FM Articles

Dealing With Flood Emergencies


One of the most challenging situations facility managers may encounter is walking into their buildings on a Monday morning and finding a pipe burst over the weekend, flooding a large area of carpets on one or more floors. Not only is this upsetting and a safety hazard, but it may also prevent building occupants from using the facility. Additionally, there is evidence that the longer a carpet has experienced water damage, the more difficult it will likely be to treat, clean, and restore the carpet.

According to Peter Duncanson, an IICRC* instructor and trainer, “within 72 hours the [water damage] situation begins to degrade,” which can result in health and safety concerns for building users as well as cleaning professionals. Essentially, the longer the water sits and soaks through the carpet, the greater the risk that mold, mildew, and bacteria will develop, making restoration of the carpet all the more difficult.

Some facility managers may incorrectly assume that because they have a synthetic carpet installed, such as nylon, they do not need to worry about mold and bacteria problems should water damage occur. However, this can happen to all carpets no matter what type has been installed. While most of the carpet manufactured and installed in the United States is made from man-made polymers, which typically do not support mold growth, if excessive or contaminated water sits on the carpet for 48 or more hours, mold and bacteria are likely to grow.

This can all be avoided if planning and preventive measures are in place to handle such a situation. While checking for broken pipes and leaks is not possible 24/7 in most facilities, the faster and the more prepared a manager is to address this situation as soon as it is discovered, the more likely the carpet can be restored and building users can return to their normal activities.

Preparation Steps
“The best defense is a good offense” is an old adage that usually applies to military combat and sports. However, it can apply to carpet just as well. For instance, do you have a regular program to inspect water shutoff valves? There have been many situations where water damage has occurred in a facility and no one, including management, custodial workers, or security staff, has any idea where the building’s shutoff valves are located. Not only should their location be known, but they must also be inspected to ensure proper functioning.Flood

This is also true of individual restroom fixtures, which have a shutoff valve. While these may be more apparent, they still must be tested and inspected to see if they are working properly. The problem is that while these valves have few moving parts, over time mineral deposits from the water may deteriorate the internal gaskets and cause the valve to fail.

Managers should also pay attention to leaks no matter where they are coming from. Leaks in roofs, pipes, urinals, or toilets can worsen over time. Treat leaks as an early indicator that a problem exists that must be attended to soon. Other steps to take include the following:

  • Select and have the contact information for one or more IICRC* certified carpet and restoration professionals readily available. The last thing managers want to be burdened with in an emergency is looking for someone to call for help.
  • Have contact information of your building insurance agent readily available. Often, the sooner the agent is called in to inspect the damage, the faster claims can be filed.
  • Contact information for local utility companies should also be readily available.
  • Know where electrical panels are located; when there is water damage it may be necessary to turn off electrical power until help arrives.
  • Have Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) available, including respirators, masks, and gloves. It’s a good idea to have these stored in a specific area or areas of the facility.
  • Store carpet care equipment in a secure location that can be accessed regardless of the situation. This should include a portable carpet extractor. “An extractor with a built-in heating element typically proves more effective,” says Bob Abrams, a carpet care expert with Nilfisk-Advance commercial business, makers of U.S. Products brand professional carpet extractors. “Also, have a wet/dry vacuum available along with air movers.”

All critical information should be readily available in one place. What often works best is to prepare an “emergency planning” document that lists the important contact information cited above and other steps to take in any type of emergency.

Who Should Handle the Cleanup
“When there is water damage to carpets, one of the first decisions a manager will have to make is if the building’s custodial staff can handle the emergency by themselves or if a restoration professional is needed,” says Abrams. “If they can, this can be a cost savings as well as a time savings.”

Plus, the building’s custodial crew are already familiar with the facility so they will likely know where things are, from electrical outlets to HVAC controls. However, Abrams says there are some important factors that managers must consider when making this in-house cleaning decision such as the following:

  • Have they (the cleaning staff) been trained to handle such an emergency?
  • Has the source of the problem been located and has water damage stopped?
  • Are cleanup and restoration equipment readily available along with PPE?
  • How much water is on the surface of the carpet? If it can be determined that it is a small amount, the more likely the in-house staff can tackle the problem.**
  • What type of water is on the carpet?

This final item – the type of water on the carpet – requires further explaining, according to Abrams. “When there is water damage, there are three types of water called ‘categories’ that might be on the carpet. Category one is drinking water; category two contains some level of contamination; and category three is very contaminated, likely sewage.”

If it is clear that the water is either category one or two, then most likely the facility’s cleaning crew can address the problem or at least take emergency steps before restoration professionals arrive. However, if category three, restoration professionals must be called in. Keep in mind, water damage can be worse than it looks so if there is any doubt, calling a restoration company is the best action to take.

Dawn Shoemaker is a frequent writer for the professional cleaning and building industries.

*IICRC is the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification, a nonprofit organization that trains and certifies carpet-cleaning technicians.

**Very often, it is hard to determine how serious the water damage is. As the water sits on the carpet, it can soak through to the floors below or into nearby walls.