June marked the beginning of the yearly hurricane season, with the bulk of Atlantic storm activity historically occurring between the months of August and October. While the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts a near-normal 2019 Atlantic hurricane season, a recurring trend of highly destructive weather events necessitates longer-term considerations from owners, investors and lenders about the infrastructure risk these natural disasters pose to their assets. This includes not just ways to mitigate secondary post-storm damage, but also implementing safer, more resilient, commercially cost-effective building design in the future.
Whether you are looking to improve your property’s resiliency or prepare a ready contingency plan in case of damage during a storm, here are some tips to keep in mind to help protect and preserve your asset in the future.
Evaluate Potential Vulnerabilities for Wind and Storm Damage Real estate lenders, investors and owners are turning to predictive assessments for probable wind and damage to inform their risk management decisions. To aid in establishing a uniform industry standard for assessing windstorm losses and damage in vulnerable hurricane zones comparable to a seismic probable maximum loss assessment, ASTM International is proposing developing a new standard (a “Wind Probable Maximum Loss”) to assess infrastructure risk. Wind loss estimates can consider loss from both winds and wind-blown debris from nearby structures. Many states that are vulnerable to hurricane damage have updated their Uniform Building Code to include specific wind codes.
Far more damaging than wind and debris is loss from flooding and water damage. FEMA flood zone maps are a good rough start for evaluating flood risk. However, a more reliable and accurate assessment would be a land survey by a professional civil engineer. This provides three-dimensional topography and flood elevation certificate that shows elevation and secondary issues that could impact the property after flooding—landslides, subsidence and soil erosion.
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Improve Your Building’s Structural Resiliency While there are no guarantees for foolproof structural integrity, property owners can greatly increase storm resiliency by performing meticulous property condition assessments and implementing building reinforcements. These assessments should address big-ticket items such as the roof, HVAC and MEP systems, building envelope and external walls. For example, if the roof has a large surface area, seams and panels can be reinforced to minimize tearing due to wind damage. Likewise, tilt-up properties or unrefined masonry found in many multifamily properties can be anchored to prevent total structural collapse. Resiliency retrofitting should include mitigating deterioration of finishes, sealing cracks or any vectors for water intrusion, and (where possible) replacing old building materials with more durable storm-resistant materials.
Protect Smart Buildings and their Operational Systems With smart buildings increasingly reliant on automated operations systems, preprogramming properties to automatically or even manually adjust to an emergency operation mode is an important protocol. Proactively maintaining emergency generator systems—many of which can operate on solar energy—and upgrading them to handle sustained periods of operation following a natural disaster can keep buildings operations through extended power outages. Consider a contingency plan for maintaining accessibility and operation of brick-and-mortar systems infrastructure. Address IT security and cyber vulnerability, which peaks after disaster events, with a cybersecurity disaster plan and training.
Prepare a Disaster Preparedness Plan It is impossible to predict storm strength and the degree and exact type of damage that may occur season to season. Preparation must be holistic and comprehensive. Start by evaluating engineering, mechanical and electrical systems, and move them above ground (if possible) in case of flooding or storm surge. For properties utilizing hazardous materials, spill prevention plans should be in place, as well as assessing the safest storage conditions possible. In case of any kind of damage involving water, owners should prepare asbestos and/or lead paint operations maintenance plans. Lastly, insurance paperwork should be stored with a formal contingency plan that includes drinking water risks, safety precautions for machinery, life preserving safety kits and cash.
What to Do if Your Property Floods After documenting damage thoroughly and contacting your insurance carrier immediately to begin the process of recovering losses, turn your focus on restoring and repairing the property through the following steps:
●Get Water Completely Out of the Property – Water must be fully removed and dried before any rebuilding can begin. This can mean waiting for floodwaters to recede naturally or hiring property restoration firms to deploy pumps if they have somewhere to pump the water.
●Perform Asbestos and General Hazardous Materials Assessments – Before sending a demolition crew into any damaged building, you need to first make sure it is safe to enter. For older buildings, built primarily before 1982, a big concern is asbestos. Buildings constructed over the past 30 years could still have asbestos in roofing materials, joint compounds and floor tile mastic. Survey for any other on-site hazardous materials, including lead paint, sewage waste or fuel. If the facility has a Hazardous Materials Business Plan or a Spill Prevention Countermeasure and Control Plan, provide these materials to your on-site consultant.
●Perform Structural Damage Assessments – High winds and flooding can cause considerable damage to a building’s structure and foundation. Property condition assessments will ascertain the extent of the damage to critical systems, structural components and corrosion in steel structures and metal components.
●Moisture and Mold Assessments – Remove wet building materials expeditiously and hire a consultant to perform moisture mapping on the property. Sometimes the full extent of water damage is not obvious. A contractor or a consultant can use a moisture meter or an infrared camera to determine the extent of water damage. Preventing further water intrusion and removing water-compromised materials will prevent mold from spreading aggressively and the compromise of structural integrity and building infrastructure.
●Repair and/or Rebuild – After a restoration contractor and local waste management have removed the last of the demolished and damaged materials, and you’ve ensured your structure is dry, you can rebuild. Protect your investment from defaults and liens with essential construction risk management tools to make sure your rebuild stays on budget and on schedule.
Preparing a contingency plan for hurricane season and other natural disasters is critical for lenders, owners and investors. Improved resiliency can prevent or decrease costly damage in case of a storm and ensure compliance to codes and regulations. Proper assessments and stronger rebuilds after a storm ensure the safety of tenants and occupants, thereby lowering liability, and even improve returns on investment by attracting future tenants and buyers at a premium for more resilient buildings.