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What to Do First: Checking the Foundations.

Natural disasters have resulted in billions of dollars in damage. Hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, resulting fires, and more have wreaked havoc on our natural resources and our infrastructures.

Where Can You Start?

Checking your buildings - whether it is an office you manage, a commercial space you own, or a government building – the structure should be in top order

Start with the foundation. Make sure your structure has been declared safe by the proper authorities before entering or beginning any assessment of damage. Wear protective clothing such as waterproof footwear, gloves, safety goggles, and hard hats. Contact utility companies to report any damage.

Practice safe building entry procedures. Both  FEMA  and ARC provide training, written guidance, and placards to help engineers and damage assessment workers evaluate building conditions.

Before entering any potentially damaged structure in the aftermath of a natural disaster, remember that looks might be deceiving. Damaged buildings run the risk of structural collapse, septic system collapse, trip and fall injuries, electrical shock, fire and explosion hazards where natural gas or bottled gas are present. Other dangers include toxic sludge, waterborne bacteria, and hazardous indoor mold.

AVOID buildings with any of these circumstances:

Official active disaster areas. If rescue or other emergency operations are underway, you could impede the process of those operations and put yourself at risk.

Buildings that have not been declared safe. Make sure that local authorities have declared the area safe.

Keep away if the building is still flooded, burning, moving. This may seem obvious but flood waters often undermine foundations, and can cause sinking, cracked floors, or collapse.

Even the smallest shift of a building on or off of its foundation, possibly less than an inch, can rupture gas piping or electrical wiring, creating a dangerous situation. While you may be able to see that the foundation has shifted, you may not be able to see ruptured gas or electric lines, so steer clear or wear fire-rated protective clothing if you must enter.

Entering or inspecting crawl spaces or flooded basement areas also present safety challenges. If there are any puddles, standing water or wet areas, you could be at risk for electrocution hazards. There might also be a risk of chemical contamination risk, especially in older buildings where pesticides may have been applied in the crawl area. Remember that electric shocks are responsible for about 1,000 deaths in the United States each year, so exercise extreme caution when inspecting electrical components. You should not remove the cover from and electrical panel unless you are a licensed electrician.

Watch out for sewage backups and/or spills in the crawl area. Wet sewage pathogens and even airborne or dust-borne dry pathogens and mold can be present, so wear proper protective breathing apparatus and clothing. Debris such as nails, wood pieces and rodents might be present and not immediately detectable.

Other Precautions for Entering Post-disaster Buildings

Stranded or invading animals, rodents and reptiles, especially snakes, easily enter buildings with flood water, so use a stick to poke through standing water and wear protective footwear. Larger animals like raccoons, dogs or rats can be defensive and therefore pose a threat.

Collapse dangers in buildings. Foundations and masonry walled structures should be inspected for horizontal dislocation of the building such as broken gas lines, leaning, bulging, or bowing foundations, sagging drywall, cracks or other damage. Note that bulged concrete block foundations are especially prone to sudden collapse. A block foundation wall bulged-inwards more than an inch, or leaning walls that have moved enough to pull apart building framing connectors are particularly dangerous.

Food and water: If there are no options to obtaining bottled water, boil water for at least five minutes, or add bleach to ensure that any existing bacteria is boiled out. Have emergency food kits on hand.

Food that has come in contact with flood waters should be discarded. Only save canned foods if the cans are not dented or damaged, throw them away. Food and water contaminated by flood waters can cause severe infections.

Have battery powered lanterns and flashlights (as well as a supply of batteries and chargers) on hand to prevent fire hazards while inspecting. Along with protective clothing, wear a HEPA-rated respirator during all stages of the assessment until the areas has been declared clean and fit for humans

Protective gear includes but is not limited to:

  • Shoes
  • Gloves
  • Eye Protection
  • Fire rated coveralls
  • Hard hats
  • HEPA respirators
  • And more

Do not work alone. If you fall or are injured, you may not receive prompt assistance. If you must work alone, or you and your team must spread out into several areas, use waterproof/weatherproof two way radios to stay in contact with tam members or to call for help.

Building Dryout Recommendations Checklist

Rapid dryout of a building reduces the chances of an expensive mold cleanup cost added to the costs of existing water and flood damage. Ideally you want to dry out the building within 24 to 48 hours before mold and mildew can set in.

  • Make sure that the building is safe to enter.
  • Remove standing water using pumpsmopsshop vacs, preferably as soon as flood waters have subsided and the building has been found safe to enter. Document everything.
  • Remove wet materials including carpeting & contents from the building, discarding, or piling up for removal outside items such as wet wall-to-wall carpets, flooded furniture, wet drywall. These items can quickly swell, rot or produce mold so dispose of them right away.
  • Document everything in a complete inventory, with photographs and in writing for the insurance company.
  • Use a combination of dehumidifiersfans, heat (or electric heaters if your building has power and your heating system is not ready to operate), and/or if weather permits, open windows to dry out the building rapidly.
  • If the heating system is operable or portable heaters can be safely operated, use heat to speed the dryout process but do not run warm air heat and do not run air conditioners if there is a risk that these systems may become mold contaminated.
  • Use fans to retard mold growth. Because mold and mildew can set in so quickly, cold air can significantly reduce mold contamination growth.
  • Lower humidity in the building with dehumidifiers and blower fans.

For more information, check with the government agencies listed below: