How Secure are Mobile Offices During Dangerous Weather Conditions?
Hurricane Katrina was a boon for the mobile building industry, as FEMA trailers were rushed in by the thousands to provide much-needed relief for displaced residents and businesses. This gave rise to the so-called Katrina Cottage, an affordable, hurricane-resistant prefabricated alternative to rebuilding fallen structures and risking another toppling.
But that was after the fact — what about before? How resistant are mobile offices to hazardous weather conditions? Opinions differ.
“Containers hold up well in hurricanes,” said John Rogers, owner of Affordable Portable Housing of Kailua, Hawaii. “They might move or topple over, but they do not generally get thrown around very far, as the ratio of surface area to weight is very favorable.”
“They are a mobile unit and are not set up for strong winds; in fact, most models have a 120-miles-per-hour rating,” said Joe Alexander, branch manager of Satellite Shelters, Inc. of Cleveland, Ohio.
“Mobile office containers typically have a couple of windows, making them less safe in hurricanes or tornadoes,” said Troy Hudson, sales specialist at Container Technology, Inc. of Morrow, Ga. “I would imagine that people who utilize these office units in areas with a greater risk of hurricanes and tornadoes would somehow tie them down. Other than that, they’re a solid steel container with a couple of windows that could be boarded up.”
Global Portable Buildings, Inc., based in Santa Rosa, Calif., claims its line of mobile offices, which feature ISO-standard steel structures, are built to resist winds up to100 mph, and even as high as 175 mph if the trailer is properly anchored. The company’s claim is backed by a 10-year warranty on their steel framework.
However, the general consensus is that you should not expect your mobile office unit to possess the same rock-solidity of the Great Pyramids of Giza in an intense storm. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean you can’t take certain precautions to better prepare your mobile office for harsh weather conditions. Here are a few storm-preparation tips from Williams-Scotsman of Baltimore, Md.:
- Anchor your unit to its turf with manufactured-housing tie-downs. Tie-Down Engineering of Atlanta, Ga., recommends driving a 30- or 48-foot cross-drive rock anchor into hard rock and rod-and-helix anchor combos with stabilizer plates into sand, gravel, silt, clay or alluvial fill.
- The rod and stabilizer lengths depend on ground density and soil classification. Drive anchors all the way down at a 10-degree back-angle tilt away from the office unit, and attach it to the anchor with fully taut galvanized steel straps.
- Triumph Modular of Littleton, Mass., recommends four tie-downs for 8-foot-wide trailers, six for 10-by-36-foot trailers, eight for 10-by-44 and 10-by-50s, ten for 12-by-60s, and twelve for doublewide trailers.
- For more information on anchor installation, see http://www.tiedown.com/pdf/d12.pdf
- Prune, trim or remove any trees, shrubs, etc. that could damage or knock over your mobile office in high winds. Similarly, you should try to avoid placing the office near structures vulnerable to toppling, such as telephone poles, lampposts, high fences or signs on poles.
- Reinforce your unit’s doors and windows with extra locks, deadbolts, storm windows, etc., and make sure the block foundation is high and strong enough for reasonable flood protection.
- To minimize water seepage into the attic and floor, Triumph Modular recommends running shipping plastic wrap over the floor’s bottom board and under the roof.
- Have a weatherproof storage facility on hand for valuable documents, computer equipment, etc., in case of a hurricane or tornado.
- Make certain your unit is properly insured against storm damage, or consult with your mobile office dealer about what kind of insurance waiver program they offer.
Follow these steps if your mobile office trailer is damaged during a hurricane, tornado or other major weather event:
- Assess the structural soundness of your mobile office (wearing goggles, hardhats, gloves and other protective covering).
- Shut off all power at the primary circuit breaker or fuse panel and leave it off until a licensed electrician inspects the electrical wiring and equipment and confirms its safety.
- If your mobile office trailer suffers significant damage, then arrange for repairs to be made as soon as possible rather than returning the unit to the company.
- Contact your insurer about coverage for the damage.
With proper grounding and a good long-term warranty with comprehensive coverage against hazardous weather conditions, today’s mobile office is reasonably resistant to hurricanes and tornadoes, but is not intended to be used as a shelter from them.