How One Field Service Company Is Cleaning Up After Hurricane Isaac

As people around the Southeast and Gulf Coast take stock of the damage caused by Hurricane Isaac this week, scores of field service companies are moving into the area, bracing for a lot of urgent cleanup and repair work.

During big natural disasters like Isaac, when disaster relief funding and insurance coverage kicks in instantly, companies like Blackmon Mooring, which employs close to 1,000 people nationwide, will pull from from its roving team of 50 or so technicians. The company sends them out to the disaster, either to get knee-deep in muck in the buildings they already have a contract with, or to be ready to handle new calls for work in the area.

“Basically if it’s dirty and gross or destroyed, we’ll do everything physically possible to get it as close to pre-loss condition as possible,” says Jen Anderson, director of marketing for Blackmon Mooring, which, along with its sister company, BMS CAT, has dispatched its mobile response team to Louisiana.

But cleanup from big natural disasters presents huge challenges: Roads are blocked, supplies can be limited, and power down. Here’s how Blackmon Mooring tackles these giant dirty jobs.

Step 1: Set Up a Dispatch Site

Blackmon Mooring has dispatched teams to just west of New Orleans, near Lake Charles — outside the storm’s danger zone, but close enough to drive in on a moment’s notice. First, project coordinators go into the flooded area to talk with existing clients about their properties, assess the damage, make preparations, and determine how much manpower they’ll need to handle the jobs.

Many of the company’s clients are government organizations and hospitals, although they do work on individual residents’ homes and smaller commercial properties. Payment often involves FEMA in disaster areas like New Orleans, so technicians have to document exactly how much work they can, and can’t, do.

Once the project coordinator has figured out the scope of the job, he’ll call in for the crew, which, in cases like Isaac, is already set up with equipment and provisions at a staging area just outside of town. Those supplies are trucked in from the corporate warehouse in Fort Worth, Texas. Getting going can be a several-step process, but it’s got to move fast — the ability to salvage a molding building is directly tied to how quickly a crew can get in and start cleaning up.

“Once the storm’s over, that’s when our job starts,” Anderson says. “They pull in the trucks, and start the cleanup.”

Step 2: Send Out Strong Leaders

Sending workers into an area that’s just been leveled to the ground introduces many complicating factors in terms of coordinating materials and supplies, and safety. The teams go through rigorous safety training, Anderson says, are well-stocked with equipment and food and water, and always travel in pairs, as a basic safety precaution.

But in general, it falls on project coordinators to lead the cleanup efforts — whether it’s being the liaison between the company and its clients; interacting with the corporate “command center” to get instructions, new job orders, or request backup; or re-routing technicians and equipment because of blocked roads.

“It’s all training, “Anderson says. “These guys have all the necessary skills and ability to cope with sites like that. For most of our people who actually have to go brave the storm, it’s almost second-nature to them.”

Step 3: Get Help, and Get to Work

Sometimes you can’t do it all. For the cleanup from Hurricane Katrina, Blackmon Mooring had to hire sub-contractors to help out. Anderson says that because areas like New Orleans and the Gulf Coast have so many natural disasters, the company has standing relationships with several contractors in the area, making the freelance hiring smoother and quicker.

From there, it’s showtime.

“These guys are absolutely amazing,” Anderson says. “Their knowledge about how to clean up a room — it completely blows my mind.”

More: Using Tech to Improve Disaster Response.

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ABOUT Ian Stewart

Ian is a veteran journalist who has covered sports for various news outlets. Previously, he was managing editor for an electronic-book publishing company and a public relations writer.