Flooding: could you cope?

Unexpected flooding can be devastating.

Lives and – of pertinence to this forum – businesses can be lost.

Clean up costs can be huge.  Getting back to business-as-normal can take months.  And you can’t prevent rainfall.

Unexpected Western World floods in recent memory include Boscastle in the UK, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in the USA, Dublin in Ireland, Queensland in Australia.  In all these cases some businesses were erased in minutes.

This amazing footage from Toowoomba during the Australian floods (2011) show just how quickly a flood can escalate from ‘challenging’ to ‘devastating’.  A heavy stream of water turns, in just a few minutes, into a procession of cars being lifted and carried away from a car park as residents film from their fourth floor apartment, wondering at the outset if they should move their cars:


And shops in a Dublin shopping centre faced this nightmare scenario on October 24, 2011.  With water at knee height and stock on the shop floor visibly damaged, smaller retailers will feel the pain more than the large chains that can absorb the costs – not that this will help staff who may be out of work, for a while at least:



So what can you, as a business continuity planner, do when considering flooding?

If you consider the immediate impacts of a flood, you might find they are:

  • temporary loss of access to building
  • temporary unavailability of staff
  • loss of stock
  • loss of technical facilities

There are many other scenarios that might cause some or all of these issues, so if you have plans that deal with these circumstances already, you can use them for flooding too.  In fact, considering scenarios in terms of their impacts will streamline your planning significantly.  Instead of planning for every scenario you can think of, you plan for the impacts: it’s a more efficient route.  It means you don’t reinvent the wheel for every kind of incident.

But what if flooding is – or has recently become – a serious risk for your organisation?

  • Ensure your staff know safety comes first
  • Consider flood protection methods – flood barriers, sandbags, and so on
  • Store valuable items – technology, papers, stock – above the floor
  • Ensure copies of technical backups and important papers are stored off site
  • Ensure staff know how to turn off electricity, gas and water at the mains
  • Make sure your insurance includes flood cover
  • Don’t try to rescue items until you know it’s safe

Finally, have a look at this free resource – it’s only two pages long:

business continuity - flood advice

Fighting Back the Tide: Protecting your Business Against Flooding was produced by the BCI after Exercise Watermark – a £1.8m UK Government-sponsored, week-long exercise involving government departments, emergency services, utility companies, the military and local authorities.

Finally, should the worst happen, consider the following:

  • How you will activate your business continuity plan if you’re not on site
  • Review plans and work out the timelines you have to make decisions
  • Look at who else is affected: customers, suppliers, neighbours – can you help each other out?
  • Have clear communications with your staff, especially if you need them to relocate to another area or stay away from their usual workplace.  Bear in mind their homes and personal lives may be affected.  Keep in touch with them.
  • Remember its not just the initial impact of the flood that may be a problem – water can react with electrics, hazardous materials; stagnant water can spread disease quickly
  • Use your local media reports; take advice seriously unless you have a better, more authoritative source you’re prepared to trust
  • Consider how you’ll access your site when the water recedes: there may be control measures in place, and you may have to deal with issues outside your realm of expertise.  

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