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The road from disaster to recovery: Restoration professionals manage the post-catastrophe risks

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Chip D'Angelo, president, WCD Group, at the site of one of his firm's remediation projects in Jersey City.
Chip D'Angelo, president, WCD Group, at the site of one of his firm's remediation projects in Jersey City. - ()

Most people, when they hear of a pending storm or watch video of a harrowing fire or see the results of a man-made mass catastrophe like the recent shooting in Las Vegas, wonder who is in charge of rescuing survivors, containing the damage and restoring some semblance of normalcy.

After rescue personnel, engineering and construction professionals are the ones who hit the ground running after a catastrophe in an attempt to become the bedrock of calm while others are whipped up by the chaos. Wm. Chip D’Angelo, founder and president of Pennington-based WCD Group, said his team is ready to mobilize whenever there is a natural or man-made crisis.

WCD Group is engaged in projects by the property owners and their insurance companies. First tier funding for disasters comes from insurance companies. Next, applications for federal funding from programs such as FEMA can be made to handle restoration issues not covered by insurance. In the case of Sandy victims, for example, thousands of homes along the shorelines in Monmouth, Ocean and Atlantic counties qualified for money from the RREM program (Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation, and Mitigation) to help elevate structures to be in compliance with new flood zone codes.

When Sandy hit New Jersey, WCD group was — and still is — here. When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, WCD group was there. When practically the entire state of Florida was affected by Hurricane Irma, WCD Group was there. The company is managing restoration projects now in all three states, having been involved with environmental cleanup and demolition in several areas.

In terms of Puerto Rico, “we are not there yet but we are mustering resources now and are at the ready. We’ll have boots on the ground as soon as the insurance companies send us there,” D’Angelo predicted.

Five stages of disaster recovery:

Rescue
Response
Restoration
Rebuilding
Readiness

This five-step plan kicks in after any type of event, from a water main break to something as catastrophic as a major natural disaster.

First things first

There’s always a right way to do things and a wrong way, D’Angelo said. The correct way to deal with a disaster is to view everything from a risk standpoint. “If things are not managed properly, it’s chaos. Our role at WCD is to apply management techniques and procedures to help businesses and homeowners to avoid chaos. We do what needs to be done to mitigate further risk.”

He explained there are five stages to disaster recovery which he calls the Five Rs. The five-tier plan kicks in the aftermath of any type of event from a water main break to something as catastrophic as a major natural disaster. They five steps are: Rescue, Response, Restoration, Rebuilding and Readiness.

The first and second “Rs,” rescue and response, are performed by emergency response personnel and subcontractors who secure the facility and assets to protect human health and environment.

Restoration is where companies like WCD Group get involved. In fact, this is the stage much of Houston is in, D’Angelo explained. As soon as regions impacted by Maria, such as Puerto Rico and St. Martin, are in the restoration stage, he said WCD will be there.

Once disaster strikes, D’Angelo said, it’s not enough to apply standard construction knowledge. Management of the project is a critical component of moving through the disaster toward restoration.

WCD manages subcontractors who execute environmental cleanup, drying and selective demolition. The company also assesses the situation and does temporary restoration to prevent further loss, such as securing or replacing walls or a roof to prevent further damage. D’Angelo said: “We prepare the property so it can move into the next phase, rebuilding.”

The concept of rebuilding is far more than re-erecting a structure. Of course, traditional engineering, design and construction regulations and knowledge are used to determine which assets can be rebuilt for intended reuse. “Our firm is different; we are not a traditional engineering/construction/environmental risk management company,” he said. “We have the same discipline and skill sets as a traditional company but we apply them to a loss -- hurricane, fire or a wind storm, as examples.”

Is it enough to just rebuild? D’Angelo said “no way.”

“The key is to rebuild stronger,” D’Angelo said. “We want to integrate innovative new designs and construction techniques to harden the assets to better withstand another loss. We do this within all of the upgraded zoning and land use regulations.”

The final R, “Readiness,” refers to preparing disaster recovery and business continuity planning. These include responses to the “what do I do if x happens” scenarios, D’Angelo said.

“In fact, Readiness is as much the first R as it is the last because this is a cyclical process. Get your insurance in order, know how your team is going to respond in case of a disaster so you can get your business up and running as quickly as possible. Putting contingency plans in place before a disaster occurs helps you avoid disastrous chaos,” he said.

Many individuals and businesses are prompted by insurance carriers who make policy renewals following disasters contingent on having Business Recovery Plans. However, it’s human nature, D’Angelo said, to focus on planning immediately after a crisis. In the years that follow, people focus less on planning and more on day-to-day business.

WCD, with offices in New York City, Atlanta, Poughkeepsie, NY, High Point, NC, Tampa, New Orleans and Chicago, is a go-to source for Business Recovery Plan strategies for clients all over the world. Even without a plan in place, the full-time team of 75 WCD professionals is often called in to start the process of moving forward. D’Angelo said the company is managing up to 100 projects at any time.

WCD Group is always in a mode of action, not reaction, the CEO said.

“We make sure we have the proper resources in place so we can take action at a moment’s notice. It’s our job to always do better for our clients. And I believe the very best way WCD can serve our clients is to be ready to respond in case of disaster so they aren’t left wondering what to do when disaster strikes.”

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