project grew – as did the value of the restoration company.
But, sometimes even the smallest gestures can define the value of a project. During the project, the restoration company discovered, cleaned and returned a stack of dated school yearbooks – a cherished piece of the community’s history. A history was reclaimed along with the future. Hope was restored to the community and lives began a return to pre-tornado patterns.
THE DEFINITION OF VALUE
Studies show that, in general, people are resilient and have the coping strategies to adapt to the most difficult situations. But, when put to the test after a catastrophe, a community or business’ ability to move forward can be furthered or hindered by the way in which a restoration company responds.
To stumble and fall behind schedule, even with the best of intentions, can hurt the psyche of the community. Past experience in large complicated jobs is critical when selecting the contractor who can help restore community hope.
In Henryville, the promise was kept. The restoration company completed the work on schedule. “Five months have passed, and we’re home,” explained Vicki. With just one word, she defined the intrinsic value of the project and the underlying value of the restoration company – “home.”
About the Author
Vernon Duty is a National Accounts Manager for BELFOR USA, a global disaster recovery and property restoration company with more than 250 offices in 28 countries. With 26 years in the commercial restoration business, he has been a project manager on hundreds of commercial losses and has been involved in almost every major catastrophe in the USA since the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. He may be contacted at (770) 939-0128 or email@example.com.