When a serious fire or flood occurs in a building the immediate intention will be to ensure that the fire is put out or the flooding is stopped. However reinstating the building as quickly as possible, dealing with insurers, attempting to recover important documents and equipment that has water or fire damage and getting the organisation functioning again is a big task. Furthermore the causes of fire or flood can be something quite unexpected.
Example Fires and Floods
In March 2010 a large area of London suffered a loss of broadband, telephone and mobile coverage with bankcard transactions both on the web and at ATM’s also affected.
The probable cause of the flooding was when water pumps in the basement were unable to cope with a large influx of water, caused by some faulty works undertaken by a water company on a water main running near the exchange. Apparently Sub-contractors working on a 6” water main failed to cap it off properly. Pressure built up blowing off the cap which flooded the basement area to at least four feet deep.
The flood caused the mains electricity, and the UPS, to fail in addition to sparking a fire which caused further problems.
Large Generators were brought in to power the switching equipment. Fortunately for the telecoms company though no telecoms equipment was damaged either by the flood or fire.
In an example of the unexpected a fire in Birmingham which destroyed tens of thousands of tonnes of supermarket packaging and caused £6 million worth of damage the cause was a lit Chinese sky lantern which was captured on CCTV floating down to the area where the fire then started shortly afterwards. There is a national campaign to stop the sale of such lanterns which are believed to cause an increasing number of fires particularly when landing anywhere where there is dry combustible material. As a result of this fire Pound-stretcher shops in the Midlands subsequently removed Chinese Lanterns from sale.
For the most part Mother Nature often plays a part when it comes to flooding. A severe storm in Copenhagen on 2nd July 2011, flooded part of the UN House and the offices there were seriously damaged. After a two month temporary relocation, the staff eventually managed to move back into the building. One of the major challenges that they had faced immediately after the flood was shortage of space for storing documents many of which they had laid out to air dry naturally.
At Heathrow’s terminal 4 a Nineteen-inch sewer pipe burst in September 2012 above a Baggage Carousel sending over 10,000 litres of raw sewage flooding through baggage halls, check-in desks, offices and public areas just prior to a very busy seasonal period.
Heathrow Airport handles over 68 million passengers a year and getting this area thoroughly cleaned up and fully decontaminated was a major task that took nearly two weeks with teams working around the clock and included taking hundreds of sample swabs to ensure that no contamination remained after the cleaning process.
Using a Loss Adjuster
Fire damage to commercial premises costs UK businesses more than a billion pounds every year and as many as 50% of smaller business will cease to trade after a major fire or flood, however the total of insurance settlements paid out is significantly below the billion pound level with businesses often struggling to reach a settlement with their insurer.
Time is critical to a business faced with the devastating consequences of fire damage. As well as the physical losses, fire causes severe disruption to productivity of the business. It is crucial the claim is dealt with promptly by a claims handler and comprehensively to ensure the business is able to recover as quickly as possible.
Insurance companies will explore every possibility to challenge a claim and for example being unable to provide a fully up to date fire risk assessment (FRA) or having just one fire extinguisher overdue for servicing (in another part of the building) could result in a claim being declared invalid. Another factor can be the speed with which the problem is tackled – for example rapid deployment of temporary pumping equipment can reduce the extent of consequential loss and therefore the size of a claim and any arbitration that may follow
Commercial fires are often the highest claims because the loss and damage is so far-reaching. There is not only the actual damage to the building but also salaries, documents destruction of IT equipment and potential loss of business.
These costs are often intangible which is why it is imperative that a professional loss assessor is brought in to deal with the property insurance claim.
Commercial loss assessors will deal with your property insurance claim, which can be extremely stressful and time-consuming. As professional loss assessors, they prepare all of the correct documentation and deal with the insurance companies, fighting your case effectively covering every angle of the claim and in most cases getting an early settlement from the insurance company.
Whether it is fire or water damage, acting as quickly as possible will improve the chances of recovering documents in particular, which can often be fully restored, but if left damp will start to deteriorate extremely quickly. Document restoration companies exist that will take damaged documents and most cases will be able to dry them and return often in near perfect condition in a fairly short space of time.
Employing experts as quickly as possible will help to ensure that the building is returned to use quickly and with less need to strip out and more opportunity to restore instead. A company offering such services should start in the same way that you as an FM would, by carrying out a risk assessment. They need to establish if there is risk of further damage, ensure that they control any such risk and decide what category of disaster they are dealing with. You should also be provided with Health & Safety information regarding access to the building both during and after the restoration work and also what precautions might need to be taken. Typically this will be a ‘distress purchase’ so ideally contact several companies and ensure that they give you itemised estimated costs for the work.
Companies carrying out this type of work will typically be members of the British Damage Management Association (BDMA).
Stewart Owen of Andrew Sykes Dehumidification describes the difference between using dehumidifiers instead of heaters and ventilation.
‘A dehumidifier accelerates the drying process in a gentle style reducing the possibilities of damage to the building fabric. Moisture extracted from structures by this method is a more natural way of drying a drenched surface, by extracting it into the dry air and thus avoiding possible shrinkage and cracking problems. The dehumidifiers are an energy efficient method of restoring a recently flooded building and also cost a lot less than forcing the moisture out using heaters with less equipment needed on site’
When faced with a fire and/or flood you will need to act quickly, ensure that you have brought in experts and not just an existing service provider that says it might be able to help you out.
It is well worth considering bringing in a loss adjuster to deal with your insurer.
There are alternative types of equipment available for hire when dealing with the consequences of incidents such as these and this can impact the condition of the fabric of the building during and after reinstatement.