Flood response to rely more on independent action

Monday, April 13, 2020

COVID-19 health protocol is sure to complicate flood response and cleanup in commercial and multi-residential buildings in the coming months, particularly if evacuation is required. Resilience experts are urging both property managers and residents to prepare and think about unconventional contingencies.

The timing is opportune for waterfront communities since peak springtime lake and river levels are still about a month away, and many homeowners and tenants are now ensconced in the very places that might need some attention. However, resilience experts warn that intense weather systems can wreak havoc at any time.

“The flash flood, which is really like a water bomb, can occur anywhere,” observes Natalia Moudrak, director, climate resilience, at the University of Waterloo’s Intact Centre for Climate Adaptation. “The time to prepare is when we don’t yet have an issue. The downside, if you don’t, is that you will be scrambling more than ever.”

In a flood situation, social distancing stipulations will necessitate independent action. Temporary quarters for evacuees will not be available in the conventional venues like community centres or school gyms and it will be highly problematic for volunteers to rally to the scene.

“Communities are asking residents and businesses to do everything they can to prepare. It’s very important to get ahead of this,” Moudrak reports. “If there’s a flood and you have to evacuate, you have to manage for yourself to figure out where you are going to go.”

Similar dilemmas could arise for multi-residential properties. Previously, local service providers have often used city buses to provide short-term shelter when residents have been forced to suddenly vacate a building. This is no longer an option.

“Is there space even available for people to congregate for a simple fire drill, let alone dealing with flooding?” Moudrak asks.

Such questions should be on property managers’ agendas now. To help with the answers, the Intact Centre has produced guidelines for both larger commercial buildings and single-family homes, outlining a range of mitigation and recovery considerations —including equipment, training/procedures and contracted services that may need to be deployed — along with simple, cost-effective actions owners and managers can take to reduce damage.

For example, apartment and condominium dwellers could organize and take inventory of their storage lockers, remove valuable and/or vulnerable items from the floor and take photos that could support insurance claims. Property managers should likewise ensure critical equipment is elevated above potential flood zones, and that emergency response equipment is in working order and on-site personnel know how to use it.

Homeowners should proactively clean out eaves troughs and catch basins, and disconnect downspouts. Those with time and resources for some simple landscaping might want to look at ways to channel the flow of water away from their homes. For guidance, they can download the Intact Centre’s checklist app, which will take them on a tour of all the potential vulnerable areas on their properties and automatically compile resulting homework assignments — an exercise that could perhaps serve double duty as a homeschool lesson.

“Right now is the perfect time to get your ducks in order and get prepared,” Moudrak asserts.

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