You can't be in the billboard business and not have a storm-related accident at some point, unless you live in an area where the wind never exceeds about 30 mph. Many a time, in the middle of the night, I have headed out to look at my billboards after a really bad storm has blown through. I've done this because I know how important it is to get to the sign quickly after there's damage to mitigate the situation. Here's what to do if this should ever happen to you.
Secure the Area
If there has been storm damage, the first thing to focus on is to make sure that everything is safe. For example, if a panel from your sign has blown out into the road, get it out of the road immediately. Any damage to people or property will be pinned on you, and that includes damage after the storm passes. I remember coming upon a sign that had dropped debris all over the road. Even though it was still raining, I made sure to get that debris out of the road. All it would take is a car hitting the debris and losing control and having an accident and you know I would have been sued. You should tie down and secure anything that is loose and may still cause a dangerous situation, like a vinyl that is on the ground and might blow into the traffic. And you should also make sure that the power drop to the sign is still connected. If not, call 911 or call the power company - don't let anyone get electrocuted, and that includes yourself. You should have an emergency storm bag at the ready to throw in your car when you go out to look at potential damage. It should include an ax, a saw, some rope and some bungee cords.
You may get blamed for damage that you had nothing to do with, so be sure and take a complete photo inventory of what you see when you get to the site. A simple disposable camera will work for this, if you don't own anything better. Don't give these photos to anyone. You may want to forget you took them if it improves your case if they don't exist - if you know what I mean. You took them, and they are for your use, if it benefits your position.
Call Your Sign Contractor Before Anyone Else Does
In many markets, you have a cap on how much you can spend to fix a sign that has been damaged, like 40% of replacement value. As a result, you may want to get your sign repaired before any city or state official catches on to the fact that there has been any damage at all. Normally a lot of signs are effected in any one storm incident, so you need to be at the head of the pack. This is one of those times where it is very beneficial to have a great working relationship with the repair guy. I have called my sign contractor at home before, just to get a jump on the competition. And never have the sign contractor give you an invoice for the work, as that will become Exhibit A if the city of state comes after you for violating the cap on repair cost. Just pay him a series of payments that are kind of blended into your regular bills for installing vinyl's and building new signs. I'm not suggesting that you break the law. But if you do, this can really work to your benefit.
Use This As An Opportunity To Make Upgrades
Doing structural work on your sign is the perfect time to make those upgrades on safety equipment, etc. that you have been holding back on. Sometimes, the ability to make upgrades efficiently makes the unhappiness of storm damage repair at least seem to have a silver lining. Often, a sign comes out of a storm a little better off, as I have seen trees that were blocking the visibility come down in a storm, or have such severe damage that they have to be significantly trimmed.
Call Your Advertiser Immediately
Don't let the advertiser find out from anyone but you that there has been damage. Call him immediately, tell him what the damage is, and what your plan to fix it is, as well as the timetable. This will instill confidence in your company and how "on top" you are of any problems with his advertisement. That way, when somebody tells him "I saw your sign and it's wrecked" he can say "it's O.K., the sign company is already on top of it".
There is Always Tomorrow - Don't Get Too Upset
One of my lowest points in my career was after a major storm in North Richland Hills, Texas in about 1989. I had raced in my car out to see if I had any sign damage following a major weather event, and here was my sign with another premise sign pierced right through it like a spear. Both ads and panels were wrecked, and I was concerned about any structural damage that might have occurred. As I was driving up the block to take another look, I was rear-ended by another car and my car was totaled. At that moment, life could not seem to get any worse. But rather than sit down and cry, I kept going. And over time I got the sign fixed and the ad revenue turned back on. I didn't have any structural damage, and I got a new car. But at that moment, with my car demolished as well as my sign, it seemed that life was over. It wasn't.
Sure, storm damage is a terrible thing. I can't make any case to the contrary. However, you can mitigate your damage and get your sign back on track if you make the right moves. And when you're going through hell, the key is to remember to get through it. Because, to quote Annie, "the sun will come out tomorrow".
About the Author:
Frank Rolfe became the one of the largest private billboard operators in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. He eventually sold his billboard empire to a public company 14 years later. Rolfe is sharing his expertise to anyone interested in getting involved with outdoor billboards. He is the author of the Billboard Home Study Course, which teaches you about billboard construction and how to build a successful billboard business. For more information, go to http://www.outdoorbillboardsecrets.com.