As American anthropologist and essayist Loren Eiseley famously noted: “If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.” 1 Unfortunately, as anyone who has ever seen the results of a tsunami or hurricane—or experience even a minor flood in the basement—knows, water’s often awesome beauty can quickly become one of nature’s most destructive forces.
Flash floods can strike anywhere without warning. Whenever a large volume of rain falls within a short period of time, rivers and drainage systems can overflow and cause severe floodwater damage, with potential loss of life and property. Similar, and potentially even more devastating, consequences can follow the overflow of tidal waters and the storm surge that accompanies major hurricanes and typhoons. In those instances, any flood damage will typically be magnified by the presence of salt, or brackish, water, which is far more corrosive than freshwater and thus can cause even greater damage, particularly to electrical generators and appliances, and to power systems in general.
Flood damage is also influenced by the length of time an area remains underwater. The longer an area stays submerged – which for inland flooding can sometimes be months – the greater the likelihood of severe damage. And the financial impact of flooding can run into billions of dollars. When Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans and adjacent areas of the Gulf Coast in 2005, for example, it was the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, causing an estimated $81 billion in damages – and the loss of more than 1,800 lives.2
Fortunately, even if you have facilities that lie in known flood-prone areas, there are some relatively straightforward steps that you can take to minimize the risk of damage from flooding. These can be grouped into three categories: permanent, contingent and emergency.
There are several steps that you can take to provide ongoing protection against potential water damage; all involve either the elimination of openings through which water can enter or the introduction of barriers that can hold floodwaters back or keep them at a specified level.
Flood doors, for example, can be hinged or suspended above openings so that they can be moved into place when needed. For windows, the solution is even more direct: For the most reliable protection, any windows that are unnecessary can be filled in with materials similar to the wall in which they are situated. In areas where only fairly low levels of flooding are common, filling in only the lower portions of the windows should be sufficient.
For interior protection, if expected flood levels are only a few feet above the ground floor, it can be practical to build low protection walls around vital equipment such as furnaces, boilers, computers and electronic switchgear.
In addition to permanent measures, there are also a number of contingent actions that can be planned well ahead of an actual flood emergency. These include the acquisition of flood shields to block off both doors and windows. Shields should be stored in a convenient location so that they can be rapidly deployed if and when needed. The shields should be predrilled and numbered so that they can be quickly placed over permanently anchored brackets in the doors and window flames, and then bolted down.
Finally, if an emergency does strike, sandbags can be used at any remaining entry points to prevent or reduce flooding. In addition, if there is a potential risk to personnel, high-value or any particularly vulnerable items, they should be relocated to higher floors. Developing an emergency plan ahead of an actual emergency will aid in identifying which items should be included in such a move, as well as the means for transporting them.
The best way to implement these and related protective measures is to plan far ahead. For companies with multiple plants, for instance, plant management should coordinate with designated members of the plant emergency team to initiate measures such as those briefly outlined above. Thus in general, any company with assets in flood-prone areas can, with proper planning, mitigate the potential damage caused by a serious flood.
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