A Family Company Quickly Responds to Place Hundreds of Emergency Restrooms

The team at Oregon’s Above All Sanitation works overtime to help customers and the public stay safe during the coronavirus pandemic

A Family Company Quickly Responds to Place Hundreds of Emergency Restrooms

Technician Ansley Pennington prepares to service a bank of Satellite | PolyPortables restrooms stationed at Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon. (Photos by Tyler Gordon)

THE TEAM

Travis Gates is the operations manager of Above All Sanitation, a portable restroom and septic service company in Eugene, Oregon, owned by his parents, Mike and Cindy Gates. The staff of 15 includes sister Jessica Gates, secretary; aunt Kari Reynolds, office manager; and brother-in-law Tyler Gordon, sales and marketing.

COMPANY HISTORY

About 30 years ago, an ad in the paper caught the attention of Mike Gates and his father, James, who were living in California at the time, and they soon found themselves owners of a portable restroom company in San Diego County. They grew the company from 500 to 2,000 units. In 2000 they moved to Oregon and briefly considered trying something different but quickly saw a big need in the market for portable restrooms and septic services. This time, they started from scratch with the purchase of 28 units, which they have now built up to 1,300. About 80% of their business is portable sanitation work.

THE MAIN EVENT

COVID-19 first appeared in China in December 2019. The virus spread quickly, and by March the World Health Organization declared it a pandemic. In an effort to contain the disease, nonessential businesses were shuttered and citizens across the world were asked to stay home and practice social distancing.

THE JOB

Companies, government agencies, the university and homeless facilities in Eugene scrambled to obtain more sanitation equipment, especially hand-wash stations and sanitizer stands, in an effort to keep everyone safe and prevent the spread of the virus. In addition, customers wanted more frequent servicing of existing equipment. “It wasn’t just the normal weekly service,” Travis Gates says. “It was six times a week. So it’s been an extreme change from just slowly growing our routes to an all-out full-force effort.”

LET’S ROLL

The company started getting calls around March 6 from some of its regular customers asking for more equipment and more service. By the end of the month, they had run out of hand-wash stations and hand sanitizer stands. In addition to home improvement and other stores wanting hand sanitizer units for their entrances, some of their larger customers included the following:

City government agencies. Eugene and Springfield, sister cities on opposite sides of Interstate 5, needed portable restrooms for their parks because, even as park visitations increased, on-site bathrooms were closed since the park personnel who clean them were not considered essential workers. The company placed one standard and one wheelchair-accessible unit at 23 parks with servicing six times a week. Three parks also needed hand-wash stations. They also placed 10 hand-wash stations in various Eugene city center locations such as the library, high-traffic street corners and major bus stops; two hand sanitizer stands and a hand-wash station at the fire station that served as the virus response headquarters; and two hand sanitizer stands at the police station, all with twice-a-week servicing.

University of Oregon. Despite spring break and the stay-at-home order, a number of staff and students remained on campus. The university ordered 43 hand-wash stations for placement around campus with servicing twice a week.

Homeless agencies. “Eugene Mission was one of the first ones to jump on the bandwagon for getting sinks at its facilities,” Gates says. The company placed one hand-wash station outside each of the mission’s three buildings. The Dusk to Dawn facilities at the St. Vincent de Paul Society, which provide overnight accommodations for homeless in military-style tents, requested two additional standard units and one wheelchair-accessible unit to supplement existing equipment, serviced six times a week. Its administrative building added a standard portable restroom and five hand-wash stations serviced six times a week.

The company’s equipment is from Satellite | PolyPortables and PolyJohn Enterprises. All portable restrooms have hand sanitizer dispensers. Many hand sanitizer stands are company-designed and built by Eugene Ornamental Iron. Equipment deliveries were made using vacuum trucks, a 16-foot flatbed Isuzu truck from FMI Truck Sales & Service and a 2008 Chevy Express box van.

KEEPIN’ IT CLEAN

The team arrived at the office each day around 5:30 a.m. and headed out by 6 a.m. to service equipment. “We do these routes first thing in the morning to avoid coming across people while servicing and to make sure we can get everything clean at an appropriate rate so that when people start coming out, they’re ready for use,” Gates says.

The company has six Isuzu (2016-19) WorkMate vacuum trucks from FMI Truck Sales & Service, one with an aluminum tank and National Vacuum Equipment pump and the others with steel tanks and Masport pumps. Each can handle 300 gallons of freshwater and 500-750 gallons of waste. They are in the process of purchasing another vacuum truck, something that was already on their radar for the busy summer season but now has become an urgent necessity. They use Satellite | PolyPortables deodorizer products. Waste goes to the municipal treatment plant or a sealed lagoon treatment facility.

Gates says they’ve beefed up their cleaning process. “Obviously we already used disinfectant, but now we’re doubling up on making sure those high-contact areas — handles, doors, sanitizer dispenser, seat, toilet paper dispenser — are getting double-covered.”

CHALLENGING TIMES

As the general public has been desperate to find hand sanitizer, the company experienced some vandalism issues, Gates says. “We’ve had people either ripping sanitizer dispensers out or damaging them enough to get the bag out.” The company is telling its customers to lock the units at night, when most of the problems occurred.

Another problem has been running out of equipment. The company’s stock of portable restrooms has been sufficient thus far, but they quickly ordered an additional 18 hand-wash stations, 10 wheelchair-accessible units and 20 hand sanitizer stands, all of which were immediately spoken for. Further deliveries are unlikely in the immediate future, Gates says. “We could definitely do with a lot more.”

Another challenge was responding to increased requests while maintaining high standards. “Obviously we help as many people as we can,” Gates say, “but not to the extent it’s going to hurt our quality of service. We have to make sure we stay in the realm of being sanitary.”

Gates credits the employees for really stepping up, most of whom are working at least 10 extra hours every week. “The onset of this was really fast, and everyone has been very, ‘Hey, let’s go, let’s get it taken care of.’ It’s definitely been a huge change, but everyone has been great. We’re very blessed with all our employees.”  



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