Ready to Respond
By Brock Huffstutler
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Ready to Respond

Far-reaching rental companies offer a variety of disaster relief services

With locations stretching across the United States and beyond, the equipment rental industry’s largest companies have the inventory and labor resources to react quickly and efficiently as responders in advance of, during and in the aftermath of hurricanes, tornados, fires, floods and other emergencies.

While these organizations have the necessary assets — everything from generators and restroom trailers to tents and HVAC solutions — to bring relief and restoration to devastated areas, there are a variety of specialized offerings that companies make available as part of their unique disaster relief services.

The wide range of equipment and services provided by United Rentals, Stamford, Conn., has been deployed in the maintenance of critical support services and operations management during disasters across North America. One way that the company carries out these services is through its emergency response trailer (ERT) disaster response units.

“In critical situations, having a single source provider can make all the difference,” says Cheryl Wisenbaker, United Rentals director of region safety. “When the unexpected happens, our customers need a solution to mitigate interruption and loss — fast. Our ERTs help us respond to this need with assets so our customers can get back on track.”

United Rentals’ ERTs consist of specially equipped 53-ft. and 14-ft. trailers that can be towed with a half-ton pickup truck.

“The United Rentals ERTs are equipped with 80 low grain refrigerant dehumidifiers and 400 air movers strategically placed throughout the U.S. and Canada to respond to disasters of any size, coast to coast,” Wisenbaker says. “The trailers are customizable based on the needs of the situation. For example, one of the trailers was sent out with 100 dehumidifiers and 300 carpet fans after a weather-related incident in Florida last year. Post-hurricane and flood disaster responses have significantly benefited from our ERT deployments, though our company provides sourcing for many national emergencies, ranging from portable wash stations and restrooms for coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination sites to heavy equipment used in wildfire mitigation.”

The users of the United Rentals ERTs are broad. “Many customers require emergency mitigation and response at some point. Our ERT resources have been used for backup power and lighting for sports and entertainment events to pumps, hoses and frac tanks at coastal plants and refineries to manage process upsets caused by floods, power outages and hurricanes, and post-tornado, hurricane and flash flood recovery. United Rentals understands that during a natural disaster or emergency event, an immediate response is necessary. We have a team dedicated to deploying and mobilizing the right resources so our customers have what they need,” Wisenbaker says.

When emergencies happen, lives often are on the line and time is of the essence in mobilizing critical equipment and services. Local authorities may have no time to waste filling out excessive paperwork to mobilize the needed equipment and services. That is why Herc Rentals, Bonita Springs, Fla., has established its Government Services Program. This program enables Herc Rentals customers to get priority over other agencies that do not have an established account with the company when emergencies happen.

“Having a competitively bid and awarded contract — especially when the contract represents our comprehensive product line — falls in line with an agency’s procurement rules and protects them from exorbitant costs,” says Greg Reyburn, Herc Rentals director of government sales. “Our one-stop shop ability saves our customers valuable time and effort.”

Reyburn lists city, county, state and federal agencies as the typical users of the Government Services Program. “We have contracts to satisfy all with a complete offer. Each of those agencies determine which of their departments will handle each component of the [disaster] response. In larger events the city, county and/or state emergency operations center (EOC) is stood up, every department is  represented and protocols for procurement are then followed,” he says.

Although Herc Rentals’ Government Services Program delivers unique benefits for governing authorities, the program mirrors the company’s overall disaster response strategies so processes and execution of customer service do not deviate, according to Reyburn. “Every disaster represents an opportunity for Herc Rentals’ customers who have a contract with us to perform their work. We consider our rapid response and customer focus to be best in class. The only potential challenge is supply and demand, which can become an issue depending on the magnitude of the event,” he says.

In environments where vulnerability to natural disasters and other emergencies is a reality, a forward planning process can help a business act fast to prevent an emergency from spiraling into a full-fledged shutdown. Sunbelt Rentals, Fort Mill, S.C., considers contingency planning to be a necessary defense and the first step to ensure fast recovery from an emergency scenario. Recognizing that each industry has its own set of risks and essential needs, the company has developed its Contingency Planning Service to offer personalized risk management plans to businesses and serve as a partner to fulfill their equipment needs.

“Sunbelt Rentals has always prided itself on serving our local communities. In 2003 we initiated our focus on emergency response efforts, at which time we also began to engage regional and national customers. In so doing, the company recognized the opportunity to support its customers with a comprehensive contingency planning resource,” says Walter Hoehn, Sunbelt Rentals emergency response and strategic customer support manager.

Features of Sunbelt Rentals’ Contingency Planning Service include guaranteed availability of emergency equipment for rent during peak seasons, including but not limited to predetermined size and quantity of power generation and distribution, air compressors, pumps, and a wide range of general tools and equipment. The service also enables the customer to hold deployment decisions until an event requires a response. Recognizing the fluidity involved with the identification of the application and equipment required, site preparation and planning, Sunbelt Rentals considers any contingency plan they develop with a customer a “living document,” subject to regular updates.

Both public and private organizations have found Sunbelt Rentals’ Contingency Planning Service a helpful tool for restoring normalcy. “Within the private sector, mitigation of lost time, product and revenue drives demand for alternative solutions. Having a well-defined plan, specified responsibilities, equipment identified and a site plan for its arrival expedites the recovery timeline. Federal, state and local governments use contingency planning to apply organization to the potential chaos that an emergency can create. This organization allows for a broad application of the recovery plan, streamlines communication within departments and expedites the recovery timeline,” Hoehn says.

Hurricanes, tornados, floods, ice storms, fires and power outages — both planned and unplanned — all have been situations in which Sunbelt Rentals’ Contingency Planning Service has come in handy for its customers. It is all part of the company’s mission to help its customers prepare for the unexpected.

“Our ability to respond with equipment, manpower and expertise in the face of an emergency is critical to our business. Contingency planning not only benefits our customers, but it also allows Sunbelt Rentals to plan for the demand as part of our effort to support the unexpected alongside our customers,” Hoehn says.

A supplement to Sunbelt Rentals’ contingency plans includes an equipment standby plan, which includes guaranteed immediate access to power generation, material handling and lighting among other necessary equipment, and a standby rate structure. As an example, Sunbelt Rentals can provide a site-specific plan through which its power and HVAC experts determine the power and equipment rental requirements of a customer’s facility to ensure the preparation of a customized emergency response preparedness plan to meet their needs and budget.

Beyond direct equipment and planning responses, philanthropic assistance also is a component of disaster relief for companies in the equipment rental community. Some examples include an employee relief fund offered by H&E Equipment Services, Baton Rouge, La., which provides grants and other forms of assistance to company employees who are victims of disasters, and the participation of Caterpillar, Deerfield, Ill., in the American Red Cross annual disaster giving program — which allows the Red Cross to respond quickly to the needs of individuals and families impacted by disasters — through the Caterpillar Foundation.

Brock Huffstutler

Brock HuffstutlerBrock Huffstutler

Brock Huffstutler is the regional news editor for Rental Management. He writes and edits articles for ARA’s In Your Region quarterly regional newsletters, Rental Management, Rental Pulse and other special projects. Outside of work, he enjoys biking and spending time at the few remaining vintage record stores in the region.

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