Before the Storm

by Katie Lee

Preparing your retail center for summer storms.

By Mike Fitzpatrick

The National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA) estimates that approximately 10,000 severe storms occur every year in the United States. Hurricanes, thunderstorms, tornados and hail storms can all leave damage in their wake. All property managers — even those who manage small retail centers — will eventually have to deal with the aftermath of a big storm.

Due to the amount of high-traffic areas (i.e. parking lots, sidewalks, entrances) located on retail properties, it’s critical to keep your property in order, clean and safe at all times. Depending on the severity of a storm, the cleanup process can range from gathering up a few fallen leaves and branches to draining a flooded area and taking care of downed trees. Knowing what the potential weather risks are in your region and having a plan in advance can make a significant difference in your costs and how efficiently you are able to take care of your retail property in the event of a major storm.

Preparing Before the Storm

As with any aspect of property management, having a plan in place that covers how to deal with a storm’s aftermath will make your emergency response go more smoothly. Working with your landscaping professional to construct a written storm cleanup management plan before the summer season hits, and making all relevant employees familiar with it, will reduce any confusion and stress should the need to implement this plan ever arise.

It’s also important to point out that many property owners will not be able to handle the entire scope of storm cleanup with their day-to-day staff. Having contacts for various services, which include tree services, flood remediation, handymen and roofing services are all resources retail owners/property managers should have on hand. The best way to identify companies to work with is through recommendations from friends and colleagues and to check reviews online to find capable and trustworthy services for your property. Keep in mind the list of services and their contact information should be included in your storm cleanup plan. This should also include alternates in case your first choice companies are overbooked.

RetailCleanUp CAB 8575While some storm damage is unpredictable and unpreventable, there is maintenance that your landscaping company can perform right now to reduce the cleanup you will have to endure after a storm. These tasks include: keeping bushes and trees well trimmed, removing dead and damaged branches, making sure that gutters are maintained and kept clear of leaves, and ensuring that your property has landscaping drainage installed. Keeping your drainage system clean is extremely important to prevent flooding. French drains can keep water moving so that it does not pool in lawns and other areas. For them to work properly, however, the pipes need to be cleared periodically of plants, roots and debris to ensure that the water can drain easily from your property.

Handling Areas That Flood

Add drainage aids to areas of your property that do not drain well after storms. Standing water can become a breeding ground for mosquitos and can eventually cause flooding and other types of damage inside the buildings. (Damages to the building’s foundation and flooring, rotting wooden support beams and mold are all common types of problems caused by flooding.) Here are a few of the drainage options currently available:

• French drains are perforated drains that transport water out of your grounds and into storm drains. The best spots for them are in the lowest elevation areas of the property.

• Dry wells can contain large amounts of water that can surge in during heavy rainfall. The wells allow the water to seep into the soil gradually over several days, avoiding massive flooding.

• Sump pumps are often the most effective way to deal with flooded grounds. The trick is to check the pumps regularly to ensure that they are working and moving water away from your property and into waiting storm drains.

• Using some topsoil and organic mulch can also be added to low lying portions of the properties that are prone to flooding.

Sometimes storms will drop more rain on your property than your drainage system can handle. Depending on your location, you might consider investing in portable pumps to drain these areas.

To keep your staff and customers safe, it’s critical to check for downed power lines after a major storm and before entering a flooded area. If there are lines down in your area, talk to the power company to find out if there is a possibility that they are live lines. Live lines can put you at risk for fires or electrocution.

Avoid entering flooded areas without proper protection. Floodwaters can contain sharp debris like sticks and broken glass, as well as wildlife flushed from underground burrows. Water can also be contaminated with bacteria or agricultural and industrial chemicals. Wading boots, strong gloves, chemical-resistant outer clothing and protective goggles may be necessary to keep you and your staff safe.

Assessing and Addressing Plant and Tree Damage

Within a day or two of a large storm, mud, salt spray and other storm buildup should be washed off of plants. This can help reduce the likelihood of disease spreading through wounded leaves and killing plants, so it’s important to make sure your landscaping contractor is on-site within this timeframe.

Likewise, your contractor will want to prune and remove damaged twigs and branches. Dealing with the largest branches first is important, as fallen trees and large branches present a danger to your retail center’s customers. After the large branches are cleared, then your contractor will remove the smaller or crushed branches that were broken. Plants are usually stressed after a storm, so it’s key to prune as conservatively as possible to avoid damaging them more. If your on-site staff carries out the landscaping needs of the property themselves, they need to be aware that fallen trees can be dangerous. If you do not have trained tree-trimmers on staff, be sure to call in a tree service.

Re-Landscaping and Future Development

Storms can cause severe damage to the plants, flowers and other landscaping details on the property. Ensure that funding is available to replace and repair what is damaged to maintain a welcoming and safe environment for customers. Keeping your vegetation fresh and healthy is particularly important to uphold the brand image of high-end retail centers.

For all retail centers, as you observe areas that are prone to flooding and other storm damage, adapt your landscaping and development plans to minimize storm damage in the future. Vegetated swales are low-lying areas strategically planted to capture and filter stormwater runoff. These areas do not have to be strictly utilitarian. When constructed as a rain garden, they can contain a mix of flowers and other plants that tolerate wet conditions well. Not only do they help reduce flooding on your property after storms; they can also be aesthetically pleasing features on your properties.

Major storms are unavoidable and while you can’t control the weather, you can reduce its negative effects on your retail center by making sure your after storm cleanup is cost-effective and time-efficient. By taking the steps to make sure that your property is storm-ready and by having an after-storm plan in place, you are safeguarding not only your customers’ experience but also your property’s ability to bounce back to being normal as quickly as possible after the storm.


— Mike Fitzpatrick is vice president of U.S. Lawns, one of the commercial landscape industry’s largest companies. Email the author at [email protected].

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