Developing a plan before a disaster hits ensures that you can resume operations as soon as possible.
By Evan Williams

Natural disasters—be they floods, tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, etc.—can do great damage to any building, including a solid waste facility. Having plans in place for continuity of operations and setting up a clear plan for reconstruction can help recover faster after a disaster. To that end, we will focus on two parts of this response: the continuity of operations plan and approaches to physically repairing and reconstructing your facility.

Continuity of Operations
Once a disaster has passed, it is time to start picking up the pieces. Solid waste companies often have a critical role in this process, so getting back into operation is very important. Facility operators should have measures in place that allow them to re-start their operation if their facility is damaged. Certainly, available resources will impact this, as a larger company with multiple locations and built-in redundancy will likely have an easier time re-starting their operation, rather than a single-site company. These measures can include keeping backups of all personnel and company files in the cloud, so if onsite servers are damaged this information is preserved. The backup information should include scans of your facility drawings. This item is often overlooked, but having good quality up-to-date facility drawings will save time and money if a disaster hits your facility.

Not all disasters are a complete surprise. Several, such as hurricanes or flooding, may provide some advance warning. While there might not be an abundance of time, you may be able to relocate hauling trucks to higher ground if your facility is low-lying, or make sure a recycling center/transfer station is cleared out of material. With available time, you can work to minimize the environmental impact of your facilities and preserve your assets, so they are available after the event.

Re-Starting Operations
The local GM should be in contact with local emergency services to confirm when it is safe to re-start operations. Often, priority is given to waste services companies, but this coordination should be one of the first steps. Whether it is with some advance warning or as a complete surprise, the next step in re-building after a disaster, once access to the site is feasible, is a complete facility and fleet assessment. This assessment should look for two things: What is needed ASAP to restart operations? and What will be needed in the longer term to restore the facility to how it was before the event? Once the assessment is complete, the management team should bring all available resources to produce results quickly and continue operation as allowed. Other unaffected facilities can provide rolling stock and drivers, while volume from damaged transfer stations could be diverted to other facilities. In addition to this coordination, there may be critical facility repairs that need to be performed. This can include repairs to the electric infrastructure, the building roof or siding and similar repairs.

If your facility has sustained some minor damage, it is important to gauge whether any of that damage has the potential to get worse in time. This often includes roof damage, minor flooding and damaged windows. Minor roof damage can rapidly get worse quickly, allowing water into your building. In addition, minor flooding can rapidly become an issue should mold/mildew begin to take over. Taking some time to assess the initial damage and get it repaired quickly to get the building dry quickly is essential if it is to be returned to service. Many times, after a storm, there is some confusion over what is covered by insurance and what is not, which can lead to indecision and several weeks to take action. Given the relatively low cost of repairs/remediation versus the disproportionate damage the water damage can cause, decisive action should be taken to minimize further damage.

Rebuilding the Facility
Should damage be greater than what can be easily be repaired in a few days, the facility will need a more thorough reconstruction. This is not an ideal situation, as reconstruction is very disruptive to operations, and can be challenging when the damage is part of a larger disaster. If you have determined the damage to your facility is extensive enough that it cannot be repaired quickly and a more wholesale reconstruction is required, make sure you are making the most of those resources. If you need to rebuild your facility but are able to continue operating on the site, you may be able to set up temporary modular buildings. These can often be provided on short notice and can be a useful approach when other options are not feasible.

While speed is of the essence in getting the repairs/construction completed, take the time to review operations and confirm that what is being rebuilt matches the current needs as well as future plans. For example, if you are anticipating a CNG fleet in the near future, rebuilding the shop as CNG-compliant or CNG-ready would be a good call. Simply rebuilding exactly what the facility was before might not serve future needs. With an eye toward speed, you should get together all your stakeholders to perform this programming exercise. To help push this process forward, you may want to engage a design-build contractor, as they can provide real-time budgeting and integrated design approaches to streamline the process to shorten the development duration and deliver the project faster. The other benefit to this approach is that they can work with your insurance carrier to coordinate the rebuilding work with insurance coverage limits.

The construction team will likely need to work around the ongoing improvised operations at the site as they are working on reconstruction. Having a clear site activity plan designating all the areas will help bring clarity to this as well as improve safety. If it is a widespread disaster, the team should plan for permitting, material and manpower delays. Bringing in manpower and materials from unaffected areas may help with this, but that can increase the cost as well as the duration of the project. Additional cost may require providing temporary power to the site, if utility services have not been restored. This is essential for both ongoing operations and construction and may need to be provided for several weeks.

No one wants to have a natural disaster. Planning, and a good understanding of your operations, can help make sure the best footing is available to respond, should disaster hit. By understanding how these events can affect your business, you can best prepare for the continuity of your operations as well as reconstruct your facility to best fit your needs into the future. | WA

Evan Williams is a Design Project Manager at Cambridge Companies (Griffith, IN), a design-build firm working with the waste industry for more than 20 years. During this time, more than 100 solid waste design-build projects have been completed, including new build, repairs, upgrades and/or modifications at transfer stations, recycling centers/MRFs, hauling companies, landfill facilities, office buildings and more. Cambridge continually monitors the industry to determine any new needs, changes or improvements that will benefit their clients and improve their design-build solutions. Evan can be reached at (219) 972-1155, via e-mail at [email protected] or visit