Markets

Weather Events Give Rise to Greater Property Protections

As weather events cause more property damage, steps can be taken to help protect buildings.
By Andy Simmons
May 25, 2022
Topics
Markets

As weather events become stronger and cause more property damage, there are things that can be done to help protect buildings and reduce losses from these occurrences, particularly those that cause flooding. By updating building codes, advancing technology and making infrastructure improvements, businesses can make a difference. With many scientists and experts believing more frequent and severe storms are becoming the norm, now is the time for building owners and property managers to secure their facilities and bolster their protections.

Due to drainage situations, it has become more evident that weather events can cause more harm in areas that were typically not prone to flooding. As a result, there is a greater need to make sure properties and buildings are as safe and protected as possible before a storm or natural disaster hits. Therefore, there is a clear benefit for business owners to take further measures to protect their facilities and property, going beyond flood coverage as part of their large business insurance plan.

While it’s difficult to predict what Mother Nature will bring and when, heavy rains and hurricanes are occurring more frequently, and this prevalence and magnitude of weather events is changing how people think of flooding. Most of the time, when people consider flood coverage, they think of water rising over a brook or riverbank. However, what has been seen over the last three or four years is that a lot of rain comes down over a small time period and inundates the stormwater system. This leads to surface flooding where residents typically don’t expect it.

Flooding Versus Inundation

When there is an overflow of water from a body of water like a lake or riverbed due to rainfall, this is considered a flooding event. By contrast, inundation happens when there is a large amount of water in an area that becomes submerged. This can happen if there is a large amount of rainfall in a short period of time and there is a lack of adequate drainage. Inundation is also known as pluvial flooding.

Infrastructure’s Role in Inundation

When a large amount of rain falls in a short period of time, it is important to have proper drainage. If this does not happen, areas and places that don’t typically flood can become submerged.

Typically, stormwater from rain or snowmelt travels over impervious surfaces like roadways or parking lots and then collects and moves into different bodies of water such as rivers, lakes, bays and oceans. However, over the decades, urban development has increased the amounts of impervious surfaces and as a result also caused the risk of flooding due to increased runoff from large rainfall events to grow, because stormwater systems were not developed to move large amounts of water in a short period of time. Urban sprawl has surpassed the original intention and capacity of the local infrastructure to contain heavy rains or a line of storms moving (“training”) over the same area continually.

Another problem is that, as development of homes and buildings has increased over time, the contour of land has become altered, which has caused changes in how a property reacts to water. As a result, inundation events are occurring more frequently because, with the continued growth of impervious surfaces due to property development, water is less able to be absorbed into the ground, so it travels and collects and can cause flooding.

Protecting Business Property From Flooding and Inundation

While most business owners buy flood coverage as part of a large business insurance plan, they should also take additional measures to protect their property. A flood emergency response plan is one way in which business owners can prepare for, respond to and recover from a flood. This plan should include details about an evacuation plan with employee responsibilities, sheltering-in-place procedures, medical emergency information, emergency response teams, and public emergency services and contractor contact information.

It is also a good idea to have a Water Damage Prevention Plan (WDPP), which includes routine site inspections to identify uncontrolled water damage exposures and basic maintenance to make sure drains are clean of debris and diverting them to a catch basin or low point away from the building. An effective WDPP plan also incorporates technology as an invaluable component and includes backflow preventers on sewer connections and water-sensing technology to monitor the most vulnerable exposures. In addition, a trained team of water-damage responders should be recruited to map and label all zonal shut-off control valves, as well as to maintain an updated list of contractor’s contacts numbers for emergency purposes.

Stronger Building Codes

Stronger building codes are one of the best ways to make sure property can withstand catastrophes. Florida, for example, implemented changes to its building codes after Hurricane Andrew, and then again in 2007 after the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005. New construction since then has also made houses and buildings significantly more hurricane-resistant. This is because buildings constructed 30 years ago were likely built using codes that can’t withstand the strong winds of a hurricane or significant rainfall that a storm can bring, especially along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

In some instances, states can strengthen their building codes to reduce losses by simply addressing roofs. For example, sealing the roof deck can prevent water from entering the building if a roof tears off. It’s a small expense during installation, but it can save tens of thousands of dollars in the long run.

Storm-Hardening

While many existing homes and buildings may not have been built to withstand storms or water damage, owners can make them storm-hardened. This means improving the infrastructure to better withstand these kinds of losses. By storm-hardening a building, owners can prevent potential damage from heavy winds and water. While it can be a nominal upfront cost, the return on investment can be significant. For example, improving the framing inside a building can make a facility stronger and reduce the amount of potential damage during strong winds from a hurricane or tornado.

Building owners can also ensure that there is proper drainage and flood protection during construction to reduce the loss of equipment or inventory. It is a good idea to conduct a storm-hardening assessment of the building to provide a starting point of what areas to address and what can be done. Some structural areas to look at include building envelope evaluation, wall types, roof types, windows, doors, exterior drainage and landscaping. In addition, it is prudent to note the location of air-handling units, water supply, critical electrical or mechanical equipment and whether an emergency generator has enough capacity to deliver the necessary power during an outage.

Using Technology as a Proactive Measure

Advancements in technology have also led to devices and building materials that can help protect a building in severe storms. Connected devices can monitor buildings and identify problem areas with leaks. As usual, after a storm passes, it is always good to check and document any initial damages. Sometimes, storm damage can lead to large property losses due to water intrusion. By installing water sensors in a building, owners and managers can get alerts of water intrusion or leaks. This is particularly important if the building or facility has had a history of water damage because these kinds of devices can capture an issue before it becomes a major loss. The difference in damage costs from being able to quickly respond to a leak compared to not realizing something happened and letting hours go by is significant.

It is also practical for businesses to install water sensors even if the building is newer or has not had a history of claims. This is because they are still beneficial in preventing damage.

Building owners and property managers also can install stronger walls or impact-resistant windows in their facilities, which can help prevent water from ever entering the building. In addition, this can keep people inside the building safe during harsh weather because, if a window were to break, the glass won’t scatter.

A Partner With Experience

While it is difficult to predict what the future will look like when it comes to storms and weather-related events like flooding, we do know that they will continue. Therefore, it’s important for building owners, property managers and developers to partner with an experienced carrier that can help protect facilities and mitigate losses. It’s expected that hurricanes, tornados and wildfires will only increase in severity, and the risks and challenges that building owners will face require innovative technology with specialized insurance solutions to help protect businesses in many industries.

by Andy Simmons
Andy Simmons is Head of Large Property at The Hartford. He has more than 16 years of experience in the property insurance business specializing in underwriting and risk engineering.

At The Hartford, Risk Engineering specialists know the ins and outs of many industries. They understand the unique risks and challenges those businesses face and can work to help with the asset valuation process by providing important insights, which can then assist in establishing more accurate replacement values. The Hartford’s risk engineering professionals track replacement costs on a quarterly basis, and during times of more rapid cost fluctuations, they access several industry data sources that track material and component pricing. By using that data to assist in property replacement cost valuation, The Hartford can make sure business owners have adequate insurance to property value and better protect their facilities.

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