business continuity

Business continuity to curtail water damage

Disaster recovery contractors are able to minimize damage if information is readily available
Monday, June 1, 2015
James (Lee) Senter

The severity and frequency of extreme weather events is on the rise, along with property damage that results from disaster circumstances.

The manner in which water damage instructors conduct their work has also changed dramatically over the past decade, and the vantage point most managers take when dealing with emergency response has changed accordingly. It used to be that building owners and directors were most worried about the building itself. Now, there is much more concern with the building’s tenants and their businesses.

The business and building’s disaster recovery contractors often have the opportunity to minimize damage in emergency scenarios if certain information is readily available. The immediate information required for informed mitigation includes asbestos and other hazardous material surveys and reports, water shut offs, location of electrical panels and preferably an electrician who knows the affected building and, of course, the location of computer servers and the tenants’ relevant IT people contact info.

Having a server go down can cause utter panic for companies in emergency scenarios. Damage from water, fire, smoke and power outages may cripple a company’s satellite locations across the country as well as at the location of the trouble.

Business continuity success

The key to success in business continuity is to have immediate access to internal and external resources to handle a situation. This often requires multiple methods of reaching these resources. Many people no longer use telephone calls as their primary communication method, but also use text messages, email and other online message platforms. This should be noted on their contact list.

The onsite decision-making process is vital in being able to mitigate losses and return the site to business as quickly as possible. Who is in charge? Can they make a decision now? Who is responsible for what part of the building and its fixtures? The disaster restorers who attend the site have to make quick decisions about water, fire and smoke damage.

Issues that frequently require immediate decisions are the presence of hazardous materials, such as asbestos and lead on the structural materials, the presence of additives in water lines or identification of waste water lines and vital IT and electrical supply conduits that will be compromised if wet or affected by soot.

Water damage

Water damage is one of the primary causes of emergency service in a building and a quick response is absolutely essential. Water can move through a building quickly and saturate structural materials like plaster, wood, wood by-products and concrete.

Once water sets into these materials, it can sometimes take weeks to draw it back out, making it difficult to keep the site open for business. Many structural assemblies are fabricated with wood or wood by-products that support mould growth. Delayed decisions, even for a day or two, will often make an easy-to-remediate water damage incident turn into a full tear-out, which may have a mould or asbestos remediation element to it. Then, you have to rebuild everything.

Standards of care

It is essential that the decision-makers of emergency services have basic knowledge of how to determine what can and cannot be restored. Often the decision-making process is based on a person’s opinion rather than industry standards. Decisions that are not made on standards can often cause serious repercussions with health and safety committees of tenants and lead to Ministry of Labour investigations and evacuation of the premises by workers.

The standard of care for professional water damage remediation is the IICRC S500. It is important in water damage incidents to immediately identify the source of water. Just because water may appear clear does not mean it’s not grossly unsanitary. It is necessary to be able to identify category three (black water) because it is a public health hazard.

The industry standard for fire damage is being created by an RIA/IESO committee and is due to be released in the next 18 months. It is important to be able to identify the type of smoke created by a fire and its path through a structure. It is just as important to be ready to immediately clean electrical devices and components, especially in IT scenarios before they become compromised.

In both these scenarios, building operators need to be able to adjust their air handling systems so that evacuation of humidity and aerosols are done in a manner that does not cause secondary damage.

Predetermined emergency response plans

The success rate of companies that implement their predetermined emergency response plans is very high. Look at The University of Toronto during the extreme storm and related flooding of July 8, 2013. It was prepared and all but two of its buildings were back in business the next morning. Many businesses were disrupted for months by this major weather event.

So where does a company start? First, ensure that the company you use as a first responder is actually capable of responding during a CAT event. There are only a few companies with the talent and knowledge to be able to restore someone’s business quickly. Maybe your company has too many clients. It’s a good idea to have a few companies to call in emergency situations.

Ensure that the company has emergency response capability and the customized programs to keep the required info on file in case the building loses power. The responders should have certified technicians for water damage restoration, fire and smoke remediation, applied microbial remediation and high-risk asbestos remediation.

James (Lee) Senter owns and is an IICRC Approved Instructor for several subjects such as water damage remediation, applied structural drying and health and safety. Lee serves on the IICRC S520 and S540 standard consensus bodies, two committees for the RIA/IESO fire standard 2 and is the IICRC Health and Safety Chairperson.  You can reach him by email