Volume 42, Issue 7 - July 2007

Steering Through the Storm
Glass Businesses Hit by Hurricanes Learn Lessons, Find Growth
by Tami Faram

No electricity, gasoline, telephones, banks, grocery stores and flooding everywhere—that’s what residents and businesses along the Gulf Coast faced following the 2005 hurricane season. The effects of two of that season’s hurricanes, Katrina and Rita, are still very much on the minds of those living and working in the effected region. With 2007’s hurricane season already here, everyone, from the federal and state agencies, to local business owners and citizens, recognize the significance of being prepared.

Glass Owners Pull Through
Many glass shop owners live and work in the areas affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. They suffered their own personal losses, but each also reached out to their local communities.

“When something like this hits, you become very aware of preparation,” says Vickie Stewart, a glass shop owner in Jessup, Texas. “We realize that you can have food in your cabinet and think you’re prepared, but there are so many other things you don’t realize you’ll need.” After the kind of damage suffered by homes and businesses, Stewart admits, “it’s just so difficult to try and figure out what you do first.”

“Our [glass] shop was in about a foot of water, our computers and phones were down, part of our roof was damaged and all of our furniture was a complete loss,” she says. “All our businesses were closed … in fact, the whole town was knocked out of power.” After the hurricane, her business, Stewart Glass & Mirror Inc., was closed for more than a week. Local power was not available and gasoline was scarce, so even using a generator was not always possible. 

“We’re the largest glass shop in town and we were the only ones with inventory after the storm,” Stewart says. Once the calls started coming in for glass replacement in area homes and businesses, what typically took a day to measure before the storm now would take six to eight weeks. “It took us more than a year just to complete [glass] storm-related jobs in addition to our regular jobs,” Stewart says.

A Helping Hand
Stewart, who took in nearly 20 people who lost their homes as a result of the hurricane, says if it wasn’t for a glass industry colleague in Houston, she and her neighbors might not have been able to bounce back as quickly as they did. “Bob Lawrence of Craftsman Glass in Houston doesn’t even deliver to our area, but he ran a truck to us everyday with every supply you can imagine,” Stewart says. “After the hurricane, we didn’t have any type of store, if you didn’t have it [necessities] in your home, you didn’t have it. But Bob called everyday to find out what we needed. It’s wonderful to be in the industry that we’re in.” 

Lawrence says that his company “sent word out” to many other glass shops in the Houston area to help supply goods to their glass colleagues on the Texas Gulf Coast. Houston glass shops supplied everything from generators and gasoline, to bars of soap and toothpaste. “A lot of people donated items and we sent a truck down everyday,” Lawrence says. “There were a lot of local people here who supported the effort … they stuffed items in plastic bags and went around to the local stores gathering up everything that could fit the basic need.” 

Lawrence says that although the gasoline, generators and air conditioners were all welcomed items for both homes and businesses after the hurricane, it was a special delivery of Blue Bell ice cream that really seemed to hit the spot. “That was the most appreciated item we sent,” he says. 

Lake Charles
Hurricane Rita also made its way to Lake Charles, La. But decorative glass shop owner Linda Cooley was one of the fortunate ones. Her shop, A Touch of Glass, in downtown Lake Charles, did not sustain any significant damage. “We boarded up the shop and evacuated before the storm,” she says. When residents and business owners returned to town, she says they were shocked that the “structures were so badly damaged.” As Cooley got her glass business back in order after the storm, she had difficulties getting inventory delivered. “It was a mess ... UPS couldn’t even deliver to the area, and UPS is how I get 90 percent of my inventory,” says Cooley. 

Glass manufacturers, such as PPG Industries in Pittsburgh, admit they did have trouble distributing glass shipments to areas affected by the storm. “Immediately following the hurricanes, some customers were unable to accept their scheduled glass shipments due to numerous causes including, in extreme cases, that the roads to their facilities were impassable,” says PPG spokesperson Robert Struble. “The return of these shipments to our plants, in combination with our normal shipping activity, did reduce the overall specialized truck capacity in the short term.”

“Following the storms, there was a universal shortage of vans because of the surge in shipments by the government to the region, which made deliveries more difficult,” he adds.

Danny Guilbeau, AFG branch manager in Opelousas, La., says delivering glass supplies got easier as the roads were cleared of debris. “We had some trouble the first two to three weeks, but our trucks were actually escorted into many areas [hit by the storms],” Guilbeau says. He added that many of his drivers were actually welcomed into towns after the storm because they are known to the local areas in which they deliver. “When people saw our trucks, they waved us in,” he says. 

Hurricane Katrina
Hurricane Katrina, the precursor to Hurricane Rita, was the storm that started it all in August of 2005. Although Hurricane Rita brought more powerful winds, nothing could compare to the flooding that followed Hurricane Katrina. Norman Foxworth is owner of Dependable GlassWorks Inc. in Covington, La., located about 35 miles outside New Orleans. 

“We never thought it [Hurricane Katrina] would be as bad as it was,” Foxworth says. His glass business was shut down for a week but even then, he could only operate with use of generators. As a business owner, Foxworth says his main concern was his employees who didn’t have homes and couldn’t buy gasoline to get to work. “All of the banks were shut down, so even though we had checks for our employees, they couldn’t cash them right away,” he says. When local banks did re-open, Foxworth says they would only cash checks of $250 at a time. 

After storms like Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, it’s no surprise that the great rebuilding effort that followed has contributed to substantial growth in glass sales.

“After the storm we saw a number of houses and businesses starting to come back. But a number of other glass companies moved in and now the price of glass [in our area] has gone up,” says Foxworth, whose own glass sales have increased by 20 to 30 percent since the storm. He says the additional competition in labor and salaries has continued to affect glass prices in the Louisiana area. Even two years after the hurricane, glass companies are continually handling larger job loads. “The biggest challenge now is having quality people to be able to handle the large amount of work,” he says.

Prices in the Texas Gulf have not necessarily increased as a result of the hurricanes, according to Virginia Lee, executive director of the Texas Glass Association, but since the storms, Texas glass companies are still catching up with the work. “[Glass companies] are still very busy … businesses are backlogged,” she says. “There still is a demand for experienced glaziers and for good quality glass workers in Texas.” 

Lessons Learned
All of the glass business owners we interviewed said they have learned much from these powerful storms—some things they were prepared for, and some things they were not. They may have not had enough extension cords or gasoline on hand. They may have not been prepared for the extensive flooding or the loss in communication. They certainly weren’t prepared for the loss of their homes and their employees’ homes. But each did have a close tie with their employees, suppliers and distributors in the glass industry. Each was fortunate to have enough inventory on hand, or enough inventory accessible that they could respond quickly to their local rebuilding efforts.

There are a variety of things a glass shop owner can do to prepare for a hurricane. Making sure insurance policies are up-to-date months before hurricane season begins is something all of our business owners advise. 

According to Foxworth, there are other precautions business owners should take. “You should start at least two weeks before you know a storm is coming. “You should check your supplies and check your generators and make sure you have the gasoline on hand to operate them.” 

He adds that employers should have ready “cash on-hand” to take care of purchasing supplies, paying employees and buying gas. After both hurricanes, ATM machines were shut down and any gas stations or stores that were able to open would not take credit cards or personal or business checks. “The only thing that talks after a hurricane is cash,” Foxworth says. 

Rita Destroys Louisiana Bank, No Call for Hurricane-Resistance 
Industry experts say that anyone who has witnessed small- or large-missile impact testing knows that these systems, when combined with the proper components and installation, really work. Just consider the damage done in the downtown areas of Miami and Fort Lauderdale in 2005 by Hurricane Wilma, which has been called the most intense Atlantic-basin hurricane ever recorded. Here, buildings built to the new codes survived substantially better than the buildings built according to the pre-Hurricane Andrew codes. While no one could predict how 2005’s Hurricane Rita, with her 130-mile-an-hour winds and rain, would wreak havoc along the Gulf Coast, many businesses rebuilding after the storm still have not chosen impact-resistant products. 

What stands today as the 21-story Capital One Tower was, at the time of the 2005 hurricane, the Hibernia National Bank, a large, commercial, glass building in Lake Charles, La.

The building (featured on this month’s cover) sustained heavy damage. “We had $10 million in damage and lost 125 to 150 lites of glass,” says Mark Politz, Capital One vice president/regional property manager. He says the winds following Hurricane Rita ripped the roof from the building’s three-story glass atrium, which also caused excessive water damage. “The entire building is made of glass. It was built to withstand 130- to 140-mile-an-hour winds, but once the roof was tore off the atrium the glass started breaking in a domino effect,” Politz says, adding that most of the damage in the high rise, was to stories one through seven. 

Despite the large costs the bank building incurred to replace the broken glass, which was purchased from Viracon Inc. in Owatonna, Minn., building owners did not opt for a hurricane glazing system.

“The product was a standard one-inch reflective glass,” says Doug Merek, architectural sales representative for Viracon’s Southern region. Both Merek and Christine Shaffer, Viracon marketing director, say it is “generally up to the building owner” to choose upgrades in impact-resistant products for such a project. “It typically comes down to money, insurance and whether or not the local building codes require specific changes,” Shaffer and Merek say. 

After Hurricane Rita, “the state passed the 2006 International Code Council (ICC) requirements that meet 2003 windload requirements,” says Rene Lewis, senior building inspector for the City of Lake Charles. Lewis says the 2003 wind requirements are 100 to 130 miles-per-hour, depending on which part of Louisiana you’re located. 

“But most of the damage done here was due to trees,” he says. “We had a lot of trees and flying debris falling on houses and cars. And a lot of the damage done to roofs was a result of inadequate fastening … before they [the state of Louisiana] passed the mandating codes, you could use staples.” 

As a result of the revised Louisiana state building codes, architects and developers now must follow the minimum code requirements. Since not all parishes are equal in their wind load requirements, some localities are not required to use hurricane-resistant glazing. “For what we all went through, we should be selling considerably more [impact-resistant products] than we are,” says Norman Foxworth, owner of Dependable GlassWorks Inc. in Covington, La. “It’s really a responsibility of the glass industry to promote these products. And our biggest challenge is to educate the building inspectors,” he says. “In the past impact-resistant products were a difficult option, it’s much easier today. Cost is really the driving force behind it. They’re too busy looking at the cost [of the products] on the front end, instead of considering the overall cost after a storm hits.”

Lewis disagrees, “I don’t know if it’s up to the glass businesses to push their products on the owners of these buildings,” he says. “I think it’s up to the people who design these buildings—the architects and designers—that should take some responsibility.” 

Lewis adds that he personally inspected the Capital One Tower when it was built and owned originally by Calcasieu Marine National Bank. “There’s nothing wrong with that building,” Lewis says. “The last storm that hit before Rita was Audrey in 1957 … that’s [nearly] 50 years between storms. Maybe in another 50 years all of the codes will mandate the use of these [impact-resistant] products.” 

the author: Tami Faram is an assistant editor for USGlass magazine.

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