Commercial Safety during a Flood
Whether a flood is caused by ground water, falling water, or business water system malfunction, there are some best practices you’ll need to employ within the first 24 hours after the flood to ensure the safety of your business and give you the best outcome possible with your insurance company.
If the flood was serious enough for you to leave your business, be sure you stay safe upon your return. The Federal Emergency Management Agency warns that you should check for any visible structural damage, such as warping, loosened or cracked foundation elements, cracks, and holes before entering the business and contact utility companies if you suspect damage to water, gas, electric, and sewer lines.
In addition, it’s important to have a working flashlight and turn off all water and electrical sources within the business, Even if the power isn’t operational, it’s a good idea to go to your fuse box and turn off the main, plus all of the individual fuse connections. That way, if the power is reactivated, you’re not at risk for mixing standing water and electricity.
Take Pictures: Before you remove any water or make any repairs, fully document the damage for your insurer by taking photos or video. Digital versions are best, says Ramirez, because they can be stored electronically and easily copied. If you start removing water or making repairs before you photograph the damage, you could potentially decrease the extent of your coverage, he says.
Even if the water in your business is clear, it could be contaminated by sewage or household chemicals. Be sure to throw out any food that may have come into contact with flood waters. FEMA recommends boiling water until authorities declare the water supply is safe.
Find Out if you’re in a Disaster Area: Once a region has been officially declared a “disaster area” by government authorities, property owners have access to increased resources, including public services to protect and remediate the area. In addition, you may have access to financial assistance. Your insurance company will have additional information on this or you can contact FEMA directly.
Call Your Insurance Company: Since you should notify your insurer soon as possible after the flood, it’s a good idea to keep your insurance company and local agent’s phone number in your always-ready emergency bag. (Note that the NFIP works through private insurance companies, so you contact your insurer just as you would for any other type of claim). In cases where a flood has affected a region or community, your agent may be busy handling his or her own flood issues. In that case, contact the insurance company’s headquarters.
Advise your insurance representative of the state of your business and any repairs you intend to do immediately. Be sure to follow the insurance company’s direction about whether or not to wait for an adjuster to inspect the property before making repairs. Document the damage and conversations at every stage of the process.
What can you expect in terms of time to get back to normal? It could be as little as one week if the claim and cleanup is minimal to five to six months if you’re working with an insurance adjuster and contractor to complete extensive repairs.
Mitigate Mold Damage: Mold can develop within 24 to 48 hours of a flood, says Ashley Small of FEMA, so remove wet contents. If an item has been wet for less than 48 hours, it may be salvageable. And notify your insurance company before removing items to ensure that you’re not affecting coverage. Always photograph the flood-soaked items.
You may also wish to hire a flood restoration service—look for those with Institute of Inspection, Cleaning, and Restoration Certification.
Secure the Property: If the business is usable, take precautions to keep employees and yourself safe from injury. Use flashlights to move around dark rooms, for example. If the business isn’t usable, don’t try to start work. Move to an alternate location. Consult your insurer to find out what provisions the company will make for temporary business use while your business is being repaired.