Disaster Recovery: Confidence in Crisis (3 of 7)

April 3, 2006

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Before Clean-Up Begins

In the moments following a disaster, it’s easy to panic. However, it’s important that you, the building owner or facilities management team, maintain composure, contact your insurance carrier, and begin to prepare for recovery. Your response will largely be dictated by the scale of the disaster - whether it’s a leaky roof or damage from an F5 tornado. Immediately following a disaster, you should assess the level of danger and ensure that all individuals in and around the building (the facilities management team included) are safe.

As the first course of action, assess and determine the cause; when possible, prevent further damage. “If the cause is a sprinkler head, turn off the sprinkler. If it’s a broken toilet, turn off the water,” explains William A. Begal, president, Begal Enterprises Inc., Rockville, MD. Most insurance policies contain a general duty clause requiring that the insured take necessary steps to mitigate the loss and prevent further damage. St. Paul, MN-based property casualty insurance provider St. Paul Travelers Co. Inc., in its Disaster Recovery Guidelines, provides the following advice:

  • Look for safety hazards such as exposed electrical wires, leaking gas, etc.
  • Evaluate buildings for structural damage or undermining of building foundations.
  • Complete temporary repairs and minimize hazards to ensure that personnel can safely access the building.
  • Use caution in opening fuel control valves. Check to ensure that piping and equipment is intact, properly supported, and not leaking.
  • Cover any damaged doors, windows, and skylights immediately. Assume that the covering will be in place for 4 to 6 months. Coverings should be substantial enough to resist expected wind, rain, or snow, and should not allow moisture penetration.
  • Damaged utility-owned electrical service equipment and downed power lines should be cordoned off until the utility’s representative can complete repairs and restoration.
  • If it is suspected that wind-driven rain or flooding has contacted electrical system components, or if there has been significant wind and/or flood damage to the building structure or foundation, de-energize the system at the service entrance until inspection, cleaning, drying out, and testing are completed.
  • Check all gas, steam, and flammable liquid piping systems and associated tanks for leaks and damage.

In all situations, document the damage. “Keep a digital camera on-site. A picture is worth a thousand words - and insurance adjusters can’t fight or argue with that,” says Begal. If the disaster is weather-related, obtain a dated copy of the conditions (i.e. temperature, winds, rain, hail, etc.). Keep a record of all relevant information pertaining to the disaster - dates, times, damages, etc.

Make sure that members of the property or facilities management team are on-site to direct the third-party restoration crew. If clean-up begins before they arrive at the site, facilities professionals should avoid direct skin contact with water by wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) and clothing. “Store respirator and Tyvek® suits on-site for some of your building personnel. They should be properly prepared to deal with and walk [through the site] with a service provider,” says Begal. “Make sure they have a fit-test for their respirator. Make sure they have all the appropriate gear.”

Jana J. Madsen ([email protected]), Managing Editor

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