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Taking the D out of disasters

by: Cori Bolger, 
Brian Ruffner, a business branch manager, stands in front of the offices of Har-Bro in Lake Oswego. Har-Bro restores anything destroyed or damaged during a disaster.

A framed panoramic photo sitting behind Brian Ruffner's desk reminds his visitors that we are always at Mother Nature's mercy.

In the sepia image, clouds of smoke rise from crumbling buildings in the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

Too bad Ruffner's general contracting company, Har-Bro, wasn't around to help rebuild the city.

Today, Har-Bro is the largest and most experienced disaster restoration company in the Western United States, where earthquakes still hit hard and wildfires spread fast.

With 44 years of experience, Har-Bro helps people reconstruct and restore property damaged by fire, water, earthquakes and other destructive forces.

Ruffner, manager of Har-Bro's Lake Oswego branch, says people with property damage can call his company's 24-hour emergency call center - 1-800-266-5677 - to get a quick response by a team of professionals. They will not get an answering machine, he added.

'We'll be out there in a half hour to secure the property, stop further damage and walk (clients) through the insurance claims,' he said. 'Most people don't even know (the service) is out there.'

The branch, which opened in August, is one of nine offices located in the Western United States. Ruffner, who lives in Lake Oswego, chose the location for its proximity to major highways and offices of major insurance companies.

According to Ruffner, Har-Bro's employees are certified and trained to respond to and work in residential areas that are damaged, for example, by falling trees or broken pipes.

'There's a difference in working with restoration projects versus new projects,' he said. 'You're dealing with already occupied spaces.'

Their job can include rebuilding to remodeling interiors damaged by smoke, water or mold, he added. Har-Bro works with subcontracting companies to get the work done, including electric and plumbing tasks.

The challenge is knowing what to save and what to knock down and rebuild, Ruffner said.

Staff members also help property owners work with their insurance carrier and rebuild the property to pre-loss condition if requested.

Har-Bro offers a three-year warranty on its work, according to Ruffner.

About 75 percent of Har-Bro's business comes from large or multi-family property owners. The Disney Corporation, for example, has a pre-agreement with Har-Bro, Ruffner said.

However, residential work of any size accounts for the majority of Har-Bro's on-site work. A typical call could include responding to a fire caused by human error, or the accidental activation of sprinkler systems.

'A lot of it is happenstance and people don't plan on it,' he said.

Ruffner said Har-Bro hopes to establish itself in Seattle within the year.

'Someday in the future, there's going to be a big earthquake here,' he said.

Contact the Portland regional office at 503-598-1850 or visit the Web site at www.harbro.com.