When English speakers first borrowed the Greek word katastrophē (from katastrephein, meaning “to overturn”) it involved describing a catastrophe in the 1500s, where they used it for the conclusion or final event of a dramatic work, especially a tragedy. In time, catastrophe came to be used more generally of any unhappy conclusion, or disastrous or ruinous end. By the mid-18th century, catastrophe was used to describe a truly devastating event, such as an earthquake or a volcanic eruption. (Merriam-Webster)
In today’s world of insurance restoration, a catastrophe or catastrophic event (CAT) is a sudden and often violent event, which is either natural or manmade, that is unusually severe, where property damage exceeds $25 million dollars. (III)
Currently, there is no IICRC Standard an adjuster, restorer or consumer can refer to when a restorer must respond to a tornado, hurricane, earthquake, hailstorm, haboob, firestorm, river flooding, mud slide, ice storm, etc. The closest standard which a consensus body is working on is the IICRC S760 “Standard for Professional Wildfire Investigations and Restoration of Impacts to Structures, Systems, and Contents.” The S760 Standard will address the means and methods of remediating catastrophic (CAT) wildfire impacted structures and contents.
What the consensus body is not outlining, is what it takes for a CAT restorer to fund and insure, then mobilize, equip, house, clothe and feed workers, along with providing transportation, create a staging area, provide satellite communication to project supervisors and customers, and provide other important services such as establishing jobsite security, first aid; structure safety and hazardous materials assessment and containment; communication with government and local officials; acquiring state, provincial and local licenses; qualifying as a FEMA-SAM approved contractor.
I have worked in many CAT losses where I created friendships with government agents, adjusters, environmental professionals and restorers. The consensus is "CAT losses are some of the hardest, dirtiest, unsafe, time consuming, physically exhausting and mentally challenging jobs you will ever be involved with.” If you plan on working in CAT losses, consider the following:
A Brief Guide to Working in a CAT Loss
a. Sending workers and equipment to complete CAT work takes away from the daily operation of your company, meaning CAT work may not be as profitable as staying at home, even though you want to help others in their time of need.
b. It is not uncommon for a small restoration company to spend $7K to $10K a day in transportation, housing, food, labor and supply costs — gonig over a month of not having your costs reimbursed can break the bank of a small restorer where they end up borrowing money, taking out a business loan or maxing out their credit cards.
c. After completing a CAT project, having a return on your investment can be several to many months later with no guarantee there will be a reasonable profit for all your efforts.
d. If this is your first out-of-state CAT loss, (1) work for a licensed contractor in that state, where you are a subcontractor, where invoices are issued by the state contractor. Make sure you have a mutual agreement contract signed that outlines labor rates, equipment rental, payment of reimbursable costs (such as fuel for generators) and all payment terms; (2) if you are a franchise, work inside their CAT program; (3) if you are working for an insurer, make sure you keep copies of all assignments and fill out daily forms; (4) when working for a TPA, make sure you have a written agreement outlining the number of assignments you will be issued daily or weekly, with appropriate terms and conditions; (5) if you are soliciting work, if you are qualified and have the labor force and equipment, consider contracting with small businesses and hotels or bigger projects, such as high rise, shopping malls, commercial and industrial buildings.
a. Depending on CGL insurance, which covers the daily operation of the company, when working out of state restorers should consider purchasing out-of-state insurance for employee workers’ compensation, because you’re in-state coverage may not cover the company when a worker becomes injured out of state.
b. Specialty insurance may be required by each state for specific trades including working on roofing; removing or supporting building framing; removing damaged electrical, gas and plumbing.
c. Other forms of insurance include bailee, pollution, mold, theft, inland marine, consultation and expert witness. When repairing or restoring damaged properties, have builder’s risk insurance. Umbrella insurance is expected to provide additional coverage for different types of liability, it kicks in when other insurance coverage has been exhausted.
d. When you rent equipment to complete work or you rent equipment to others, insurance equipment rental riders may be required. For example, a "commercial contractors equipment insurance" is a broad-ranging policy designed to cover damaged or missing contracting equipment. A contractors insurance policy can extend beyond simply covering equipment, it can also cover small tools, employees’ equipment and clothing, and borrowed equipment. (The Hartford)
e. Many restorers hire local temporary workers (temp workers) and workers from staffing agencies, where when completing CAT work, your CGL and workers’ comp policy can have limitations or exclusions, requiring the restorer to have additional insurance.
3. Staging, Communication and Security:
a. Staging your company involves providing workers with food, and a clean, dry and sanitary lodging; having equipment that is functioning correctly; a base-of-operation, where the daily functioning of the restorer takes place.
b. Vehicles should have a placard identifying them as response vehicles, and workers should have uniforms, shirts or appropriate safety and turnout gear.
c. In CAT work, radio, landline and cell phone communication is often lost. Restorers should consider using a Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to identify addresses and track vehicles and workers, such as using Garmin Voice-Controlled GPS Navigator, and Garmin Satellite Communicator, which provides two-way communication and emergency SOS. For a good satellite phone, consider researching Iridium, Inmarsat and Globalstar.
a. Unless you are working for another contractor where you join a pool of other restorers using their housing, food and sanitary facilities, you can be out on a limb to find housing, where even if you can find it the cost is almost double the normal rate.
b. If you can, have an advance person (e.g., VP of your company or a marketing person) find housing and sign a contract or leave a large deposit on a credit card. See if they will work with you on pricing for weekly or monthly rentals.
c. Some restorers will find water- or smoke-impacted hotels, and include restoring the property as part of the agreement. If your company or affiliates have national contracts with certain hotels, work your corporate structure and have them book locally, often with some nights free or you get major discounts on future housing.
d. Some restorers use a motorhome as a job-site command post which acts as a communication center with customers, adjusters and workers. The motorhome provides food and water, and houses workers; it acts as 24-hour security station, an emergency first aid station and an outdoor decontamination shower; and it can provide temporary generator power to the project.
5. Your Capital Equipment and Investment:
a. All equipment in trucks and vans represent a major investment of the restorer, where labor cannot be safely preformed without it.
b. Most equipment requires electric power to operate, such as lights, fans, airmovers, air scrubbers, and dehumidifiers. When power from a building is not available or it is not functioning properly, the restorer should have trailer diesel generators, which are 25 Kw for buildings less than 5,000 to 10,000 SF, or 50 Kw for larger buildings.
c. Recognizing the restorer’s equipment can be missing (stolen) by the next morning, to protect assets, the restorer should consider installing GPS trackers, such as Trak-4 or NERO Global Tracking.
6. Contracts and Citations:
a. When working in some states and jurisdictions, the government requires the restorer to prove they are currently licensed and bonded, the restorer has workers’ comp insurance for workers — including for temp workers — and they have been hired by a customer rather than soliciting work in a declared disaster area.
b. A valid contractor’s license number is to be displayed on the contract.
c. States having a declared state or county-wide disaster area, where the restorer is not a licensed contractor in that state, working can result in a felony with fines or imprisonment.
d. When doing disaster restoration in states requiring a contractor’s license, being part of a premier vendor program of an insurance company, it does not excuse the restorer from having a valid contractor’s license.
7. Hazardous Materials Assessment:
a. Local agencies and approved contractors remove live electrical wiring, and they turn off and secure gas lines.
b. In some CAT disaster areas, a government-approved survey team will inspect, stabilize, contain and remove hazardous substances before anyone, including a restorer, can enter certain properties.
c. In other situations, it is up to the property owner to hire appropriate hazardous material inspectors and contractors to inspect, stabilize, contain and remove hazardous substances.
d. At their initial inspection, the CAT restorer shall complete their own hazard assessment and inspection of the property, followed by identifying any potential safety hazard that could affect workers, such as falling or collapsing ceilings, walls and flooring.
e. Over the years in our environmental surveys we found live wiring, the smell of natural gas, large and small propane tank leaks, drums containing pesticides in powder and liquid form, oxidizers, and corrosives where, when combined, could cause a thermal reaction leading to explosion or fire.
f. Recognizing CAT losses are disastrous events, restorers can be exposed to hazardous conditions and substances, including but not limited to asbestos, lead paint, heavy metals, toxins and carcinogens.
g. The restorer is to have a company written standard operation Procedures (SOP) manual, addressing the most common hazards and exposures workers can experience, and when identified, what does the employer require workers to do (e.g., photograph and document the condition and report it to supervisors; when qualified, contain, control, and/or eliminate hazards and hazardous conditions).
h. If you are not qualified to complete a hazard assessment along with removing hazardous materials and eliminate other conditions that can cause explosion or fire, do not start work and notify your customer of the situation.
8. Safety and Health, Training and PPE:
a. Around Grand Forks, North Dakota in 1997, for example, cattle were stranded as the Red River rose. Flood water affected 50,000 people in several states, including Manitoba, Canada. Fire damaged downtown Grand Forks where the river’s mudflow and water crossing farms filled homes. Out of the many restorers responding, some restorers did not have the correct PPE, worker training and living space in sanitary conditions where some workers were exposed to high levels of bacteria, mold, sewage, viruses and parasites, resulting in skin rashes, respiratory system disorder, fatigue and diarrhea.
b. Realizing a restorer is responding to a CAT disaster, technicians may not have adequate worker training or require additional training. Training in the proper use of PPE is always an issue where, for example, issuing workers with an N-95 mask or half-face respirator, the respirator will not eliminate them from experiencing inhalation hazards. Part of the problem stems from having no or improper training, lack of fit testing and equipment use.
c. No matter if the restorer responded to Katrina Hurricane in 2005, or the Sandy Hurricane in 2012, the 911 attacks on September 11, 2001, tornadoes in Central Kentucky and South Indiana in 2012, the Haboob dust storms in Arizona and Texas in 2011, major ice storm damage in New York and Canada in 2021, or the Mississippi river flooding in 2020, some restorer’s worker safety and health preparedness protection program fell apart.
d. To avoid falling into the trap of not providing workers with adequate training, food, housing, sanitation and PPE, a “competent safety person” should be part of the team that reports to upper management or the owner. This individual must have the authority to take prompt corrective measures when safety or the health of workers is at risk, or they predict the possibility of hazards occurring in the surrounding work area, such as those that are unsanitary, hazardous or dangerous. (29 CFR 1926.32(f))
9. Completing CAT Work:
a. Developing a work completion schedule is difficult to establish since each damaged building or loss will have its own issues. Once a hazard assessment is complete and hazardous conditions are eliminated, work can begin involving mitigation and remediation.
b. An estimated timeline for each phase of work should be developed. Having project supervisors who are familiar with the strength and weakness of workers is important, where positioning some workers in different tasks may benefit the team.
c. In damaged structures the goal may be to stabilize the structure and preserve it for others to complete repair. Other times, the goal is to remove mud along with removing wet materials, which can contribute to microbial contamination. And, other times, it is removing char and ash followed by neutralizing smoke odor.
CAT work often involves mitigation and remediation that stops further damage from occurring rather than restoration, or bringing the building back to pre-loss condition.
Becoming a CAT work restorer requires developing your own army where you need captains and lieutenants, sergeants and privates, all support equipment, and administrative services to complete a project. If you do not do this correctly, it can result in costly mistakes that make you wish you stayed home.