Dealing with the power of natural disasters
By Connie Lannan
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Dealing with the power of natural disasters

Safety always is the top priority

When the Republican National Convention took place in Tampa, Fla., during August 2012, U.S. Tent Rental, Sarasota, Fla., was awarded the contract only 72 hours before the tents were to be set up.

“As soon as the contract was signed, we went to work, partnering with another company because it was too much for one company. It took us two days to put everything up,” says Tim Boyle, CERP, co-owner and CEO.

Shortly thereafter, weather reports indicated Hurricane Isaac was brewing off the Gulf Coast and Tampa could be hit. With laser-focused attention, all watched the reports to see where the eye of the storm was predicted to land.

If Tampa stayed out of the danger zone, Boyle could keep the tents up for the thousands of delegates and governmental leaders who would be coming to the convention. If that wasn’t the case, the tent crews would need to take them down, which would mean delaying the convention.

With local, state and national government officials in on the decision, Boyle knew he had to be flexible while keeping everyone safe.

“We were literally going from hurricane update to hurricane update. I said that if it got to the point where we were still in the danger zone at the 10 p.m. update, we had to take the tents to the ground. Our clients agreed with that metric,” Boyle says.

The 10 p.m. update still indicated possible danger. The tent crews immediately went to work taking out the legs of the tents, pinning the tops to the ground and taking the vinyl out of the engineered structures.

“We had a window of 12 to 16 hours to secure everything to the ground. It turned out that the storm wasn’t a big threat to Tampa when it finally came and went, but it was too close at the time and we had to do the right thing. We also knew we had to put them back up as soon as the storm passed and didn’t have time to rebuild them from scratch. As soon as the storm was gone, we went out and got everything back up within 24 hours,” Boyle says.

James (Andy) Gessells, president, Andy’s Taylor True Value Rental, St. Augustine, Fla., understands those difficult calls.

“Our family’s business has been here for 40 years. We have dealt with many hurricanes. Hurricane Matthew was the worst. We couldn’t get back to the island and open for four days,” he says.

Gessells has a large inventory of generators, manlifts, pumps and chain saws. “As soon as hurricane season starts, we go through every single piece of equipment to make sure each item is repaired, tested and in the best operating condition. After a hurricane, these are the items that go out first,” he says.

When the warning comes, Gessells puts his disaster plan in action. “It takes about four days to prepare our operation. We also bring all our employees together and talk about how we are going to deal with it. We listen to suggestions from everyone. Everyone gets a chance to put their two cents in,” he says.

Over the years, he has changed a few things in his plan. “We used to pack up our computers and take them with us. We don’t have to do that anymore because the backup systems are so good. We don’t have to board up our windows anymore. We made specialty panels for our windows that are easier to put up and take down,” he says.

In addition to preparing his business and securing the equipment, Gessells knows whether his employees are evacuating, where they will be going, etc. “We keep track of each other if we do leave. And after the storm we set up a time to give a thumbs-up to make sure everyone is OK,” Gessells says.

Neither Boyle nor Gessells has suffered a devastating loss to their business. Brian Hamlin, owner, Ashland Rentals d/b/a All in One Rental, Medford and Talent, Ore., can’t say the same after the Alameda Fire ravaged his area in September 2020.

Hamlin told all his employees to leave as soon as possible. After narrowly escaping himself, he learned the next day that his main store in Talent, which housed his office and his computer system for both stores, had burned to the ground. His small engine shop that was on the back of the property survived.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before. It was like watching a war movie — the level of destruction that was there. It was like a bomb went off. It’s all one color after the fire goes through it,” he says.

Because he didn’t have any computer backups aside from the Talent store, he basically had to start over from scratch. “It was like our first day of business. It was probably about a solid three months to where we had an operational computer. During this time, we did everything by hand,” he says.

Since the fire, he has been operating out of his engine shop. He hasn’t been able to rebuild his store yet, but knows that when he does, he will make it as fireproof as possible.

To start, he has placed all his computer backups in the cloud. “Our situation of losing the server made it 10 times more difficult. We had no list to pull from. Having that cloud-based server will make the recovery process easier in the future,” he says.

“I also learned that you don’t address insurance policies and procedures for a loss near enough. Dealing with the aftermath is the biggest concern I would have in the future — making sure all coverages and policies are in line,” he says.

All have learned a lot from the disasters they have faced. Boyle has even begun shifting more of his inventory to engineered structures. When clients call for tents during hurricane season, “we require them to use those types of tents. If people want long-term tents, they must be engineered tents,” he says. “You have to use the best equipment that is designed for the purpose. We also tell our customers that if a storm is coming, do not put people in that tent. Even if it is an engineered structure and wind-rated for 100 mph, you don’t want anyone under the tent if you have winds or lightning.”

All agree that it boils down to taking the proper steps to be as prepared and safe as possible.

“We prepare for the worst and cross our fingers, hoping for the best,” Gessells says. “We also make communication a big priority. We make sure everyone talks about and knows what they need to do to protect the business and, more importantly, themselves.”

Connie Lannan

Connie LannanConnie Lannan

Connie Lannan is special projects editor for Rental Management. She helps plan, coordinate, write and edit ARA’s quarterly regional newsletters, In Your Region. She also researches, writes and edits news and feature articles for Rental Management, Rental Pulse, supplements, special reports and other special projects. Outside of work, she loves to bake for others, go for walks with her husband and volunteer for her church and causes she believes in.

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