What Hurricane Sandy taught the dental industry

October 25, 2013

On October 29, 2012, Superstorm Sandy roared ashore along the New Jersey and New York coasts.

On October 29, 2012, Superstorm Sandy roared ashore along the New Jersey and New York coasts.

It has been estimated that more than $25 billion in business activity was lost because of the storm. Thousands of homes and businesses flooded. Millions lost power. More than 100 people died. It was truly a worst-case scenario for many in the Northeast, including untold dentists and dental team members who not only had to deal with damage to their practices but also, in many cases, their homes as well.

As the one-year anniversary of Sandy dawns, we wanted to take a look back at the effects of the storm on some of those in the dental industry who got hit the hardest. The editorial team at Dental Products Report and Dental Lab Products talked to three dentists and the general manager of a dental lab who were affected by Sandy in various ways and asked them to remember the day Sandy came ashore and the days that followed.

Here are their stories, the lessons they learned from Superstorm Sandy and their advice to other dental professionals about preparing for the unthinkable …

Dr. Kevin CollierSea Bright, NJwww.seabrightdentist.com

“Emotionally, it’s been a very trying year. We had just redone our office in 2007 and put $350,000 into it. If Sandy had happened farther in the future, it would’ve been much easier to deal with. I learned a lot of lessons along the way. I learned that you really have to sit down with your insurance carrier and understand your policy. If you don’t, when it comes time for the payout, the money won’t be there. There were so many loopholes built into the policies that we got nothing when it was all done. The damage to my practice was caused by a flood and we didn’t have flood insurance. I was with that insurance company for 33 years and ended up with nothing because we didn’t truly understand the policy. Not once in 33 years did we get a call telling us we might not be properly insured. They collected the premiums and we thought we had coverage. We were wrong.

“Our practice is located right between the ocean and river. Sandy caused a five-hour tidal surge. When we walked up to the building, it didn’t look so bad from the exterior. When we saw inside, we knew black water had been in there. Things had literally floated around the office. I was very fortunate that we had taken the computer and placed it high on the mantle, so it was OK. If we hadn’t done that, we would’ve been in trouble. However, we lost so much, including our radiographs and charts. Now, we have everything backed up daily in the cloud. Even if we lose our computers now, we’ll be fine. It’s an expense, but it could’ve made our lives so much easier if we had been doing that before Sandy.

Driftwood Cabana Club along State Route 36 (Ocean Avenue) in the borough of Sea Bright, New Jersey was ripped off its stilt foundation during Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Adam Moss.

“I highly recommend a company called M.I. Technical Solutions, based out of Chesapeake, Va. They have everything that we needed to recover what would have been otherwise unusable records and have painstakingly helped us recover quite a bit.

“We learned that there is a tremendous amount of compassion in the dental industry. Fellow practitioners truly care. We were blown away by the people who we didn’t even know offering us anything we needed, including a place to practice. We ended up becoming a mobile practice. We would load Tupperware with what we needed each day and head to an office that opened its doors to us. When the day was over, we would go home and restock and prepare for the next day.

“We were out of our office from October 29 until March 11, or about 4½ months. As nice as people were to let us work in their offices, it still felt like we were having to go through someone else’s drawers to get everything done we needed to do. We were a welcome guest, but a guest nonetheless. When we were finally able to open our practice again, it felt like we were coming home. Using the key to open our own front door was very reassuring and comforting for me and my entire staff.

“It was an emotional, financial, time-consuming drain. I would spend my waking hours wondering if I was doing the right thing by rebuilding. However, it would’ve taken us longer to be back in business if we had started a new practice. Every time a Noreaster comes, I will be nervous. However, I’ve learned a lot and I would love to help others and pass along what I learned.”

To reach Dr. Collier, send him an email at kbcollierdmd@gmail.com. Top photo by Flickr user spleeness

Joe ApapTown & Country Dental StudiosFreeport, NYwww.tncdental.com

“Our lab is located in Freeport, N.Y., which is on the South Shore of Long Island. We are actually right on the water with boat docks in the rear of our property. At the peak of Superstorm Sandy, we had four feet of water in the back and 14 inches of water leave the front of the building. Saltwater is very corrosive and anything submerged had to be removed and replaced: vacuum pumps, PC towers, office furniture, carpeting, flooring, dust collectors, two floor model laser welding units and more.

“We were without electricity for a week, so clean-up had to be done by daylight and with two small generators (gas was very difficult to come by during this time). Through texting, we stayed in touch with all our staff keeping them posted on our progress. With a small team of staff, we removed, cleaned and repaired the entire building and were ready for production in just six days. Yes, we could produce work but full building repairs took several more months.

“We made contact with as many clients as possible by having three people use cell phones from a staff member’s house that had power. We made hundreds of calls and our clients appreciated the contact since many thought we were destroyed.

Areas of Long Island, N.Y., is shown during an overflight with Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod, Mass., following Hurricane Sandy Oct. 30, 2012. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Rob Simpson.) Taken from Flickr user DVIDSHUB

“Given that we had dealt with Hurricane Irene about 18 months before Sandy, we thought we were prepared, but not really. Sandy was way more than we expected. We did move important equipment in certain areas to higher ground and made sure we had a full computer backup done.

“The most important policy we had was our flood insurance. We had maximum coverage and we had a very good insurance broker who was quickly in contact with the insurance companies so we were on the top of list when claims were being adjusted and paid. I would suggest to all readers to highly consider purchasing a flood insurance policy. Look what recently happened in Colorado with the floods. Who would have thought it would flood like that?

“During a natural disaster one of the first essentials to go is power, so having available gas powered generators that will get you started in your clean up and start up efforts. Keeping all equipment off the ground and secured out of harm’s way would be a good policy to adapt in a labs preparation of an oncoming storm.  

“I would also say that you should create a method of communication with staff and clients with contingencies for different types of failures. Just before the storm, we gathered all employee cell phone numbers so we could contact different departments by either calling or texting. We now update this list monthly for accuracy.

“Make sure you have a complete/full backup of all your computer data and software. Also, consider a backup service off-site that can allow operation off-site if need be. Another important point, have all your insurance policies up to date and nearby (in your possession). This will expedite your claim process and help you better understand insurance coverage and options.”

Dr. Ron KaminerOceanside, NYwww.nylaserdentistry.com

“Oceanside is one town away from the ocean. My practice sits along Long Beach Road, which is a four-lane road. When Sandy came, there was 3½ feet of water that came down that road. My office sits at street level. When the water came down the road, it completely submerged my crawl space (which houses my compressor, suction, and electrical housings) and pushed 9 inches of water into my practice. With everything on the ground, the 9 inches might have well have been 5 feet. We were able to salvage the lights, but everything else was gone. Our 2½ doctor, 3½ hygienist, seven-operatory practice that produced more than $2 million each year was suddenly gone. We had another practice located four miles away that was fine and we tried to move the practices together, with the Oceanside practice working during the off hours.

“So much people were worried about Irene and then it nothing really happened. We live across the street from the water so when Sandy was predicted, we thought we would just stay in the house and ride it out. At 11:30 that night, we realized that our property was underwater. We had no choice to ride it out. It never reached the house, but the water came right to it.

“The storm hit on Thursday. On Saturday, my partner finally got to the practice. Cell phone service was very spotty. My partner called and all I could hear was that we had big trouble and everything was shot.

Damaged house in Sea Bridge, N.J. Photo by Flickr user spleeness.

“My partner did a very smart thing by putting all of the computers and servers up high before leaving the practice right before the storm. That saved so much for us. It’s a natural disaster and there’s a point where you can’t do anything about it. It’s Mother Nature. Moving the computers up high was huge.

“My best advice would be to make sure that you read and understand your insurance policies. We refinanced our building six months before Sandy and had flood insurance added as almost an afterthought. If that hadn’t happened, we would’ve been in serious trouble. The beaches are ½ mile away from my practice. No one would’ve ever thought my practice would flood. We learned that ‘business interruption’ doesn’t cover things when it involves a flood. If a tree falls on your practice, that’s one thing. If a flood causes that tree to fall, that’s not covered. After going through this, I realize that most practices I know are severely underinsured and they don’t even know it. You can only protect yourself and your business if you know your insurance policies.

“My other advice is to make sure that you have some security in your bank account. Try to leave one month of expenses in your account for a worst-case scenario.”

Dr. Marty JablowWoodbridge, NJwww.greenstreetdental.com

“Luckily, my practice didn’t have any real issues except being without power for a week. We had a very good backup at the practice, so I knew my data was going to be fine. However, that’s not the same for a lot of my patients and people in the area. A lot of commercial stuff hasn’t returned and a lot of residents scattered after the storm. A lot of housing still hasn’t been rebuilt and there are ongoing discussions on what to do with the abandoned property. However, people around here are very resilient.

“We lived through Hurricane Irene the year before and it wasn’t that bad. Right before Sandy came ashore, the models showed that this storm was going to be worse. You can’t prepare for everything, but no one can possibly be prepared to lose power for one-two weeks. When you lose power, it’s amazing what it affects. The cable is out. You can’t get gas because the pumps won’t work. There is no Internet.

The morning after Hurricane Sandy in Hoboken, N.J. Photograph by Alec Perkins.

"The first two or three days after Sandy came onshore, there was no way to get any word out to patients or staff members. Everyone was in the same boat, so there wasn’t any reason to contact people. Three to four days afterwards, I was able to get in touch with my staff. As soon as we had power, that was the key to everything moving forward. However, it was still a week to 10 days before anyone could back into a routine.”