Hurricane Season Is Here. How Should Construction Sites Prepare?

Safety—of the body and mind—is top priority, according to Ryan Cos.' John Bentley.

John Bentley

John Bentley

From June 1 through the end of the November, coastal cities across the Southeast batten down and prepare for hurricane season. Forecasters at the NOAA, a division of the National Weather Service, predicted that the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season will be above-normal, marking the seventh consecutive year of above-normal activity. With over 6 million square feet of projects in the region’s most active hurricane-prone areas, developers, general contractors, and onsite construction teams should be buckling down on storm plans now if they haven’t already.

Construction sites are vulnerable to the most damaging effects of hurricanes. Large structures under construction typically have incomplete structural systems, loose materials and debris that can act as projectiles that damage the surrounding area of the site and suspended construction equipment that run the risk of falling. Storm surges can flood the shored site and high winds increase the chance of a site collapsing. With wind speeds reaching up to 180 mph, damaging storms cause devastating effects to construction sites and have the potential to halt the development timeline, costing the owners millions in damages. 

With proper planning in place ahead of a major storm making landfall, construction sites have a better chance of minimizing damages and recovering quicker. At the basic level, the word “safety” means being protected from danger, risk or injury. But to us here at Ryan, it means so much more. Besides being one of our core values, we make it our mission to send all of our employees (whether from the field or the office) home safe and healthy each day. Simply stated, safety—of the body and mind—is our top priority. Here’s what to keep in mind as a hurricane or tropical storm approaches: 

Develop a hurricane preparedness plan

At Ryan Companies, we have been preparing our onsite crews in Florida, Louisiana and Alabama for months with our strategic hurricane plan. To properly prepare our teams for the devastating effects of hurricanes, we utilize ‘toolbox talks,’ which include recommendations and an action plan for all job sites in hurricane alley. 

According to OSHA, emergency preparedness plans should include: Conditions that will activate the plan; chain of command; emergency functions and who will perform them; specific evacuation procedures, including routes and exits; procedures for accounting for personnel, customers and visitors; and equipment for personnel. The plan should also include a timeline of when construction on site should stop and when the site should be evacuated, steps to secure the site, risk assessment plans and a post-storm procedure. 

Carefully monitor the weather

From the first notice of a large storm’s path to landfall, conditions can drastically change. Ensure one or more team members on site are carefully monitoring the weather developments and any evacuation advisories. Hold daily weather briefings with the onsite to keep the lines of communication open and to ensure all project team members are up to date on the storm’s strength.

Secure the Jobsite 

Once a hurricane or tropical storm is set to make landfall near an active construction site, it’s important to enact the preparedness plan. Throughout the site, take inventory of all construction equipment and place any lighter weight materials in covered areas. Secure all exterior building openings, windows and doors. Think about adding sandbags and other anchors to tie equipment down as well as temporary bracing to keep the structure stable. Review any local building code requirements for high winds if an erect crane is on site. In preparation for Hurricane Ian, all job sites in the path of the hurricane (West Coast of Florida) are being closed Monday, September 26 end of the day, about 36 hours ahead of expected landfall.

Post-Hurricane Recovery 

Once the storm has passed, walk the site, and take note of the damages on site to determine how the damages will impact the construction costs, development timeline and employees. Inspect each structure as the wind and storm surge may have weakened its systems and make a plan for those structures that need to be torn down and disposed of. On top of the already strained supply chain industry, expect delays in receiving the materials and equipment needed to clean the site as power outages and damaged infrastructure may impact the surrounding community and suppliers. 

Ryan has ten projects currently in Ian’s path, totaling over 1.3 million square feet. While we can’t predict the damage caused over the next few days, we understand that being prepared is the key to a quick recovery and staying on track.

John Bentley, CHC, LEED AP is Southeast Regional Field Coordinator for Ryan Cos

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