Using Tech to Maximize Construction Productivity & Safety During Extreme Weather Events
Increasingly severe weather is creating unprecedented challenges for construction. But by harnessing the power of big data, machine learning, and predictive analytics, contractors can safeguard their crews and projects against climate change’s impact on construction. Adam Omansky, CEO of WeatherBuild, explains how contractors are incorporating today’s best weather decision support technology into their risk management strategies.
Weather is a critical factor in construction design, planning, and execution and has hugely varied and far-reaching effects on a project’s outcome. From breaking ground to post-project documentation, weather affects site and building conditions, worker safety, scheduling, equipment maintenance, and operations. It’s easy to see how one serious weather event could cost a construction company up to $500,000 in profit for one day of lost work on a $500 million project — undermining already razor thin margins.
And none of these issues are avoidable — construction by its nature is exposed to the elements. Project stakeholders can't control the weather but can take control of its impacts, including threats and opportunities. In the wake of recent increases in natural disasters and extreme weather, it's clear we are entering into a new reality of increased risk for human health and safety, equipment maintenance, materials delivery, and project delays, and liability due to weather.
Yet advancements in meteorological solutions, forecast technologies, and cloud computing are arming site supervisors with the data they need to make the best decisions for the safety and productivity of their teams, sites, and communities. Here, Constructible talks with Adam Omanksy, Co-founder and CEO of WeatherBuild, a suite of weather-enabled decision support solutions for the construction industry and built environment about how technology is helping the construction industry meet the challenges of weather wild cards.
How to Maximize Construction Productivity & Safety During Extreme Weather Events
How are contractors using technology like WeatherBuild to better anticipate and prepare for extreme weather events?
Clearly, climate change is causing adverse weather to be increasingly frequent and increasingly severe. The past practice of contractors relying on generic weather forecasts and flat historical averages for broad geographic regions to plan work is no longer reliable — especially on large, complex job sites or projects in remote locations where a consumer weather app isn’t going to be as predictable.
Thanks to big data, unprecedented amounts of raw weather data is readily available. An AI-powered solution like WeatherBuild is able to combine that weather data from publicly accredited quality-controlled sources and business-grade sources with construction project schedule data, and then perform site-specific simulations and analytics on top of the data to unlock valuable insights.
Using these models and a proprietary rules engine, WeatherBuild takes incredibly complicated data and processes it in a way that is helpful and meaningful for contractors. Basically, we connect the dots between project-specific weather events, schedule impacts, and safety hazards in a format that makes it easier for crews and teams to make quick decisions about how to stay the most productive in the face of unpredictable weather. WeatherBuild's event-impact scenarios pair weather events with schedule impacts and safety hazards, and offer prescriptive resource recommendations specific to heavy equipment, building products, work results, and environmental controls.
For example, take a typical construction task like a crane lift. WeatherBuild correlates lifting activities with both forecast events and real-time ground truth of wind speed, wind gust, wind direction, and wind at varying heights above ground level. Then, based on our customer’s schedule data, crane type, and safety hazards, we let them know what their options are: Proceed ahead with the work but de-rate the lifting capacity of the crane or reduce the lift size and turn the sail area of the lift, or maybe they want to schedule lifting activities later in the day, later in the week, or possibly overnight or off-shift.
All of these forecasts come over in automated scheduled reports for every shift — say a 6 a.m. report for work that starts at 7 a.m. In addition, all alerts to weather events that impact schedules and safety are sent in a text message, with a short link to a mobile-friendly web report — there's no web portal to log into, no app to launch.
How detailed do these alerts and schedule reports get?
We have one customer on a skyscraper project and they have over 100 custom weather rules that are specific to heavy equipment, building products, work results, and environmental controls. For example, if wind speed or wind gust or wind at varying heights exceeds predefined thresholds, this client knows which precautions to take in advance of that wind event, how it may impact the temporary scaffolding and staging, and what inspections they need to make after the wind event to ensure it is safe to return to the scaffolding.
As another example, WeatherBuild sends out alerts around dangerous thunderstorms, lightning strikes, and all clear notifications. It’s real-time, hyper-local, total lightning strike detection. There’s about less than a minute time lags from when the lighting strikes and the general superintendent, safety manager, and equipment operator get that notification on their phones.
It’s a pretty scientific process: Within several hundred meter accuracy, we log both in-cloud and cloud-to-cloud lightning, which is an early indicator of cloud-to-ground lighting. For each project or site or asset, a customer can set up three ranges of advisories, watches and warnings. WeatherBuild then sends out one alert for the first strike within each of those three ranges — in part because strikes can occur seconds or milliseconds one after the other — and we don’t want to spam an equipment operator with hundreds of text messages over the course of an hour or two.
Once lightning is no longer detected within that outermost range, we start a clear countdown timer that helps teams and crews know when it's safe to resume work. After that thunderstorm and lightning strike expires, our customers have a history log that shows each strike with a date time stamp and geolocation stamp — down to the 10th of a mile, hundredth of a mile, and seconds for all the strikes.
A contractor can take that log to an owner as proof that they were unable to be productive and ask for an extension or relief. Thunderstorms and lightning strikes are one of the primary reasons construction companies reach out to us. Recently, a national contractor came to us specifically for this functionality, as one of their concrete pump trucks was directly struck by lightning.
How does technology come into play if a project does get delayed due to weather?
If there is a slowdown or a shut down as a result of adverse weather, a contractor has a limited period of time to file a notice of delay, request for relief, or request for extension. The burden of proof is on the contractor to show that the weather events were abnormal for the period of time, not reasonably anticipated or anticipated over the long term, and then caused a delay to the critical path of the schedule.
It’s a tricky area because the data contractors are using to establish a baseline is usually a flat 30-year historical average or a 5-year historical average. But as we just talked about, weather is increasingly complex and dynamic. We can’t really rely on a flat 30-year historical average anymore. Plus, the process of manually looking at generic weather forecasts that may be close to your site or 80 or a hundred miles away, and entering them into a daily log twice a day or three times a day is pretty inefficient. Sometimes contractors will wait for the bad weather to occur, then go to a public source like NOAA, where it can be a challenge to access and interpret raw weather data unless you are a data scientist.
That’s how a technology like WeatherBuild becomes the neutral source of truth. When it comes to filing a claim, there are a number of sources of truth: Forecast events, probability intensity, the decisions a contractor makes, and then the actual outcomes. Then, there’s the ground truth, which is generally logged at nearby weather stations, sensor suites, data loggers, and rain gauges. WeatherBuild integrates them all, aggregating data updates every two minutes or five minutes into a daily log and station alerts — for example, sending an alert to the general superintendent or excavation foreman when rainfall exceeds a certain number of inches per hour.
Now a contractor has evidentiary, substantiating data that they can take to an owner and say, ‘We're unable to be productive. There was a slowdown and a shutdown as a result of greater than a half inch of rain, or greater than two inches of rain in a 24-hour period that caused one mud out day and one and a half dry out days. Grant us an extension or grant us relief.’
What are some other ways contractors are using more robust weather forecasting to impact project outcomes?
Many customers come to us with quality and warranty use cases. A good example is one of our customers was doing a historic renovation and the owner and consulting engineer together with the building product manufacturer required a relative humidity threshold for wood windows.
The contractor ended up using our solution to plan their window installation work. They were able to determine the best times during the day or days during the week to replace the historic wood windows, given the relative humidity forecasts. They were able to ensure that the work was put in place within the contract requirements and the manufacturer's thresholds. And, they were also able to collect the data proving they were in compliance with the contract environments if there was ever a post-handover warranty claim.
Contractors also need to show that they made reasonable best efforts to comply with contract requirements. For example, was the concrete put in place within the proper low-temperature thresholds or precipitation thresholds?
We were on another project recently on the West coast where the contractor was recoating and repainting a series of buildings in an office park. There were not only temperature thresholds for Spring but also wind thresholds during painting and also during the curing period. This contractor was using our forecast events and ground truth from a station in addition to handheld sensors. Their other dilemma was that the consulting engineer could only come out on Tuesdays to do the inspection. If they missed that window, they would have to delay work for a whole other week.
How are advancements in weather monitoring technology helping contractors meet environmental regulations they may face on a project?
Setting up custom weather event criteria or rules based around environmental controls can help automate some environmental protection compliance on a construction site. For example, in many states, a contractor must have a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) that complies with the EPA’s or the state’s stormwater construction general permit. There can be very stringent requirements and steep penalties if the contractor fails to prevent sediments, chemicals, and pollutants from running off the jobsite into storm drains, sewers, or local waterways.
With WeatherBuild, a contractor can set up their weather rules so anyone onsite responsible for environmental controls gets a targeted event report when, say, there’s more than an inch of rain forecast. Then that environmental engineer or field engineer has a list of five things to do in advance of the rain event, during the rain event, and after, for stormwater pollution prevention.
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