Residents need to be advised to be aware of a number of potential health and safety hazards as a result of the flooding, the American Board of Industrial Hygiene noted. These issues range from mold growth and microbial contamination from flood waters to lead, asbestos and other household hazardous chemicals during cleanup and remediation. Altered work environments and industrial processes in damaged facilities could also lead to potential hazards not recognized before the flooding.
The Indoor Air Quality Association advised : “Homes and buildings with water damage from hurricanes and floods should be dried within 48 hours to prevent mold contamination. However, in disaster situations such rapid restoration is often impossible. This disaster restoration information provided by IAQA is intended to provide assistance to people living in areas affected by recent hurricanes, flooding and resulting mold.”
After a flooding disaster, consumers need to be wary of fly-by-night operators seeking to take advantage of water damage victims. IAQA recommended that consumers use some minimum guidelines to qualify any contractors they hire:
- Obtain references from you insurance company, friends, neighbors;
- Know your contractor (check references);
- Check with the Better Business Bureau;
- Make sure the contractor is licensed, bonded and insured;
- Hire contractors certified by reputable organizations such as ACAC, IICRC, RIA; and
- Certified contractors should follow a code of ethics.
Here are several practical steps to keep residents safe as they begin the cleanup process, including:
- Use a notebook to compile a list of dates, times and people you speak with concerning your claim.
- Get a copy of your insurance policy. This will determine your limits, as well as your rights and responsibilities to and from your insurance company.
- Have a clear line of communication with your adjuster.
- Ask about the process for listing and identifying the value of personal property.
- Ask about reimbursement for lost rent or business interruption.
- Ask your adjuster for a sufficient monetary advance for necessary purchases, including enough to cover the first month’s rent and security deposit for a temporary dwelling.
- Save all receipts for meals, hotels, purchases, toiletries, vitamins, cosmetics, etc.
- Homeowners should select a restoration company, not the adjuster.
- Check references for all companies retained to perform work on your behalf.
- Watch for areas with loose or downed power lines and report them to local authorities.
- Watch for electrical sparks, broken or frayed wires, or burning insulation odors.
- Turn off electricity at the main switch if possible.
- Shut off water to the structure.
- Turn off gas at main valve if trained to do so.
- If you smell gas or hear blowing/hissing, open a window and immediately leave the building.
- Do not reenter the building until declared safe by security or emergency management.
- Buildings may be contaminated so do not enter without current tetanus shots, protective gloves/clothing, hardhat and NIOSH-approved respiratory masks.
- Cover broken windows with plastic.
- Do not turn on heat unless truly necessary.
- Remove any standing water and empty items containing water; remove wet carpets and furnishings.
- Do not move objects or collections without documenting their condition.
- Photograph or videotape conditions of contents and the structure.
- Make notes of each step of the salvage process.
- If nothing in the structure is dry, cover everything with loose plastic sheeting.
- Separate damaged and undamaged items.
- Label, retrieve and document all broken items.
- Isolate items with mold and check for new mold growth daily.
- Make a rough estimate of materials affected and the extent of the damage.
- Many contents can be cleaned and restored by a knowledgeable contractor.
Safety should be a primary concern as residents return to their homes and businesses.