Do you know how to prepare for flooding in your high-rise building? One of the greatest risks of flooding and water damage in high-rise buildings stems from leaking pipes and plumbing issues. Residents of high-rise buildings might believe that their properties are safe from flood impact due to being several stories above the ground. However, floods can still severely compromise critical systems in high-rise buildings, including boilers, elevators, generators, and water pumps. Because these essential components are typically located underground, they are at a heightened risk of damage and disruption during a flood. 

Vulnerability doesn’t have to equate to disaster though. Management, boards, and residents can do a lot to keep people safe and minimize property loss during a flood. It’s just a matter of taking what we’ve learned and applying it to all high-rises.  
   
With that, let’s look at how you can prepare for flooding and minimize its impact on your high–rise building, should it occur.  

Know your flood risk.  

If you reside in a flood zone or near a body of water, you face a heightened flood risk; however, it's crucial to consider less obvious factors. For example, high-rise buildings situated in valleys or low-lying areas may also be prone to flooding, even without nearby water sources. Additionally, other risks such as city water lines bursting can lead to unexpected flooding. Instances of such events are frequently reported in the news, highlighting the need for comprehensive flood preparedness.  
 
The construction of the building comes into play, too – those with basements or multiple underground levels may find themselves more at risk. To get even more specific, high-rises with basements should look at what equipment is down there. Are there sump pumps? Are there generators? Answering these questions can help you pinpoint your risk.  
   
It helps to get input that goes beyond what you can see with the naked eye. A professional property management company can help you assess your vulnerabilities too (it is not only about assessing risks but being prepared for the unforeseen which could include the odd chance of a city water main burst per above). Property management teams with decades of experience know how to prepare for a flood and have access to local flood data and knowledge of your area. Partnering with a trusted property management company will provide key insights that can serve as the foundation of your preparedness plan.  

Protect critical systems.  

You’ll want to know exactly where your mechanical and electrical systems are located. If they’re in the basement, and your building is at risk of flooding, you’ll want to insulate and protect this equipment so it remains operational should the worst occur. The same applies to your building’s water pump – in most cities, the municipal system won’t push water beyond the sixth floor, which would leave residents in the upper part of your building without water in the instance of flood. Without water, bathrooms will no longer be available, which will force an evacuation of the residents.  
   
Also, make sure your fire pump (which operates the sprinkler system) is protected from potential flood damage, and that you have emergency staircase and corridor lighting that will remain operational even in the event of a power outage. For taller buildings, ensure that you’ll have at least one working elevator during an emergency (most likely, this will be powered by a generator). Don’t let essential back-up systems become inoperable when you need them most; protect them against flood waters with proper storage. An experienced management company will have encountered this challenge before and can tailor a storage plan to your building.  
   
Lastly, look at everything you have stored in the basement and imagine that space filled with water. This might affect how you choose to house other materials – such as fuel or heating oil. During severe flooding, these materials create an environmental hazard that poses a danger to your residents. Store smart to stay safe.  

Create an emergency plan and communicate it.  

Developing a comprehensive emergency plan for your residents is essential. This plan should encompass a wide variety of disasters, including fire, medical emergencies, and floods.  
   
A comprehensive emergency preparedness plan should encompass key components such as emergency contacts, detailed evacuation maps, clearly marked directions, and essential tips for residents on how to efficiently file insurance claims. Additionally, the plan must outline critical items for personal disaster preparedness kits, ensuring residents are well-equipped. It is crucial to incorporate measures to safeguard your most vulnerable residents, including the elderly, people with disabilities, and children. A proficient property management team will be familiar with your resident demographics and possess the expertise required to formulate inclusive strategies for these individuals. Communication is key, too. Some management companies have special technologies for keeping residents informed during emergencies.  
   
Look to your property management company to help make a staffing plan for emergencies, with plans right down to stocking food and providing accommodations for the extra team members you’ll need on-site during a flood. They’ll also help source preparedness items such as portable foundation walls or sandbags to be installed around your building when there’s a forecast for heavy storms and possible flooding.  
   
Should a disaster occur, a residential property management company with vast resources can help you find critical equipment like additional back-up generators from their roster of certified, quality vendors in other markets. This can be invaluable when local resources for these items are tapped out due to heavy demands in emergency situations.  
   
Once you have your emergency plan in place, get the word out to your residents, building staff and management team, using electronic documents for the tech-savvy and printed materials for residents who prefer hard copies.  

Ensure that you have the right insurance.  

Many high-rise associations make the mistake of putting their insurance on autopilot, which can be detrimental. It is crucial to review your policy annually with an experienced insurance agent who specializes in high-rise properties. This annual review ensures that your association secures the maximum available insurance coverage at the best possible price. Additionally, partnering with an excellent property management company can help you implement policies and procedures that reduce your building’s risk, potentially lowering your association’s premiums as well. 

There’s one thing to keep in mind that’s specific to flood insurance: will it cover the gaps that FEMA (The Federal Emergency Management Agency) leaves open? For instance, FEMA excludes coverage for business income and additional living expenses. Make sure your property management company connects you with a professional insurance agent who’s familiar with FEMA’s limitations and can craft a flood insurance policy that ensures you’re fully covered.  

Conclusion 

Although it's impossible to prevent a flood, understanding how to prepare for flooding in your high-rise can significantly reduce potential damage and, more importantly, ensure the safety of your residents. Implement your flood preparedness plan now to mitigate risks and protect your community. 

Disclaimer: This article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Consult with your association attorney.  
Wednesday June 19, 2024