When natural disasters occur, like recent Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which left a trail of devastation across eastern Texas and Florida, hiring a contractor with disaster relief experience is key to getting public utilities and businesses back up and running quickly, with minimal disruption to customers. KAI Design & Build, a national design and build firm headquartered in St. Louis, MO has experience in rebuilding after a catastrophe, and is prepared to assist clients nationwide with disaster relief.
“We undertake a significant management role in coordinating strategies to provide relief, as well as enhance our clients’ abilities to quickly recover from emergencies and catastrophes,” said Bruce Wood, PE, CCM, Chief Operating Officer at KAI Design & Build. “KAI is ready around-the-clock to respond with our construction management, engineering, architecture and construction services to address any type of disaster, damage or disruption.”
In 2016, KAI was contracted by the St. Louis Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) to provide emergency relief services after historic rains and severe flooding at the end of 2015 caused the shutdown of two of its wastewater treatment plants, and damage to a third plant. The total estimated damage was $11 million. KAI worked with MSD to quickly identify the primary and secondary treatment process equipment that needed to be refurbished or replaced as a result of the flooding, as well as developed plans and schedules to get the plants back into operation.
Although protected by a levee designed for a 500-year-flood, the Meramec River overtopped the levee and completely flooded MSD’s wastewater treatment plant in Fenton, MO, including the control room, and knocked out all power. At one point, the entire facility was submerged under six feet of water. Despite the Fenton Plant being completely offline, primary treatment was re-established within 45 days, secondary treatment was re-established within 2.5 months, and a regulatory deadline for disinfection was met as well. The estimated cost of the damage was $7.5 million.
At that same time, the Grand Glaize Creek, which runs directly to the south of MSD’s Grand Glaize Treatment Plant, became engorged with flood waters due to historic levels on the Meramec River and connecting waterways. As soon as flooding was predicted, a sandbag wall was constructed, but as time went on, the predicted water level increased and ultimately the sandbag wall was breached. Portions of the plant were flooded and MSD crews had to be evacuated.
Within four days, MSD, with help from KAI, was able to restore partial service at the Grand Glaize Treatment Plant, and secondary treatment processes were restored within a month. The estimated cost of the damage was $2.5 million.
While the Grand Glaize and Fenton treatment plants sustained the most damage causing significant interruption to service, MSD’s Missouri River Treatment Plant experienced flooding in one building located in a low-lying area as a result of the heavy rains. A quick response including sandbag operations prevented further damage and associated interruptions in treatment. The Missouri River plant operated in emergency mode for only one week, with all treatment operations restored within another 10 days. The estimated cost of the damage was $1 million.
Services/skills provided by KAI on these projects included the following, and these are actions that stakeholders should consider in handling disaster relief scenarios:
- Mobilizing a team quickly. Within 48 hours, KAI was able to assemble a 14-person team integrated from four firms.
- Achieving close cooperation and communication from everyone involved. KAI was able to track the daily time of employees and materials from several entities, including KAI’s team.
- Monitoring any minority involvement goals. In St. Louis disaster, MSD has established strict guidelines for Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) participation, and KAI was also tasked with monitoring each contractor’s participation for compliance.
- Practical planning and strategizing. Through its planning and scheduling process, KAI was able to determine what material and equipment was needed and when. Using this information, KAI managed the procurement process, met the schedules and minimized the impact to customers.
- Highly focused reviews. KAI’s team reviewed proposals to focus on needs and processes to meet the set schedule.
- Construction inspection. The KAI team provided full-time construction inspection services at all three plants, at times, on an “around the clock” basis.