I had 100 calls for grapple trucks for the Hurricane Irma cleanup. All the usual companies were already working in Houston after Hurricane Harvey and there was plenty of work there. The Hurricane Irma cleanup has been the slowest I have ever seen. Not because everyone is not working hard, but because there is not enough of anything.We cannot grind up all the debris if it is not picked up and brought to us. I cannot imagine how it is in Puerto Rico, because there are not enough workers here in Florida. This was the first time I myself was caught in a hurricane, so I saw everything from a different prospective.
As I wrote for Hurricane Matthew and before, the basic cleanup is hard work but profitable. But this year, the cleanup resources are stretched past thin. As Hurricane Nate comes ashore, I don’t know how any available cleanup companies will be able to get there. This year, cleanup equipment is so nonexistent that the typical at-the-curb grapple trucks are being paid two and three times the normal rate. Read below in my previous article and multiply those rates by 2 and 3. If there was any year to start in the cleanups, this is it. If you need help getting started, read below and email me: email@example.com , I would be happy to help.
Every hurricane, tornado or other disaster I get calls from customers and other grinder owners wanting to get in on the cleanup efforts thinking they are going to make a million dollars. After all the hurricanes this year, it was the same. Because the damage stretched everywhere, a lot of assistance was needed and I received several calls from people looking for someone to grind for them; bring tree crews or grapple trucks to pick up the debris and help in the cleanup. Most people have heard of either the millions of dollars some companies have made, or the horror stories of other companies that went broke because they were not paid for the work they did.
Who you work for makes a difference. Here are a few basic questions to ask and some estimated numbers to use when talking with any cleanup contractors:
- Do they have money in escrow to pay subcontractors?
- What are the estimated volumes you will be responsible for?
- Self-loading on the cleanup routes are in the $5/yd. range. How far away is the cleanup dumpsite? You should be able to turn 10-plus rounds a day. With a truck and trailer of a combined 80 yards, that would be about $4000 a day.
- Grinding should be in the $1.50-$2/yd. range. That is input yardage into the grinder, not ground material volume. You should be able to do 4-5000 Cleanup yards per day. That would be $5000-$10,000 a day.
If you have a chipper and supply contracts, you can get whole tree-size material piled cleanly for free and can chip and haul away for your contract. No need to go logging. Material is there waiting for you to take it.
Firewood processors can get all the tree length hardwoods they can take for free. It will be piled cleanly and all you need to do is pick it up
Mulch companies can get all the clean ground wood they would like for free
Show up in person with your gear ready to work. Calling from 500 or 1000 miles away gets you nowhere. Handle the job given to you, no matter what.
You will spend a lot of money on travel, lodging and operations, but work for the right people and get enough volume you will make a few good dollars.
Back in January 2013, I wrote a similar article after Hurricane Sandy with a lot more information to think about. Here it is:
Before we all start thinking of sugarplums full of money dancing in our heads, think about what you are cleaning up. The storm debris contains the lives of those affected. A ten year old boy’s basketball, a three year old girl’s pink Little Tikes® car, a teenager’s baseball helmet. If it were you, it would be your memory foam mattress, your living room couch, and your favorite chair. Take your house, turn it on its side and shake out the contents. That’s what you have in a pile of storm debris. Your photographs, diplomas, wedding dress, your child’s first shoes — your life. Gone in an instant.
Bulldoze your entire neighborhood then pull in the main entrance and try to figure out where your house was. There are no street signs. There are no fancy entrance gates. Water, sand and debris cover the roads. Where is your street? Your neighbor’s big oak tree is gone; the house on the corner is gone. Everything is flat. Where is your house? Until you stand in the middle of some horrific tragedy as this, there is no way to understand. Pictures, TV stories or articles cannot describe the feeling you have when for as far left and right as you can see, everything is gone. Fortunately for the Sandy victims, this was only a category one hurricane. It could have been “exponentially worse”, as one cleanup contractor described. But don’t tell that to the people who lost everything or those that only had five feet of water in their house, because they lost their lives.
First, the roads need to be cleared to allow aid to flow in. Then the hospitals and support services need to be made operational. The people need food, water and shelter to survive, then delivering fuel, restoring power and rebuilding can get started.
It amazes me the way some people use these events for political gain. Most of these people didn’t do a thing prior to the storm to prepare their constituents, but they can sure criticize someone else afterward. Planning is the key. Whether you are in a coastline city, county in the middle of our country; disaster plans, debris management plans and pre-event contracts are a must, because sooner or later you are going to need them. It’s like an insurance policy you don’t want to have to use but is essential to have.
As for the cleanup contractors:
Most major disaster cleanup companies have sub-contractor signup information on their websites. Get together all your company information, list of services, and equipment, bank information, insurance information and all contact information and locations and get signed up with each contractor. Depending on the disaster location or your services, you may get a call.
If you are in the grinding, shredding or hauling business, and want to get involved in these cleanups, I have a few points of advice:
- Get setup with the prime contractors as described earlier
- You must be able to be on site and operating within 24 hours.
- Make sure you have enough money to cover all your business costs for at least a month because getting vendor payments setup will take a while which is why, just like pre-event contracts, having all that setup prior to, will get you paid faster.
- Plan on bringing a place to live with you. Most of the hotels will have displaced residents living in them or the prime contractors; FEMA and local officials will already have them filled.
- Have every part and spare part possible. And bring full oil and fuel tanks with you. Getting things delivered when there are no addresses is not very easy.
- Bring more equipment. If your grinder isn’t running, you are not making money. You are not going to impress your contractor either.
When more sites open, or more materials are available, the BEST bird gets the worm. Handle it. No matter who, what, when, how, why. Get the job done. No excuses. Then you will receive as much work as you would want. You will also get the calls in the future.
- Work for who you trust. This is my number one piece of advice. Don’t be a sub to a sub to a sub to a sub. Lowest man on the pole gets paid last if at all. The best Prime Contractors will have tens of millions banked to pay subs as much as weekly to keep the cleanup going while they are waiting to get paid from their customer. Those that don’t, struggle to keep subcontractors on the job and struggle to keep their contract.
A lot of business owners are involved in their local politics. Make sure your county or city has disaster plans in place to minimize the cleanup delay and expedite the relief efforts.
Questions? Dave Whitelaw — firstname.lastname@example.org.