Principle #3-It is always best to be “Appropriate”

I’m not saying that it we don’t sometimes enjoy the joke when someone does something that others nearby may deem inappropriate (“Here, pull my finger”).  I always wonder why some people can pull off that being inappropriate thing and make it seem so cute, just a little eccentric or adorably curmudgeonly.  But that is a discussion for another blog post.  This blog is about how responding appropriately is an important principle in damage restoration.

Water damage hardwoodThis is the “give a man a fish” vs. “teaching a man to fish” moment for the damage restoration contractor and their staff.  When the question is asked “why did you do that?”, the explanation of why someone thought an action was appropriate is a good place to drill down.

 

The old joke is that all it takes to dry out a water damage is to put two fans and a dehumidifier in the place and come back in three days after it’s dry to pull the equipment out.  That’s “how” you dry a building. Unfortunately too many “professional” restoration contractors don’t understand why they should consider any other options.

The truth is that while there are certainly some common scenarios that we encounter, if all we consider is how rather than why we take the actions we take, we would deserve to get body parts in a wringer when things go awry on a project.  It is also true that what may be the appropriate action to take in a 30 year old mobile home might not be the appropriate action to take in a custom finished home which might not be appropriate in action in a medical facility which might not be the appropriate action in….and on and on. Of course the rub comes when we start making value judgements of what is appropriate.  One person’s funny story over dinner with friend may be another person’s off color joke in front of the congregation at church on Easter Sunday.  The principle is to take into consideration the circumstances and the conditions presented and then, based on one’s experience, education and training; make a judgement as to what is appropriate in this situation.

Sewage damage to hardwood floor We recently had a situation where a hardwood floor was impacted by a sewer backup, the owner was out of town, there were questions on coverage, the owner’s insurance agent was saying to do the minimal amount required and the insurance company didn’t respond to the site for five days.  Our technician at the site knew that the sewage damaged floor should come out, but was told specifically not to remove it until the adjuster had inspected it and coverage was established.  He knew that if he didn’t take some action that the water would continue to damage the floor so that even if someone was willing to live with a sewage contaminated floor it would be swollen and probably have mold growth as an additional contaminant from sitting unaddressed for several days.  He was faced with a bad choice of (1) deciding to do nothing and letting it pose additional risks to the health of the occupants,(2) setting up containment and taking steps (spend money) to start aggressively drying a contaminated floor that would probably be torn out anyway, (3) just tearing out the floor against the instructions of the agent and risk it not being covered or (4)?.  When asked why he did what he did there was obviously not a right answer that fit all of the materially interested party’s agendas in this case, but there was a wrong answer and that answer would have been “I don’t know”.

We believe that, even though second guessing has become something of an art form in damage restoration,  assessing the situation and attempting to discern, then taking the appropriate action under the circumstances is the third principle of a successful restoration project.

(If you wonder how the job ended up, send me an e-mail at reecon@the-restorers and I’ll give you the details.)

Are you competent?

fire damaged custom artisan tablePrinciple number two is making sure we are competent to do the task at hand.  I’m reminded of the time I went out on an after-hours water damage call to a house that we had recently finished restoring from a previous water damage just a few month before.  I was met at the door by the distressed looking owner of the house holding a butcher knife.  (Yes, think Jack Nicholson in the shining. It was a bit awkward).  When I walked in the house I saw that she had used that same butcher knife to cut the carpet (in a very ragged line) somewhat near the seam in a door way.  On the previous emergency visit, I had used a razor knife and a straightedge to cut a seam at that same doorway to allow the carpet to be moved and the saturated pad pulled out. She had seen me perform the task last time and her only explanation was that she felt she had to “do something”. Apparently she had the best of intentions, but good intentions don’t necessarily translate into qualification to do the job right.

 

Some variation of this is actually a pretty common occurrence in the damage repair business.  We often walk into a job that although they found themselves compelled to “do something”, the property owner didn’t really have the skills to successfully complete the action they took.  Unfortunately, it isn’t always the panicked homeowner that tries to do something that they don’t have the skill set to accomplish.

smoke damage braided rug

 

While we want to be “quick” in our actions to move the project along whenever we have the opportunity to do so, the second filter we want to use in taking action is to ask the ask “are we competent to do the task at hand”.

 

In dealing with property damage, there are a lot of things we do as a company on a regular basis. With proper training and repetition certain tasks requiring specific skill sets become routine and we become competent to carry out those tasks in a true journeyman like manner.  But one thing about dealing with property damage is that the project is not always about routine tasks.  Whether it is a restoring a damaged custom trim package or dealing with a unique piece of personal property like a sculpture with a patina smoked up in a fire or a pen and ink drawing in a damaged condition as a result of excess humidity, we are constantly presented with unusual scenarios that no one person or one company could be competent to handle in-house.

 

At the entry level, our newest member to the team needs to be able to give an a honest appraisal of the skills that they bring with them to the job.  Even the demolition of damaged drywall requires a certain level of skill to complete efficiently without affecting the next trade on the job.  From day one, we tell our staff that if they are put onto a project to complete a task and they do not feel they are 100% competent to complete that task, they should stop and make sure that they get the training or the supervision they need before they move ahead.

 

By the same token, when our most experienced supervisor runs a cross a situation that requires a skill set that they haven’t mastered, we need to be able to turn to our network of experts across the country for advice or hands-on expertise to make sure the project is as successful as it can be.

 

Property damage is never convenient.  There is always some level of pressure to “get it done” as quickly as possible.  It can be difficult for the egos of the new guy and the old pro to admit that they don’t  have the skills needed to address whatever set of circumstances comes up.  But at REE-Construction/First General Idaho we believe that the ability to judge our own competence is a important skill in and of itself.

 

 

Let’s start by being “Quick”

A couple of qualifiers before we get into a discussion of “Quick”.  First of all, it seems that looking for opportunities to be quick quick should go without saying, but it sometimes it seems like some participants in a damage restoration projects don’t have any sense of urgency in getting people’s lives back to normal.  Secondly,  quick doesn’t mean hasty or not thought out.  As Stephen Covey says in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Always begin with the end in mind.”

 

 

 

The first time we talk about quick is when any call comes in.  We want to respond to the call as quickly as possible,  particularly in the case of a property damage emergency. Delay often translates into additional damage which may turn into additional time to assess the damage, additional time to come to agreement on the scope of restoration work and ultimately delay people from getting back into their homes and businesses.

 

With offices in the Treasure, Magic and Wood River Valleys and people working on projects in various places within that service area,  we can usually get somebody to the site of a damage emergency within an hour (or sooner) during regular business hours.  After hours and on weekends our goal is have an on-call tech on the phone in no more than 15 minutes and at the job site, equipped and ready to start work within 2 hours.

 

But the discussion of being “quick” is not something we limit to just damage emergencies.  In any decision that needs to be made during the emergency, mitigation, remediation, reconstruction or personal property restoration for a client, the first principle we want our staff to consider is will this action move the project along toward completion in a timely manner? .

 

There are typically several materially interested parties in a property damage claim.  There is a property owner and usually an insurance company. There may be one or more adjusters representing the insurer(s). The occupant may be renting the space or the insurer may be representing a third party in a liability claim situation.  Often a property manager will be representing the individual property owner or a group such as a homeowner’s association. Building officials from the city or the state are often part of the process.  We would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge mortgage company’s increasing role in process of navigating claims.  We believe that to say that there may be competing agendas working in less than complete harmony would be a fair assessment in many, if not most, cases.

 

The nature of the work is that the project usually begins before anyone has a chance to plan it out and details are often handled on the fly. There is an inherent challenge to keep the project moving along, without fits and starts

 

If we, as a restoration contractor,  take into consideration a more holistic view of the pieces of the damage equation from the phases (emergency, mitigation, remediation, reconstruction and restoration) to the interaction of the various parties, we may be able to see what is coming up around the next curve in the road and shape our actions to adjust for bumps or roadblocks that we know are likely to come up ahead.  We may not always be successful, but we believe it is incumbent upon us to make the effort to get people back into their homes and businesses in a timely manner.

 

If we make keeping this principle in mind a priority for everyone from field staff to project managers to administrative staff as we move through the process, we believe we increase the chances for a successful restoration project.