If you think your building will never experience flooding, it may be time to reassess.
High-tide floods along the coasts are increasingly common, and more heavy-precipitation events and overflowing rivers continue to swamp inland areas. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reports that a quarter of federal flood disaster claims come from people outside of flood zones.
Flooded buildings cost a significant amount of money. FEMA estimates that one inch of water can cost more than $50,000 in damage in a home, for instance. For businesses, the damage can be similarly staggering.
Fortunately, there are steps that facilities managers can take to floodproof buildings.
Understand the Threats
Floods from weather can cause significant damage. Determine your risk of flood from weather — even if you are not in a designated flood zone — by visiting FEMA’s Flood Map Service Center.
But to fully floodproof a building, you need to consider other sources of incoming water, including sewers, failing equipment and structural defects such as misdirected downspouts. Create a comprehensive flood risk list by checking your building for all potential water entry points.
Have a plumber inspect your building for any opportunities to protect against non-weather-related threats. For example, installing sewer traps can prevent overflow into your building. A structural engineer or builder can assess your facilities for other potential water entry points, such as holes for pipes and vents. To lower the risk of flooding caused by failed equipment, regularly service refrigeration equipment and be sure your sump pump is always in good working order.
Seal Up Your Building
Another way to protect your facilities is through “dry” floodproofing. This involves a comprehensive sealing up of your building to minimize the likelihood that water can get in. One method includes applying a waterproof sealant to the inside or outside walls to make them impermeable. Sealants can also be used on windows, doors and utility service entry points.
Flood shields — which are watertight barriers put around doors and windows before a flood — are also a strong protection method. These shields are put in place when a flood is imminent, rather than left in place permanently. A structural engineer or architect with experience in dry floodproofing is a good starting point for this project. Ask a builder, architect or building inspector you trust for a recommendation.
Build Permanent Barriers
If floodwater is likely to enter your building regardless of the precautions you take, more permanent barriers or walls in and around your facilities may be needed to keep water confined to certain areas. This approach is called “wet” floodproofing and typically involves setting up barriers that work to contain the flow of floodwater in certain spaces within a building. Uninhabited areas, such as crawl spaces or unfinished rooms, can be used to hold water.
With wet floodproofing, it’s important to move electrical and other mechanical systems to higher points. Elevating electrical wires and ensuring outlets are at certain levels above the floor can help minimize damage. Part of the wet floodproofing effort also involves installing pumps and drains to remove water quickly to get buildings back up and running.
Have a Plan for Imminent Flooding
FEMA's Flood Map Service Center
Can help facilities managers visualize how susceptible
their buildings are to flooding
FEMA's Building Code Resources
Information for facilities managers to know if their
buildings meet flood code requirements
The United States Geological Survey flood information resource center
Provides several great resources for assessing current flood risk
FEMA's Disaster Recovery Center information
Offers instructions on how to find a disaster recovery center
after a flood to get help
Proactive and extensive floodproofing is prudent, but floods can happen at a moment’s notice. You should also have a plan and suppliers on hand for when a flood is imminent and you are not fully protected. Purchase sand bags that can work to keep water out of vulnerable spots in your building. Also, invest in wet/dry vacuums and dehumidifiers to address small cleanup and drying needs.
s a general rule, avoid storing items on the ground. Place all assets and goods on shelving or pallets. As a business practice, limit the storage of in-process goods and the housing of finished goods to minimize damage. In addition to taking steps to protect electrical and other utilities, review what other equipment might be on the ground, whether it is computers, servers, vacuums, lamps, snow blowers or any other devices.
All 50 states have had floods in the last decade, so floodproofing based on an assessment of your risk is crucial. Be sure to consult outside resources where necessary for an accurate assessment. Develop a short- and long-term plan, and make sure employees understand their role in any initiatives you put in place.