Back to Basics is an article series that highlights important, but possibly overlooked, information facilities management professionals should know.
No matter where their facilities are located, facilities managers should have a long-range and short-range plan to mitigate flood damage to their buildings, as well as a plan to clean up damage caused in the aftermath. While areas near oceans, rivers, and streams are more prone to flooding, it can happen anywhere, so it’s important for facilities managers to prepare their facilities for flooding, as these conditions can threaten life and property.
What Causes Flooding?
The National Weather Service (NWS) says flooding is usually caused by:
- Large amounts of rain over several days,
- Intense rain over a short period of time,
- When ice or debris causes a river or stream to overflow into surrounding areas, or
- The failure of a levee or dam.
According to the NWS, flooding is such a serious problem that “approximately 75 percent of all Presidential disaster declarations are associated with flooding.” U.S. presidential disaster declarations are necessary so states and communities can receive federal help.
How Disastrous Is Flooding?
Flooding has caused $177.9 billion in damages in the United States, adjusted for inflation, and claimed 676 deaths between 1980 and 2022, according to Climate.gov.
2023 has been an active year for flooding, as well. As of August 8, 2023, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) noted that the United States had $4.6 billion in flood-related damages, adjusted for inflation, and, as of September 5, 2023, the NWS reported that 59 people lost their lives.
Facilities managers should take the time to do long-range planning that can protect their facilities from flood damage.
The report “Flood Resilience: A Basic Guide for Water and Wastewater Utilities” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests taking the following four steps to mitigate flooding:
- Understand the threat of flooding: Look at your facility’s rainfall, topography, river flow, drainage, and tidal surge, and check Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood maps to determine whether the facility is in a 100-year flood zone (with a 1% chance of flooding) or a 500-year flood zone (with 2/10 of a 1% chance of flooding) or outside the 500-year flood zone. Regardless, consider purchasing flood insurance.
- Identify vulnerable assets and determine consequences: Measure the elevations of utility assets on your property because water and wastewater utilities are more prone to flooding. Next, estimate the cost to replace these utilities on the best-available data. Finally, determine what priority each asset should have so measures can be taken to improve flood resilience.
- Identify and evaluate mitigation measures: Identify possible ways to protect vulnerable assets, and consider what’s needed to maintain specific utilities at the facility. For example, 60 pounds per square inch (psi) might be needed for water pressure at an on-site treatment plant. Next, evaluate emergency planning activities to implement. These could include bolting down chemical tanks, elevating equipment, and constructing flood barriers.
- Develop a plan to implement mitigation measures: Coordinate and develop a plan with necessary utility boards, governments, and emergency management agencies. Determine what funding is available to make these improvements to the facility, whether it be internal, governmental bonds, or federal funds. Emergency response plans should be updated based on these new mitigation measures.
Additionally, consider preparing to accommodate critical staff or occupants who are unable to leave by having water, nonperishable food items, first-aid kits, cleaning supplies, personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies during high COVID transferability periods, cellphone chargers, etc. It’s best to purchase these items early before local stores run out of items due to high demand right before a powerful storm hits.
Facilities managers should also take short-range planning steps when the NWS issues an advisory, a watch, or a warning for the region. Consider these 10 recommendations from the Small Business Administration (SBA) and FEMA:
- Stay informed: Use a NOAA Weather Radio, and check local alerts on the Emergency Alert System (EAS), the Internet, or other communication devices to stay up to date on emergency warnings.
- Insurance: Locate insurance policies, and contact an agent for specifics.
- Take an inventory: Take photos or videos of important items and valuables. Consider moving important documents and data off-site.
- Move supplies: Move computers and electronics above the flood level and away from large windows. Relocate heavy and fragile items to low shelves.
- Gutters: Clean out debris from gutters and downspouts.
- Postpone: Whether they’re goods, couriers, or deliveries, be sure to postpone these during a storm.
- Staff: Send noncritical staff home, and if there are no critical staff in the facility, unplug all electrical items. Critical staff should know what’s expected of them during a disaster.
- Protect the basement: Consider installing a water alarm and maintaining a sump pump. In case of a power failure, have a battery-operated backup pump.
- Elevators: Set elevators to the second level, and turn them off.
- Phone calls: Redirect all business calls to cellphones, an answering service, or an Internet-based phone number redirection service.
After the Flood
Facilities managers should follow these 10 tips from FEMA and Ready.gov after a flood has damaged their facilities:
- Stay informed: Continue to listen to NOAA, the EAS, and the local news for road conditions and weather information.
- Safe entry: Only enter roads to your facility and the building itself when authorities say it’s safe.
- Daylight: Wait until daylight before inspecting a flood-damaged facility so it’s easier to see and avoid hazards.
- Avoid electrocution: If it’s safe to do so, turn off the electricity to the building. If you’re unable to do this, don’t touch wet electrical equipment. If standing in water, don’t touch electrical equipment.
- Generator: Only use gas-powered generators outdoors and away from windows.
- Mold safety: Wear work gloves, protective clothing, and boots before entering a flooded facility where there’s mold or other debris. Anyone with asthma and other lung conditions shouldn’t enter buildings with indoor water leaks or mold growth.
- Document the damage: Take photos and videos of all damaged items, and record serial numbers for large items.
- Examine the facility: Be sure to check the facility’s electrical, water, heat, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems and structure for damage.
- Beware of scam artists: Be wary if approached by contractors for repair services, and get written estimates of repair work.
- Keep receipts: Document all building damage for the flood claim.
Facilities managers should implement flood mitigation tools for long-range and short-range planning and have a course of action in case their facility is impacted by a flood.
Many floods are caused by hurricanes and tornadoes. To learn about hurricane preparation, check out “Back to Basics: Preparing Your Facility for Hurricanes” on Facilities Management Advisor, and for tornado preparation tips, read “7 Ways to Safeguard Facilities Against Tornadoes,” also on Facilities Management Advisor.