The ‘ins and outs’ of disaster recovery in retail and restaurant settings.
By Michael Wilson
On May 16, 2016, the Parkway Parade, one of Singapore’s first major and largest shopping malls, was closed due to a fire. The blaze purportedly started in a storage room used by one of the retailers, and while there were no reported injuries, the smoke stained many walls and a “burnt smell” lingered in the air throughout the mall, which was expected to take days to weeks to eliminate, depending on restoration efforts.
While this happened in Singapore, almost 10,000 miles away, fires just like this happen all over the world all the time. For instance:
• In January 2016, a Nordstrom Rack store in a Florida shopping store caught fire; no cause was listed in this report.
• In the U.K., a Toys “R” Us store bore the brunt of a fire that started in a shopping center on April 27, 2016.
• And sure enough, on Black Friday 2015, another Toys “R” Us also caught fire with shoppers still inside the store.
No retailer or restaurant facility should ever think they are immune to a fire, and fires are just one type of disaster situation retailers and restaurant owners may experience. Other situations they may be forced to grapple with include floods, water damage and acts of terrorism. Because of this, when it comes to restoration and getting the store or restaurant up and open again, there are a few things to know that can help make the recovery process easier, faster and less frustrating.
Let’s assume you are coping with the aftermath of a fire in your facility. The first thing to consider is if your present cleaning service, whether in-house or contracted, can handle the cleanup. Disaster restoration takes considerable skill and is considered a specialized service in the professional cleaning industry. If the situation is serious, it’s best to call in restoration professionals.
Additionally, contact your janitorial distributor. The astute distributor will work with you and your contractor or cleaning workers, helping to select cleaning solutions and other products that will best address the disaster. Try to work with a distributor that has access to online “dashboard” systems. These technologies can quickly search and suggest cleaning solutions and products to best address the cleanup operation.
If you hire a restoration contractor, it is likely you will instruct the contractor to make the facility “clean and looking like new” or “back to the way it looked before.” However, your contractor is likely not going to promise you these things, at least not in the contract he or she signs with you.
Instead, the contract will use terms such as “wash” or “prepare for paint and construction.” The contract is worded like this because a restoration is not the same as a traditional cleaning operation. The restoration contractor’s primary responsibility is to restore the property to clean and safe use as much as possible. These “toned down” terms are also used to help you deal with the realities of the situation. While you may want the store looking like new, this just may not be completely possible with a restoration operation alone.
Another thing to realize is that fires do not discriminate. A fire and the subsequent smoke and water damage can adversely affect displayed merchandise, equipment, tables, shelves, floors, walls, vents and on and on. Also, after a fire, while there may be a lot of dry, loose debris that can be easily removed, there may also be entire walls and ceilings that must come down. The cleaning workers, restoration experts and your insurance company representative will likely make the call as to whether major structural items can be saved or must be removed.
Since odor problems can be significant and linger for a long time, retailers and restaurant owners should have a good understanding of what is causing the problem and what to expect with restoration. Smoldering fires can produce highly odorous residues. Because the heat causes the pores on many surfaces to expand, these odor residues find their way into all types of surfaces, light fixtures, molding and so on, which is one reason why the odors can be so hard to remove. Even if a wall has not been damaged by the fire, the odors can bleed through the paint, leaving a smoke odor behind. Essentially, odor residues can penetrate all nearby areas to a fire in a facility.
Again, your janitorial distributor, using a dashboard system, will be able to suggest cleaning solutions that not only help clean surfaces directly and indirectly affected by the fire but also help remove smoke odors. This is the first step in the odor removal process and is often referred to as “structural cleaning.”
The restoration cleaning is best performed using a top-down approach, with high areas of the facility cleaned first, which may call for scaffolding to be brought in, and working downward. In the process, light fixtures and loose wall coverings including paintings and pictures should be removed. In most cases, the smoke odor has penetrated these items as well.
The good news about smoke odors is that there are effective ways to remove them. The first step, using cleaning solutions as just discussed, is designed to remove the source of the odors from the pores of surfaces and other areas. Once all the surfaces and areas have been washed and all furniture and other items have been removed from the burnt areas, what are called “air scrubbers” equipped with high-efficiency air filters can help clean the air and remove remaining airborne odors.
Another option to consider is the use of ozone-generating systems. Your janitorial distributor will discuss the safety issues using these machines that must be adhered to. For example, no one can be in the facility while the machine is in use. While there are safety concerns, ozone systems have proven very effective in removing all types of odors, including those after a fire disaster.
Luckily, the fire damage at the Parkway Parade mall was mostly limited to miscellaneous items in the storage area. The storage room’s walls, ceilings, floors and other surfaces were darkened by the fire, but there was no serious damage. In this case, after cleaning, the storage area can be used again fairly soon. Some light structural work such as painting may be all that is needed.
Whatever the situation, always view a disaster and the recovery process as a learning experience — a difficult one but a learning experience nonetheless. In this case, management should learn how and why the fire happened; how it could have been prevented; what steps to take should a similar disaster happen again; and, very important, whom to call when a disaster hits.
Very often, fires and other disasters leave retailers and store owners in complete confusion, and this often leads to costly mistakes. Have a plan in place ahead of time to eliminate any confusion as to what to do once a disaster occurs. This plan should include, first, a call to your insurance company, which may then give you a referral for a restoration company if the situation is serious. Your next call should be to your janitorial distributor. He or she will be able to guide you through the cleanup operation and get your facility up and running as quickly as possible.
According to the U.S. National Fire Protection Association, in 2014 there were 1,298,000 fires reported in the United States. Additionally:
• These fires caused 3,275 civilian deaths, 15,775 civilian injuries and $11.6 billion in property damage.
• 494,000 were structure fires, causing 2,860 civilian deaths, 13,425 civilian injuries and $9.8 billion in property damage.
• A fire department responded to a fire every 24 seconds.
• One structure fire was reported every 64 seconds.
• One home structure fire was reported every 86 seconds.
• One civilian fire injury was reported every 33 minutes.
• One civilian fire death occurred every 2 hours and 41 minutes.
• One outside and other fire was reported every 52 seconds.
• One highway vehicle fire was reported every 3 minutes, 8 seconds.
— Michael Wilson is vice president of marketing for AFFLINK, developers of the ELEVATE process, an online system that allows users to learn about and select products that will help them operate their facilities in a greener, more sustainable, healthier and more cost-effective manner. He can be reached through the company’s website at www.AFFLINK.com.