The Call After The Storm

The wind was calm and the clouds had finished dumping water on the coastal region of Texas.  After the call came about damage to equipment, I made arrangements
to visit the site to observe and report on the storm-related damage.  Driving to the site was not a problem since the traffic had not yet reached its pre-storm gridlock. Arriving with time to spare, I pondered my surroundings and considered where I was based on what I was able to glean from satellite images I pulled from the internet. Stepping out of my truck, I walk towards the building and reflect on my role in the matter at hand.  After introductions, there is a long discussion about what happened. My pen’s rapid response is to record as much information as possible while I pose questions and listen to the answers.  Once the discussion slows down, it’s time for the tour.

 

DAMAGE TOUR

The typical purpose of a damage tour is more than a simple observation of the equipment reported as damaged.  The intent is to verify the damage and identify the factors contributing to the damage, delineating between pre-existing, storm, and otherwise unrelated damages.  Observation, photographic documentation of the current condition, and review of the available records are important steps in this process.  Due to the evolving nature of some claims, the observed current condition is  documented for equipment known, suspected, or having the potential to be reported as damaged as a result of the storm.  This way, if the claim changes to include additional equipment, there’s a record available from the previous site visits.

Storm-related damage can result from or be influenced by many factors including lightning, wind, precipitation, and floodwater. The timing and duration of these factors, affect the quantity of damaged equipment and extent of the damage based on how long the equipment was exposed to damaging conditions and timeliness of efforts to mitigate damage.

"Storm related damage can result from or be influenced by many factors including lightning, wine, precipitation, and floodwater."

In addition to having the potential to ignite fires, lightning can damage equipment in numerous ways.  Circuitry and electrical components without surge protection can be overloaded with current and rendered inoperable.  High wind and running water can exert forces on surfaces and joints that exceed the design allowance for stress, even more so when the wind or water carries large debris, which can impose high impact and bending forces.  Water ingress from directional rain, splashing, submersion in floodwater or storm surge can damage electronics or initiate corrosion on surfaces not rated for wet environments.  Water itself is corrosive to many metals but rain and floodwater have dissolved elements, such as salts, that remain on surfaces after the water evaporates and are corrosive to some materials. Prolonged exposure to a corrosive environment can have a significant impact on the operability and remaining service life of equipment.  Hail damage has a distinctive appearance based on the size of hail that impacts a surface and can result in substantial damage to thin or soft materials.

Safety gear and equipment typical for a site visit.
Safety gear and equipment typical for a site visit

 

WATCH WHERE YOU STEP

Noticing that I am drawing closer to a compressor skid, I hear the familiar phrase, “watch where you step.”  Thanking my host, I continue to make my way around the skid, documenting its condition and measuring from grade to the apparent floodwater line.  If this skid was operational, it would take more than the standard earplugs to be comfortable taking a picture of this engine nameplate.  Most situations require the standard personal protective equipment (PPE) including steel-toed boots, hard hat, gloves, or ear plugs.  On the other hand, some situations require additional tools such as lockout-tagout padlocks, fire retardant clothing, respirators, chemical boots, or other specialized tools to safely examine equipment.  When walking through an unfamiliar area, safety is more than just where I step.  In case I miss a hazard, though, I appreciate knowing that my host is looking out for me.

Valves and flanges in a lay-down area that flooded during a hurricane
Valves and flanges in a lay-down area that flooded during a hurricane
DIALOG OF DAMAGE DETAILS

The next compressor skid was operating and looked at least a few years newer.  Sure enough, the nameplate revealed it was just a few years old.  “Was this one here during the storm?”  “No,” they responded, “it was brought in as a temporary replacement until we can fix the other one since it wouldn’t start up. We have a new one on order that will be here next month.” I scribble a note next to the serial number on my paper and make a mental note to mention it to my client.  I was asked to be on the lookout for equipment brought on site after the incident.  Moving on through the plant, I noticed a downed tree on the opposite side of the fence near a tank with visible damage.  “What happened to this tank over here?”

Rather than hearing that the tree had fallen against the tank during the storm, I was told a story about a forklift incident a few years back.  I’m glad that I asked instead of making an assumption about the tree.

"When evaluating equipment for damage, it's important to understand the difference between what is verified and what is apparent of assumed."

Close to the center of the property is an area dense with mechanical equipment. Since flooding was reported in this area, I searched for lateral discoloration or debris that would indicate the approximate level that equipment in this area was submerged. Finding a control box with the tell-tale signs of floodwater, I pull out my tape measure and take a picture for reference. Opening the door of the control box, I notice the wiring and electronic components in the bottom few inches were submerged. As I take a few close-up images of the wetted wire and components, I ask about testing of the equipment. “We haven’t tried to start up the equipment over here since we knew they were submerged.  A technician is scheduled to work on it tomorrow.”  When evaluating equipment for damage, it’s important to understand the difference between what is verified and what is apparent or assumed. Since this equipment had not been tested yet, the extent of the damage has not been verified.  Based on the visible indications of submersion and my familiarity with similar equipment, I can determine with reasonable certainty that damage exists. Without further diagnostics or repair activities, the evaluation of this equipment for repair or replacement would be based on assumptions of damage.

With the tour drawing to a close, it’s time for the golden question, “is there anything else you want me to be aware of or look at today?” I’ve found that responses to this request for additional information do not disappoint and often reveal interesting or critical details not mentioned beforehand. After the extended conversation and traditional farewell handshake, it’s time to leave.  Sitting in my truck after packing my camera and other gear, I pull out the file information and give my client a call to summarize the visit before departing.There is still a lot of work to be done, so I head back to the office, hoping that traffic cooperates.

Pallet of motors flooded during a hurricane
Pallet of motors flooded during a hurricane

 

AFTER THE VISIT

Back at the office, the photographs are downloaded and processed.  Each image is reviewed and described in the photo log, including where and when the images were taken.  Business cards and notes are sorted, scanned, and reviewed.  With everything organized, it’s time to sift through the available details, analyzing the facts and their relative importance to the question I’ve been asked to answer. The question is different for each file.  Sometimes it’s just a matter of documenting the damage and other times it involves a more in-depth investigation into valuation, repair or replacement options, or root cause of the damage.  The questions can evolve based on the results of an investigation.  Communication with the client throughout the life of the assignment keeps me on track to working no more or less than necessary to meet their needs.  After all, answering questions is my role in the matter at hand.

 

You can find this article by Melissa featured in our June 2018 Stress Point Magazine. Just go to our Client Resources page & download it today!