Equipment rental companies reacted quickly to Katrina

Several equipment rental companies, old pros at responding to disasters, mobilized early for Hurricane Katrina.

“We put an emergency response team together more than three years ago,” says Michael Kneeland, vice president of operations for United Rentals. In emergency mode on the Saturday preceding the storm, United distributed satellite phones and established a 24-hour, bi-lingual emergency response center. In the first 48 hours after the hurricane, the center fielded more than 1,100 phone calls. Also in route on Saturday were truckloads of generators, chain saws, pumps, boots, gas cans, safety equipment and bottled water.

Hertz mobilized both its fleet and operations divisions, moves that have been well rehearsed with previous hurricanes, says Gerry Plescia, president, Hertz Equipment Rental. With fuel in such short supply during the days immediately following the storm, the company brought two fuel trucks in from Canada and purchased two others in New York.

NationsRent sent two “hurricane trailers” usually stationed in Florida to Baton Rouge. They were filled with generators, rain gear and other supplies aimed at getting people through the storm.

As soon as it was clear Katrina would strike New Orleans directly, Andress-Walsh, a Gormann-Rupp pump dealer out of Houston, started working with other Baker Tanks companies to move all available pump inventory into the area, says Shane Walsh, division vice president. The company now has more than 50 4-inch-and-higher pumps in the area.

“Everybody’s pump belongs to everybody,” Walsh says. “There are several different pump companies in the area, and if something goes down, whatever mechanic is available fixes it, no matter what the brand.”

Being well coordinated and having open lines of communication has been key, says Chris Bowers, senior vice president, customer strategy, sales and marketing, NES Rentals. “People are looking for responsiveness,” he says. “You can sort through the red tape in the future.”

Noting the dire predictions for this hurricane season, CE Attachments had additional attachments on hand, says Eric Hoefert, purchasing and inventory analyst for the wholesale attachment distributor. While 2004 had been a big year, “in the week following Katrina we sold the same amount we had during two months last year,” he says. And lead times with some attachment manufacturers have doubled. “People are telling us, ‘I’ll take whatever you have,'” says Sarah Falkavage, sales and marketing specialist.

“We’re hearing from people in the Dakotas, Michigan and Pennsylvania,” says one attachment manufacturer who asked not to be identified. “They’re all heading south.” And Fecon pushed production forward on its root grapple, a product just introduced last month.

The equipment mix will change as the cleanup turns into rebuilding, says Mike Disser, vice president, marketing, NES Rentals. “The field is not reticent to tell us what’s needed,” he says.