By Jim Breitkreitz, Vice President of Property Services, Risk Engineering, Zurich North America
The documented increase in frequency and severity of severe weather events can be truly unsettling, especially for those in communities recently impacted by a hurricane or tropical storm and the associated flooding. Knowing that more storms of significant magnitude will surely hit again at some point can understandably put people on edge.
The losses and struggles in the wake of a catastrophic storm cannot be overstated. Extreme flooding caused by storm surge and life-threatening flash floods can be the most dangerous aspects of events like these. 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.
Key points of flood recovery
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 natural disasters should 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.