There's nothing wrong with a little rain, except of course, when that rain becomes a flood. It's not only a prospective threat for homeowners, it can also cause serious damage to facilities and put people's health at risk. To help people prepare against the hazard of flooding, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have teamed up to present National Flood Safety Awareness Week. As spring approaches and rain becomes more frequent, facility managers should definitely take the necessary precautions to lessen any potential risk. Fortunately, many such steps can easily be incorporated into general building maintenance.
Flooding damages in the U.S. total to an average of about $8.3 billion and 89 fatalities annually, according to NOAA. The most recent major disaster was the Colorado flooding last September, which submerged roads, homes and vehicles in rapidly moving waters.
For individual facilities, the consequences of a flood can be catastrophic. Memorial Hermann hospital learned that lesson firsthand when Tropical Storm Allison hit in 2001. Mike Hatton, the hospital's system executive of facilities engineering, gave FacilitiesNet a glimpse into just how horrible an experience it was to see it flooded with nearly 40 feet of water.
"It was quite a strange feeling to realize your facility was being destroyed and there was nothing you could do about it," Hatton said.
With so much flooding, the building was basically rendered useless. According to Hatton, the hospital lost all of its utilities, including electric, air conditioning, elevators, patient care systems and even elevators.
Flooding can pose extreme risk in the midst of it happening. Yet, much of the damage and hazard also exists once the water levels have lowered. Apart from damaged electrical equipment, flood waters can damage paperwork and records in a facility as happened with the Hermann Hospital. Worst of all, though, unsanitary water can pollute a space, ruin insulation and allow for the widespread growth of mold throughout a structure. Such a biological hazard demands extensive cleaning efforts and even potential replacement of building components. The price tag can get big quickly.
"We peaked at 6,000 contractors helping us with the recovery," Hatton told FacilitiesNet. "We demolished over 600,000 square feet of basement real estate and had it reconstructed and brought back up to code in that 38 days."
Dry and wet flood proofing
There are a number of precautions you can take to prepare for the possibility of a flood. The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety recommends sealing any breaks where utilities enter the building and moving any sensitive documents or materials out of basements or away from where flood waters may enter. If you have an outdoor HVAC system it may be worthwhile to elevate it on a concrete pedestal and brace it to resist the pull of flowing water. Additionally, waterproof shields may be placed over windows and doors, and waterproof coating applied to exterior walls.
These techniques fit under the category of dry flood proofing, and are only advisable for buildings with good structural integrity. Weaker buildings should consider wet flood proofing, which prepares against the destructive force of water pressure by allowing water to flow freely into and out of the building.
The importance of planning
Flood resisting techniques won't always stop water from getting in. More important is that facility managers have contingency plans for evacuation during a flood and clean-up afterward. Managers should keep in mind that electricity should be shut off in the event of a flood and water should be avoided that has submerged electrical equipment.
Also, a checklist can be invaluable in the post-stage recovery process, so that it's easy to know what needs checking or replacing. Maintenance management software can assist in keeping track of all the routine checks that are required after such disasters.