Three Keys to Preparing for Flash Floods on the Construction Site

ThinkstockPhotos 472945370By Rick Scott

At Donald Trump’s golf course property on Ireland’s west coast, his property managers are building a huge wall to keep the crashing waves of the North Atlantic at bay. Similarly, in all areas that pose flood risks, construction managers incorporate flood mitigation or prevention features into the buildings and properties.

Federal Emergency Management Agency-funded projects must account for flood risk, while most private construction projects willingly follow suit. In fact, after a neighbor of mine lost his home to flooding and sold the property, the next owner had to raise the elevation well above flood levels when rebuilding.

Recent flooding in Texas and Louisiana has reaffirmed the considerable risks flooding poses to construction sites. A project stops when employees can’t work or when flooded vehicles become stuck or inoperable. Ground saturation can damage graded and leveled surfaces, and too much uncontained water runoff can lead to ground erosion.

At sites where rainwater is moved into tanks for treatment, an abundance of rainfall can flood containers and release dirty or polluted water into the environment. On the soft ground, cranes and heavy-lift vehicles cannot operate safely and carry risks of injury, slipping or electrocution.

Nearby riverbeds, levees or dams can become overrun and can inundate the site with snakes, creepy-crawlies and other wild animals. Fences can fall and leave the worksite vulnerable to vandals, while security personnel, vendors, food trucks and EMS services will be unable to reach the site or perform optimally. The list of potential hazards from flooding is intimidating. But with these few steps, you can better prepare your construction site for flash floods that might otherwise compromise a project’s success:

1. Subscribe to a weather service – A weather service can provide long-term, near-term and immediate forecasting. Long-term forecasts will help you in the planning stage, while near-term forecasts focus on the coming days and weeks so you can better manage construction in case of flooding. Immediate forecasts provide constant updates so you can decide when to shelter, when to delay work and when to return.

2. Build a solid business-continuity plan – Overprepare by developing a plan that keeps your business operational and outlines procedures to follow in any given circumstance and weather phenomenon. Practice the plan persistently with managers, vendors and suppliers, and appoint a team to take command in case of emergencies.

3. Plan to keep communications open – Keep updated records of all employees’ phone numbers and email addresses, and test backup plans to ensure that communication doesn’t fail when a flood strikes. Open communication and practice empowers employees and managers to deal with the situation effectively and return to work as soon as possible.

FEMA’s proposed rules for construction in flood-risk areas won’t apply to private construction projects, but the principles of those regulations should. Don’t let a flash flood delay or thwart a project. When you have the tools to prepare for and overcome flooding, utilize them.

Rick Scott is an industry manager and senior meteorologist at StormGeo. For more than 10 years, he has helped analyze weather-related needs for refineries, chemical plants and manufacturing facilities while customizing safety solutions for the day-to-day operations of StormGeo's clients. With degrees in atmospheric sciences, petroleum geology and secondary science education, he enjoys hearing how weather affects businesses and industries and works to find cost-cutting strategies through better information.

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