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Volume 27, Issue 4

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October 29, 2007

Surviving The Deluge: Preparing For And Recovering From A Flood

Written by  Factory Mutual Engineering and Research
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During the past decade, floods accounted for nearly 1,100 losses resulting in more than $200 million in industrial property damage in the United States, according to statistics compiled by the Factory Mutual Engineering Association (FMEA). Based in Norwood, Mass., FMEA is a division of Factory Mutual Engineering and Research (FME&R), an organization that specializes in property loss control.

FMEA’s figures are staggering, but even more disturbing is the fact that much of this property loss could have been averted or minimized had early flood protection measures been implemented.

As a disaster management professional, these statistics should convince you that effective flood protection measures are an essential element of an effective corporate disaster management program.

“An action plan to minimize flood damage can, and should, be included in any property conservation program,” says Ray Croteau, FMEA senior vice president and chief operating officer. “Also, when a facility experiences several floodless years, a false sense of security can develop.”

If your organization does not have flood protection measures in place, or the current plan needs to be revamped, the following information should assist you in attaining the proper level of flood protection.

Developing A Flood Protection Action Plan

At the outset of formulating a corporate flood disaster management plan, there are several questions that you must answer. They include:

  • How much is this facility at risk from flooding?
  • What kind of damage can be expected?
  • What steps can be taken to prevent the damage?
  • Who will implement these steps?
  • With this information in hand, you will be able to develop an accurate analysis of flood damage vulnerability, and the subsequent action needed to avert a catastrophic incident.

Determining Who and What is at Risk of Flood Damage

First and foremost, you must determine whether your facility is at risk from flooding. Ideally, this risk factor is determined prior to the selection of a construction site. Information essential to determining this risk can be attained from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reports, and flood maps from the Federal Insurance Administration (FIA) and the U.S. Geological Survey. These maps will indicate where known flood plains are located, and the potential flood severity within each area. Loss prevention consultants can also gather and evaluate this flood risk information.

To truly understand flood risk information, you must understand such terminology as flood plains, flood zones and flood recurrence level. Flood zones lie within a larger area called a flood plain, which is a low-lying land area adjacent to a body of water that either has flooded or could possibly flood. Flood severity is expressed by its recurrence interval, e.g., 10-year, 50-year, 100-year and 500-year floods — the greater the time interval, the greater the severity of the flood.

Not surprisingly, it is a general rule to avoid construction in a known flood plain. If your facility is already located in a flood plain, it is most definitely at risk from floods and flood-related damage.

In the event that your physical plant is considered at risk from flood damage, a thorough inventory of material assets must be made, and potential losses (including interruption of business) assessed. When taking this inventory, it is important for you to remember that everything from equipment to storage to the building itself may be soaked and subject to further damage from the force of the water’s flow. The aftermath is no better: heavy deposits of silt and debris may be left behind, making cleanup and salvage a slow, expensive operation.

“Always plan for the worst case scenario,” adds Croteau. “That way, you’ll be protected if lesser flooding occurs.”

Determining Necessary Flood Protection Levels

If, after analyzing all relevant flood risk data, you determine that your organization is in jeopardy of sustaining substantial flood-related property damage and financial loss, immediate preventive action must be taken. You’ll need to formulate a flood protection plan that best meets the needs of your business and can be implemented on short notice.

It is imperative that the proper precautionary flood protection measures be instituted. Flood protection is divided into three categories: permanent, contingent and emergency.

Permanent Protection

Permanent flood protection always is in place, and requires little or no human action to be effective. Flood walls and dikes are considered to be the most effective — and expensive — forms of permanent protection. The cost of building these barriers must be weighed against the flood-damage potential.

“Where property and equipment values are extremely high and the possibility of salvage is low, the flood damage potential may justify a flood wall or dike to protect the facility,” Croteau says. “Many such flood barriers have been constructed for entire municipalities under the auspices of the Army Corps of Engineers or other government agencies. Sometimes the cost can be prohibitive for one company to build its own wall, but cooperation among several neighboring companies can make the project feasible.”

Additional, less expensive permanent flood protection measures that could be implemented include:

  • Bricking up ground-level windows (only halfway if low-level flooding is expected).
  • Installing aluminium, steel or wood flood doors that can be suspended above doors and windows by pulleys or counterweights mounted on rails, and then rolled into place.
  • Installing hand-operated valves in piping to prevent backflow through floor drains or plumbing fixtures.
  • Building low walls around vital equipment such as boilers, furnaces, computers and switchgear.

Contingent Protection

As the name implies, contingent flood protection is not permanently installed. This level of protection is advisable if your company is located in a geographical area where some warning is given before a flood.

Flood shields are the most common form of contingent protection. Flood shields can be quickly bolted into place via permanently anchored brackets on door and window frames. The shields should be numbered to match their corresponding doors or windows to prevent last-minute confusion. If you choose flood shields as a form of contingent protection, it is extremely important that all openings are covered, since one missed opening could jeopardize an otherwise well-protected facility.

Emergency Protection

The final level of flood protection is emergency protection. Emergency protection methodology relies heavily upon planning, people and time, and should be considered only if your facility is located in an area where very early flood warnings can be expected, or where flooding is possible, but unlikely.

Typical effective emergency protection methods include:

  • Sandbagging possible flood entry points.
  • Relocating stock, particularly high-value and/or critical items, to higher stories or safer buildings.
  • Covering large, stationary machines with water displacing, rust-preventative compound, or large plastic sheets.
  • Filling empty storage tanks to prevent them from transforming into floating battering rams.

Putting a Flood Protection and Salvage Plan Into Action

Regardless of how all-encompassing a flood protection plan my be, it is only as effective as the human resources you’ve mobilized to conduct vital activities in a time of crisis.

Emergency protection requires you to have trained employees to be on call. The best way to achieve this mobilization of manpower is through the formation of an on-site Emergency Organization (EO), consisting of employees who reside outside of the flood-prone area.

It is important for you to remember that everything from equipment to storage to the building itself may be soaked and subject to further damage from the force of the water’s flow. The aftermath is no better: heavy deposits of silt and debris may be left behind, making cleanup and salvage a slow, expensive operation.

“FMEA’s past experience shows that as few as one quarter of the work force may be available in a flood emergency. Those who reside in the flood-prone area will understandably turn their attention to protecting their own homes and families,” says Croteau. “Therefore, it’s best to select EO members who will be available both mentally and physically in the case of a flood emergency.”

Assigned duties for members of the EO should include such activities as filling and placing sandbags, securing flood shields, and relocating equipment and stock. In addition, salvage priorities should be outlined, starting with those items that must be taken care of immediately and ending with those that can be safely left for a day or two.
“One of the greatest problems after a natural disaster is overcoming a negative attitude,” adds Croteau. “EO members should be trained in salvage techniques. What looks like a total loss actually may be mostly recoverable — if a comprehensive salvage plan is put into action immediately.”

It is wise to avoid making salvage plans based on services, such as electrical and water supplies and repair mechanics, that may not be available during a flood crisis. If a flood occurs, other local companies will likely be affected, and competition for service commodities will be stiff. Therefore, you should have emergency generators and water supplies on hand, and employ contractors on a retainer basis to assure they are available for emergency repairs.

Integrating Flood and Fire Protection

A well-designed flood protection program should also complement your organization’s existing fire prevention plan, since flood waters often carry heavy debris that can ram and rupture flammable liquid tanks or piping.
These liquids can float on top of water and be carried through rooms that could contain an ignition source. If sprinkler piping or the fire pump has suffered damage, and the facility is cut off from the fire department by flood waters, a fire could burn out of control.

The danger of fire also increases after flood waters recede. Flood cleanup may generate large piles of combustible materials at a facility, and any cutting or welding done during salvage will increase the risk of fire.
Therefore, it is advisable to delay cutting and welding until sprinkler systems are back in service, combustibles are removed, and a fire watch is established.

A corporate flood protection plan that combines accurate data, the appropriate level of protection, and knowledgeable employees, can prevent your organization from becoming another statistic in the grim roster of businesses that have suffered extensive property loss due to lack of preparation.

There’s an adage that describes a flood as “an overflow of water high enough to reach one’s wallet.” If your wallet is protected or stored on higher ground, the water never will reach it.


Article submitted by Factory Mutual Engineering and Research located in Norwood, MA.

This article adapted from Vol. 4 #4.

Read 1919 times Last modified on October 11, 2012