Storm Debris Removal Ops:
What Does It Take?
By Jason Baker, Pine Knoil Shores Fire Chief
Debris hauling operations following Hurricane Florence are now over, with the
appearance of the town and right of ways getting somewhat back to normal. The
cleanup effort, which had to be accomplished based on FEMA regulations to ensure
the town is reimbursed for the money it spends on debris removal, required a major
commitment of manpower and time to accomplish.
As soon as the storm passed, in addition to my responsibilities with the Fire
Department, my job was to get in touch with the company we had contracted with
and get them started with Phase I of the cleanup, which is identified as “emergency
access clearing.” While the Fire Department goes out and removes trees that are
blocking roadways to allow for emergency equipment access, the Phase 1 work
involves the clearing of roadways and pushing debris into piles on the right of ways.
Once that is accomplished throughout town, we move into Phase II, described as
“vegetative and C/D [construction and demolition] debris removal.”
Because of flooding on all major roads leading into Carteret County, there was
a delay in the contractor’s ability to begin Phase I. The beginning was delayed until
September 17, and was completed on September 20. Phase II, which involved the
use of the big hauling trucks seen throughout town, began on September 21 and
continued until November 6.
It was essential during the entire cleanup operation that FEMA rules were
followed to the letter to ensure that the town would be reimbursed for the monies
spent to conduct the cleanup. The main rules dictated that pickup of debris be only
from the town right of ways (not private property) and that all trucks be monitored
to be sure that only ehgible debris was collected. The town chose to do our own
monitoring, meaning that a person follows the truck and observes the process as it
loads. For each loaded truck, a ticket was completed with the town name, date/time/
location of the debris collected and signed by the monitor. These tickets were given
to the truck driver when he departed for the dump site. A yellow ticket was returned
to us the next day, which was recorded to allow the town to be sure billing and
reimbursement amounts were in agreement.
While the bookkeeping was an essential part of the work involved in getting
reimbursement from FEMA, the manpower involved in monitoring the trucks
was equally important and could not have been achieved without the help of town
We started with six big trucks and what I called the “goose neck” truck, a
small 40-cubic-yard truck that had a skid steer for loading. Trucks were assigned
throughout town to begin the cleanup process. Once a truck was loaded and left for
the dump site, it took roughly two hours for it to return to resume cleanup. Onsite
logistics involved timing the trucks in and out of town and assuring that there was a
monitor available for each truck as it returned from the dump site.
The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), led by Civilian Leader
Tom King, was key in helping to provide monitors to accomphsh the necessary
monitoring of the trucks. Mr. King began arranging for monitors before the storm
actually arrived. Additional volunteers signed on at a special meeting held at
town hall for that purpose. Volunteers were given instruction on what their work
as monitors would entail and how to write the tickets. In coordination with the
town’s firefighters, the volunteers performed the work—which was an enormous
undertaking. As with any large project, it took a short time to work out the kinks,
but after only a few days of tweaking the process, we had a great system in place and
all worked well from that point forward.
Some of the trucks arrived as early as 6:30 a.m., and the drivers were usually
texting me by 5:30 a.m. to get their destination within the town. Pine KnoU Shores
firefighters would monitor the trucks with one CERT volunteer from 6:30-11 a.m.
At 11:00 more CERT volunteers would arrive to give the firefighters a break until 3
p.m. At 3:00, the firefighters would go back to monitoring duties, assisted by a CERT
volunteer as was done in the early morning. While this system worked well at most
times, we would call in extra CERT volunteers if the Fire Department had a call. In
the event that the fire or emergency call took more time than expected, we would
make the tough decision to have the truck drivers stop work until there was a monitor
in place. In the end, all worked out well and FEMA rules were carefully followed.
The cleanup was a huge undertaking that involved many man hours. I came
to work on September 12 when the hurricane was about to hit and didn’t take a
day off for six or seven weeks. When 1 did take a day “off,” I stayed on my phone
coordinating trucks. The incredible teamwork between the CERT volunteer crews
and the firefighters helped us to achieve the good results that you see around town
now. Many streets were visited five or six times by the truck as the piles of debris
continued to grow. After we began to see the end of the tunnel, we established a cutoff
date of October 28 for debris to be put on the right of ways. We made a final pass to
all streets after that date and were able to declare the operation completely finished on
While the active debris-hauling operations are over, the work is not yet done. The
cubic yards of debris billed on each ticket must be recorded and later matched with
the bin the town receives from the contractor. On a recent workday, I recorded 700
tickets that covered a period of just six days and represented hauhng fees of $312K.
To put our most recent debris removal in perspective, following Hurricane Irene
we hauled a little over 11,000 cubic yards of vegetative debris. Following Hurricane
Florence, we hauled a little over 100,000 cubic yards of debris. When the final
numbers are tallied, I suspect the number will be around 105,000 cubic yards of
vegetative debris for Hurricane Florence. We will add approximately 20,000 cubic
yards of construction/demolition debris to that number.
As we often hear when Pine Knoll Shores volunteers are involved, we could not
have accomplished this task without those who were able to step up and give of their
time to make it happen.
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December 2018 I The Shoreline