As of July 2011, an estimated 1,665 tornados had touched down in the United States — more than the nation has seen since 1953. Declared one of nature's most violent storms, tornados can produce winds of 250 miles per hour and blinding sheets of rain. Trees, windows and a fair share of facilities are no match for these storms.

Recovering after this natural disaster can be challenging for any custodial department. Beyond obvious structural damage, these storms often result in standing water and thick debris covering floors.

An upright or backpack vacuum will go a long way in removing the dry debris, but lugging around a mop and bucket in an attempt to remove large amounts of water brings productivity to a screeching halt. Not to mention, when water is involved, cleanup must be immediate.

Whether dealing with a natural disaster, a backup in the restroom or saturated entryways, projects that involve both wet and dry debris are best controlled with the use of a wet/dry vacuum. The equipment has proven to be more versatile, more effective and will increase productivity — music to a manager's ears.

"The number one benefit of having a wet/dry vacuum on hand for any custodial staff is that they are quick and easy at picking up liquid," says Daniel Josephs, I.C.E., general manager at Spruce Industries, Inc., Rahway, N.J. "This is the best tool to clean up liquid spills, either on carpet or hard floors."

What To Look For

Beyond the obvious wet and dry capabilities, the equipment size, ease-of-use, power, versatility and filtration will all positively affect worker and department productivity.

Wet/dry vacuums come in a variety of shapes and sizes, ranging from small, battery-powered models that are easy enough to carry and perfect for spot cleaning, to 20-gallon models designed for larger recovery efforts. Identifying the size that best fits the facility will be based on the needs within the building.

Before purchasing, managers should determine where this equipment will be used, the size of the space and the types of situations that might emerge requiring the use of wet/dry vacuums. For instance, facilities that are prone to flooding or both wet and dry spillage in open areas, would benefit from larger equipment.

At the same time, a school might have hard floors in halls and carpeting in classrooms. Spills are eminent in both areas but crews will need to maneuver into tight areas and around obstacles. For these facilities, smaller equipment might be the best option, say distributors.

Once managers have identified a suitable sized vacuum, manufacturers recommend closely examining a machine's durability.

"This equipment is used for everyday cleaning, as well as in some extreme situations," says one Midwest manufacturer. "Departments need to know that the equipment is going to hold up against the elements and function when they need it."

Distributors recommend looking at how the equipment moves, what it is made out of and how it is assembled. Also evaluate the motor, which according to manufacturers, should be sealed for protection from the water and debris that passes through the machine.

Finally, pay close attention to the filtration options available. Custodial crews never want a cleanup to escalate into a health hazard.

HEPA options are available with many wet/dry models and should be used in situations that involve lead paint, asbestos or other hazardous contaminants that should be kept out of the air. Managers are advised to check the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) equipment requirements when handling these types of contaminants.