Friday, March 2, 2012, is a date that will forever be remembered in the town of Henryville, Indiana. The day started out like any other day, with clear, blue skies; however, the sunshine disguised the lingering tornado warnings from the day prior. It would have been a great start to the weekend, but the West Clark Community Schools learned how quickly things can change as Mother Nature wreaked havoc in Henryville that afternoon.
The West Clark Community School administration and officials had been monitoring the weather systems and tornado warnings from the night before. Around dismissal time, there were no tornado warnings. The administration made the executive decision that they had sufficient time to get all the students home safely. Around 3 p.m., an EF-4 tornado with winds up to 170 mph devastated the town in only 23 seconds.
“We still marvel at the destruction that occurred, and yet not one child was hurt,” said Dr. John Reed, Assistant Superintendent of West Clark Community Schools.
Despite severe damage to the building, administrators had an ambitious goal: finish the school year, rebuild and be ready for classes to start in August. The accelerated timeline to complete the project was one of the biggest challenges.
School board officials, administrators, local authorities, and the insurance company had to work cohesively to develop and implement a plan that would relocate all of the elementary and high school students to temporary locations in an old, unused school building and a building in an industrial park. The buildings had to be gutted, brought up to code and pass inspection. While crews made the necessary changes, other professionals salvaged contents from the tornado-damaged site, which were then cleaned, packed and delivered to the temporary locations. In just two weeks, elementary school students’ classes resumed; within three weeks, high school students’ classes resumed. With the relocation process underway, controlled demolition began at the tornado site.
Surveillance – More than Security
There were many harrowing images and videos playing in the news coverage following the tornado, but nothing compared to the actual video surveillance footage from the AXIS Communications Fixed Dome Network Camera technology the Henryville Schools had in place.1
“Having that video footage of the actual building being destroyed was amazing from the standpoint that we got to see in detail what wind like this, what a weather event like this, actually does to a structure,” said Dr. Glenn Riggs, Principal, Henryville Elementary School.
The surveillance system was used for more than security purposes. At Henryville, the restoration teams used the video footage as a reference point. If there were questions about where fixtures should be installed, the teams were able to review the footage to find their answers.
“There were questions that were brought up during the reconstruction; we were able to pull up the videos and see this was here and that was there,” said Jerry Smith, Technology Director, West Clark Community Schools.
In addition to the surveillance and record keeping, reviewing the captured video revealed a number of lessons to be learned for the West Clark Community Schools and their team of three safety specialists, professionals who had undergone extensive training for school safety. The school administration has since shared the findings with a number of state agencies, including the State Department of Education and the School Safety Specialist Academy in Indianapolis. Additionally, the information was shared with a variety of public agencies, from transportation to law enforcement.
Budroe’s Restaurant – An Unlikely Office Space
Across the street from Henryville High School was a diner called Budroe’s Restaurant. Due to the heroic efforts of restaurant owner Sherman Sykes, all nine guests in the restaurant at the time survived. Afterward, a school bus was lying in the center of the restaurant, which became a recurring image in the media coverage of the storm.
The restaurant became a temporary office following the storm, which allowed more space for organizing planning efforts. The access to additional office space located in proximity to Henryville School’s campus allowed for even more efficiency.
Since the tornado, Sykes has reopened the restaurant with a new name: Budroe’s Bus Stop.2
The Rebuilding Continued
Approximately 70 percent of the 220,000-square-foot school was gutted to a shell and rebuilt. The remainder was completely demolished and rebuilt entirely. An average of 300 workers were present daily and worked around the clock. The entire school received a new roof deck, redesigned by an engineer, and an improved HVAC system was installed. The lighting of the school was upgraded to higher LEED standards. All drywall, ceiling and grid tiles, floor coverings, cabinetry, and 75 percent of all windows were removed and replaced.
A team of specialists was brought in to work on the project, including an industrial hygienist who tested surfaces and air for unhealthy levels of mold and other irritants. Due to industry experience and previous relationships, suppliers of alternate power and resources were willing to assist on short notice to help get the job done and get the students back in their schools.
Restoring the Schools
In a matter of seconds, steel, brick, and mortar were pulled from the ground and the Henryville gymnasiums were reduced to twisted beams and piles of debris. The three gymnasiums and music room sustained extensive structural and water damage.
“Any time a disaster occurs, our goal is to produce a better product than the original,” said John Prater, President of Praters Flooring, who worked on the rebuild of the gymnasiums. “We wanted to give the community something to rally around.”
“The challenge to working on schools that have been so damaged by tornadoes is the enormous scope of work that has to be performed in a relatively short period of time without sacrificing quality,” said Prater. “You want the community to be able to get back to some sort of normalcy as quickly as possible.”
Restoring Hornet Pride
In just five short months, the school buses resumed service, students lined up outside of the school and the hallways were filled with laughter. As hoped, the West Clark Community Schools opened in time for the next school year in their newly reconstructed facility. Despite the devastating destruction of the tornado, the community came out stronger than before.
“One of the key things that people can learn from this is that damage is unpredictable,” said Vernon Duty, National Accounts Manager with BELFOR USA. “With a hurricane, you have three or four days’ notice, maybe more. But a tornado, which is a threat in significant portions of the country, could happen unexpectedly. That’s something that should prompt folks to plan ahead because you don’t have time at the event. It’s beneficial to have some kind of plan in place that gives you a framework for what to do.”
1 Axis Communications. “Axis Henryville Case Study.” Video, 2012.
2 Courier Journal. “Budroe’s Bus Stop Reopens in Henryville.” The Courier-Journal. 2012. (http://www.courier-journal.com/VideoNetwork/1816985940001/Budroe-s-Bus-Stop-reopens-in-Henryville)
Key Issues For Your Facility Recovery Plan
- An excellent relationship with an insurance company will be invaluable during a restoration project.
- Periodic review of insurance coverage can prevent surprises in the event of a disaster. Too often, people purchase insurance then do not update the policy to reflect changes in the property and/or equipment.
- The best time to review a facility, with a restoration project in mind, is WELL BEFORE a disaster!
- Prequalify the resources you may need for a restoration project before you need them. This could include contractors, equipment rental and temporary facility providers.
- Meet with those contractors so any special issues – such as electrical or hazmat – can be included in your continuity plan.
- A contract with a restoration company should include the price schedule for the many types of services that might be required.
- Insurance or FEMA reimbursements can sometimes be nightmarishly slow. Your contractors need to have the financial strength to withstand those payment delays.
- Video or photographs can prove extremely useful during a rebuild, indicating to reconstruction crews the location of key features of the facility.
- In addition, surveillance or intentional photo documentation of equipment, facility identifiers and other types of hardware can help expedite replacement.
- Having available space – such as the diner – near the rebuild site is beneficial.
- Be prepared to address improvements to the facility or equipment that you would incorporate into a restoration project.