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How to Protect Your Building from the Next Flood

Posted on 7/21/2015 12:27 PM by Tom Osborne

The nation’s vulnerability to flooding is increasing. Sea level rise, powerful ocean storms and other effects of global warming are raising the threat of catastrophic flooding in many coastal communities. Meanwhile, heavy rains have caused damaging floods in Texas and other parts of the U.S. that haven’t seen flooding of that magnitude in decades.

Even minor flood events are happening with greater frequency.The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association reported a dramatic increase in “nuisance” floods that cause inconvenience by flooding roads, homes and businesses. Minor coastal flooding that 50 years ago would have been caused by a strong hurricane, today can be caused by a high tide. 

Recently, FEMA updated the federal flood plain maps to reflect higher water levels and wider areas at risk to flood events. The changes put more non-residential buildings in designated flood zones, requiring owners to obtain flood insurance (some for the first time) and resulting in a nearly 10x increase in insurance rates. 

According to the National Flood Insurance Program, at least 25 percent of businesses that close after a flood never reopen. From 2010 to 2014, the average commercial flood claim amounted to nearly $89,000.

The high cost of flooding is driving interest in flood protection solutions. New York City, where sea levels are expected to rise more than six feet this century, recently announced it will invest $30 million in resiliency technologies, including flood barriers to protect small businesses. 

 So what can building owners do to protect their assets from a flood?  There are four basic strategies:

1) Move or build on higher ground.
2) Elevate above flood levels.
3) Build earthen barriers and levels around structures.
4) Flood proof. 

Of these strategies, dry flood proofing is the most cost effective method for urban structures, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Dry flood proofing combines measures such as barriers, seals and pumps that result in a building being water tight below flood levels. The National Flood Insurance Program, which offers flood insurance to business owners based on FEMA requirements, recognizes dry flood proofing as one way to reduce the threat of flooding and costs of insuring against damage. 

While dry flood proofing may sound like a good idea for buildings in flood prone areas, building owners and facility managers should consider several factors before beginning any flood mitigation project:

1) Economics

A benefit cost analysis is the best way to estimate the future benefits of a flood mitigation project and compare the benefits to the cost. The benefit cost ratio (BCR) is derived by dividing the projects net benefits (defined as avoided damage) by the project cost (installation, operation maintenance and insurance difference).  A BCR of less than 1.0 is not cost effective and would not be approved for federal grant funds under FEMA guidelines.

2) Functional use requirements

The current and future use of buildings must be evaluated. What are the building access requirements?  How long can business operations be interrupted and to what degree? Can flood damage be repaired and how long will it take?  Flood proofing can reduce these vulnerabilities, however relocation might be the only alternative. 

3) Occupant safety

The relationship of flood proofing options to occupant safety must be evaluated in the pre-design phase.  Floods may exceed the design capacity of flood proofing measures and pose extreme danger to building occupants. Evacuation provisions must be made for occupants. Safe access to and egress from flood proofed buildings is a critical factor in deciding which flood proofing measures are appropriate.  Access roads should remain passable long enough for flood proofing measures to be installed and for all personnel to safely evacuate the site.  

4) Flood warning time
Some flood proofing options require adequate warning time, from a few hours to days, depending on the complexity. Forecasting systems should be able to predict when a flood is imminent and which areas will be flooded. River-flood forecasts are prepared by the National Weather Service and disseminated to the public. However, many non-residential buildings are located on smaller streams that are not included in a major forecasting network. 

Building owners should contact their local emergency management agency to determine whether any active flood warning systems are in place, and work with appropriate local and state agencies to develop an adequate flood forecasting system, if needed.

5) Flood emergency operational plan

Flood emergency operational plans are highly recommended. Plans should contain information on how flood proofing measures work during and after a flood event, such as how to maintain power for equipment that requires electricity during a flood event.  

A flood emergency operational plan should do the following:

  • Establish a chain of command and assign responsibilities for anyone responsible for flood proofing measures.
  • Delineate notification procedures for all personnel.
  • Assign duties and describe the locations of flood proofing measures, installation and repair procedures.
  • Include evacuation procedures for all personnel who occupy the building and who will deploy flood proofing measures.
  • Include a periodic drill and training program to ensure all personnel understand the plan.
  • Include a schedule for regular evaluation and updates to the plan.

6) Inspection and maintenance plan

All parts of the flood proofing system should be verified, maintained and exercised for use.  At a minimum, inspection and maintenance plans should review: 

  • Wall systems, for cracks in the structure system or waterproofing coating.
  • Entire floor slab, for settlement or other cracks.
  • Openings, to clear debris and check for damage.
  • Flood panels, for damage to the panels or gaskets and to verify that proper labels are visible for location and operation.
  • Backflow and shutoff valves, to ensure they operate properly.
  • Drainage, emergency power/generator and pump systems, to make sure there is no damage to piping or debris that would prevent the pipes from draining properly.
  • Flood emergency equipment, supplies and required tools, to ensure that all required items are available in the event of a flood. 

Flood proofing does not guarantee that Mother Nature won’t prevail in the event of a flood. However, a well-thought-out flood mitigation plan in combination with flood insurance will significantly reduce the risk of flood damage for building owners and their assets.  

Tom Osborne is the owner and president of Flood Panel, LLC.

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Odor Elimination in Facilities: A 3 Step Guide

Posted on 7/15/2015 12:57 PM by Sara Thurston

Crickets are little more than a bothersome pest in many areas of the country, but in Texas these insects can be downright villains.  Typically, insects called field crickets head into Texas, and other American cities from their normal rural habitat looking for ground covering to lay their eggs.  Although they are troublesome and a little creepy, once they flood into cities they do not cause much damage to buildings…until they die.

According to Bill Lucas, formerly an associate director of facilities maintenance at University of Texas-Austin, once they die “they smell terrible.  The smell gets sucked into the air conditioning system…. [creating] an unpleasant work environment in buildings.” 

As this odor (and many other odors) are spread, they can penetrate into carpet, upholstery, and other fabrics. The odor can then hang around for weeks or months and the only option to truly eradicate it is with an ozone generator.

While few facilities have cricket problems, there are plenty of other sources of odors that can be detrimental to facility operations.  Building owners and managers should know that destroying an odor problem is usually a three-step process:

1) Locate the source of the stench and remove it. This is critical. Unless the source of the odor is removed, it will most likely return.
2) Extract the carpets. Try to look at carpets as sponges that absorb airborne contaminants, dust, and dirt, as well as odors.
3) If steps one and two do not work, it may be time to use an ozone generator (be sure to keep the building closed during this process).* In some cases, this step will not be necessary. But if you’re dealing with a persistent odor, ozone spells odor relief.  

Ozone generators are often used in restoration work after a flood, a fire, or in our case above, an abundance of dead crickets.  They do not mask odors, instead they eliminate odors, especially after other methods have failed.  One of the most extreme examples was in 1980, when the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino fire occurred in Las Vegas. Even after the hotel had been essentially rebuilt and refurbished, the fire and smoke odors remained.  Ozone generators were brought in to help eliminate these stubborn odors.

However, they are more often used in less severe or dramatic situations.  Often ozone generators are used to eliminate cigarette smoke, mold and mildew, or paint fume odors, to off-gas carpet or upholstery, or to clear the air after pesticides have been used in a building.  Sometimes they are brought in simply to “freshen up” a building area before it is used.

The way these machines work is actually quite fascinating but a bit complicated.  Simply put, they produce molecules that oxidize and eliminate odor producing molecules.  With the odor producing molecules gone, so goes the odor.

A question facility managers may have about the use of ozone machines is, are they safe?  According to Jeff Bishop of Clean Care Seminars Inc., a recognized expert on carpet cleaning and restoration issues, ozone generation is safe as long as people, plants, and pets are removed from the area where the machines are used and the machines are used properly.  The more advanced ozone generators will have timers that can be preset as well as output adjustments that can be changed based on the severity of the problem.

Along with timers, when selecting an ozone machine, look for these features:

Versatility:  Select a machine that can easily be moved from location to location as needed.

Power:  Ozone generators are often used after a fire or water damage.  There may be electricity issues when these occur so select a system with a transformer specifically designed for harsh conditions.

UL tested:  The machine should be UL tested and accepted.

Corona: One of the key components of an ozone generator is the corona. Select a maintenance free system which will prove more effective and last longer.

However, before bringing in the ozone, as mentioned earlier, we must eliminate the source of the odor.  Typically the best way to do this is to extract all carpets and upholstery first, especially if the malodor is pervasive.  With many malodor problems, this step alone may eliminate the odor.  For the most effective deep cleaning, be sure to use a carpet extractor that has the following features:

1) Adjustable from 150 to 500 PSI (pounds per square inch); a lower PSI can be used for delicate upholstery, and a higher PSI for carpets. 
2) According to many experts, systems that heat the cleaning solution to approximately 200 degrees (F) help the cleaning solution work more effectively, which can certainly prove helpful in odor eradication.
3) A low moisture system will ensure the carpet dries faster and there is less chance for mold or mildew to develop
4) A dual-surface extractor can also be used to clean carpet as well as hard surface floors. This will also allow technicians to deep clean tile and grout; tile and grout floors are porous and odor-causing molecules may work their way into these pores.

Very often, the first step in dealing with odor eradication is to mask the odor.  In some cases, this may be all that is necessary if the odor eventually goes away on its own.  However, building managers and cleaning professionals cannot count on this happening.  In fact, in many cases when the odors are caused by bacteria, mold, or mildew, the odor can get progressively worse.  Always remember these steps:

1) Find the source of the odor. 
2) Eliminate the source.
3) Wait, if the odor is still noticeable, it's time to bring in the big guns – the ozone generators. 

Sara Thurston is communications manager for Nilfsk, manufacturers of U.S. Products

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