Last year’s record-breaking storm cycles taught business owners a big lesson: Heavy rain and flooding do not discriminate.
Disaster planning and preparedness are instrumental in managing water-driven disasters to ensure flood waters don’t sink a business or wash away its profits.
Reconsidering flood insurance – even if the business isn’t in a flood plain – virtual and off-site work arrangements, measures to protect inventory and data, along with securing property and structures, should be top priorities.
“We learned that despite being leaders in the industry and knowing all the right things to do, extreme flooding can impact even the most prepared businesses and individuals,” said Erin DeLong, disaster restoration manager at ServiceMaster of Allentown in Emmaus.
During storms in July and August last year, she said, water damaged drywall, wood and contents at the company’s Chestnut Street building.
Last year was the wettest on record for Pennsylvania, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The state recorded 63.97 inches of rain in 2018, roughly 50 percent higher than the average.
It wasn’t just homes and businesses in floodplains that felt the impact.
David R. “Randy” Padfield, acting director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency in Harrisburg, said 96 percent of flooding damage last year occurred outside of floodplains, evidence that rainfall doesn’t always discriminate between high and low-lying areas.
“We’re looking now at who needs flood insurance and a lot of the impact has been outside of those maps,” Padfield said.
He said stormwater management, elevating structures and local mitigation efforts would help businesses and homeowners better manage such events.
“We encourage business owners to develop resilience plans about what they need to do before they’re impacted. Not all [state or federal] programs are designed to make a business whole,” after a disaster, he said.
Padfield said the faster businesses recover, the faster communities recover.
“These types of incidents are devastating and if all the employees are impacted, then the business can’t recover,” Padfield said.
While property losses can stress a business, keeping employees safe and being mindful of their property concerns was the top propriety for one Tremont business owner during heavy rains last summer.
“Our employees came first and many of them didn’t have flood insurance,” said Todd Banks, owner of Tuke’s Inc., a screen printing and embroidery manufacturing business in Tremont.
Tuke’s has contracts to provide apparel for professional sports teams, including teams in the National Football League, National Basketball Association (NBA) and National Hockey League.
“We had four inches of water [at the business] but many of our employees had flooded basements and water up into their living rooms. We’re located about 20 yards from the Rausch Creek,” Banks said.
He was proud of his staff and their dedication to their jobs.
“These are hardworking people because many were dealing with home property damage but they still came to work, helped with flood-water cleanup at the plant and worked together to meet production deadlines,” Banks said.
Banks said his team has new closing procedures in place, just in case.
“Every night we sandbag,” Banks said.
Risks remain even after the waters recede. Improper cleanup can cause additional problems, like mold.
“Last year’s rain was way beyond the norm … with the extreme rain and humidity we saw a lot of mold issues,” said Sean McCabe co-owner of ServPro of Upper Bucks in Perkasie.
McCabe said prompt and thorough cleanup is key to preventing follow-on impacts.
“We try to get the water out and get things treated and dried so as not to move to demolition, if possible,” he said.