Recovering and rebuilding after a disaster: Part 6 – Recovering from the physical damage to your business

This article is part of a series of seven articles to help businesses recover and rebuild after a disaster. Other documents in this series:

If your facility is damaged in a disaster, you should first make a thorough assessment of its physical condition to determine the extent of the damage, the potential time and cost for reconstruction and whether or not the facility is safe to re-enter. Based on the circumstances of the disaster and the building’s condition, access to the facility for purposes of assessment may have to be delayed for several days. Do not rush the process. The facility may be unsafe from a structural integrity perspective, or there may be toxic substances, electrical hazards, standing water and other safety concerns.Open for business

As part of your disaster preparedness planning, you should create a delayed access strategy that will guide your actions immediately post-disaster if you are not able to enter or utilize your facility. Meet with your local emergency management authorities and fire department to discuss what areas are most crucial to business recovery in the event of a disaster. This will allow them to work with you most efficiently immediately following an incident. In addition, identify a trained professional or agency authorized to enter your facility to make an immediate assessment to obtain at least a partial condition report for employees and the local authorities. Provide the authorized agency or vendor with the necessary legal, financial and insurance information to help you execute your business continuity plan.

Your insurance company will require extensive documentation regarding your losses. Ask your agent about the carrier’s policy regarding emergency remediation, including what evidence is required, time to settlement and other factors that may impact how you respond after the disaster.

Once your facility is safe to enter, you should immediately begin your mitigation efforts. Removal of standing water, facility dehumidification, corrosion control and smoke removal are crucial in keeping your losses at a minimum. Have an experienced technician inspect and test all electronic equipment to ensure it still meets operating specifications.

For example, if equipment has suffered heat damage beyond the manufacturer’s specifications, it normally cannot be restored or re-certified. However, if equipment has only exposed to smoke from the fire for a relatively short time, there may be very little damage, except for the corrosive components of the particulate. If this equipment remains in a moist, humid environment, severe corrosion can occur within 48 to 72 hours. Proper testing, performed by your pre-qualified specialists, must be done as quickly as possible. Remove surface contaminants and apply corrosion inhibitors. These procedures can buy you the time you need to make the necessary “replace or restore” decisions.

Water and fire can affect a building’s safety and serviceability. If you are uncertain about your facility, contact a structural engineer to assess the building and provide recommendations to stabilize it. In the case of hazardous material contamination, OSHA regulations may require special protective clothing and equipment as well as training and certifications to enter a contaminated building. If you have concerns about hazardous materials in your damaged facility, an OSHA-certified specialist can assist in assessing the situation and providing recommendations.

It may also be necessary to determine whether there are other types of contamination as a result of fire and water.

Heat and soot are also generated in fires, and areas of the building you assume may be unaffected directly from the fire can still suffer damage. The initial damage assessment should always address both indirect as well as direct fire-damaged areas. Contaminants in soot can condense on cool services. For instance, when heated, PVC pipe generates hydrogen chloride gas. This gas, when combined with water, forms hydrochloric acid, a very corrosive chemical. Other building materials can form sulfates and nitrates. A common cushion material, polyurethane foam, yields hydrogen cyanide when burned.

Water can also carry contaminants. Those contaminants can end up deposited on circuit boards and other electronics. If you have a chilled water system, the glycol can also affect paper and magnetic media. Water should be analyzed before it’s used for cleaning or certainly for consumption.

Most communities have a process for disposing of hazardous materials as part of their public works organization. Contact that office for recommendations to remove contaminants such as flammable liquids and corrosives.

One of the most common hazards is the mold and mildew resulting from long-term humid conditions or water damage. Mold and mildew affect the structure, the HVAC systems, documents, equipment and the people occupying the facility. Your facility should be assessed by a certified industrial hygienist, and the HVAC system must be thoroughly cleaned before anyone occupies the building. While cleaning systems have improved, you may still need to replace the ductwork, depending on the extent of the damage.

Food safety during a power outage

Since it’s quite possible you’ll lose power during or after a storm, knowing how to safeguard what’s in your refrigerator and freezer might just save your food business.

In general, try to keep food at or below 41 F. Keep frozen food frozen. And keep hot cooked food at 140 F or above.

Food in refrigerators should be safe as long as the power is out no more than about four to six hours. A full freezer should keep food safe about two days; a half full one, about one day. Leave the door to both closed. Each time you open it, cold air escapes, causing the food inside to reach unsafe temperatures.

And when in doubt, throw it out!

Following these tips before, during and immediately after a power outage can help protect consumers and minimize product loss.

  • Note the time the outage begins.
  • Discontinue all cooking operations.
  • Don’t put any hot food in the refrigerator or freezer. Doing so will rapidly raise the temperature inside the refrigerator or freezer and may make even more food unusable.
  • Discard anything in the process of being cooked, but which have not yet reached the final cooking temperature.
  • Maintain these hot, potentially hazardous food at 140 F or above using canned heat or other heating devices in a chafing dish.
  • Use ice or ice baths to rapidly cool small batches of hot food.
  • Discard any potentially hazardous food that has been above 41 F for four hours or more, reached a temperature of 45 F or higher for any length of time or has an unusual color, odor or texture.
  • Add bags of ice or dry ice to the freezer if it appears the power will be off for an extended time. You can safely re-freeze thawed foods that still contain ice crystals and are at 41 F or less.
    Note: Using dry ice may result in an unsafe build-up of carbon dioxide.
  • If it appears the power will be off for more than six hours, use ice, dry ice or frozen gel packs to keep potentially hazardous foods at 41 or below. Moving refrigerated food to a walk-in freezer or obtaining a refrigerated truck are other good options.
  • Don’t transfer food to a private home, even your own. Doing so could open the door to devastating lawsuits.
  • Never taste food to determine its safety! You can’t rely on appearance or odor to determine whether food is safe.

This guide from foodsafety.gov can help you determine which specific foods to keep and which to discard.