When Natural Disaster Strikes

by Katie Lee

Flooding is always a possibility — here’s what you can do to be prepared and prevent flood damage.

By Rusty Amarante, CR

During an unexpected storm or natural disaster, flooding is always a possibility, potentially causing severe damage to both businesses and homes.

Even a small amount of water damage can trigger costly repairs. In fact, Floodsmart.gov reports that just 1 inch of water in a 1,000-square-foot building can cause damages exceeding $10,000. Additionally, a 2-foot flood in a 1,000-square-foot building can mean more than $33,000 in damage. Without warning, flood damage can suddenly become an expensive business cost.

Luckily, with foresight, the proper preparation and immediate intervention — if and when water damage does occur — permanent damage and repair costs can be significantly reduced. If business owners, restaurateurs and facility managers take the necessary precautions in advance of a flood, damage can be prevented and minimized, long before a storm begins.

Prepare for Flooding Before it Happens

First and foremost, business owners should take the time to review their current insurance policies to ensure that flood damage is covered. Although flood insurance is federally mandated only in high-risk areas, ensuring your restaurant or storefront is covered in the event of flooding, no matter where you’re located, can be a valuable investment. Having the proper insurance coverage can help get a business back up and running quickly in the event of a disaster and reduce profit loss. If unsure what type of flood insurance is needed, business owners can visit Floodsmart.gov for more information on coverage available in their area.

There are also a number of proactive steps to take to ensure a business is prepared for possible water damage:

1. Have a professional inspect roofs annually. Addressing any needed repairs will help eliminate possible problem areas where water may enter the facility during a major storm or hurricane.

2. Maintain both electronic and print copies of all important documents. To prevent crucial documents from being destroyed in a flood, business owners should keep multiple copies of insurance policies, medical information, employee contact information, etc. and store them in a secure location or on an upper floor, ideally in a safe-deposit box.

3. Store electrical appliances and any food a few feet above ground or on an upper floor. If moving all electrical appliances is not a viable option, raise equipment as far off the ground as possible to prevent complete saturation in the event of a flood. Similar procedures apply to retail facilities. When possible, bring collateral materials to an upper level and place in sealed storage containers.

4. Stay up-to-date on any possible severe weather in the area. Particularly in high-risk areas, stay alert for upcoming storms and changes in weather that could potentially cause flooding and plan accordingly.

5. When severe weather occurs and a possible flood is expected, unplug all electrical equipment. Electrical accidents are commonly overlooked during a flood, but avoiding these incidents should be a priority in order to avoid possible injury to anyone reentering the building. In addition, in advance of the flood, shut off electricity to areas of the facility that may be impacted as water damaged appliances can pose a serious danger.

Recovering After a Facility Floods

While taking the necessary precautions can reduce the possibility of flooding, water damage can also sometimes be unavoidable. If an owner finds his or her business has experienced water damage, there are a number of immediate actions that can be taken to help mitigate the extensiveness of the damage and any associated costs.

Before re-entering a property to evaluate the damage, check closely for any structural damage to the building, including cracks in the foundation, loose electrical wires and broken windows and doors. If electricity or gas lines were not turned off prior to the storm, do not enter the building until they have been closely inspected by a professional. Additionally, a professional should be contacted to determine if electricity and gas lines that were turned off before the storm are also now safe to turn back on.

When water damage has occurred, it’s important to take immediate action. The longer a property is wet, the greater risk there is for permanent damage. To properly restore a restaurant or retail store after water damage occurs, business owners should take the following actions:

1. Contact a professional restoration company to arrange for a site inspection and damage assessment. Following this assessment, contact your insurance company to file a claim.

2. Freeze any important wet books and vital documents and pack in a sealed container. While this process will help slow down any damage, a professional should also be contacted to restore these documents fully.

3. Hire a professional to conduct any necessary structural drying. This is a scientific process that requires professional water damage training and the use of specialized instruments such as water extraction units, dehumidifiers, air movers and moisture readers. Property restoration professionals are highly trained in the science of drying and always use industry standards for professional water damage restoration.

4. Beware of false claims from restoration companies that promise to dry buildings in 3 days. While this quick turnaround may seem ideal, it is not realistically feasible to properly remove standing water, measure moisture damage, dry buildings, disinfect, destroy mold, neutralize odors and conserve machinery, electrical appliances, equipment, furniture, files and documents in this short amount of time. Most restoration and remediation companies will work directly with the insurance company to streamline the process, but water damage cannot be undone in one weekend’s time.

Experiencing water damage can be overwhelming, but after a flood occurs, it is important to promptly deal with any water damage, as it can cause major business interruptions, financial burdens or even health risks if not properly addressed.

Because flood waters are grossly contaminated and can contain pathogenic, toxigenic or other harmful agents, it is important for restaurant owners and retailers to let a professional handle this recovery process. With the proper preparation and professional mediation, a business can return to normal business operations quickly and efficiently.

— Rusty Amarante, CR is the director of operations at BELFOR (https://www.belfor.com/en/us). With over 36 years of experience in the restoration industry, Amarante leads the national team responsible for catastrophe response for BELFOR North America. He previously served as president of the Restoration Industry Association (RIA) and as vice chair to the IICRC S500 and water damage standards guide. Email [email protected].

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