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After the storm: 10 safety guidelines for cleanup and recovery

September 7, 2017

In the aftermath of a hurricane or tropical storm, risks remain even after floodwaters recede. Zurich’s Risk Engineers collaborated on guidelines for cleanup following a major storm.

benches in flood

As the floodwaters drain, those along the paths of the torrential destruction of a hurricane or tropical storm shift from survival mode to recovery mode. If you own or manage a business that Zurich insures, or if you’re a broker we work with, you may be coping with personal losses while also surveying the impacts to your business property in the storm’s path.

We know that recovery is a formidable and in some cases heartbreaking process. As you return to properties affected by these storms, know that we have deployed our resources to areas impacted to help ease the burden of cleanup and rebuilding.

First, damage to property must be assessed, but it’s important to do so carefully. Whether business or residence or public structure, the danger doesn’t evaporate with the water. Our Risk Engineers know this from over a century of helping businesses manage the risks and effects of devastating storms, including Katrina in 2005 and Sandy in 2012.

That’s why James Breitkreitz, Executive Technical Director for Risk Engineering at Zurich North America; Steve Goebner, Head of Environmental, Construction for Zurich North America; and our Zurich teams in various specialties collaborated on these 10 guidelines as you perform your preliminary assessment and securing of the property.

  1. Flooding may have resulted in toxic material spills and leaks affecting your site; qualified personnel should evaluate risks of hazardous chemicals before cleanup begins. Also, utilities may have been shut off by emergency personnel. Treat all downed power lines as “live” until the utility verifies they have been de-energized. Beware of the potential for live electrical lines in standing water: Shorted wiring and interior electrical systems may energize standing water in basements and other areas, posing an electrocution risk. Call your utility if in doubt about safety status. Once utility companies and local authorities clear you to do so, reconnect electric and gas utilities.
  2. If you’re cleared to enter the property, bring identification, drinking water, disinfecting supplies and dish soap (which can be used on fire ants, which affect certain areas of the southern U.S.), chemical-protective gloves, a first-aid kit and any other supplies recommended by local authorities, as well as cameras to document conditions. Consider also bringing a fire extinguisher that you know to be in functioning order.
  3. Once there, survey the site for hazards such as live electrical wires, broken glass, sharp metal and fumes from leaking pipes. Look for damaged building features, contents or hardscape areas that could shift or collapse. Be alert both inside and outside the building; look around you and overhead. Flooding and winds may have loosened tree limbs, shingles and downspouts. Photograph any visible damage.
  4. Adding to the other perils, snakes and other wild animals, as well as displaced pets, may seek shelter in buildings, vehicles and trees. They are often injured in storms, which can make them more dangerous. Do not attempt to handle any wildlife, and seek immediate treatment if bitten or injured by an animal.
  5. Retrieve relevant insurance policies and call your insurance representative to begin the claims process. Maintain contact throughout the process. Ask for guidance on which damaged goods can be disposed of and what should be set aside.
  6. Begin salvage as soon as possible to prevent further damage. Restore the HVAC system or run fans as soon as possible while you are on-site to try to mitigate mold. Do not use extension cords in wet areas. Safely dispose of combustible materials. Avoid storage in areas with impaired fire protection.
  7. Verify the status of protection systems. Check water supplies, fire pumps, automatic sprinklers, fire alarms and security systems. Zurich’s customers should report fire protection system outages to Zurich. Access the Zurich Fire Protection Impairment Notification website to report the outage. Expedite repairs and post security personnel if protection systems are compromised. Clear roof drains, balcony drains and ground-level catch basins and drains in preparation for further rain. If further floods are predicted in the near term, set up sandbags or other recommended barriers at first-floor doors and entrances.
  8. Notify reputable restoration contractors as soon as possible to secure a place in line for service. Establish repair priorities based on level of danger the damage poses. Contractors you hire must wear proper safety equipment, including hard hats, safety glasses, work gloves and steel-toed safety shoes or boots. In addition, respirators and chemical protective gloves or suits should be provided if they are recommended.
  9. Perform emergency repairs where feasible. Electrical supply for power tools should be equipped with GFI protection. Existing or repaired systems should be equipped with GFI protection. Remember: No extension cords where there’s standing water. As you work, be aware of the risk of heat stress for you and any helpers or contractors. Ample drinking water should be visible as a reminder to hydrate. Workers wearing heavy gear should be limited to 20 minutes per hour in extreme temperatures.
  10. If employees normally work at your property, stay in contact. Consider a telephone number that delivers a recorded message with daily updates. Factor in the possibility of disruptions to suppliers and distributors that may affect your ability to get back up and running.
  11. Check our website often for more guideposts on the road to recovery.

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