As flood damage repair and cleaning experts, at Cornerstone we regularly get called in to help businesses recover after flood or water damage. Flooding is now the “most common and widespread natural disaster in the UK”, according to the Environment Agency, with at least one major flood event each year affecting hundreds of homes and businesses.
At Cornerstone, when we are called in to restore, we often see damage that’s far more extensive than it needs to be and below you’ll find some of our top tips for managing your flood risk. In this article, we’re focussing on property and material items – obviously, people and animals are of primary importance, so be sure you have a plan to get staff and customers to safety.
1. Is your business at risk of flooding?
The first step is to understand how high the risk of flooding is to your business. Be sure to check not only for your headquarters, but also for any secondary offices, warehouses or other storage areas. It’s also important to check if flooding is likely to disrupt access to your business – whilst being the only dry island in a flooded neighbourhood is preferred, if your customers and staff can’t get to you, you’ll still suffer disruption.
Check www.gov.uk/flood to find out if your area is at risk and to sign up for alerts.
2. Get appropriate insurance
This shouldn’t need saying, but we’ll say it anyway, obtain appropriate Insurance. Hopefully, flooding in your area will be a once-in-a-lifetime event, and maybe it’ll never happen. However, if it does you’ll be glad not to be out of pocket. Look for insurance which not only covers material possessions i.e. tools, desks, machinery and computers, but also loss of earnings as you’ll still need to pay staff even if they can’t work.
3. Prevent flood water entering your property
If you’re in an ‘at-risk’ area, the first step is to prevent flood water from entering your property, or to channel it in such a way that it results in minimal damage. You may be limited by existing structures, but examples of how to keep the water out include:
- Raised entrances
- Outer areas sloping away from the door to channel water away
- Doors, windows and vents that can be firmly sealed
- Create sacrificial areas – for example, allow an underground car park to be flooded, instead of the main property
- Maintain brickwork, particularly venting
- Maintain and improve drainage
- Install pumps in wet basements
As it’s impossible to fully seal a working building, you will need to have a plan to deal with any chinks in your armour when a flood warning actually occurs. This might include sandbags and other BSI-approved barrier methods including air-brick covers
4. Reducing the damage floodwaters can do
Much though we try, humans can’t control or entirely outwit nature, so even a well-sealed building may allow floodwaters in. As part of your regular building maintenance and repair, change systems to being more resilient in case of flooding. An added benefit is that these changes will generally help minimise damage if a more minor disaster occurs, such as a burst pipe. Some ideas include:
- Be aware that flooding (or a burst pipe) can occur at any time, so you may not be able to reach your business before the water does.
- Choose waterproof, easy to clean materials for lower levels, particularly floors
- Move electrical systems above typical flooding height where possible
- Ensure service cut-offs are accessible even during flooding – don’t put them in the basement!
- Raise sensitive or delicate items above flood level where possible – don’t keep servers in the basement, either!
- Secure critical documents in a waterproof safe, ideally in a secure area.
- Make a plan for how to move items if a flood warning is issued – if you are a ground floor business, would your upstairs neighbour be willing to let you use their space?
- If your options are limited, consider creating a secondary line of defence to keep a particular space dry, such as a back office.
5. Make your IT systems flood-proof
For many businesses, a flood-proof IT system can be the difference between losing everything and a minor inconvenience. As an example, many information workers can work from home on their personal laptops in an emergency, which means that if you have a way for them to access their files, then accountants, lawyers, software developers, sales teams, HR, marketing and many others can continue to work even if your office is underwater and your factory flooded. Creating a robust IT system should be undertaken in conjunction with your own IT team or with advice from experts, but here are some general tips:
- Keep sensitive equipment, such as your server room, above ground level. Don’t put servers in the basement or other areas that are likely to flood.
- Consider storing servers off-site, in a secure remote storage location.
- Consider using a distributed or ‘cloud’ service, which eliminates the need for a significant amount of hardware.
- Create an off-site back up of significant data on a regular (e.g. daily or weekly) basis. This can be automated, and means that if something (flood, fire, burst pipe, theft…) does occur, you’ll have lost minimal data.
- Encourage (or empower) staff to store their files on a central server which can easily be backed up rather than on their local machines (which can be susceptible to being lost).
- When choosing new technologies, consider which can be best used remotely in an emergency, e.g. laptops rather than desktops; mobile phones rather than desk phones.
- Setup a system which allows employees to work from home and, set the expectation that this is what they should do if it is not possible to work in the office.
6. Plan for after the flood
Flood waters leave behind mud, sewage, plant material and other debris. The force of them can move items around in a building or whisk them away. Clearing up should be part of any business flood plan and a few areas to consider include:
- Dealing with the mud and debris.
- Health risks and hazards, such as sewage, spoiled foods, medicines and other products which may not longer be safe to use etc.
- Dealing with hazardous chemicals and materials.
- Cleaning and repairing electrical items and systems.
- Sorting and discarding stock.
- Replacing fittings and furnishings – soft furnishings are particularly susceptible to damage.
- Access for staff, customers, cleaning crews and other repair workers.
- Restocking – including temporary replacements for key systems, such as cold storage.
At Cornerstone, we work with a wide range of businesses on flood repair and our primary aim is to get your business back up and running as soon as possible. In some cases, we have developed and implemented innovative methods to do so, such as creating a false floor for a waterlogged restaurant and a flooded childrens nursery so that drying could take place discreetly underneath while the locations continued to trade with no loss of business.