Regional Flood Experiences Show Importance of Planning

By Naomi Millán, Senior Editor  
OTHER PARTS OF THIS ARTICLEPt. 1: Facility Managers Recount What Really Happens When Disaster StrikesPt. 2: Contact List Helps in Disaster but Expect to be BlindsidedPt. 3: Importance of Knowing Your Building, Not Panicking, In Emergency Pt. 4: This PagePt. 5: Make Space for First Responders Arriving in Quantity

Facing a disaster isolated within your facility is fortunate in a way, since a facility manager is able to call upon resources at the last minute. But when a flood is not contained in your basement but stretches across your region, having resources in place ahead of time is absolutely crucial.

When southeast Michigan received six inches of rain in two hours in late September 2014, the regional stormwater and sewer system was overwhelmed, causing historic flooding. As Michael Gerstenlauer, director with St. John Providence Health System, raced to get to his Oakland facility, he came across a semi submerged to the top of the cab and trailer, and had to reroute. Though the health system's full incident command system was implemented, the result depended on staff being able to beat the water to the facility. He was the last one to make it into the Oakland facility before it became impossible to get there, he says.

"Regional 500-year flood" wasn't even on the health system's radar as a likely hazard, Gerstenlauer says. The system's yearly hazard vulnerability analysis had deemed extreme winter weather as the likeliest hazard, no surprise coming on the heels of Michigan's coldest and snowiest winter on record. But planning for other types of disasters, informed by situations faced by the health system in years past, such as extensive power outages, stood the health system in good stead for this event, Gerstenlauer says.

"Emergency planning of any kind is never a wasted exercise," he says. Going through plans and drills might at first feel silly to people, he says. "But when you live through something like this, your thinking changes."

Aspects from the emergency plan that served especially well in response to the flood included having policy in place that compelled on-duty staff to remain on-duty until released in the event of an emergency. And there were established relationships and negotiated contracts well ahead of time with the vendors needed to remediate the situation, giving Gerstenlauer's facilities priority at a reasonable price. "I had an extraction company on site by 2 a.m. that morning, after the water started to recede," he says. "I was probably the only one that had that. There were other companies that were waiting for weeks to get somebody."

Out in the Arizona desert, Pima Community College in Tucson wasn't exactly planning on flooding either. Usually it was bad electrical storms and strong winds that caused damage. In the past, heavy rains flowed into a wash that bisected its East campus without any bad effect. But then a big military base adjacent to the campus, which is used to store old airplanes, put up protective berms, and inadvertently created a dam that channeled water, which would have otherwise sheeted out over the area, onto the college's East campus. Over time, the wash had also silted up a bit without anyone taking much notice.

Add a sudden monsoonal rain, and you end up with several feet of water in the classrooms adjacent to the wash. "Water has to go somewhere, and it decided it wanted to go through the middle of our campus," says Mike Posey, the college's director of facilities operations and construction.

Having pre-existing service agreements or blanket purchase orders in place really helped to smooth things out, Posey says. "You can just send people over — go get a power washer — because you already have an account." Having all the paperwork already in place helps you beat out all the other businesses around you that are also trying to get back in business.

Posey suggests facility managers get their organization's finance department up to speed on the purchasing needs of the facility department during an emergency. Instead of tying up purchasing decisions in bureaucracy, a finance department informed on the sorts of items that might need to be procured can be more of a partner. "If they're not included and don't have knowledge of how immediate things are, sometimes they tend to guard the purse strings where they might need to be loosening them up," he says.

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  posted on 1/28/2015   Article Use Policy

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