Water Damage: As Disruptive as Major Fires, Explosions

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Posted by: CMR July 21, 2022 No Comments

Water-related events can be particularly devastating in buildings with extensive damageable interior finishes such as carpeting, drywall and furniture — all which are significantly more vulnerable to water damage than buildings without these finishes.

While many companies have risk management programs that address various types of incidents and crises, most are not aware of the water damage risk. This significant gap in their incident management framework can ultimately reduce their ability to effectively respond and recover from such incidents.

Know your water sources

To understand the specific causes of water or liquid damage, it is important to consider the sources and type of water that could affect a building. These factors can have a significant impact on the nature and extent of needed repairs.

Water can come from inside or outside the building. Sources to consider include:

  • Interior water supply lines such as domestic water or fire sprinklers.
  • Losses involving larger diameter supply lines that can release hundreds or thousands of gallons per minute. In most cases, the water will flow until someone closes a valve.
  • A clogged drain to a tub may present little risk if the supply valve is closed. However, a clogged roof drain is capable of causing catastrophic damage if the weight of the water accumulating on the roof is greater than the structural capacity of the roof system.
  • Process or building equipment. Water- or liquid-based process equipment is easy to overlook, especially if it is roof-mounted and out of sight. Even closed-loop systems such as cooling towers may contain thousands of gallons of liquid.
  • Outside sources. These typically correlate to weather events such as rain, sleet, or snow. This may include losses from worn out or clogged roof drains, the overflow of a body of water, or flow of water from higher ground.

How water damage happens

Different occupancies have different sources and types of water. While most systems function trouble-free, when there is a problem, it is often caused by inadequate maintenance or a lack of cold weather preparation.

Maintenance should include:

  • Addressing small leaks promptly;
  • Checking that roof drains are clear and flow freely, and;
  • Verifying exterior drains and downspouts discharge away from the building.

It is important to ensure that plumbing systems and main control valves are on a routine maintenance schedule. System control valves should be exercised and lubricated at least annually.

Cold weather preparation should take place before the onset of cold weather. This includes:

  • Checking anti-freeze levels in sprinkler system anti-freeze loops (typical over small loading docks, or other under heated areas);
  • Draining and winterizing water-containing equipment such as cooling towers and low point valves on dry-pipe sprinkler systems;
  • Ensuring that heating equipment is functioning properly;
  • Checking the exterior of the building for areas that may allow cold air into the building.
  • Caulking and repairing joints around windows, doors and other openings, and;
  • Checking that louvers designed to open and close in mechanical spaces function properly.

Assessing water damage risk

One thing about water damage risk is clear: There are a few building characteristics that can significantly increase the frequency or severity of a water damage event. Buildings with damageable interior finishes such as drywall, wood floors and suspended ceilings have a greater risk of serious damage than buildings without these finishes. When water leaks on an upper floor, it follows gravity and will flow down through floor penetrations to lower levels. This translates into more square footage damaged and a much larger loss than if the release happened in a single-story building.

Certain operations are critical and require an extra level of care. Examples include data centers, operating rooms, FDA certified operations or high-value equipment.

And finally, as plumbing systems age, the frequency of water damage events increases.

Developing an effective plan

Every minute of delay in responding to a water damage event can increase the risk of property damage and extended business disruption. It is important to prepare, respond and improve.

How to prepare: Conduct a water damage risk assessment to identify water sources and vulnerable interior finishes, high-value equipment or critical operations. Consider water-sensing technology for high-value equipment or critical operations. These systems are becoming commonplace in commercial, industrial and habitational occupancies and can be either “passive” systems that will sense water and send alerts via SMS text or email, or “active systems” that actually sense water, automatically shut down water supplies, and send alerts. Also, develop a written response plan that includes diagrams with water control valves, dry pipe low point valves and critical drains clearly identified. Identify water mitigation contractors that are available 24/7, 365 days a year. Additionally, train staff to properly inspect and maintain systems and respond to an event.

How to respond: Stop the water flow as soon as possible. Make sure to coordinate with local authorities who have jurisdiction if the water source is from a fire protection system. Initiate water mitigation procedures. Engage identified water mitigation contractors and notify emergency responders and your insurance carrier as appropriate. Implement impairment procedures if fire protection systems are impacted.

How to improve: Conduct an after-action review to identify the root causes of the event and identify opportunities to improve preparation and response plans. Update the written response plans based on learnings from the incident. Test the response plan annually and train/retrain new and existing employees as appropriate.

When businesses establish emergency plans to address water damage events, the potential costs resulting from such events can be reduced or even avoided. It is even more important in occupancies with damageable interior finishes, extensive plumbing fixtures, or critical operations. Developing an effective plan to mitigate water damage losses is a key part of business continuity planning.

Source – PropertyCasualty360.com

Author: CMR

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