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February 2005: Florida Engineering Society Journal


Charley, Frances, Ivan, Jeanne. Not a school roll call, but the names of four of the most devastating hurricanes to strike Florida in more than a century. In less than six weeks, the hurricanes deadly path caused untold heartache and damages now estimated in the tens of billions of dollars. Two of the hurricanes, Frances and Jeanne, both struck land within five miles of each other, something that has never happened before.

Fortunately, a hurricane emergency response team of more than 100 from MACTEC, Inc. (www.mactec.com) responded immediately to urgent requests from a wide variety of public and private sector clients statewide. Tasks ranged from providing structural, roofing, water intrusion and stormwater damage assessments to asbestos sampling and remediation (MACTEC also mobilized a team within 24 hours when the World Trade Center towers collapsed - the company conducted an assessment of structural and mechanical systems and indoor air-quality condition for a major financial firm that suffered extensive damage to two of its buildings - one a headquarters facility and the other a data center).

The emergency response team experienced considerable logistical challenges and has been working 12-16 hour days, seven days a week. One project manager, Pensacola-based Richard J. Brown, joined the team less than 48 hours after Hurricane Ivan destroyed his home - the family's belongings were scattered more than a quarter mile from where their house once stood. Their only remaining possessions were two vehicles and a few suitcases full of clothes they hastily packed when the mandatory evacuation order was instituted.

To date the company has helped with cleanup efforts statewide. A brief snapshot:

Hurricane Charley

The first of the four hurricanes to race across the state, Charley caused major damage in southwest Florida, particularly in the small towns of Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda, about 100 miles southwest of Tampa. A six-member scientific team has been conducting mold remediation and assessment work at an 850-bed retirement community in Port Charlotte. Portions of the facility's roof were blown off and there was significant damage to the interior. Similar mold remediation tasks are being conducted for a number of retail and financial clients that experienced hurricane damage.

Project Manager Michael Ebel said one of the biggest challenges was simply getting to the respective sites.

"We had scientists coming from offices in Tampa, Naples, Miami and Greensboro, NC," he said. "Hotel availability was slim to none and just driving to the various client sites was challenging because of all the debris on the roads - drive times ranged from 45 to 120 minutes each way!"

Hurricane Frances

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Frances, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE), Mobile District, quickly began emergency response efforts in Central Florida. The firm was one of the first consulting firms that COE requested. In less than two days a 32-person team, consisting of two field project managers and 30 engineers and technicians from 10 offices from the Southeast, were assembled to conduct various quality assurance inspection projects throughout Central Florida, initially in Brevard County and Indian River County.

According to Bob Miller, on-site project manager, the firm has already completed more than 10,000 roofing inspections for affected homeowners, quite a feat considering that when the team arrived in the area, there was no power, most gas stations and grocery stores were shuttered and the majority of the region's hotels were either full or closed because of hurricane damage.

"Typically, on a good day, an inspector with his crew could complete about 20 inspections. " Miller said. " Our principal task is to determine the extent of the roof damage, then coordinate repair and/or replacement efforts directly with the roofing contractors. We also provide the roofing inspection data to COE for their database."

Miller added that a second 32-person team from 15 Southeast offices was recently activated and is now working in Osceola and Orange Counties conducting similar roofing inspections.

Hurricane Ivan

Ivan's wrath was concentrated in Florida's panhandle. The firm is working with numerous local clients and conducting structural assessments, water intrusion and indoor air quality assessments.

Key projects have included:

Interstate 10 repairs - The storm surge severely damaged the I-10 bridge over Escambia Bay in Pensacola. I-10 is the principal east-west route in the region. The firm has six steel inspectors assisting with bridge repair, contracted directly with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). The inspectors are working in the field in Pensacola and at steel fabrication facilities in Birmingham, AL. FDOT was able to re-open the westbound two-lane bridge on Oct. 4. Work continues on the eastbound bridge and its opening has not been scheduled.

Escambia County Facilities Department - The County's facilities suffered severe water damage. The firm is providing water intrusion and indoor air quality assessments at numerous facilities, including the Property Appraiser's Office, Blanchard Judicial Center, the Old Courthouse and Annex, and Sheriff's Department. Principal services include:

  • Assessment and report preparation
  • Assistance with damage repair planning
  • Collecting air and bulk samples for laboratory analysis
  • Collecting indoor air quality measurements
  • Inspection and documentation of building envelope damage
  • Inspection and documentation of heating ventilation and air conditioning
  • Subcontracting an accredited laboratory to perform necessary analyses

The School District of Escambia County - More than half of the County's 74 schools were hit hard by Ivan, with damages estimated at $75 million. Principal tasks include assisting the contractor with identifying project tasks (drying, mold remediation, etc.), monitoring the work and providing clearance inspection and air testing.

Other clients have consisted of numerous institutional and commercial organizations - hospitals, nursing homes, shopping enters, condominium associations and office buildings throughout Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties. Major tasks have included inspecting exterior curtain wall damage to a nine-story glass office building in downtown Pensacola, conducting structural and roofing inspections at local shopping centers, and at beach front high-rise condominiums and hotels.

NAS-Whiting Field (NASWF) - Comprising 8,316 acres, NASWF is the Navy's largest pilot training center in the United States and is located in Milton, about 20 miles east of Pensacola. All Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard helicopter training is conducted at the base; about 60 percent of all primary Navy flight training is held there as well. Structural damage to the base buildings was limited, but roofing and water intrusion-related damage/loss was more than $20 million. Most buildings experienced some type of storm related damage; the Navy estimates the total base impact at between $50-100 million.

According to Pete Ward, project manager, logistically the post-storm conditions in the Florida panhandle have been exceptionally challenging to the 12-member team, comprised of a cadre of different disciplines - roofing specialists, structural engineers, technicians and CAD specialists.

"We've dealt with road closures, housing shortages, material shortages, and land-based communications have been down," Ward said. "From an engineering standpoint, the shear magnitude of the damage and the size of the site has been one of the largest hurdles. Fortunately we have been blessed with good weather in the aftermath of Ivan."

Ward said the company is assessing roofs and some structurally compromised buildings, including major hangars, and conducting water damage assessments.

"We're trying to quickly eliminate water damaged materials to prevent mold growth and there is some demolition we're prescribing because it involves asbestos - some of the buildings date back to World War II," he said.

Ward added that the team is working 12 hours a day, seven days a week and expects to remain on the base for another few months.

Hurricane Jeanne/Conclusion

As if a trifecta of hurricanes weren't enough for the state, shortly after Ivan struck Florida, Hurricane Jeanne made landfall on the Atlantic coast and went inland, retracing to some degree the path of destruction that Frances took.

"In many instances we have had to conduct the same types of inspections in Central Florida in the wake of Jeanne that we did for Frances," noted Miller. "But we're moving as rapidly as possible as there are thousands of people depending on us."

The Harris family of Sebastian, FL summed up MACTEC's contributions:

"We received direct hits from both Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne. Many of your engineers came to our aid and you will never know what a blessing they were in our time of need. We appreciate the fine men and women who went beyond the call of duty, working from dawn to dusk to help protect what was left of our personal belongings."

Return to: 2005 Feature Stories