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Hurricane Cleanup-Make Your First Response the Best Response

Understanding the right steps to take when cleaning up from a storm.

For anyone who owns, rents or insures a property there are always concerns. While most can be remedied or avoided by managing risk or the management of your facilities, some things are completely out of your control. One of these things are natural disasters. As we enter the annual hurricane season on the east coast, the initial response is for storm preparedness but even more critical issues may be the ones that happen after the storm has ended.  As property owners and managers rush to clean up, get back to business as usual or move back into their homes, sometimes good science and good practices may be sacrificed in the name of speed, but these practices turn into much larger, expensive, and potentially dangerous situations. The old saying: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure applies to the rush of opening the doors to your home and/or business.  

During a hurricane, one of the most destructive elements is water damage. When flood levels rise and massive storm surges occur there is nowhere for the water to go and it, in most cases, will end up inside of your building. During Hurricane Super Sandy, which occurred in New York and New Jersey in the fall of 2012, storm surges reached up to 14 feet, moving the ground out from beneath structures and causing a massive influx of rain (and ocean water for those on the coast line) to flood into homes/businesses. This occurs with most significant storms.  As we build our cities, the water can no longer drain into the soil. 

As the water began to recede, owners began to see the full extent of the water damage to their walls and floors, knowing that nothing could be salvaged. Immediate response would be to rip it all out as fast as possible and replace it but things in the walls, such as asbestos, lead, radon, and mold, can pose a larger problem. Owners who fail to clean up their property in a safe way may create condition that are a risk to human health, fines for improper renovations, and work stoppages that could cause an even greater financial loss.

What can I do to prevent this situation in my property?

Facilities managers, building owners, and property renters can heed the warning from lessons learned in previous storms. Some of these precautions can include:

  • Prior to any remediation efforts, you are legally required to confirm the absence or presence of asbestos to ensure compliance
  • If the building was built prior to 1978, a lead based paint investigation must be completed.
  • Dry out building materials as quickly as possible. 
  • Qualified and/or certified mold professionals should be utilized.  This includes the use of PPE and engineering controls.  One of the biggest mistakes we have observed over the years is the use of unqualifies people. 
  • Remove all molded cellulose based materials.  Non-cellulose based materials have the potential to be cleaned. 
  • Industry standards calls for the extent of remedial efforts to extend at least two feet beyond visible mold growth. 
  • Cleaning gypsum wallboard DOES NOT work.  99.9% of the time it needs to be removed. After remediation, the reaming substrates need to be 100% clean and dry. 
  • Rebuild using non-asbestos containing materials.  They still make plenty of asbestos products. 

The most essential party of this entire process is engaging a qualified environmental consultant immediately following a storm. These skilled professionals can not only assist you in accessing the damaging but can guide you successfully and correctly remediate and rebuild your property.