‘God’s work’: Inside the booming world of disaster response

NBC News:  J. Lee Driskell was already on the road from her home in Brooksville, Florida, to Louisiana in her camper — the “Hurricane Hilton,” as she calls it — when she got a call hiring her to bring crews to help clean up after Hurricane Ida. 

It’s the kind of call that’s becoming more frequent. Driskell's traveling disaster response company, HernandoAg, has grown from a fledgling two-person business during the brutal days after Hurricane Florence in 2018 to a government subcontractor with hundreds of workers. 

Like thousands of other businesses, HernandoAg makes money from disaster recovery jobs across the country, helping communities do everything from picking up trash and hauling debris to local dumps to removing trees that threaten power lines after storms like Ida. Once fragmented, the disaster recovery industry has grown swiftly in response to the many major natural disasters that have hit the U.S. in recent years. Even Wall Street has taken notice.“ There is no way this industry is going to slow down,” said Driskell, who joined the company as a co-owner with her boyfriend after losing all of her belongings in two hurricanes. “There is only going to be more and more disasters. For me, it’s a no-brainer.”

The United States set a record in 2020 of $22 billion in damage from weather and climate events, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and natural disaster recovery businesses like the ones led by Driskell are expecting to grow. Almost half of restoration and recovery companies plan to see a 10 percent increase in sales revenue this year, according to the Cleanfax Restoration Benchmarking Survey, a trade publication that publishes an annual survey tracking trends in the restoration and cleaning business.

“This is an industry that with climate change is going to be increasingly more in demand,” said Amy Chester, managing director of the nonprofit disaster recovery advocacy group Rebuild by Design. “We’ve seen with Covid and other storms that once supply chains are broken and you can’t get what you need from the Home Depot adjacent from your house, there will always be a second industry to fill that need.” Read more>>