AGC chapters organize for natural, terrorist disasters

The New Year’s Day flood of 1997 in northern Nevada washed emergency help into disarray – literally. Contractors with vital equipment wanting to help in relief efforts couldn’t gain access to hazardous areas because of poor coordination with emergency management personnel.

The natural disaster caused an estimate $600 million in damages according to state reports, but it led to the birth of the Northern Nevada Contractors Auxiliary. This organization, formed by a partnership between members of the Associated General Contractors chapter of Nevada and various state emergency agencies, is now more than five years old, and was one of the first such coalitions in the nation.

“We can’t prevent the disaster, but we can respond rapidly to solve any problems,” said Norm Diandra, chairman and contributing founder of the group.

The now 180-member auxiliary has responded to fires, explosions and power outages. The group is on-call 24 hours a day to provide vital services and equipment in response to natural disasters or other emergencies, including terrorist attacks.

Diandra, who is also president and owner of Q & D Construction in Sparks, Nev., said he and other contractors pushed for the creation of the auxiliary to play an integral role in their community’s welfare. He said

“We’re not going to profit from it, but we are going to be here when the community needs us,” Diandra said.

The auxiliary can deploy more than $600 million worth of construction equipment, including heavy machinery, light equipment and traffic control resources. The group can also provide emergency fuel and a labor pool of skilled equipment operators and workers.

“[The auxiliary] lets the community know that contractors are the good guys,” said Nevada AGC chapter safety coordinator Dee Stueve. “They are here to help.”

Stueve said recent incidents in which the auxiliary played a role were floods in the spring and early summer and forest fires in the Pleasant Valley area. Light towers and dump trucks were used in those incidents.

Bob Harker, operations manager for Par Electrical Contractors Inc. in Reno, Nev., said his company has been involved with the auxiliary since its inception. He said it hasn’t participated in any disaster relief yet, but has contributed resources to build a simulated debris field to help train local sheriff’s department employees.

“We want to protect our community,” Harker said. “We want to keep our way of life continuing.”

AGC chapters in other parts of the country are also taking the initiative to coordinate members with local emergency agencies.

The AGC chapter of Greater Milwaulkee recently set up a list of about 60 subcontractors and general contractors who have volunteered to help if the area experiences a terrorist attack or other major disaster. The chapter worked with the Southeast Wisconsin Homeland Security Partnership in pooling resources for disaster relief efforts.

Mike Fabishak, the chapter’s executive vice president, said the goal of the organization efforts was to provide a basis for mobilization in terms of speed and accuracy. He said the members who are volunteering equipment and resources want, like those in Nevada, to improve their community’s preparedness for a disaster of any kind.

You don’t need to be an AGC member to participate in a disaster volunteer group. You simply must have a desire to become part of a larger continuum when it comes to helping in times of need, Fabishak said.

Contractors participating in the Milwaukee group haven’t dealt with a disaster yet, but have helped orientate local emergency agencies with a variety of potential scenarios.

“Disasters have such an acute impact on our industry,” Fabishak said. “We wanted to make sure we were organized in case of such an event.”

Patrick Beeson can be contacted at [email protected].