Hurricane Katrina, the category 4 storm that wiped out much of the Gulf Coast in late August, and Hurricane Rita, the storm system that finally hit land as a category 3 just two weeks later, have done significant damage. The storms may just shape the future of the window film industry.
People all across the Gulf, all walks of life and in all professions were affected by the storms. Window film companies did not go untouched.
People Like You and Me
“We had some wind and minor damage in Baton Rouge and the surrounding area, but mainly we weren’t hit badly at all. We were very lucky. We feel very fortunate that we were on the worst side of one of [the hurricanes] and did very well and were on the best side of the first one, Katrina, and fared very well on that one,” he said.
Jeff Thompson and his crew at Sunsational Solutions in Austin, Texas, came through the storms fine, too. Being farther inland than even Baton Rouge, the company—and city occupants—are dealing more with evacuees and the aftermath than they are with the storms.
“I do know there are a few thousand evacuees that came into Austin,” said Jonathan Thompson, Jeff’s son and a sales manager and installer at Sunsational, who spoke to Window Film magazine in advance of Hurricane Rita; afterwards, Jeff Thompson, elaborated on just how the evacuees have affected Austin.
“We mostly got traffic—we had a huge influx of people. In talking with my distributor, he had one of the guys in distribution come stay with him and it took the guy 13 hours to get to him when it should have been three,” Thompson said.
Thompson’s distributor is Enpro Distributing out of Houston, Texas, 50 miles from the city of Galveston and the Gulf of Mexico. Enpro president David Dickey elaborated on Thompson’s travel stories.
“There were people stuck on the road, trying to escape. Two and one-half million people trying to get out of the way [of the storm]. The traffic trying to get out of Houston to Dallas, Austin—all these other places was horrific. People were on the roads for 12 hours, running out of gas and they just turned around and came home. People who would normally get to Dallas in four hours, took 24 hours. Aside from frustration and anxiety, most people were alright—other than the bus fire with the elderly people,” he said, referring to a fire that broke out on board a bus evacuating a retirement home, killing more than 30 people.
Traffic, though not pleasant, was the least of some people’s worries.
“We have 22 customers that we were unable to contact. We can’t find them. They were good customers. So, for the time being, they’re basically gone. We have 30 or 35 customers we know were immediately affected, 22 we can’t get a hold of. Those who are okay … there’s no business to be had right now. They’re still trying to dig out, get back on their feet. Trying to contact people in southeast Texas and Louisiana is extremely difficult. [You] can’t get through on cell phones. There are only a couple of dozen [customers] that we’ve been able to get in touch with and they came out okay. It’s just hard. It’s really bad,” Dickey told Window Film magazine.
“I’m really proud of the city of Houston for all they have done for the victims of Katrina. People have really come together to try to make life a little bit better for these people,” said Dickey.
Jobs are not the only thing that the evacuees need, however.
“With the evacuees, the housing is just a boom here. We’re finding an increase in sales just with people getting into their new houses,” said D’Antoni, who was interviewed for Window Film magazine’s coverage on hurricane season and what it means for the industry. He said that his experience hasn’t changed how he looks at the industry in relation to safety and security film.
With two large-scale storms hitting the same general area in such a short time span, industry of all sorts will undoubtedly be affected. What does it spell for the window film industry? For both D’Antoni and Thompson, the storms mark a make-or-break point.
“The biggest impact that I can see is a push for safety and security film. In New Orleans, where there was vandalism and looting such as that, window film could have played a tremendous role in the security of those buildings and the protection of the items left unguarded. That’s the route I’m going to take with the safety and security films—the looting and vandalism, we can help with that in the future,” D’Antoni said.
One of the challenges that will be faced by the window film industry in communities close to coastal regions is really reaching the consumers who could benefit from safety and security film as the reconstruction begins.
“I wish the public knew more about safety and security film. I don’t know if that should be done on a local or national level. It’s like anything else; you have to educate the public to let them know what’s available before they can get interested in it,”
said D’Antoni. “That’s where we, as an industry, can do a better job to let them know that there is a
And while the aftermath of the hurricanes will certainly create the opportunity for a surge in demand for window film, it will equally create a push for new—and tougher—building codes in along the Gulf Coast. Members of the glass industry are positive that such changes are imminent.
Come What May
“Those states don’t have the same codes as Florida,” said Max Perilstein of Arch Aluminum and Glass. “Places in Florida that were struck during last year’s hurricane season, which had hurricane-resistant products, held up well. Mississippi and Louisiana don’t follow those same codes.”
Mike Fischer, director of codes and regulatory compliance for the Window and Door Manufacturers Association (WDMA), agreed.
“There is a huge difference in the building codes,” he said. “There’s not even a comparison.” He explained that Florida has been the leader in hurricane codes, followed by Texas and the Carolinas.
“Part of the reason [for the complacency by Louisiana and Mississippi] is because they have not had a direct hit in years,” said Fischer.
As a result of Hurricane Katrina, Fischer said Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama are all likely to re-evaluate their building codes.
“Ironically, there was supposed to have been a meeting on August 31 for the State of Louisiana to look at its code requirements, as they are in the process of re-evaluating them,” added Fischer. The meeting, of course, was postponed due to Katrina.
In much the same way Hurricane Andrew changed Florida and its codes, in all likeliness, Katrina will have a similar impact on the Gulf States.
“Yes, we’ll see a change in the codes there,” said Fischer. “Part of the process will be an evaluation of building performance, either at the state level or by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). There will also be industry involvement, as well.”
Fischer, along with representatives from other building product industries, as part of the Institute for Building and Home Safety, traveled to the hurricane sites (see related story, pg. 13).
“We’ll be evaluating the building [product] performance to see if codes were sufficient and if they were in compliance.”
“The devastation that we sustained from Hurricane Katrina, I don’t know how window film would have helped with any of that. It was just total devastation,” said D’Antoni. “Closer to the coast, where tidal surge and wind – there’s no safety or security film that could help those folks.”
Thompson, too, feels that a misinformed consumer base can make the jobs of those trying to protect them that much harder.
“You watch these videos when they do the testing for small and large missile impact and a brick wall has a hard time meeting that. How can anyone expect anything glass – laminate or otherwise – stand up to that?” asked Thompson. “If someone asks ‘Will it stop a Category 5?’ Look around you. Is there anything left? If we can make a film that will withstand a Category 5, you’ll have a big piece of glass sitting there without a building. All we’ll be able to do is reinforce glass and hopefully protect someone from being injured or dying. If we’re able to do that – if we’re able to protect someone from getting injured like in the embassies in Africa, we’ve done our job.”
Right now, though, the market for window film in the most affected areas has been down for obvious reasons.
“There’s not much window film to be done right now. If you’re in the flat glass [film] business, no one wants solar control film [right now] and if you’re in the automotive business, that’s the last thing on their minds. There’s no silver lining in this at all, but as people are getting their insurance checks, they’re buying cars, and that is creating some business,” said Dickey. “It’s going to take a long time. People have to rebuild their homes. New Orleans is years away just to clean it up. East Texas doesn’t even have power. It’s going to take them a couple of months to get power back. Long term, a lot of these buildings that were hit, people will hopefully start paying attention to the benefits of security film, but that’s down the road.”
“No one can fathom what happened down here. Pictures can’t show it, word can’t describe it,” said D’Antoni.
“If you could just see some of this, it’s really gut-wrenching. You just can’t imagine the devastation. You can’t even find a hotel room because the evacuees are here. It’s hard to imagine,” said Dickey. “But there is a spirit in Texas and Louisiana, in the Gulf Coast and Mississippi; it is a very determined spirit. Things will come back and things will be good.”
Building Industry Coalition Investigates Katrina Damage
Pass Christian, Miss.,
The IBHS team members included insurance and building products representatives, as well as researchers from leading university research programs. Trade associations such as the American Forest and Paper Association, the Engineered Wood Association, the Cedar Shake and Shingle Bureau, the National Roofing Contractor’s Association, the Door and Access Systems Manufacturer’s Association, the Portland Cement Association and the Window and Door Manufacturers Association were represented. The teams were spread throughout the Biloxi, Gulfport, Slidell, Hattiesburg and other metropolitan areas and focused on gathering data on wind damage. Storm surge damage was prevalent throughout the area, but was outside of the scope of the study. IBHS will consolidate the information submitted by the teams and use the data to provide some idea of the performance of residential construction in the affected areas, with the hope of providing regulators with meaningful information about the successes and failures of local building practices.
IBHS is a non-profit association engaged in engineering and research related to natural disasters. IBHS members include insurers and re-insurers doing business in the United States. Associate members include other stakeholders and industry partners as well as educational institutions. The IBHS website lists several priorities for 2005:
The IBHS study includes detailed data on each surveyed property. The team members gathered information about orientation, type of damage, building geometry, construction type, opening size and protection, types of roof covering, and extent of damage. The hope is that the IBHS study will reveal any significant trends pointing to likely causes of damage. By improving understanding of building performance during hurricane events, IBHS will be able to provide advice on improvements to codes and construction practices. Some of the most common building failures the IBHS team observed after Katrina include roof shingle detachment, soffit failure, tree falls and chimney failure.