Miami Herald: South Florida companies protect your assets from storms
From making hurricane fabric and shutters to providing boat protection and even concrete domes, South Florida companies have made a business of protecting your assets.
By Joseph A. Mann Jr.
If your business is looking for the ultimate protection against hurricane damage, a Miami-based company — American Business Continuity Domes — can build you a steel-reinforced concrete dome the company says can survive winds of more than 250 miles per hour, as well as seismic activity, water and fires.
Don’t fancy a concrete dome? No worries, there are many businesses offering other options that can mitigate hurricane damage, cut financial losses and may save money on insurance premiums, such as manufacturers of metal and fabric shutters and panels, impact-resistant windows and doors as well as reinforced roofs, skylights and doors, especially large doors vulnerable to penetration by hurricane-force winds.
South Florida hasn’t experienced a devastating hurricane since Wilma struck in 2005, and many businesses and homeowners have become complacent. This year, the Atlantic hurricane season, which began June 1, will likely be “above normal” and possibly “extremely active,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with a high probability of 7 to11 Atlantic Basin hurricanes and 3 to 6 major hurricanes.
AND IF YOU NEED FURTHER CONVINCING, FLORIDA RANKS AS ONE OF THE HARDEST-HIT STATES FOR HURRICANES. SEVEN OF THE 10 COSTLIEST HURRICANES IN THE COUNTRY’S HISTORY HAVE PUMMELED FLORIDA, ACCORDING TO THE TAMPA-BASED INSURANCE INSTITUTE FOR BUSINESS & HOME SAFETY, A NONPROFIT THAT PROVIDES DATA TO INSURANCE COMPANIES. SIX OF THE STORMS REACHING THE STATE OCCURRED IN 2004 AND 2005, AND WILMA ALONE CAUSED AN ESTIMATED $11.9 BILLION IN INSURED LOSSES IN FLORIDA IN 2012 DOLLARS, THE INSTITUTE REPORTED.
“Businesses can prevent storm damage and may be able to reduce hurricane insurance premiums by checking with their insurance companies, carrying out a wind mitigation survey and making improvements,” said Michael Shaheen, an insurance agent for Tamarac-based Keyes Coverage Inc., which works with several major insurance firms.
Besides collecting premiums, reputable insurance companies can help consumers and small businesses determine risk factors before a storm strikes, identify improvements that may lead to premium credits and aid in selecting the most appropriate coverage. “Businesses are often aware that credits are available, but aren’t sure how to get them,” Shaheen said. People could not only save on premiums, but also avoid hurricane damage by making improvements, he added.
Here is a look at a sampling of South Florida companies in the business of hurricane protection:
Domes: The ultimate protection
“Our domes can withstand the strongest hurricanes we’ve seen in Florida,” said Peter Fedele, a general contractor who is CEO of ABC Domes, which, along with its strategic partners, has built domes in Florida, other states and overseas. They can be used as multi-purpose shelters, community centers, sports arenas, churches, schools or for emergency equipment and vehicle storage, records and data warehousing and bulk storage, he said.
ABC Domes was set up in 2006 to provide businesses and communities with a new type of disaster-proof building, said Fedele, who is also president of a sister company, Golden Sands General Contractors.
The domes, which have a circular foundation that is about four feet deep, are built in a short period of time by inflating a multi-ply shell in the shape of a dome that is secured to the foundation, attaching steel reinforcing bars to the inside of the shell, applying polyurethane foam and then spraying on concrete (“shotcrete”) in different layers. The shell or airform serves as the form for building the dome and as the roof membrane once it is completed..
Doors and windows are cut out before the shotcrete is applied, and the dome has a concrete slab floor.
The domes can have plain exteriors if they are to be used to bulk storage, or windows and doors if they are used as schools/shelters or for other applications. They can be built with more than one level.
ABC Domes, which has 30 full-time employees, has built seven domes, including four business-continuity buildings in Lakeland, a school in Hammond, Okla., and a command-center dome in Sealy, Texas. The company is also developing several other dome projects.
In Lakeland, 2-20 Records Management, which provides storage of documents and data protection, and a Florida bank use ABC Domes for secure storage.
Last year, ABC Domes formed a strategic alliance with Dome Technology, which has built about 500 domes in the U.S. and overseas, and ES2 Engineering System Solutions.
Domes cost several hundred thousand dollars and upward for the basic shell. Equipping the buildings for gymnasiums, conference centers and other uses raises the cost.
While a few Florida companies are already using shared ABC Domes in Lakeland to protect emergency equipment and data files against disasters, these structures have not yet been built in Miami-Dade or Broward counties. But the company has launched a marketing program for the region.
“Hurricane shutters and panels are the most popular types of storm protection in South Florida, and offer the best protection against wind and flying objects,” said David Gonzalez, president and owner of Serious Installations in Pembroke Pines, which sells, installs and services shutters.
“But because of the economy, a lot of people delay buying until a hurricane is coming, and then it’s too late. And after a storm passes, interest goes down,” added Gonzalez, who has six employees.
There is a wide variety of aluminum and steel shutters (accordion, roll-down, hinged panels, Bahama) at different price ranges, and Gonzalez warns that buyers should make sure their supplier measures the shutters precisely to avoid jams/improper fits and installs them correctly and damage-free. (Sometimes factories make shutters that are not square, have bent sections or scratches, but installers put them in anyway, hoping clients will not notice.) “A lot of our work is maintenance and repairs,” he said.
Another South Florida company, Hurricane Fabric in Delray Beach, makes AstroGuard, a high-strength ballistic nylon with a resin coating that can be used to cover windows and doors on homes and businesses.
“We’ve done independent lab tests and AstroGuard can withstand projectile impacts far greater than the standard set for Miami-Dade County,” said Yehuda Bar-David, general manger of Hurricane Fabric. “The fabric has a burst strength of over 1,500 pounds and can withstand wind, water and flying debris beyond a Category 5 hurricane.”
To protect glass windows and doors from projectiles that push against the hurricane fabric during a storm, the company installs aluminum ribs between the AstroGuard and the glass.
The key to AstroGuard is the clip used to attach the fabric to buildings. This sturdy clip allows for secure attachment under stress without fabric tear, and blocks penetration by wind and rain, the company said.
The translucent, UV-resistant fabric, sold and installed directly by Hurricane Fabric, is also sold by Home Depot and Lowe’s (under the Bertha brand). It has a 10-year warranty and costs about $10 per square foot installed by Home Depot, Bar-David said. The company sells the fabric directly for $5.45 per square foot, including hardware.
AstroGuard is produced, woven and coated in North and South Carolina and shipped in rolls to Delray Beach for cutting.
Impact-resistant glass, which can cost two to three times as much as shutters, is made by bonding a combination of plastic vinyl layers and polyester film between two panes of glass, making a single sheet of glass that can also be produced with insulating glass.
“Interest in impact-resistance glass has skyrocketed in the last five years,” said Larry Olson, sales manager at Medley-based Lawson Industries, which makes aluminum windows and doors.
However, even impact-resistant glass can be penetrated by high-speed projectiles, so the best (and most expensive) combination would be impact-resistant glass and shutters.
Most people in South Florida’s large boat-owning community have only a few alternatives when a hurricane is approaching: berth the vessel securely at a dock, keep it at home or in a marina. anchor it in a protected harbor or find a sheltered, inland anchorage. In Broward County, for example, the marine authorities organize a flotilla that takes boats up the New River, away from the shore, before the area’s bridges are locked down.
River Marine Supply in Miami does a brisk business when storms approach. Boat owners who keep their vessels here during a storm stock up on extra ropes, chains, anchors, bumpers and other equipment, said Pedro Lank, the domestic and international sales coordinator at River Marine.
“People also check their hatches to make sure they’re waterproof and to see if their bilge pumps are working,” he said. When people keep their boats moored, he said, they have to be sure not to tie them up too close to the dock: “When there’s a high tide or a storm surge, the boats have to be able to move with the water.”
Yacht owners with deep pockets have still another option: they can send their vessels somewhere else well before the storm season hits South Florida. Yacht owners from Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach use Fort Lauderdale-based Dockwise Yacht Transport to move their yachts to the Mediterranean and other locations before the hurricane season begins, and to ferry them back, often in time for the South Florida boat shows.
“We have three float-on/float-off ships that move yachts and we make about eight trips each year back and forth to the Mediterranean,” said Catalina Bujor, Dockwise’s public relations and marketing officer. Dockwise’s destinations also include points farther north on the East Coast of the United States, the U.S. Pacific Coast, the Caribbean and the South Pacific.
Dockwise’s three ships, ranging from about 456 feet to 686 feet in length, are designed to allow sea water to flood their decks. Yachts and sailboats then sail aboard and are secured by divers. After that, the deck is drained and the transport ships move on to their next destination. Two of Dockwise’s vessels were converted from ships that carried oil-drilling rigs and the other was designed especially as a yacht transporter.
Loads vary according to the size of the yachts, but a typical cargo would include about 45 smaller yachts and sailboats or 17 megayachts, plus their tenders.
While some yacht owners may want to make the Transatlantic voyage on their own, most prefer using a yacht transporter, since they save wear and tear on their crews, boats and engines and don’t have to worry about sailing through dangerous weather on their own.
How much does it cost to give your yacht a ride? The total cost depends on the size of the yacht, the destination, the season and other factors, Bujor said. But for a 100-foot yacht, the 15-day trip from Fort Lauderdale to Italy would run about $140,000, she estimated.
That’s one way.