Billboard Mastery Podcast: Episode 38

Notes On Preparing For High Winds

The arch enemy of billboard signs has always been high winds. They can knock out your ad or even knock down your entire sign structure. While none of us have control over the weather, we can take proactive steps to better prepare for the risk of high winds, and we’re going to discuss what those options are and how to institute them.

Episode 38: Notes On Preparing For High Winds Transcript

High winds and billboards have never gotten along well and that's why you have to really give it a lot of consideration because when high winds come blowing, you need to understand where you are at and do everything proactively you can. This is Frank Rolfe, with the Billboard Mastery podcast. We're gonna be talking all about planning for high winds, and let's first start off with things you can do on the frontend to make sure that your sign has the best chance of survival when a super high straight line wind of let's say a 100 miles an hour or more comes through, whether it's part of a tornado or just one of these freak weather events we have in America these days.

First off, if it's a steel structure, then it would behoove you to probably, 'merhaps' even annually, have someone simply inspect to make sure all the boltings are tight, that hold the pole to the head of the sign, and initially look for any cracks in any part of the signs metal as far as welding issues or stress issues. Now that may be beyond the amount of money you wanna spend, 'cause to pay someone to do that, isn't going to be cheap, and it's certainly not going to be free, but I know if you've got a large monopole in a valuable location, you certainly don't want that thing to fail, and if those bolts have started backing off, which they do periodically through the vibration of the winds, then it is possible you'll lose a bolt or two, and if you lose a bolt or two, it changes the stresses completely on that sign. You'll never know it as long as the winds are moderate, but if the winds get really, really high, it could cause you a really serious problem.

So having just your steel monopole sign inspected periodically is not a bad thing, if you've got a wooden sign, you can't really tell because wooden signs don't show typically the same kind of stresses, there's no bolts holding those together, but on a wooden sign, we all know that the chief culprit in the high wind is the poles breaking, and they typically break just a few feet off the ground. That's the high stress spot of a wooden sign. So how can I practically try and solve that.

Well, you have two options. Number one, and you see it all the time, is you put a row of wooden braces to help support the sign in those moments of high wind, they have no other purpose, when the wind isn't high they are meaningless, but when the big wind comes, part of that force is transferred from that pole, not just to the base of that pole, but to the base of the pole, which is attached to it by a series of struts, so you're basically taking some of that pressure off and that little amount of pressure that you reduce is often what we'll save the sign from breaking and collapsing.

You can also do things by attaching guide wires to once again strengthen and take off some of the stress. If I poke wires from the top of the sign down to the ground and the big winds blow, part of that wind load will be absorbed by those wires and not by the poles to the sign.

Talk to your sign fabricators, sign contractors and what their ideas are, but many signs can be helped in the event of high winds simply through really good planning. Also, you need to have a plan in place if the sign should have a problem. And the plan, the main plan you need is insurance. When a sign fails, it typically fails in a big way, it's a big object, it comes crashing down, or it comes flying off, and it can do a lot of damage. So you have to make sure that you have ample insurance to cover the kind of things that would happen, you would never wanna own a billboard that is not insured.

I once had a billboard in a big windstorm in Downtown Dallas, the sign blew off its frame, and it went through the windows and into the lobby of an office building. Yes, it was a costly catastrophe, but I had insurance and I never paid a penny out of my own pocket for it. So having proper insurance is a blessing, make sure you understand the kind of insurance you have, what the exclusions are, and that you are prepared for whatever damage you may cause if the sign comes down, you may also be able to insure the sign itself, that would be fantastic, that... Where you don't have a care in the world in a high wind because not only is the sign fully insured, but whatever it would hit is also insured.

And then you also need a playbook of what the steps are in the event of high wind, when you see it on the news, Sun News flash or there's a giant storm in this location, and you say, "Wait, I've got a billboard in that location." What do you do? Well, the first thing you wanna do is you gotta figure out how to check on the sign, and you can jump in your car and go out and look at it, but that might be many hours from your house, it's easier to make a list of businesses that are open 24 hours, if possible, that can see your sign out their window, probably not a billboard in America that can't be seen from someone in a nearby gas station or a 24-hour restaurant, get a list of those people's phone numbers and then call them up and say, "Hey, can you do me a favor, I saw there was a giant storm, is my billboard okay?"

They just have to look out the window and tell you. It'll save you from a whole lot of driving. If you do have any damage, make sure you get out there the next morning to take photos of the damage for the insurance company, they're often very late in arriving, by the time they get through things may have changed. You wanna make sure you have a complete set of photos of everything that has transpired with your sign so that you have a permanent record of that, for the insurance comes, so they don't later say, "Oh no, wait, this isn't insured because of X, Y, Z," or maybe 'cause someone goes in and cleans it up, so try to get photos as quickly as you can.

Also, in certain cases, you're gonna help yourself by cleaning up the debris. I've been out there myself, after windstorms, removing panels and vinyl that have caused problems, and you do that to lower the risk of any more liability, if you have a panel or something that's laying half into the street and a car hits that. Well, they're gonna sue you on that for damage to their car, so proactively figure out what you can do to clean up as much of that damage as you humanly can. You also need to know the laws and the loopholes regarding fixing your sign, in some areas, if your sign is damaged beyond a certain percent of original cost, they won't let you fix it, they'll say, "You've lost your grandfathered right and the sign can longer be," and that's not where you wanna be.

In many states, there's a loophole to that though, what you can do is, you can, depending on how you classify the costs, and there are certain thresholds that you can just barely came in under and you don't have any problems with the city or the county or the state, so understand what those loopholes are, read the ordinance of what happens in the event of a windstorm, and then figure out yourself, how would you handle that, how can I go ahead and get that sign put back and not have any further problems with it.

Also, you need to figure out what you do with your advertiser, now, many advertisers, they don't drive by a sign that frequently, if they do ever drive by your sign and the sign has been damaged in a windstorm and you didn't tell them, they're gonna be very upset, for all they know that sign has been damaged not for a period of days, but perhaps for months, then they threaten to cancel the contract and not pay you at all. Better still, when you have a problem, and there is a wind damage to a sign, let the advertiser know immediately, call them, email them, send them a letter, letting them know exactly what's going on, let them know that a big storm came through, their vinyl was ripped and blew off the sign, and you're not going to charge them from that moment until you get it reinstalled.

Treating your advertisers fairly and honestly has always been the best policy, when you do that, they will treat you the same, they will pay their ad amount quickly, and they'll also renew the sign and that's absolutely critical. So be a good person when a sign gets damaged and tell everyone truly what is going on, the bottom line to it all is that although high wind events do occur, and I've had it in my career, I've had... Never had one of my pole come to the ground, I've had two that broke and almost came down to the ground, both of which were, happened in tornados.

And I've also had some wooden signs that broke off and crashed into the ground, both again in tornadic situations, but in all cases, never come out of pocket a penny, had all the right property insurance, had done everything correctly, all the signs were repaired or replaced and ads went back up and everything was fine, so the key to it all, the key to planning is, is trying to get ahead of the game, understanding the risks, trying to mitigate the risk, trying to handle the risk, whenever you have a playbook ready, that plan be it makes you sleep easier at night, it makes you feel a lot better and safe for when you see there's a weather report on the news.

This is Frank Rolfe, the Billboard Mastery Podcast, I hope you enjoyed this, talk to you again soon.