Blow Me Down

Waste firms prepare for hurricane season.

Hurricane Season is approaching, and waste companies are getting ready for what experts forecast will be a very active season. The forecast, which was released in early April, by the Colorado State University Tropical Meteorology Project, calls for 15 named storms and eight hurricanes — with four of the hurricanes expected to reach at least Category 3 on the Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane intensity. Hurricane season traditionally begins in June and extends throughout November, with the most active weeks occurring in late August and early September.

After the destruction left by hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma as they swept through the coastal areas in 2005, waste officials say they are as prepared as ever to deal with whatever is coming. “We learned a lot from it, what worked and what needed to be corrected,” says Will Flower, vice president of communications for Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Republic Services, when asked about how the company's hurricane preparedness plan was affected by Wilma. “It was the worst storm in [Broward] County in 50 years.”

Wilma was a Category 3 hurricane, meaning it reached a sustained low-level wind of least 111 mph at some point during its course.

The forecast was updated from a previous forecast released in December 2007. The project has predicted hurricane seasons for the past 25 years and uses a statistical methodology based on data from storms during the past 58 years.

Both Republic and Jacksonville, Fla.-based Advanced Disposal Services maintain hurricane preparedness plans and offer training to their employees to ensure their operations run as smoothly as possible in the event of a hurricane. Company officials say they must closely work with local municipalities in order to coordinate evacuation plans to protect their employees, employees' families and the company.

Immediately after Wilma, most of Broward County lost power, meaning most gas stations and grocery stores could not open or operate at full capacity, and the outage left most street lights on the fritz. Within 24 hours, Republic had resumed 50 percent of its operations. After 48 hours, that number increased to 95 percent. The company coordinated relief efforts for its employees that included filling their cars' gas tanks so they could avoid long lines at gas stations, bringing in two tractor-trailers full of food and other household supplies, and holding barbeques.

“We want to make sure it's a very safe environment,” says Dave Lavender, area president of Advanced Disposal for the state of Florida. The company's employee training and hurricane plans are updated every year based on need, he adds, and each June, all 1,450 employees receive training and are asked to update their emergency contact information.

Flower explains that while he pays attention to hurricane forecasts, the number and severity of the storms predicted in those reports doesn't change the fact that preparedness is always a top priority. “We implement and update the plan every year regardless of the forecast,” he says.

According to Republic, two of the biggest issues the company faces after hurricanes or tropical storms are excess volume and the use of black bags. Paul De Blasi, Republic's director of municipal marketing for south Florida, says residents commonly start mixing their regular household trash with storm debris, including clay or cement roofing tiles that are commonly used on homes in that area. In a lot of cases, residents use dark bags that made it difficult for drivers to know which trash to take. The result was excess volume, which meant more loads to be collected and sent to landfills. De Blasi says he has closely worked with municipalities to encourage residents to avoid using dark bags and educate them on the collection process following a hurricane.

De Blasi adds that improving the company plan while working with the city will go a long way towards fixing a lot of the problems faced after Wilma. “It'll be a breeze now because we have everything in place,” he says.