Volume 41, Issue 6 - June 2006

Gearing Up

Glass Companies in the Gulf Coast Region Prepare for Hurricanes
by Sarah Batcheler

June 1 marked the first day of the ominous hurricane season of 2006, and glazing contractors, distributors and fabricators are gearing up for another tumultuous year. Although many are hoping for a slow and uneventful season, there are certain precautions that companies are taking as the season begins.

“I’m hoping that we don’t have any hurricanes because there is no worse possible way to do business. Everybody is screaming bloody hell to get their business back up and running,” says Ed Crim, vice president of Safety Glass Co., a family-owned commercial contractor that has been based in Corpus Christi, Texas, since 1930.

In the Gulf Coast region, many companies are still recovering from the hurricanes of last year.

“As a matter of fact, we are still doing some repairs from last year’s storms,” says Mike Dolive, owner of Bay Minette Glass Inc. in Bay Minette, Ala.

Joe Donald, manager of Dunnaway Glass in Biloxi, Miss., is in a similar situation.

“We’re still recovering (from Katrina). Every one of the company’s four stores caught a lot of damage,” he says.

“We’re probably still running two to three months behind due to new and reconstruction,” says Dolive, who adds that his county was already experiencing a lot of new construction before the storm.

“It’s been a lot of work, but we are steadily trying to get back to normal,” Donald adds.

Getting Ready
Preparing for a strong hurricane involves thinking about the months, not just days, that follow.

“You can’t prepare,” says Jill Foxworth, sales manager at Dependable Glass Works Inc., a fabricator and distributor based in Covington, La. “We bought $45,000 worth of generators last year (after Hurricane Katrina), so we have these on standby,” she adds.

“In years past, people would take time and board up. But the real work doesn’t even kick off until about a month after the storm,” says Dolive.

“We are getting prepared for the hurricane season because we bought a railroad train car load of plywood,” says Crim. He explains, “In this day and age with codes, you can’t just cut glass and put it in an opening. Usually, it has to be insulating or tempered or laminated. So plywood will be in great demand right after a hurricane,” he says. Crim explains that immediately after a storm it won’t be possible to install new windows, so plywood will be the next alternative for the time being.

“You have to evaluate the situation as soon as possible,” says Foxworth. “We are going to board-up our facility at least 48 hours ahead of time, because 36-24 hours is too late.”

Stocking Up
Owners of glass companies say that right after a hurricane, supplies are in demand. The best plan of action, some say, is to stock up in advance.

“Next time we get a hurricane, we will probably have someone procuring things. We will stage someone far enough out preparing resources such as food and water so they can drive in the resources after the storm,” says Foxworth.

“We will probably triple our inventory of glass, but for metal and doors, it is hard to order extra because you don’t know what you are going to need,” says Dolive. “Besides that, all you can do is sit back and hope for the best,” he adds.

“I put glass on order with a wholesaler so it’s safe. That way if we get hit by a hurricane or tornado (that spawns off of a hurricane), we don’t loose all the stock,” says James Gates, owner of City Wide Glass Services in Galveston, Texas. “It’s the safest thing because that way, if I need it, I can get to the wholesaler’s trailer and pick it up,” he adds.
Dolive says his supplies come from Birmingham, “so they are not affected directly.”

To get ready, Donald says he stocks a little bit more glass and sealants and looks back on the company’s history to see what products they used the most in the previous year. Cash is also an important thing to have available.

“A big thing is having a cash reserve on hand because a credit card can’t do anything,” says Foxworth.
Another issue that arose last year was the shortage of gasoline.

“We ran into problems with fuel last year, and I saw people fighting over gas,” recalls Dolive, who adds that he will keep extra fuel around this year. 

“Last year we had to evacuate the island (Galveston Island) and the gas shortages up and down the highway were a problem,” says Gates. He adds that city officials have been talking all year about a new plan for gas distribution.

Finding Good Workers
Glass companies in the Gulf Coast region have struggled to keep employees since Hurricanes Rita and Katrina. Many high-paying opportunities arose for people willing to gut houses or work for the many companies involved with the clean-up process.

“The bottom line is your employees are your best resource,” says Foxworth. “Next time, we probably won’t do any boarding-up of customers’ facilities because due to the resources, there’s not enough labor to board-up stores. The priority now is family,” she says, adding that the company wants their employees to have enough time to board-up their own houses.

“The main thing we have to do is make sure that we have enough employees. That was a problem after the storm,” says Donald.

“A lot of our help went to Mississippi and Louisiana where they were getting paid two to three times the amount they could earn here. Plus, in those areas, there is still a huge focus on clean-up. There isn’t much reconstruction yet,” says Dolive. 

“We have had lots of Mexicans and Puerto Ricans come into the area, which has been a blessing,” says Dolive.
The long-term affects of this problem are widespread, though.

“We are still experiencing a shortage of people in the workforce,” says Dolive. “This reconstruction from the damage of the storm will probably affect our economy for 10 to 15 years,” he estimates.

Lessons Learned
Those who experienced the effects of a hurricane last year say they will do some things differently when faced with another destructive storm.

For Dolive, his biggest problem after Hurricane Katrina was working with insurance companies for settlements.

“We were working around the clock, but they (insurance companies) didn’t pay us for the overtime,” says Dolive. “We’re careful now and we go through the policyholder in most situations so they are responsible,” he adds.
Donald says he will draw upon his experiences from last season as he prepares his building for heavy wind and rain.

“We’ll take a different approach to boarding up the doors,” he explains, adding that he has also already stocked up on important tools.

“We bought new generators for all our stores and updated our battery-powered tools,” he says, allowing that he could have used more tools and generators last year.

“But, you’re never prepared for something like that,” Donald adds.

Foxworth has a word of advice for companies in the Gulf Coast area. 

“People need to know they should create two back-ups of their computer systems and send them to two separate locations,” says Foxworth. “Get it in a UPS envelope and get it out of there,” she says.

After the Storm
It is important to mentally prepare for what may come in the months after a storm, according to some glass company owners.

One obstacle after a hurricane is securing communication, so companies can locate employees and customers can contact the business.

“We went five to seven days without phone lines. Cell phones didn’t work, but text messaging did. We had customers driving here to contact us,” says Foxworth.

“What we will do next time is try to relocate our phone service to another state,” she adds.

Once communication is in place, fabricators, distributors and glass shops can begin helping their customers, which presents another host of obstacles.

“The major thing, besides that [insurance companies], is dealing with people. People are patient in the beginning after a storm, but as time goes on, they get more impatient,” says Dolive, who explains that there were people who didn’t have windows at all, and they usually take precedence over customers who just need some screens replaced.

“We don’t tell people that, but sometimes you have to prioritize,” he says.

“People get pretty impatient because they usually have to deal with insurance adjusters and then they have to wait again for us to come out there.”

Making a Buck
While most glazing contractors are hoping for an inactive hurricane season, there are still some, like Gates, who are looking forward to a profitable hurricane season.

“I’ve been waiting on one so I can get rich,” says Gates. “I was here for Alicia (a Category 3 storm that hit the Galveston area in 1983), and my boss at the time made more than $450,000 in one year. I’ve been praying on one for 14 years,” he says,

“But I don’t want anyone to get killed.”

Others like Donald and Dolive do not think that hurricanes are that profitable of an event.

“When it’s all said and done, [hurricanes aren’t] as big of a moneymaker as some people think, noting trouble with insurance companies,” says Dolive. “It’s not as good as it seems. We are in a small town and we never treat our customers that way, nor will we ever treat them that way,” he adds.

“I hope we don’t have one (a hurricane),” says Donald. “Being in the glass business, it used to be that we didn’t mind a little blow every now and again. But, after last season, I’d just as soon never see another storm again,” he adds.

“Down the road as new construction starts up—that is good for the economy,” says Dolive.

Unfortunately, one can never be fully-prepared for a natural disaster as destructive as a category 4 or 5 hurricane, but glaziers are certainly hoping for the best this season.

“We’ve been here for 30 years and you have to take them as they come,” says Dolive. 

Sarah Batcheler is an assistant editor for USGlass magazine.

Copyright 2006 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved.
No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.