Recovering and rebuilding after a disaster: Part 7 – Remediation and reconstruction; returning to normal

This article is part of a series of seven articles to help businesses recover and rebuild after a disaster. Other documents in this series:

Once you and your employees have survived the immediate danger of damage to your facility, you can begin the incredibly hard work of remediation and reconstruction. Depending on the type of incident you have experienced, you may need to have law enforcement officials investigate the cause and origin of the destruction, particularly in the case of a suspicious fire or vandalism.Open for business

Your first call should be to your insurance carrier, who will assign an adjuster to your project. Then call a construction management firm that is experienced in disaster recovery. They will form your team for reconstruction, freeing you and your employees from the burden of restoring the premises at the same time you are attempting to conduct business.

The first stages of remediation are to eliminate and control hazards, prevent further damage to the building and ensure that any part of your facility that can be reopened is available and safe. For the financial health of your business and your employees, reopen as soon as you possibly can. Overtime costs to prepare a short-term workable space can be paid by your insurance.

Eliminating hazards may involve temporary fixes, so be sure you are working with contractors familiar with such measures. Electricians will be needed to “safe off” all exposed wires and conduits, isolate the damaged circuits and restore power where possible. General construction contractors should remove partially burned and unsafe doors, roofs, canopies or ceilings that could collapse on future reconstruction or investigation crews. Because structural integrity may have been compromised, additional damage can sometimes occur as you begin clean-up and removal of debris or ruined equipment. Check the roof for leaks, and check all windows, skylights and doorways carefully. Board them up if necessary.

As you return your facility to a useable state, keep the safety and comfort of your employees and customers forefront in your mind. For instance, it is not reasonable to ask people to work in areas that are still water soaked, moldy or smoke-damaged. Clean all walls, counters, furniture, floors and ceilings. And you may have to seal some surfaces with smoke-sealing primer or install a negative air pressure system in any area damaged by fire to prevent smoke fumes from infiltrating into the useable areas.

During reconstruction, the goal is to have a facility that matches — at the very minimum — the original building. This requires planning as well as actual implementation of the fixes.

First, you must establish your scope of work and have it approved by those performing the work and paying the bills. Consider that some damage may not be immediately visible to the naked eye. Insulation and wiring may require replacement for instance. You may need the services of a licensed architect. The insurance carrier will need to approve the budget before any detailed construction documents are begun. You may need a construction engineer to ensure building safety, and the insurance should pay those professional fees as well.

In addition to replacing damaged items, the insurance coverage you hold may allow you to make upgrades for building code compliance or other regulations. See if your carrier will provide you an advance on your settlement so that work can begin in a timely manner.

Your contractor should provide performance and payment bonds and provide appropriate insurance. Specify working hours and deadlines in your contract. Hold frequent meetings with all involved parties to discuss progress, change orders, schedules and payment. As the project begins to conclude, ensure that all punch list items are completed and that you have obtained all warranties and certifications from the contractors.

While recovering from a disaster can be a difficult period for a small business, it can also be a time to make needed improvements and ensure you are better prepared for future challenges.