About a year ago, the Peabody Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., called in Lewis Migliore to investigate a water intrusion in its new facility. A pipe had burst and flooded the main lobby of the convention center and when Migliore, a floor covering expert with LGM & Associates, arrived, carpet restoration efforts were well under way.

"They had 50 air-movers in there, dehumidifying agents applied, and because of their quick response they were able to completely dry out the carpet. The water had no affect on the carpet whatsoever," Migliore recalls.

This is what can happen if facility management teams take preventative maintenance seriously, develop a water intrusion plan before disaster strikes and act quickly when flooding occurs.

"The faster you get to it, the better. Time is definitely of the essence," says Peter Duncanson, an IICRC instructor and director of training at ServiceMaster Clean.

Prepare For Disaster

When it comes to water intrusion, the best offense is a good defense. Protective measures include looking for pre-existing carpet conditions and repairing them; regularly inspecting water shutoff valves; checking for leaks in roofs, pipes, sinks and toilets; and planning for water-related disasters.

Facility managers should regularly inspect carpet for staining, delaminating (the separation of different layers of carpet), seam separation, etc., and remediate any issues.

"The first thing a water professional will do is look for pre-existing damage," Duncanson points out. "If it's not from water damage, we can't fix it. It won't be covered by insurance. "

In addition, every sink and toilet has a water shutoff valve. Experts recommend knowing where they are and testing them regularly to make sure they function properly. Sinks and toilets themselves also require regular inspection to ensure they're operating correctly.

"Toilet or sink malfunctions can be addressed ahead of time. People can usually tell if a toilet or a sink is in need of some tender loving care," says Allen Rathey, president of InstructionLink/JanTrain of Boise, Idaho.

"You also need to know where the main water shutoff valve is," Duncanson adds. "There is a main somewhere and all managers should to know how to access it."

Although this prevention can help, it is not a cure. Facility managers may do everything right and still find a foot of water on the floor in their building. For this reason, it's critical for managers to develop contingency plans detailing the steps to follow when water pours in.

"Contingency planning should be first and foremost in every business," says Duncanson. "We take into consideration our lost revenues, such as computers and utilities. But we don't think about what to do if there is a water intrusion. What steps should we take? Who should we call? The worst time to be scrambling is at 2 a.m. when the water is pouring in."

Health and safety of building occupants must come first. The strategies listed in a disaster plan should include an evacuation policy — whether it is for just the affected area or the entire facility — and answer questions like: If workers must be moved, where will they be located?

The plan should list the necessary equipment to protect housekeeping staff as they remediate the situation and the equipment required to remove the water. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) includes N95 respirators, masks and gloves, which should be kept in a secure location, and cleaning equipment includes water extractors, wet/dry vacuums, air-movers, dehumidifiers and various cleaning chemicals.

This document should also dictate the steps to follow when removing water, including: Shutting off utilities, moving employees, securing the affected area, water removal processes and even how to determine if a carpet restoration professional is necessary. The numbers of locally based, certified, water restoration experts, as well as insurance agents and utility companies, should also be included in this document.

Click here to read about the steps to take following a disaster.

Ronnie Garrett is a freelance writer based in Fort Atkinson, Wis.