Minimizing Waste & Lost Revenue From Natural Disasters

Disaster Recovery & Sustainable Planning

Hurricane Maria

Hurricane Maria

When Simon Property Group (Simon) had two large shopping malls shut down for an extended period of time from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and a severe hailstorm in Colorado, KERAMIDA’s disaster recovery professionals responded immediately to help get these one million square foot Simon malls up and running as fast as possible. Each powerful storm caused extended mall closures which cost Simon hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue a month.

Both extreme weather events at Plaza Carolina Mall (Puerto Rico) and Colorado Mills Mall generated a large quantity of waste due to damage from the storms. In addition to the lost revenue from mall operations, the cost of waste disposal was also extremely high. Each storm produced several thousand tons of waste that was ultimately landfilled as part of the re-development effort.

In building for the future, we believe that smart approaches like using better building materials, and providing a more resilient framework will lead to more sustainable buildings, less lost revenue in the face of disaster events, less waste disposal fees, and more reliable retail services. In this post we’ll review these two Simon case studies and discuss what strategies developers can implement to help prepare for future natural disasters.

Disaster Recovery Waste Case Studies

Colorado Mills Mall - Severe Hailstorm

In May of 2017, the Denver area experienced a hailstorm with golf ball sized hail. The force of the falling hail was strong enough to puncture sturdy automotive glass, and also the roof at Simon’s Colorado Mills Mall. With several hundred holes in the roof, rain and snowmelt were able to enter the mall and cause mold and moisture damage. The mall interior and large quantities of merchandise were beyond salvageable and necessitated removal. The mall was closed for weeks.

$2.3 Billion in Damages: The cost in lost revenue for this shut down time was approximately $350,000 a month in lost revenue for the mall. The total economic effect of the storm snowballs if one calculates the economic cost for workers’ lost wages for the weeks they were unable to work.


Plaza Carolina Mall - Hurricane Maria

Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in late September of 2017. A category 4 hurricane, Maria was the worst natural disaster to ever hit Puerto Rico.

During the storm, roof drains at the Plaza Carolina Simon Mall property in San Juan could not keep up with water accumulating on the roof. The eventual weight of the water pooling on the roof caused a catastrophic failure of the roof in two sections. The following intrusion of water, paired with no power, and no heating ventilating and cooling systems, led to temperatures and relative humidity both in the 90’s inside the mall for weeks. This was an ideal environment for rampant mold growth which ultimately badly damaged much of the building’s interior and required its removal.


Health Hazards from Natural Disaster Waste

Immediately after both Hurricane Maria and Colorado’s destructive hailstorm, KERAMIDA’s disaster recovery team knew that time was critical and arrived promptly on-site to assess the damage.

We assessed dozens of Simon mall spaces to industrial hygiene standards, performing mold and moisture assessments, and checked for the presence of lead and asbestos. It must be ascertained whether lead and asbestos are present to safely perform any demolition and remodeling work. Although it may be counterintuitive, lead and asbestos may still be present in some building materials.


After the assessment was completed, KERAMIDA made removal recommendations to the demolition contractor. After removal was performed it was necessary to ensure that the appropriate materials and quantities were removed, and that no mold had since compromised other adjacent building materials.


KERAMIDA coordinated with insurance adjusters to ensure that all removal was covered under the Simon’s policy. A final report for these projects was drafted that contained detailed logs and photos of the removal and re-construction of hundreds of retail spaces both small and large.


Waste Stream From Natural Disasters

Each mall in Colorado and Puerto Rico generated large quantities of waste. The waste stream consisted generally of:

  • merchandise

  • drywall

  • wood flooring

  • carpet

  • plywood (from bulkheads, sub-flooring, and shelving)

  • ceiling tile

  • insulation

In Puerto Rico it was estimated that 2,750 tons of waste was generated; that’s 5.5 million pounds. This waste ended up in RCRA subtitle D non-hazardous landfills: industrial waste landfills, and construction and demolition debris landfills.


How Does Climate Change Factor In?

Indirect Effects of Climate Change

There is widespread concern across all industries that storms will be of increasing frequency and power because of climate change. Simon’s concern was no different, as they expected indirect effects at their mall properties such as increasing cost of insurance, decreased demand for retail space, and increasing energy costs in light of climate change.

Direct Effects of Climate Change

With each of these extreme weather events, Simon ended up with some serious direct effects as well as evidenced in the images below:


Sustainable Strategies for Reducing Waste

How can developers reduce waste, increase the life of construction materials, and thereby save money and help the environment?

As a sizable company, Simon Property Group completed a sustainability report for the 2017 year in which they addressed recycling, food waste diversion, and construction waste, all with the projected aim of generally reducing the impact of mall operations on the environment. Simon’s sustainability goals were to:

However, there were no specifications on waste from disaster events or for re-building malls. Simon had not fully accounted for this situation. But in order to work toward their sustainability goals, Simon needed to consider a strategy to incorporate resilience into their corporate framework in accounting for disaster events.

Building Climate Resilience to Reduce Waste

Climate resilience for an organization means being prepared for threats and having the ability to absorb impacts, recover and adapt to outside stresses such as natural disasters.

There are many inputs to achieving a resilient structure that would be prepared for disaster events, including: economic, social, organizational and technical improvements, which ideally would result in more reliability, faster recovery, and lower consequences in these disaster situations. There are “hard” solutions to approach resilience and there are “soft” solutions to achieve the desired outputs of resilience.

Hard Paths for Climate Resilience

For “hard” solutions, resilience and sustainability are achievable through selection of building materials better suited to adverse weather conditions.

In Colorado, a sturdier roof, or a hail guard on the existing roof could prevent holes being punctured in the building envelope that led to water intrusion. In Puerto Rico, also a sturdier roof, and more sizable roof drains to be able to keep up with rapid precipitation could have prevented the roof collapse.

For both locations, different flooring could prevent waste. The client could consider using polished concrete floors, vinyl flooring, or tile. Wood flooring, carpet, and other porous materials should be avoided for flooring. Alternative sub-floors (not plywood) would also be an option for better technology flooring. These made up a sizable portion of the waste stream in Colorado and Puerto Rico. Other moisture resistant flooring materials may include clay, quarry, plastic lumber, and non-porous stones and grout.


For wall materials, steel studs and beams should be utilized in combination with cement board in place of drywall. Also, brick, concrete block, or glass block could be used as a water-resistant alternative to drywall, wood paneling, and other cellulose-based porous material that provides a substrate for mold growth. Once drywall becomes wet, its integrity is compromised even if the surface can eventually be dried.

Further, in lieu of using cellulose and fibrous based ceiling tiles, the contractor could utilize exposed ductwork where store ceilings go all the way to the roof deck in a minimalistic design approach that saves unnecessary materials and likewise avoids the use of porous materials which can become saturated and eventually a source of latent moisture retention and mold growth.

Soft Paths for Climate Resilience

“Resilience and Sustainability of Civil Infrastructure: Toward a Unified Approach.” Paolo Bocchini, M.ASCE; Dan M. Frangopol, Dist.M.ASCE; Thomas Ummenhofer; and Tim Zinke Journal of Infrastructure Systems.Volume 20 Issue 2- June 2014

“Resilience and Sustainability of Civil Infrastructure: Toward a Unified Approach.” Paolo Bocchini, M.ASCE; Dan M. Frangopol, Dist.M.ASCE; Thomas Ummenhofer; and Tim Zinke Journal of Infrastructure Systems.Volume 20 Issue 2- June 2014

For “soft” solutions, having an experienced staff who is prepared for disaster recovery is key.

Staff should be trained in response methods and know standards and protocols set in place through past experience with similar situations. This is often easier said than done, due to the inherent unpredictability of disaster events. However, having the proper organizational structure to facilitate rapid response and resource management is key to achieving resilience and sustainability.

Communication between different levels of management and between key parties is also of great importance. Having a network and experience with key contractors working on the recovery is a big piece of this comprehensive picture, and something KERAMIDA’s disaster recovery team was able to provide for Simon.

Long-Term Sustainability

The path to reducing environmental impact through waste reduction and the implementation of sustainable and resilient building materials and management practices comes from connecting short-term and long-term solutions. Developers can better prepare for an uncertain future by putting an emphasis on resilience and adaptation strategies in addition to their established disaster response and recovery plan.

KERAMIDA’s team of Industrial Hygienists and Disaster Recovery professionals provide response services and work in tandem with our Climate Change & Sustainability professionals to develop climate adaptation and resilience plans. To speak with one of our experts about how we can help you prepare for and recover from future natural disasters, please call us today at (800) 508-8034 or contact us here.

Blog Author


John Young
Project Manager

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