Three days after a tornado tore through the small western Kentucky town of Mayfield in December 2021, Chad Stone arrived as part of EquipmentShare’s disaster response team. As Stone and his teammates made their way up and down debris-covered streets in massive wheel loaders, helping the town dig out, they were approached by a woman with an unusual request.
“She said a car had flown right into her living room, and she wanted to know if we could pull it out,” said Stone, EquipmentShare’s district manager for the mideast region. “We were asking her where we needed to put the car, and she said, ‘This isn’t my car.’”
The car’s owner lived four blocks away.
Tornadoes, like the EF4 twister that hit Mayfield, are powerful enough to turn cars into projectiles and reduce even sturdy brick buildings like the Graves County Courthouse to rubble. The United States averages about 1,000 tornadoes per year, which is more than any other country. While they hit most often in the Great Plains and southeastern states in spring and summer, tornadoes can occur anywhere when the atmospheric conditions are right: warm, moist air below + cool, dry air above + a difference in wind speed or direction in the two levels. Even for parts of the country not in tornado alley, March is the perfect time for a mix of winter storms, flooding rain and strong winds.
For construction companies, which do much of their work outdoors on sites filled with building materials and tools, it’s important to map out a strategy to stay safe and minimize damage during a severe storm.
Severe weather creates anxiety that is not conducive to logical decision-making, so create a detailed plan in advance. While you’re at it, create plans for other disasters that could affect your part of the country, such as floods, fires, hurricanes, earthquakes or winter storms. Here are some important topics to cover in your plan.
When the advanced forecast calls for a severe thunderstorm in your area in the coming days, notify employees that the emergency plan could be put into action if necessary. This will give everyone time to refresh their memories about their duties during a tornado.
To prepare a construction site for a tornado or any storm with high winds, the basics include:
Monitor local radio, TV or online sources for updates on the storm. The National Weather Service (NWS) will issue a tornado watch if the conditions are right for possible tornadoes. The watch usually covers several counties for a specific time frame. If your area is under a tornado watch, this is a sign to stop work if you haven’t already.
The typical signs of an approaching tornado are a dark or greenish sky, a dark cloud low in the sky, large hail and a roaring sound. A tornado warning will be issued if a tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. If you hear a tornado warning, seek shelter immediately. Go to a storm shelter, basement or interior room without windows on the lowest floor. If you’re caught outside during a tornado, find a low-lying spot away from trees and lie facedown with your arms protecting your head and neck.
The danger of a tornado doesn’t end when the storm passes. Tornadoes can cause downed power lines, ruptured gas lines and structural damage to buildings and flooding. Before your thoughts turn to property, worry about what’s most important.
“The first focus is the people — the safety of your family, your employees, your customers, the community,” said Stone, who still keeps in touch with some residents of Mayfield that he helped during the disaster response.
When it’s time to clean up the mess, the process begins with equipment that removes debris.
“It ranges from small tools like saws to earthmoving equipment like skid steers, wheel loaders, bulldozers, dump trucks,” Stone said. “Your focus is on equipment that pushes debris, attachments like grapple buckets that help you latch onto a big limb and move it. Excavators galore to pick up things.”
Generators or rechargeable power storage systems provide energy for essential equipment — such as HVAC, air scrubbers, dehumidifiers and fans — that keep indoor environments safe and comfortable until electricity is restored. If heavy rains accompanied the tornado, you can rent pumps to drain flooded areas.
EquipmentShare offers all of the above and more to help you respond to a tornado and rebuild.
A safety plan can help you protect your people and equipment, and our insurance partner, Leif Assurance — an agency that specializes in construction insurance — can be the safety net for your business. An agent can help you compare quotes and customize coverage limits to fit your needs.