Takeaways From The COVID Webinar

By April 2, 2020April 23rd, 2020Uncategorized

Thank you to everyone who tuned in to my webinar “COVID-19: Containment System Construction – Foreseeable Problems and Preventative Measures!

As preparation for the webinar, I reached out to many colleagues around the United States to find out the impact of the coronavirus on their businesses. At a time when normal travel and events are restricted/cancelled, it was nice to still be able to keep in touch!

Since the webinar, I have received multiple requests for the content of the webinar. As such, I am going to provide my itemized outline I used for discussion. Keep in mind that these notes were written just prior to March 27, 2020 and guideline and impacts from the virus may have changed since this writing.

Goal of Webinar: Address current state of the industry and how we deal with project constraints and delays caused by COVID-19 and deliver successful projects on-time and under budget without compromising quality.

Webinar covers common aspects of many containment projects, including earthwork, geosynthetics and ancillary items.

  1. Current State of the industry:
    1. Synopsis: Mixed bag
      1. Owners – some working, some temporary shutdown
        1. Do not know timeframe for getting back online
      2. Geosynthetics Manufacturers & Fabricators – all working, full capacity
      3. Transportation – working – limitations?
      4. Earthwork Contractors – working, amount dictated by owners
      5. Geosynthetics Installers – working, amount dictated by owners
      6. CQA Technicians – working, dictated by owners
      7. Regulators – working from home, limited
    2. 2019 Rainy – numerous projects were pushed into 2020, making 2020 heavier construction year
    3. Project Delays – Extent unknown
  1. Regulators
    1. Delays are possible.
    2. Many Regulators are working from home
      1. Work can take longer to accomplish at home, especially signatures
      2. Delays will depend on how long regulators work from home
      3. Some regulators are not even allowed to walk back into their building. Mailed documentation is not being seen or reviewed yet.
      4. Electronic Communications vs. Paper
    3. Steps to take now
      1. Utilize Electronic Communications as much as possible
      2. File as soon as possible for any time critical components
      3. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate:
        1. Contact your local office to understand their timeline and field visit constraints.
          1. Some are willing to consider partial submittals (i.e. soils, geosynthetics)
        2. Ohio field visits currently require approval of Divisional Director. Coordinating…
        3. If you believe you may need a material equivalency, apply as soon as possible. Especially in situations where only one manufacturer is approved.
  1. Transportation
    1. What we know now:
      1. As of early March – trucking and delivery services are already seeing a tender increase of approximately 15-17% over both 2018 & 2019
      2. The industry guidance is for trucking firms to keep as much staff as possible through this storm as they are expecting the Tidal Wave Surge as we come out of the storm
      3. Dedicated Carriers across the country are being depleted. An uptick in short hauls is expected
      4. These factors indicate it is highly probable there will be delays.
      5. Could be price increases as well.
      6. Impacts and timelines of impacts will vary by region.
  1. Material Availability
    1. Earthwork – off-site sourcing such as Quarries
      1. To avoid delays, order well in advance of need and stockpile on site
      2. Equipment availability – internal and external rentals – especially if other industries come on line all the same time
      3. Equipment failure – often a major project delay
      4. Earthwork steps to take now
        1. Stockpile materials onsite now if possible
        2. Contact your quarries/hauling services. Make sure your project time line is understood and there is a clear plan in place to meet your deadlines. Communications with all pertinent vendors – Quarries, testing labs, Engineers, QA Firms, Regulators
        3. Request contractors prepare all equipment for this construction season and have clear plans on how to quickly address equipment failures (parts, mechanics, back-up equipment)
        4. Address cost concerns and price increases contractually where possible
    2. Geosynthetics
      1. Manufacturers and Fabricators still up and running
        1. Current on hand inventories vary. Also unknown is the impact on core supply chain for base resins and materials.
        2. In most cases it’s not a material shortage caused by the manufacturer but that can’t be ruled out at this point in 2020. Lagging orders can result in shortages.
      2. Material shortages/delays are one of the largest cause of project delays we see
        1. It’s usually a case of poor planning, poor takeoffs, poor construction etc. where the project comes up a roll or two short
          1. Unfortunately, it is usually when the construction is drawing to a close that the shortage is noticed.
          2. Finding material can become a logistical nightmare:
            1. Special run items may be out-of-stock
            2. Fabricated items may be out-of-stock
            3. More samples may need to be taken furthering the delay.
          3. Material shortages create a domino effect of delays
      3. Steps to take now
        1. Inventory and protect existing and new stock-piles
        2. If materials cannot be delivered now take inventory of all existing stockpiles and see what materials may be on hand for usage.
          1. Larger firms – can look at on a regional basis and consider consolidation if it becomes necessary
        3. Get firm timelines on special run materials. Some materials are run only once a year. Often these materials will be the first to be pushed back. How does that affect your project?
          1. Are there other materials that could be utilized if your specialty material will cause significant delays?
            1. Approval of equivalent materials takes time
        4. Have material delivered to site as soon as possible.
    3. Specialty Items – Prefabricated geosynthetic/concrete manholes/structures, specialty liner products (colored, ladders, corners, depth gauges etc.)
      1. Backlog occurs when hit with a bunch of orders at the same time
      2. Steps to take now
        1. order in advance and communicate need to manufacturer
  1. General Contractors & Installers
    1. Some schedules are currently unknown
    2. Steps to take now
      1. Get bid packages done now, if they are not already completed
        1. If bidding is not done, make sure to address current state of the industry in your bidding package. Including request on how they will handle any industry delays
        2. Ask for sanitation plans to be included in the bids – examples hand wash stations, highly occupancy vehicles, interactions with site personnel, multi-use facilities such as restrooms (installation crews travel in larger groups over broad geography), shared equipment – site trailers, copiers and such
        3. Make bidding format create apple to apple comparisons
        4. Quality experienced contractors will be very important in a construction season like this and their schedules may fill up faster. Contract them as soon as possible.
        5. The need for Solid project management of all aspects of these projects cannot be overstated.
      2. Meet w/ contractors discuss:
        1. Project Timelines
          1. What is the likely start date if known?
          2. Is there a firm completion date needed? If so how will this be met? Do they need to run extended shifts, night shifts, is there a staffing plan in place to ensure quality is not compromised and project completion date is still met? If working extended hours make sure the QA team is prepared to staff appropriately. If extended shifts, what are safety protocols need? What are the practical needs for extended shifts such as light plants?
          3. What installer are they using? What are the installer’s qualifications for the specific materials your project will be utilizing? What is the installers availability and staffing plans? What is the installers ability to acquire your project materials? If the installer will be utilizing expanded crew sizes they may require changes in QA technician staffing?
        2. Material supply planning
        3. H&S protocols (Sanitation plans as discussed earlier)
          1. Consequences of sanitation breeches
          2. Language barriers
        4. Labor Shortages?
          1. Geosynthetic Installers – International Work Visas
            1. Currently delays with people waiting at the boarder
            2. Former workers quicker to get through than new workers
          2. If all projects come online at same time, manpower shortage in all areas
          3. Some Unions currently operating under restrictions
  1. Constructability/Peer Reviews & Pre-construction Planning
    1. We talk about this all the time but poor specs cost site owners and contractors way too much time and money. We have literally seen jobs shut down because of design documentation issues. The cost and infighting over who will pay for the cost is a fight that none of us need.
    2. Having Project Documents Peer Reviewed for: Constructability, Accuracy and conflicting requirements will help.
    3. We will look at key areas that should be addressed pre-project to reduce construction delays.
    4. Steps to take advantage of down time
      1. Work with a neutral 3rd party to review the plans and drawings for constructability reviews. It is well worth the time and minimal cost to get a field perspective on the constructability of your design. Good parties to work with are your contractors, 3rd party engineers and Subject Matter Experts.
      2. When CQAS does a constructability review we look for the following:
        1. Does the design have any areas that are not actually constructable? Yes this happens regularly. This one of the most requested items from Contractors to help them complete your job quickly and efficiently.
        2. Are there area of the design that can be changed to provide better quality or quickly completion: pre-fabricated corners, pipe layout, room to work/access
        3. Conflicting Data
          1. Between site documents
          2. Between ASTM & Testing standards and documentation
          3. Between material, installer, and project data and permits
        4. Missing Data – this is a big one
          1. Testing requirements
          2. Wrong/outdated requirements
          3. Quality procedures – wrong/missing
          4. Best Practices
      3. Project Sequencing
  1. Field Protocols – help mitigate project delays
    1. Earthwork
      1. Nuclear Gauge Calibration/Service – some have skeleton crews so delays may occur as this is their busy season!
      2. Test Pads – even if entire project delayed, maybe test pads can be constructed, tested, and approved to avoid further delay
      3. Soil preprocessing/pugmills
      4. Plans for soil maintenance – especially critical for shutdown projects
    2. Geosynthetics
      1. Good time for installer’s to get equipment maintenance performed and shore up supplies/back-up equipment for the season
        1. Check if the shelter-in-place orders are impacting any vital supplies – sandbags, sewing thread, cable ties, mortuary needles, etc.
        2. Installation equipment suppliers have inventory
        3. Plans for shut and ongoing: Liner protection
          1. Animal damage
          2. Damage to finished installation
          3. Covering Liner – damage
    3. Weather
      1. Develop plans to mitigate weather impacts on projects
        1. Grading and drainage
        2. Material stockpiling
        3. Black out protocols
          1. Coordinating w/ QA
          2. Coordinating w/ Labs
          3. End coupon testing on production seams
        4. Install material: High to low where possible
        5. Wind plans & Ballasting – blow outs
        6. Incorporate Cold Weather protocols if not already in project documentation
          1. Cold weather will increase cost as projects move to T&M
          2. Are there ways to avoid project going to Cold Weather time frames?
  1. Lab Services
    1. Soils Laboratories – open and running at various capacities
      1. A continued influx of samples would be ideal – delays occur when multiple projects fire up at once
      2. On-site soil testing and/or labs
    2. Geosynthetics Laboratories – open and running at various capacities
      1. Communications!
      2. On-site DS testing
  1. Current Projects – Other Challenges – Mitigating the Virus
    1. Mobilization – risk of bringing in crews from other areas
    2. Crew swap – same risks
      1. 1 installer I talked with is using dedicated crews
    3. Transportation – 15 passenger van
    4. Equipment – handling and storage procedures
    5. Shared Use Facilities – trailers, portapotties
    6. Portable hand wash stations?
    7. PPE shortage? Especially for jobs requiring more than standard field gear such as respirators, specialty gloves, decon equipment, etc.
    8. Potential for tempers to flare, especially between separate firms
    9. Health and Safety Plans need to be followed – must ensure people of different languages understand!
  1. Conclusion
    1. While we are in the midst of an unprecedented crisis with constantly changing restrictions, we can all succeed if we plan accordingly, work together, and most importantly – communicate.

The biggest takeaway is that we need to continue to communicate – more now than we typically do on projects. This communication is key to making sure all of our projects get completed in a timely manner.

Stay safe and I look forward to seeing all of you once we come out the other side of this pandemic!