US rental industry mobilizes for Sandy recovery efforts

By Murray Pollok02 November 2012

Damage caused by Hurricane Sandy is creating an enormous demand for rented temporary power and pumps

Damage caused by Hurricane Sandy is creating an enormous demand for rented temporary power and pumps as well as other equipment.

US rental companies are playing a major role in the recovery efforts following the Hurricane Sandy disaster in the US.

United Rentals has hundreds of staff working in the affected areas, with its Power and HVAC division particularly busy.

“The event was much bigger than was anticipated”, said David Scott, United Rentals region vice president, Power and HVAC, “Certainly we haven’t had a disaster this bad since Katrina. The initial estimates are US$50 billion of damage.

“The storm hit such a concentrated area of infrastructure and people. It was only a Category 1 storm, but the combination of high tide, storm surge and hurricane really wreaked havoc.”

The Power and HVAC division could have up to 40% of its fleet deployed to the clean-up and restoration efforts, said Mr Scott, who was speaking to IRN from the disaster area.

The company was fortunate in that damage to its own depots and equipment in the area was limited. Twelve United depots lost power, but the Power and HVAC division was able to provide a temporary supply or the stores had their own generators on site. There were no major equipment losses.

The focus since then has been on providing desparately needed equipment. “We know that our products and services will be among the first required, especially power”, Mr Scott told IRN, “We reserve hotel rooms, ship people closer to the affected area, and transport in product from all over the country.”

“Our first requirement is temporary power. But as the clear up progresses, the process moves to restoration, which is another big part of our expertise – renting temporary power and dehumidifiers and driers to commercial buildings, government, hospitals and industrial facilities.

“We’re anticipating the demand for power to last anywhere from two to four weeks, and then there will be a wave of demand for restoration projects. That could last from two to six months, or years. That's still to be determined."

United and other rental companies were able to mobilise equipment and staff before the event, and the fact that many customers remembered Hurricane Irene last year made them very proactive. "We rented the majority of our power units even before the storm started", said Mr Scott.

Rental companies are helping each other. “Working with other rental companies happens even more so in this kind of situation. It’s a pretty tight-knit industry – and it’s a rewarding part of what we do, supporting the relief effort, getting people back into their homes. Everybody works together very well.”

United also has to consider its own staff. "We schedule people to come in to relieve people, to have fresh staff every week", says Mr Scott, "That’s important from a safety perspective. As a company, United Rentals has hundreds of employees working on the recovery efforts."

Given that flooding was one of the major consequences of the storm it is no surprise that Xylem, the pump company that owns the Godwin pump rental operation in the US, has been playing a major part in the recovery efforts.

Grant Salstrom, managing director of the Godwin dewatering business, said that he and his staff spent the days leading up to the hurricane gathering hundreds of Godwin dewatering pumps from all across the country and stockpiling them in locations near the hurricane’s projected path.

Godwin pumps are now operating at locations such as the World Trade Center site in New York City and wastewater treatment plants and other flooded locations throughout the Northeast.

“Our goal is to get people back to normal as quickly as possible,” said Mr Salstrom. “We already have 200 pumps in place in the storm impact zone just one day after the storm, with more on the way. We have a lot of experience in storms like this, and we take a special pride in helping people quickly when they need it.”

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