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Responding to Catastrophes

[fa icon="calendar"] Aug 17, 2021 6:30:00 AM / by Kenneth R Quigley, PE

Disaster can strike at any time—natural disasters like hurricanes, wild fires, earthquakes, tornadoes; and human-caused catastrophes like pipeline leaks, criminal acts, bridge or building collapses, or industrial, air, or rail accidents. After the initial emergency response, property owners and public officials turn their attention to restoring properties and restarting commerce. Business and property owners and their insurance companies want to know:

  • How bad are the damages?
  • Can it be repaired?
  • When can repairs be made?
  • How much will the repairs cost?
  • Who will pay and how much?


Insurance companies play a critical role in recovery and rebuilding—they provide payouts for many affected by the disaster, to enable them to clean up and restore operations. Both insurers and owners need to understand the cause, origin, and cost of any site, structural, or interior damages. To determine the final payout, insurance carriers, building owners, and attorneys hire expert architects, engineers, and construction consultants to assess the damage from disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes, then determine the cause.


Hurricane Katrina

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina significantly damaged the property of Stewart Enterprises in New Orleans, the second largest provider of funeral and cemetery products and services in the U.S. The insurance carrier allocated most of the damage to flooding. Since insurance would not cover flood damage, it was critical for both the owner and the insurance carrier to hire an expert to assess whether the damage was from wind or flooding. CCA performed a wind versus flood analysis using weather history, testing, and a catalog of the damage. This analysis determined which building elements had been damaged by wind and wind-borne debris and not floodwaters.


Hurricane Noel

Hurricane Noel hit Cape Cod, Massachusetts in 2007 and damaged the interior of the First Congregational Church of Harwich. Water intrusion damaged interior finishes and musical equipment. The insurance company called CCA experts to get a clearer picture of the damage and determine if the hurricane was the single cause of the water intrusion. The analysis revealed that the origin of the water infiltration was wind-driven rain entering through an open window, allowing water to accumulate due to clogged drains and to penetrate additional openings and cause more damage.


Hurricane Ike

Construction had begun on a thirty-three-story high-rise medical office tower in Houston in 2006. Before completing the exterior envelope, there were concerns about water intrusion, mold, and damage to the interior work. In 2008, Hurricane Ike landed in Texas and, along with other extreme rain events, exacerbated the damage in the tower. CCA was called in to investigate the cause and origin of the damage and determine which contractor or subcontractor, if any, may have been the responsible party. This required analysis of the scheduling and sequencing of the work prior to the storm making landfall, and the obligations of various parties. The result of the investigation enabled all involved parties to come to a mutual agreement on remedies.


Earthquake Damage

Earthquakes and other vibration-related events, such as blasting, pile driving, machine vibrations, and even weapons effect, are unique amongst catastrophes. In addition to the direct and visible damage, they also can destabilize soils and foundations and threaten the structural integrity of buildings, roads, bridges, and other critical infrastructure. Therefore, any analysis of damage must include an investigation into the soil/structure interaction that takes place during vibration events. Any such assessment needs to address the myriad of engineering and technical issues that can arise from the significant or catastrophic earthquake and vibration disturbances.


In August 2001, Washington, DC experienced a 5.8 magnitude earthquake with the epicenter 100 miles away, near Richmond, VA. The Embassy of Indonesia experienced damage to a historic interior Tiffany-type, leaded glass skylight that had been installed in approximately 1901. They hired CCA to assess the extent of the damage and ensure a safe and proper repair. A structural assessment concluded that the supporting framework of the skylight remained intact and did not impact the safety of the public space below. CCA recommended implementing a protection plan during the remediation of cracked glass panes and framework.


Expert response after catastrophe

Catastrophes present special challenges, risks, and urgency that require a clear, planned, and disciplined approach to successfully meet the needs of the parties involved. Recovering from disasters requires specialized engineers and contractors to evaluate the damage, provide technical assistance, and help return lives and commerce to normalcy as soon as possible.


At CCA we often work on projects like this, getting boots on the ground to assess damages and perform on-site inspections-sometimes before the roads have been cleared and utilities restored. For these analyses, we can represent any of the interested parties—owners, contractors, attorneys, or insurance companies. Our team has extensive experience in analyzing damage, determining cause and origin, and enabling clients to successfully recover after disaster strikes, whether the damage is to a single property or the result of a widespread catastrophe.



Learn More about CCA's  Catastrophe Response Expertise


Topics: Water Intrusion, Construction Defect, Catastrophe Response, Storm Damage, Hurricane Damage, Water Damage, Insurance