Technology tools developed over the last handful of years bring some oft-overlooked lifesaving benefits to builders in coastal states. Most platforms in the digital world, from drones to social media, can double as powerful tools for hurricane and disaster preparations. At Moss Construction, we have active construction sites across the United States, and we have weathered many storms.

During the past 11 years the U.S. hasn’t seen a major Category three or larger hurricane make landfall. But the flurry of technological advances in those years calls for constant updates to our Hurricane Preparedness Plan. We conduct a tabletop Hurricane Preparedness Plan drill each year. Based on the drill, or a live event, we update our plan to reflect the lessons learned and incorporate the latest technological advances.

Technology is moving at hurricane-force speed and keeping up can be challenging. Here’s an overview of how we’ve updated our Hurricane Preparedness Plan to incorporate the latest advancements.

Social media has become a useful critical communications channel during emergencies.

Many of us think of Facebook solely as a spot to share vacation photos with friends and Twitter as a communication tool to post random thoughts, but the reality is that both have emerged as two of the most used channels for emergency information.  We established social media accounts and we follow emergency organizations, FEMA, the National Hurricane Center, local Emergency Operation Centers (EOCs) and others. While we don’t necessarily monitor these channels daily, we have the tools in place so that if a hurricane strikes, we can easily access the latest emergency information from trusted sources and issue our own updates with the click of a button.

Video documentation has never been easier.

In the event of a possible hurricane strike, one of the first tasks is to document the state of the construction site for insurance purposes. We video the precautions we take to prepare for an oncoming storm. With so many employees owning smart phones, this has never been easier and can be accomplished quickly. If a storm is brewing and you think there’s a chance for a hurricane or major storm to impact your site, we recommend you do the same.

Drones can quickly capture a large site.  

Drones can rapidly and easily capture a large construction site and document the pre-hurricane state of conditions. The FAA has new rules going into effect in late August that will relax its restrictions on drone use, making them a valuable tool to deploy in preparing for emergencies.  Drones will also be invaluable for surveying damage and customizing recovery plans after a storm.

Quick & easy access of important documents.

In a moment, you can take a photo of your Builder’s Risk Insurance, permit cards, as built documents and relevant insurance certificates. If you have your phone set to back up to cloud storage, your photos will still be saved, even if your phone gets damaged. Off-site document storage via Dropbox, One Drive or Google Docs makes it possible for your entire team to access important documents from remote locations.

Texting, instant messaging, Facebook messaging.  

There are more ways than ever to connect with employees and subcontractors. Beyond phone numbers, determine the top two or three outlets for your team and expand your emergency phone tree to list all those outlets. When major power outages occur, sending messages via several channels increases the likelihood of connecting with the necessary team and family members.

Consider Satellite Phones.

You may want to consider satellite phones for key personnel. We deploy these to our island operations to help us in the event of widespread communication outages, as backup facilities typically aren’t as available on the coast as they are on the mainland.

Emergency Text Alerts.

Our IT team helped us develop an emergency texting list and lets us easily send an emergency text alert to our entire safety team and operational leaders. Having this set up in advance of hurricane season gives our team peace of mind and the confidence of knowing we can communicate quickly and easily.

I urge every builder with operations in areas that could be impacted, to not only have a Hurricane Preparedness Plan, but to practice it and modify it every year. Social media is fickle and what’s relevant today might be gone tomorrow. Make sure you are staying on top of the latest technology. It just might save you time, money and even lives.

Scott Gerard serves as Moss Construction’s VP of Environmental, Health & Safety.