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The big clean up

Layton-TamberlinIn this edition of FAST Facts, Layton Tamberlin, acting managing director at property protection expert SitexOrbis provides advice on cleaning up after floods

WHAT IS THE FLOODING SITUATION LIKE ACROSS ENGLAND?
The past few months have been the wettest in the UK since records began, 248 years ago. In early December, concern was around property damage caused by strong winds first across the north of the UK, and then affecting exposed areas further south. But with increased rainfall in late December and throughout January and February, the main threat has been from flooding including large river catchments such as the Severn and Thames and coastal areas in the south and west. Overall the extreme weather has resulted in seven fatalities and several thousand properties flooded across England including commercial property and social housing.

HOW CAN PROPERTY OWNERS AND MANAGERS MITIGATE THE EFFECT OF FLOODS AND PROTECT THEIR PROPERTIES?
Prevention is better than cure. Although flood water can move extremely quickly, many property owners will know well in advance that their property is at risk of flooding. It is essential that they prepare properties accordingly to reduce the risk of water getting inside and to reduce the damage caused by flood water if the worst happens. If you don’t know if your property is at risk, check the Environment Agency’s flood risk map for rivers and the sea.

WHAT CAN I DO ON A PRACTICAL LEVEL?
Protect your property from flood water by purchasing sandbags or modern non-sand bags designed for flooding and position these at all entrances. Consider purchasing flood-proof doors and windows, or purpose-built flood boards, which can be fitted when flooding is expected. Flood-proof airbricks are also available, but covers can also be placed over traditional airbricks. Consider raising door thresholds to keep shallow water out. Check external brickwork to ensure the pointing is in good order and think about applying a water-proof sealant to external walls. If drains and pipes are left untreated, wastewater can flow back into the property’s ground floor sinks and loos through the sewerage system. Consider fitting non-return valves to drains and water inlet and outlet pipes. The design of your external space, including any gardens or driveways, can also be used to divert floodwater.
Internally, buy large, sealable bags to protect large items of furniture which are difficult to move. Move all valuable items to upper floors or place on high shelves. If time allows, raise electrical sockets, fuse boxes, controls and wiring to 1.5 metres above the floor level.

WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT RISING GROUNDWATER?
Thanks to the high level of the water table, many properties are being flooded by rising groundwater. This can happen unexpectedly and cause severe problems for property owners and facilities/ property managers. Sandbags are no defence against ground water. Instead consider installing a pump, which may need to be in operation for several weeks. Be cautious about using an electric pump near floodwater and consider a petrol/ diesel equivalent.

What do I do about utilities?
When flood water is on the verge of entering a property, switch off water, gas and electricity at the mains and disconnect any equipment which may use mains water such as dishwashers to ensure it isn’t damaged. Do not touch electrical sources or equipment when standing in flood water.

HOW DO I ENSURE OCCUPANTS’ SAFETY DURING A FLOOD?
If a property floods when there are people inside, the first thing to do is to ensure everyone can be evacuated safely. Try to avoid walking through flood water where possible as manhole covers can come off and flood water can quickly become contaminated. Ensure that anyone who comes into contact with floodwater, washes their hands as soon as possible to avoid any infection.

WHERE DO I BEGIN WHEN CLEARING UP AFTER A FLOOD?
If your property has been flooded, contact your insurance company immediately to inform them of the situation. Ensure you carefully note down their requirements which may include compiling a list of all items affected, photographic evidence and a written report including specific dates and times. Ensure that you agree with the insurance company what can be thrown away (for example, sodden carpets) and do not throw away anything that has not been agreed. Also keep a note of all conversations with the insurer, including time, date and what was discussed.

Before attempting to clean up any damage, take precautions. Flood water can be contaminated and may contain animal and human waste or poisonous chemicals. Ensure you wear protective gear including gloves, boots and masks. There may also be unseen dangers lurking in the water such as raised manhole covers, sharp or fallen objects.

If flood water is high, consider purchasing or renting a pump to remove the water. But only do so when flood levels outside the property are lower than inside it or you risk causing structural damage.

If it is safe to do so, and the equipment has been checked by qualified engineers, turn on the heating and maintain a temperature of about 22 degrees celsius to start the process of drying out the building. Keep doors and windows open if possible and safe to do so. Also consider buying or hiring dehumidifiers, in which case doors and windows should be kept closed.

Once water has left the property, start the clean-up process using standard office cleaning and disinfecting equipment. Use specialist anti-mould or anti-fungal treatments where appropriate.

SHOULD I BE WORRIED ABOUT THE BUILDING’S SECURITY?
After a flood, especially if the building is vacant, it could become a target for vandals, thieves and arsonists. Consider installing remote security monitoring equipment. If there is no power in the building, then battery-powered cameras are a good alternative.

WHAT ARE THE BEST EXTERNAL RESOURCES TO CHECK FOR ADVICE?
Regularly check the Met Office and Environment Agency’s websites for the latest weather forecasts and flood warnings to ensure you are prepared.

Environment Agency:
www.environment-agency.gov.uk/homeandleisure/floods
Met Office:
www.metoffice.gov.uk/public/weather

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