Visitors come to the basecamp throughout the day to enjoy a free lunch and a guided tour of the trailers. MLU Services hosts a luncheon and tours for members of the Athens-Clarke community on July 10, 2019 at their disaster recovery basecamp in Bogart, Georgia. (Photo/Daniela Rico)

Inside a fluorescent-lit warehouse in Bogart, a couple hundred high capacity RVs are waiting patiently for the chance to be revved up and taken far away. But that won't happen until a natural disaster hits.

The RVs are owned and operated by the family-run business MLU Services, and have been since the mid-2000’s. The Ulm family is one of many that provides emergency preparedness services, specializing in providing high-quality temporary housing for service workers responding to disasters.

On Saturday, July 6, about 40 MLU Services employees set up enough trailers to house 400 workers at its site in Bogart, including a fully equipped dining hall and amenities. The demonstration camp was erected in about 14 hours, under the 18 hour goal.

“That’s the whole deal. It’s how quick you can sleep ‘em, shower ‘em, and feed ‘em,” General Contractor for MLU, Mike Daughtry said.

Essentially, that’s what the demonstration camp exemplified, but with some extra bells and whistles.

Row after row of stark white trailers covered a gravel-filled area. A huge white tent, air-conditioned, housed large tables and heavy duty kitchen amenities. Eight washers and dryers rolled in the laundry service trailer. Inside the bathroom and shower trailers, 97.1 The River was unashamedly blared over the speakers.

“It’s like a hotel,” Creative Director of Thrasher Photo and Design, Beth Thrasher, said.

The trailers in the demonstration camp could house about 500 people — 12 people to each trailer. In total, MLU Services owns enough trailers to house 5,000, spread across the businesses’ three hubs — Santa Rosa, California, Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Athens.

High standards

When a disaster first hits, Daughtry emphasized the three most important focus points: reinstating power and utilities, getting roads back up and running and collecting displaced persons.

The people doing most of this work are employees of power, water and electric companies, as well as medical teams and other emergency responders. While government organizations such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency typically deal with displaced populations after natural disasters, utility workers require attention from other bodies.

Thats where MLU services comes in. But the difference in what it provides sets it apart from other disaster recovery businesses — both in quality and price point.

“They’ve set the bar a little higher,” Deputy Director of Emergency Management Thomas Moore said.

Moore, working for the Georgia Emergency Management & Homeland Security Agency, said his team needs to know what disaster preparedness services are out there, hence their visit to the MLU exhibition.

“If you can imagine, working 14-16 hours a day, you’re tired,” Daughtry said. “The key is treating the guests, your workers, with such kindness, such respect. They’re working hard.”

So, when circumstances allow, MLU delivers. Meals may include prime rib with vegetables, cooked in thousand-dollar Southern Pride mobile smokers. Sleeping quarters are equipped with thick Tru Comfort mattresses.

These services are paid for by MLU’s “clients,” which are typically the utility companies that require housing for their workers. And Daughtry said it costs millions. That doesn’t stop them from being contracted, however.

“During a disaster, we can run out of beds,” he said.

GEMA/HS hasn't contracted with MLU in the past, but it’s definitely a possibility.

“It’s better to take good care of your people and get more out of them,” Moore said regarding the pay-off of a higher-costing service.

MLU also contracts with agencies such as FEMA. It most recently helped set up federally-provided emergency temporary housing in Paradise, California, following the devastating fires that started in November 2018 and weren’t extinguished until about a month later.

After sending over about 52 trailers to Paradise, California, MLU also provided its own amenities and services for hundreds of workers, Daughtry said.

Getting caught in the storm

Joseph Ulm is the youngest son of William Ulm, Sr. His light tan cowboy-style boots hit the gravel of the Buford showcase grounds before taking a stop inside the cold dining tent.

He remembers the first storm his family officially provided their services for. It was a moderate ice storm in Oklahoma, and Joseph Ulm was 10 years old. He said his dad had given him a tackle box filled with files. While the utility workers would take water breaks, he would use those files to make minor repairs to their chainsaws.

“It was moms suburban and Williams truck, when he was 16,” Ulm said about the businesses beginnings.

In 2003-2004 is when MLU Services officially started offering more than just post-natural disaster tree and debris removal, moving on to the emergency housing gig.

Since then, they’ve continued to invest in better and newer equipment, expanding on what was once just an investment deal. The people working for them, many of whom Ulm considers the best in the business, have helped gain MLU Services it’s reliability factor.

“We have a lot of experience,” Ulm said. “After doing this so long and in emergency situations, we’ve got guys who can work in the rain and not know its raining. Or something bad happens and their eyes don't flinch.”

No matter the time constraints, Ulm said his father never wants the crews to rush during camp set up. Safety should always come first.

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