Are you ready to respond?

PHOTO COURTESY OF NORTHWEST TREE.
Northwest Tree crews perform storm damage cleanup in the Portland, Ore., area.

Whether you live and work in tornado country, a hurricane-prone area, a snowbelt or even a generally calm climate, sooner or later your company will be called to pick up the pieces after a storm. Being prepared year-round can make storm cleanup jobs safer and more profitable.

Do you have a storm response plan?

If you deal with frequent damaging weather, you may think that you don’t need a formal storm response plan. However, everyone benefits from developing plans for weather-related tree damage.

“Not all storms have the strength to topple trees, but when they do, there are typically few companies out there that are ready for them and have the resources to respond properly,” says Nat Bockmann, arborist and plant healthcare manager for Northwest Tree Specialists (www.nwtreespecialists.com) in Portland, Ore. “Having an established storm response plan will set a company apart from the rest of the tree service companies out there.” Wind, rain, ice and snowstorms can cause problems in his area.

Not so in Rochester, Minn., where Jay Maier sees few major storms. Maier, an ISA board certified master arborist and founder of Maier Forest and Tree, LLC (www.forestandtree.com), says that is exactly why his firm needs to plan ahead. “We need to think through the possible situations so we can service our customers efficiently and maximize profit when the work is there.” He adds that a tree care company is obligated to be efficient when it is most needed; this also makes the firm more profitable.

Emergency preparedness also helps protect your company and clients from potential damage and financial loss at the hands of unprofessional tree service companies. A. J. Thibodeaux, operations manager at Preservation Tree Services, Inc. (www.preservationtree.com) in Dallas, Texas, says unethical workers often comb the streets soliciting business following a storm.

Who should be involved?

Each department of your company should be involved in the storm response plan. Office staff, for example, can aid in monitoring weather conditions, prioritizing service calls and handling communications, and include in the plan important preparations that field staff may be unaware of.

PHOTO COURTESY OF NORTHWEST TREE.
Storm cleanup involves riskier work than ordinary treecare operations. Safety procedures and equipment,along with access to special equipment, are vital.

Maier recommends working with local forestry and parks and recreation departments and similar government agencies to alert them to your capabilities as tree damage may cross private-public lines. For instance, a tree in a city park could fall on a private residence or vehicle. In events culminating in widespread damage, consulting and collaborative efforts will most likely be required.

It may not be necessary to involve police and fire departments and utility companies in developing your plan, but full contact information should be included in the plan should crews need assistance. Clearly, this information must be available in accessible, written form, even if your plan isn’t a written document in its entirety. Some companies include portions of their response strategies in policy and procedure manuals.

Planning for vehicle and equipment needs

With today’s meteorological tools and services, most storms are predicted well in advance, giving you hours—and sometimes days—to work your preparedness plan before harsh weather conditions strike. In some storms, extra vehicle preparedness is needed. Snow tires and/or chains may be required. In some circumstances, leaving the larger brush trucks and chippers at the office and using smaller vehicles may be safer and more efficient. The entire fleet should be action-ready at all times.

“When trucks and equipment come in at the end of the day, they need to have [gas] tanks full,” says James Tuttle. “In other words, equipment needs to be ready to go out for a full day of work at all times, with little notice. Tools need to be inspected for proper working order and either loaded on the proper truck or readily available to be loaded quickly.” Tuttle is an ISA certified arborist and owner of Tree Loving Care and Christmas Décor (www.treelovingcare.com) in Lubbock, Texas.

Bockmann agrees, adding that “having a stored supply of gas is important. Having to stop at a gas station on the way to an emergency job is not a sign of efficiency and could result in a costly or dangerous delay.”

Having an established relationship with a rental company helps a company easily obtain needed equipment quickly, such as lights, cranes and generators. Be prepared with extra traffic barrier devices and signage.

Coping with utilities and communications

Just as your crew must be prepared to contact utility companies in the event of hazardous situations such as downed power lines, they must also be prepared for communications snafus. Although the ubiquitous use of cell phones eliminates many problems, areas of readiness still need to be addressed.

First, a staffer should be designated to call crews to work as needed. At Preservation Tree, at least one production crew is on call at all times. Field arborists reside within different portions of the territory, allowing them to respond quickly to clients’ needs. Each maintains a client database on both laptop computers and cell phones, allowing staff to contact customers should a landline phone outage occur. Trucks are also outfitted with GPS systems so crews can be routed to nearby cleanup jobs.

Preservation also offers an automatic storm check service for clients that elect it. The staff inspects and provides needed service to those properties after storms without a specific service request from the clients.

“Prioritize all the service calls,” Thibodeaux adds. “If trees are on cars, homes or in the way of utilities, [handle those] most hazardous [situations] first.”

Readying personnel

When storm conditions threaten, it takes more to ready and manage personnel than simply placing them on call and ensuring they have the proper clothing and other personal items to withstand a long shift. You should also alert personnel to the expected length of the job, the meeting place and any special items they need to bring.

If possible, work the crews in shifts to ensure their safety and efficiency. Storm cleanup is even riskier than day-to-day tree work; damaged trees can be particularly hazardous, so attention to proper safety procedures and personal protective equipment is a must. Of course, first aid kits must be complete and loaded in every vehicle.

Prior to an emergency, crews should be trained on such procedures as properly disconnecting utilities, turning off valves and breakers, avoiding downed electric lines and listening for escaping gas.

Storm damage cleanup will always be an essential, yet challenging, aspect of the tree care industry. Creating and implementing a storm response strategy can help make those jobs less hazardous and more financially rewarding.

“Our highest priority is in maintaining a safe work environment while providing a high level of service to our existing customers and being efficient so that we can maximize profit,” Maier says.

Based in Greensboro, N.C., the author writes articles about horticulture, landscaping, agriculture and travel. She has been a contributor to Moose River Media publications for three years.

Whether you live and work in tornado country, a hurricane-prone area, a snowbelt or even a generally calm climate, sooner or later your company will be called to pick up the pieces after a storm. Being prepared year-round can make storm cleanup jobs safer and more profitable.

Do you have a storm response plan?

If you deal with frequent damaging weather, you may think that you don’t need a formal storm response plan. However, everyone benefits from developing plans for weather-related tree damage.

“Not all storms have the strength to topple trees, but when they do, there are typically few companies out there that are ready for them and have the resources to respond properly,” says Nat Bockmann, arborist and plant healthcare manager for Northwest Tree Specialists (www.nwtreespecialists.com) in Portland, Ore. “Having an established storm response plan will set a company apart from the rest of the tree service companies out there.” Wind, rain, ice and snowstorms can cause problems in his area.

Not so in Rochester, Minn., where Jay Maier sees few major storms. Maier, an ISA board certified master arborist and founder of Maier Forest and Tree, LLC (www.forestandtree.com), says that is exactly why his firm needs to plan ahead. “We need to think through the possible situations so we can service our customers efficiently and maximize profit when the work is there.” He adds that a tree care company is obligated to be efficient when it is most needed; this also makes the firm more profitable.

Emergency preparedness also helps protect your company and clients from potential damage and financial loss at the hands of unprofessional tree service companies. A. J. Thibodeaux, operations manager at Preservation Tree Services, Inc. (www.preservationtree.com) in Dallas, Texas, says unethical workers often comb the streets soliciting business following a storm.

Who should be involved?

Each department of your company should be involved in the storm response plan. Office staff, for example, can aid in monitoring weather conditions, prioritizing service calls and handling communications, and include in the plan important preparations that field staff may be unaware of.

Maier recommends working with local forestry and parks and recreation departments and similar government agencies to alert them to your capabilities as tree damage may cross private-public lines. For instance, a tree in a city park could fall on a private residence or vehicle. In events culminating in widespread damage, consulting and collaborative efforts will most likely be required.

It may not be necessary to involve police and fire departments and utility companies in developing your plan, but full contact information should be included in the plan should crews need assistance. Clearly, this information must be available in accessible, written form, even if your plan isn’t a written document in its entirety. Some companies include portions of their response strategies in policy and procedure manuals.

Planning for vehicle and equipment needs

With today’s meteorological tools and services, most storms are predicted well in advance, giving you hours—and sometimes days—to work your preparedness plan before harsh weather conditions strike. In some storms, extra vehicle preparedness is needed. Snow tires and/or chains may be required. In some circumstances, leaving the larger brush trucks and chippers at the office and using smaller vehicles may be safer and more efficient. The entire fleet should be action-ready at all times.

“When trucks and equipment come in at the end of the day, they need to have [gas] tanks full,” says James Tuttle. “In other words, equipment needs to be ready to go out for a full day of work at all times, with little notice. Tools need to be inspected for proper working order and either loaded on the proper truck or readily available to be loaded quickly.” Tuttle is an ISA certified arborist and owner of Tree Loving Care and Christmas Décor (www.treelovingcare.com) in Lubbock, Texas.

Bockmann agrees, adding that “having a stored supply of gas is important. Having to stop at a gas station on the way to an emergency job is not a sign of efficiency and could result in a costly or dangerous delay.”

Having an established relationship with a rental company helps a company easily obtain needed equipment quickly, such as lights, cranes and generators. Be prepared with extra traffic barrier devices and signage.

Coping with utilities and communications

Just as your crew must be prepared to contact utility companies in the event of hazardous situations such as downed power lines, they must also be prepared for communications snafus. Although the ubiquitous use of cell phones eliminates many problems, areas of readiness still need to be addressed.

First, a staffer should be designated to call crews to work as needed. At Preservation Tree, at least one production crew is on call at all times. Field arborists reside within different portions of the territory, allowing them to respond quickly to clients’ needs. Each maintains a client database on both laptop computers and cell phones, allowing staff to contact customers should a landline phone outage occur. Trucks are also outfitted with GPS systems so crews can be routed to nearby cleanup jobs.

Preservation also offers an automatic storm check service for clients that elect it. The staff inspects and provides needed service to those properties after storms without a specific service request from the clients.

“Prioritize all the service calls,” Thibodeaux adds. “If trees are on cars, homes or in the way of utilities, [handle those] most hazardous [situations] first.”

Readying personnel

When storm conditions threaten, it takes more to ready and manage personnel than simply placing them on call and ensuring they have the proper clothing and other personal items to withstand a long shift. You should also alert personnel to the expected length of the job, the meeting place and any special items they need to bring.

If possible, work the crews in shifts to ensure their safety and efficiency. Storm cleanup is even riskier than day-to-day tree work; damaged trees can be particularly hazardous, so attention to proper safety procedures and personal protective equipment s a must. Of course, first aid kits must be complete and loaded in every vehicle.

Prior to an emergency, crews should be trained on such procedures as properly disconnecting utilities, turning off valves and breakers, avoiding downed electric lines and listening for escaping gas.

Storm damage cleanup will always be an essential, yet challenging, aspect of the tree care industry. Creating and implementing a storm response strategy can help make those jobs less hazardous and more financially rewarding.

“Our highest priority is in maintaining a safe work environment while providing a high level of service to our existing customers and being efficient so that we can maximize profit,” Maier says.

Based in Greensboro, N.C., the author writes articles about horticulture, landscaping, agriculture and travel. She has been a contributor to Moose River Media publications for three years.