28. Feb 2018

Disaster Response and Demolition Experts

With hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Jose, and the destruction they have left in their paths, it seems fitting to review a topic we discussed earlier this year: the role of demolition experts in disaster response. Increasingly, first responders are developing key relationships with professional demolition teams to assist with search and rescue operations.

Beyond Building Demolitions

Typically, demolition contractors are called when a building has reached the end of its life. The facility may be unsafe and unsound to inhabit or use for business. Sometimes, a new structure will be built in its place. However, these are not the only reasons a demolition team may be needed. In many cases, demolition teams are becoming a vital member in disaster response teams for a wide variety of disasters.

Hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, floods, building collapse, and earthquakes represent many situations in which a demolition crew is necessary. Clearing debris, demolishing a structure gutted by fire, are just some of the disasters they help with. In one situation in the summer of 2015, a multi-level parking garage near a medical center in New York state collapsed.Vehicles were not only trapped under the rubble, many were precariously parked on an unsound top level. In addition, no one knew if any of the cars were occupied and how many individuals may be trapped as well. The environment was unsafe for rescue teams to enter because of the potential for further collapse and falling debris.

Saving Lives and Property

This is precisely the type of risky situation a demolition team can help. First, the structure needs temporary shoring to stabilize and prevent further collapse. This allows rescue workers to enter more safely and find people trapped in the parking garage, and it prevents more debris from falling. In the scenario above, the IT department of the medical center was located directly beneath the ground floor of the parking garage. Damage to the IT equipment could result in the total shutdown of the medical center and evacuation of the hospital.

Once the collapsed structured was shored up, the demolition crew could safely remove broken concrete pieces out of the way making a path for emergency medical personnel. Specialized equipment was necessary to remove vehicles without causing additional damage. As the vehicles and concrete were removed, the shoring had to be reassessed and adjusted to remain stable. Some rebounding can occur as weight and pressure change. Later, mini-excavators and skid steers can enter to complete the clearing of debris and prep the facility for a controlled demolition.

Our prayers are with all those who have been impacted by hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Jose. Of course, we remember all those who have experienced losses in earthquakes, such as Loma Prieta in 1989 and Northridge in 1994 as well. We know that the unique skills, experience, knowledge, and equipment of demolition crews will be vital in restoration efforts.