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After the storm: 10 safety guidelines for cleanup and recovery

At a glance

  • As the floodwaters recede, those impacted by the destructive force of a hurricane or major windstorm shift from survival mode to recovery mode
  • Cleaning up after a storm can sometimes be more dangerous than the storm itself
  • For decades, Zurich’s Risk Engineers have been helping customers manage the risks and aftermath of devastating storms

As the floodwaters recede, those impacted by the destructive force of a hurricane or major windstorm shift from survival mode to recovery mode. Recovery is a formidable and in some cases heartbreaking process. You may be coping with personal losses while also surveying the impacts to your property and business in the storm’s path.

Cleaning up after a storm can sometimes be more dangerous than the storm itself. Hazards such as live electrical wires, broken glass, sharp metal and fumes from leaking pipes are common, meaning protective gear and safety measures may be required.

For decades, Zurich’s Risk Engineers have been helping customers manage the risks and aftermath of devastating storms, follow these steps when you cleanup after a major storm:

10 safety guidelines to help you recover from a storm

1) Conduct an initial site assessment with qualified personnel

Flooding may cause toxic spills; while live electrical lines, shorted wiring and interior electrical systems can energise the water creating an electrocution risk. So ensure qualified personnel evaluate all risks before cleanup begins. Severely damaged areas of a building should be reviewed by a qualified structural engineer.

Contact your utility provider about the safety status of your property. Electrocution is a risk from downed power lines so treat them as “live” until your utility provider confirms they are de-energized. Do not reconnect electric or gas until your utility provider has cleared you to do so.

2) Carefully enter the property

Ensure you are equipped with the necessary tools and protective gear, as well as drinking water, disinfecting supplies, a first aid kit and cameras to document damage. Consider bringing a fire extinguisher.

 

3) Survey the site for damage

Check for hazards such as live electrical wires, broken glass, sharp metal and fumes from leaking pipes. Look for damaged building features and contents that could shift or collapse. Check inside and outside the building, as well as around you and overhead. Photograph any visible damage.

 

4) Be cautious of animals

Snakes, rats and other wild animals, as well as displaced pets, may seek shelter in buildings, vehicles and trees. They are often injured in storms, making them more dangerous. Do not attempt to handle any wildlife, and seek immediate treatment if bitten or injured by an animal.

 

5) Retrieve your insurance policies

Call your insurance representative to begin the claims process. Ask for guidance on which damaged goods can be disposed of, and what should be set aside. Maintain contact throughout the process.

 

6) Begin the restoration process

Once cleared, begin salvage as soon as possible to prevent further damage. Restore air conditioning systems or run fans to mitigate mold. Do not use extension cords in wet areas. Safely dispose of combustible materials. Avoid storage in areas with impaired fire protection.

 

7) Verify the status of protection systems

Check water supplies, fire pumps, automatic sprinklers, fire alarms and security systems. Report fire protection system outages. Urgently make repairs and post security personnel on site if protection systems are compromised.

Clear roof drains, balcony drains and ground-level catch basins and drains in preparation for further rain. If further floods are predicted in the near term, set up sandbags or other recommended barriers at low level doors and entrances.

8) Notify reputable restoration contractors

Do this as soon as possible to secure an appointment for service. Establish repair priorities based on level of danger the damage poses. Anyone you hire must wear proper safety equipment, while respirators and chemical protective gloves or suits should be considered.

 

9) Perform emergency repairs where feasible

Electrical supply for power tools should be equipped with a ground fault circuit interrupter to prevent electrocution. Existing or repaired systems should be equipped with ground fault protection. Do not use extension cords where there is standing water.

 

10) Protect your employees and maintain regular communication

Employees often support the business with the cleanup process, but ensure that they are kept safe. Consult Zurich’s report called ‘Post-disaster recovery: keeping your workers safe’ for detailed guidance.

If employees normally work at your property, stay in regular contact. Factor in the possibility of disruptions to suppliers and distributors.

Image © Getty

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