Glass companies navigate the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy

By Jenni Chase, Glass Magazine
November 6, 2012
COMMERCIAL, RETAIL, FABRICATION : BUSINESS

On election eve, hundreds of thousands of people in the Northeast were still without power following Hurricane Sandy, with the hardest hit areas in New Jersey and New York marking an eighth consecutive day without electricity. In addition to power outages, gas shortages were stalling recovery efforts, and glass companies in the region reported it could be weeks before conditions improved.

Still, industry execs say they are fortunate the aftermath hasn’t been worse.

“It’s been a weird week,” says Tom Whitaker, owner of Mr. ShowerDoor in Norwalk, Conn. “My business is running; I have Internet and phones, but my customers are not answering theirs.  There’s no gas. We’re hitting walls getting things done.”

Even so, Whittaker is quick to add he feels very lucky.  He, like so many others, lives and works in an area that “looks like a war zone” of dark suburban streets entangled with downed trees and power lines.  Whitaker, whose building was designed four feet off the ground, is lucky on several counts: The business to his left has no roof; and as of last Friday, the business to his right was still without power, as was the case a mile out.  

In New Jersey, glass fabricator GGI is also among the fortunate companies that have been able to quickly get back on their feet. When the first GGI employees finally got to the company’s 100,000-square-foot fabrication facility in Secaucus the Wednesday after the storm, the parking lot was a lake.   The flood waters reached within 6 inches of the factory floor, filling the truck bays.  A large metal debris bin floated all the way around the building to the front parking lot. Thankfully, the water receded quickly.

“We were lucky,” says GGI President David Balik.  “Our employees were safe, and power came back on Thursday, though it seemed like a lot longer than that.”  

As of Monday, November 5, all equipment was up and running; GGI was filling orders; and trucks were making deliveries.  Despite news reports of fuel lines and shortages, getting fuel hadn’t been a challenge, according to Balik.

For others, fuel still remains a major problem, however. “Gasoline is in short supply with lines of literally hundreds of cars to be fueled, in addition to hundreds of people standing on line with gas cans to fill for their generators,” reports Eugene Negrin, president of Galaxy Glass & Stone, the Fairfield, N.J., fabricator.

“An odd/even rationing was put into effect at gas stations [November 3] in New Jersey to alleviate the enormous lines created by less than 30 percent of gas stations being open, mostly due to lack of power,” Negrin says. “Those stations with power have run out of gas, pending their tanks being replenished by tankers held up by the transportation nightmare created by numerous downed trees and power lines, and in some areas, flooding.”

“Fuel is a problem,” agrees Linda Oristano, COO for contract glazier Champion Metal & Glass, Deer Park, N.Y. “People have waited up to four hours on line to get gas.  Today [November 5], we are at an approximate one-to-two-hour wait for gas.”

Glass Doctor’s Brad Voreis, vice president of operations, reports a similar situation. “[As of November 5], we can’t get gas for vehicles in many areas,” he says. “East Coast Franchise Consultant Kay Jacobsen has heard of lines that were up to 2.5 miles long.  In addition, gas stations without power are unable to pump gas to customers.”

Additional supplier updates

 

Trulite Glass & Aluminum Solutions
“Our Trulite New Jersey and Pittsburgh facilities thankfully have been spared from storm damage.  In an effort to help bring local businesses back into repair quickly, we have increased our plant capacity and maintained delivery schedules. Being based in Florida, we understand the damage hurricanes cause.  Our thoughts and well wishes go out to everyone affected by the storm.”

--Ben Thomas, vice president, business management and supply chain

C.R. Laurence Co./U.S. Aluminum

“With regards to the hurricane, it had very little effect on our service center operations on the East Coast, and we are fully operational.  We want to assure the glass industry that we are ready and prepared to serve them.”

--Greg Rewers, vice president of marketing

W.A. Wilson
“We were truly blessed and didn't have any issues.  All the snow was in the southernmost parts of West Virginia. Other than a reschedule of a normal delivery route in that area, we had no problems.”

--Bob Hartong, president

Even for those who can get fuel, many roadways still remain impassable, hampering deliveries and employee efforts to get to the office and jobsites.

“The aftermath of Sandy [has] affected not only our business but all of our employees’ lives as well,” Oristano says. “Many trees and power poles fell on main roads as a result of the storm, which impedes people traveling to and from work. Due to the lack of bridges/tunnels being open, we were also unable to travel in New York City, where 90 percent of our business is performed.  The Brooklyn Battery Tunnel had 11 feet of water: unheard of in my lifetime,” she says.

“Material being delivered to us to fabricate is [also] an issue due to fuel and lack thereof,” Oristano reports. “Hopefully, this will improve as gas becomes available.”

Contract glazier W&W Glass LLC, Nanuet, N.Y., reports similar challenges. “Job sites in lower Manhattan are closed until further notice,” says Jeff Haber, managing partner. “Getting in and out of the city is very difficult, especially with several tunnel lanes closed and a minimum of three people per vehicle [required] from 6 a.m. to midnight. And now, you cannot get gas without waiting on line for one to two hours, if you’re lucky.”

On the bright side, “We are fortunate that we did not suffer any injuries and only very few of our W&W family suffered significant property damage,” Haber says. “About 25 percent of us still do not have power and probably won’t for another week. But it could have been worse. Those of us who did not lose power, or those with generators, are hosting other families who were not as lucky. As for the office, we never lost power, just Internet … and cell service has been spotty at best,” he says. “But slowly things are starting to come back a bit each day.”

At Massey’s Plate Glass & Aluminum in Branford, Conn., operations and jobsites were shut down for days following Sandy. “All of our operations were affected,” Bobby Massey says. “Jobsites were shut down for three days, and fabrication and office facilities for four days. With our proximity to the Long Island Sound, some of our workers suffered major flooding and damage to their homes.”

“We are all very fortunate compared to our neighbors in New York and New Jersey,” Massey says. “My heart goes out to them.”

Looking ahead

Less than 10 days after Hurricane Sandy slammed the East Coast, it is not clear what the long-term effects will be on the glass industry and economy as a whole. As of November 5, catastrophe risk modeling firm Eqecat put the estimated economic damage at $30 billion to $50 billion, according to CNN.

In the short term, glass companies say there are several immediate challenges to getting fully operational: power, fuel, jobsite access and employee transportation.

“Last Monday, we had anticipated Sandy’s force and had our plant start at 5 a.m. rather than our normal start time of 7:30 a.m.,” Negrin explains. “[Galaxy Glass & Stone] lost power at 2:45 p.m., and we were able to get a day’s production under our belt. However, we did not have power restored for the balance of the week and we have been told that power could be restored by Tuesday, November 6. Thankfully, no physical damage or flooding was experienced this time, and once power has been restored, we will be able to re-mobilize,” Negrin says.

“Our contracted commitments with completion dates will be pushed back a solid two weeks, and we will work our plant employees with overtime and possibly institute a second shift to catch up,” Negrin reports. “This will impact opening dates, and there will be some pretty unhappy customers that we will be doing our best to accommodate. There will have been a lost week of sales activity and loss of opportunities, which we do not anticipate being able to recoup. Some orders or potential orders with specific deadlines will be addressed by operating on premium time.  Some clients will be disappointed, which we try so hard not to do.”

At Massey’s Plate Glass & Aluminum, the focus will be on resuming activity at jobsites the glazier secured before Hurricane Sandy hit.  “That Thursday, October 25, we went into ‘proactive status mode,’ preparing all jobsites and storage yards for Hurricane Sandy. Being so vividly in our minds from the August 2011 Hurricane Irene and the October 2011 snowstorm Alfred, we knew that we had to prepare as it was going to hit us and be serious,” Massey says.  “Jobsite mast climbers and swing stages were either fully secured or removed from the building facades. All stored materials on project sites and storage yards were fully anchored down or brought back to our warehouses for storage. Materials being installed on one project site in Newport, R.I., directly on the water, were torn from the building façade as installation was in progress.”

While Voreis says all of the Glass Doctor East Coast locations are up and running—and all franchisees are safe—many of the franchises lack power, and phone/Internet access is limited. “Several [additional] issues are preventing them from running at full capacity,” Voreis says.

  • Material: Suppliers are out of material, or not up and running because of damage to location, roads or loss of power.
  • Employees: Personnel are unable to get to work due to lack of power at home, blocked highways, school closures, or lack of public transportation.
  • Roads: Many roads are blocked by storm damage or debris.

According to Voreis, Glass Doctor franchisees are reporting that calls are down from normal levels.  “However, many people are still without phone service or power, so they have no way to call,” he says. “Furthermore, a majority of the damage appears to be water damage and is not glass related.  There is no data to support this, but this is the feeling that franchisees are reporting right now.”

In Negrin’s opinion, “The glass businesses unaffected by Sandy will be net winners, gaining business from our market being down and unable to meet commitments. All in all, the New York/New Jersey market will absorb a big hit on revenue with no way to recoup. We intend to dust ourselves off and continue to move forward with the realization that our respective situations could have been much worse.”

If your company has been affected by Hurricane Sandy and you would like to update readers as to your status, please email Jenni Chase at jchase@glass.org.