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Hurricane Michael puts a sharp focus on flood response

October 16, 2018

As communities and businesses rise to the challenge of hurricane recovery efforts, essential safety guidelines should be followed in flood-affected areas.

Jim Breitkreitz

Vice President of Property Services, Risk Engineering U.S.

As the head of Property Risk Engineering Services for Zurich North America, Jim Breitkreitz leads a... About this expert

flood benches

With the documented increase in frequency and severity of severe weather events, a catastrophe like Hurricane Michael is truly unsettling. One survivor described the devastation the storm wreaked on Florida’s Panhandle as looking “like an atomic bomb” hit the area. Knowing that more storms of this magnitude will surely come again at some point can put people on edge.

The full extent of damage inflicted by Michael on many parts of the southeastern U.S. will take some time to assess. However, the losses and struggles in the wake of this historic storm cannot be overstated. Extreme flooding caused by storm surge and life-threatening flash floods in some areas can be the most dangerous aspects of events like this. And flooding can remain a threat for long periods after a storm has passed.

Ideally, a flood emergency response plan is in place before disaster strikes, covering best practices for preparation, mitigation and recovery. However, when crisis response takes immediate precedence, flood cleanup and recovery safety guidelines should still be followed. Here are just a few key things to keep in mind:


As water recedes, danger may not. Floodwaters can dislodge storage, equipment and debris, creating a variety of hazards that put response teams, workers and others at risk. Maintain vigilance to associated hazards, including energy release from equipment that can result in electrical shocks, and damage to gas and power lines.


Be aware of property perils. The structure of a building can be weakened by standing water and even debris removal. If possible, have a structural engineer or other specialist survey the facility before beginning recovery work. Access damaged facilities only after entry is approved by the proper authorities.


Dress to protect. Whether on a work site or in your own home, equipment like hard hats, safety glasses, heavy work gloves and steel-toed footwear should be worn during cleanup and salvage operations. Debris may need to be treated as hazardous waste and, if that is the case, it should only be removed by properly trained personnel.


Prioritize your protection systems. As you work to expedite repairs, fire protection and security systems need to be at the top of your list. The property needs to be safe and secure before moving forward with other repairs.


Water is an ally as well as an enemy. Ensure clean, safe drinking water is available for everyone working in an area affected by a flood emergency. Dehydration is an especially serious risk when hard, physical labor is combined with the stress of trying to recover quickly and efficiently from a disaster.


Stay connected. Stay informed. As soon as it is safe to do so, communicate with local authorities and monitor media updates to gauge the status of ongoing flood risks.


Follow up for assistance. Get in touch with your insurance carrier as soon as possible to help expedite the claims process. Providing photo documentation of flood-related damage can also help claims specialists respond more quickly and effectively.


The steps above are just a few of many immediate strategy points to keep in mind during the recovery phase. Please see the resources below for more guidance.

The challenges endured following Michael can serve as powerful reminders of what’s necessary to help ensure the resilience of our communities. Flood mitigation strategies – while absolutely essential – can only go so far. We all need to plan now for actions to take before, during and after the next severe weather event.

Additional resources