Seeing destruction and devastation at a school really does remind you how precious life is. As a parent, you assume that your daughter or son will be safe each day when they depart for school, and while there is no guarantee, the EF-2 tornado that struck Harris County High School on Nov. 16, 2011, reminded the community of Hamilton, GA, how precious life is. 
According to the National Weather Service, the storm moved into Georgia at about 1:35 p.m. with peak winds reaching 125 mph. It tracked approximately 26 miles across Harris County and ended its destruction close to the Harris County-Talbot County line near Shiloh, GA.
ServiceMaster Recovery Management (SRM) was called in the day the tornado struck by Harris County High School. The team’s initial tasks were to access the damage on-site at the school, begin cleaning up debris and address the immediate safety concerns. 
The following day, the team arrived on-site with 100 crew members in tow. A quick assessment showed that up to 10 buildings incurred severe damage, including outdoor athletic facilities, all requiring disaster restoration services. 
Harris County High School officials cancelled school the Thursday and Friday following the tornado strike. Time was working against SRM - the high school had to be ready for students to return on Monday, November 28 following a Thanksgiving break. In approximately one week, the team was able to return the students back to the classroom on time. 
The high school structure suffered extensive damage in some areas including sections of the roof that were ripped from the auditorium and classrooms, skylights shattered and metal siding torn by wind from the gym. The football, baseball and softball field houses were structurally damaged or totally destroyed. The 80-foot tall concrete light poles were twisted from the tornado’s wind and required replacement. Nearby, the school’s central office and Carver Resource Center sustained extensive roof and water damage.
As restoration plans got underway, the SRM leadership team began charting the steps to recovery. Working closely with the school board and fire marshal, the team had to ensure the reconstruction efforts met local building codes and provided a safe environment for the students and teachers throughout the clean up process. 
In addition, the school board empowered the team to act as its liaison with the architects and insurance company. Allowing each partner to concentrate on its expertise provided a seamless and quality working relationship. Exercising its expertise in claims and getting people back to business, SRM managed the insurance process on behalf of Harris County High School. The team’s level of communication and detailed documentation served them and the school well in processing the insurance claim and meeting the accounting responsibilities required by the state. 
In addition, the Board of Education provided swift direction and authorization to utilize SPLOST (Special-purpose local-option sales tax) funds to enhance the facilities, a decision that made the team’s job much easier. The SPLOST funds were designated to the track, turf, the expansion of the dressing rooms, improved lighting at the stadium, lighting at the baseball and softball fields, new bleachers at the baseball and softball fields and enhancement to the overall baseball and softball fields.
Over the course of the next nine months, ServiceMaster Recovery Management began the intensive journey to restoring the facility.
Along the way, the team faced a few challenges. One challenge was the removal of glass and debris from the high school football field. The impact of the tornado shattered the stadium lighting as well as the school’s skylights which traveled a quarter of a mile, dumping glass and debris directly on the field. With safety always being the number one priority the restoration team recommended a complete removal of the turf to ensure the glass and debris were removed for the safety of the students and athletes. The potential for glass and debris to resurface in the future was high and no chances could be taken. Once the turf was removed, a specialized grading was utilized and an appropriate drainage plan was developed to ensure water would not stand or remain on the field. 
SRM and the school secured a company to assist with the implementation of the new turf field. What’s unique about this turf is it’s made and installed by the same company that installs the Dallas Cowboys’ turf at Cowboys Stadium. In addition, the team also managed the implementation of the upgraded football stadium lighting. 
The team also had to relocate personnel and students from the Carver Resource Center to the middle school due to the intensive damage incurred to that building. SRM took responsibility for that move over the course of the school’s winter break. Working on a three-week deadline, the team had to relocate supplies, desks, chairs, computers and more for the teachers and students. In addition, the team managed the IT re-connection of all computers. Once the temporary move was completed, the former Carver Resource Center became the focus requiring a completely upgraded roof. Following the roof improvements, the team transferred all equipment back to the original facility and completed setup.  
The third and arguably constant challenge the team faced was time. The goal was to ensure a safe environment and minimize time away from the classroom. Along the restoration process, there were critical deadlines that had to be met to not disrupt the school system’s calendar. 
At any given time during the day, evenings and weekends, as many as 50 people were on-site working to meet strict deadlines. Those workers included roofers, sheet rockers, demolition crews, IT personnel, heating and air contractors, plumbers and more. The team not only completed the work but also served as a director of the orchestra to ensure all parties were working in harmony. 
With a devastation of this size, there are a lot of details that are easily overlooked in the clean-up and restoration process. For starters, the trained experts at ServiceMaster Recovery Management examined and verified that all computers at Harris County High School were working properly post-tornado. Due to high humidity and possible lightning strikes, this process was quite time consuming.
In addition, moisture mapping of the entire facility was required and recorded to detect any possible mold issues before mold had time to manifest. 
The baseball field, football field, training facilities, tennis courts and softball field structures incurred damage from the tornado’s wind and, despite how easy it sounds to replace dugouts, it required a methodical approach. After removing all debris, the team had to reconstruct the dugouts to a specific school-regulated code and building code– again with the clock ticking. 
Following the tornado destruction, the track field also required an upgrade to meet State high school athletic regulations. The SRM team spearheaded the grading and drainage plan for the new track as well as the installation of the enhanced athletic field. 
On August 31, 2012, some nine months after the twister wreaked its havoc, the 1,200-person school celebrated its recovery and restored facility with a special ribbon cutting ceremony held prior to the first football game of the year. The community, school board members, teachers and ServiceMaster Recovery Management team attended to commemorate the special occasion. 
ServiceMaster Recovery Management specializes in getting people back to work, business or life fast, but the Harris County High School disaster took on a whole new meaning.  It touched the hearts of each team member and propelled the restoration process forward through the many challenges we faced.