Emergency Preparedness and Natural Disasters

With Hurricane Florence on the horizon, the Brewers Association Safety Subcommittee would like to share the following “Lessons Learned” that will help you prepare your brewery for natural disasters and other emergencies.

Our thoughts are with everyone in the path of Hurricane Florence.


Emergency Preparedness and Natural Disasters I

One of our friends in the community recently shared a story about a learning opportunity the had with their local fire department. In addition to topics in worker health and safety, they learned about the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Life Safety Code and the importance of emergency preparedness. Many health and safety resources may push OSHA as a regulatory incentive for keeping a safe workplace, but did you ever consider that in taking steps to keep employees safe, you may also be helping others? In maintaining a workplace that is free of recognized hazards, you may also be taking steps to protect customers, contractors, and even emergency responders from harm.

Background:

We are a brewpub/production facility and in one year, we stepped our production up from 6,000 bbl annually to try to make 10,000 bbl. We bought out the warehouse space next door to our current facility to expand and upgrade our cellar/production space, as well as expand our taproom. We thought that the add-on would be simple enough: throw in some more tanks here, upgrade the brewhouse there, add a bigger cold room, hire a few more folks, no problem…

As we were expanding our facility, we wanted to continue to operate to keep up with the production schedule and annual sales goals. One day we were having some electrical work done and we think it glitched our central system panel causing our fire alarms to activate. There was so much to be done during this time and I had been really sleepless and stressed. I was sadly doing a bunch of paperwork in my office when the alarm went went off and I thought to myself, “Of course someone wants to burn the place down…” It took me a few seconds to actually realize what was going on, but I soon took action and started to try to figure out where the fire was coming from and see if everyone was okay.

I encountered my taproom staff first, and they informed me that the fire wasn’t in the kitchen as they were exiting the building. I should have left with them, but being the “responsible employer,” I decided to go back into the production area only to find my head brewer just standing on the platform *with earplugs in* as if nothing else was going on.

“Dude, you need to leave! Get out!” “Just another few seconds until the final hop addition…” “NOW!”

Mumbling and grumbling he followed me out the door. Didn’t I go over safety alarms with him when he was hired? I was so mad about his blatant disregard that I didn’t have a chance to check on the rest of the facility. Our alarm system is linked to our security system and so the fire department had been summoned and arrived shortly after we exited.

If I ever thought that my general industry job involved too much safety regulation and training, I was wrong. Fire fighters and other emergency responders have so much safety that goes into their response procedures. I often thought the safety protocols were there to rescue a person quicker or put out a fire faster. I guess I forgot that emergency response is only a job and, just like everyone else, fire fighters have families and lives outside of their profession. They’re not just going to run inside of a burning (or in our case, potentially burning) building if they don’t have to. As the crew was setting up and beginning to assess the situation, the incident commander asks me is, “Is everyone okay? Is anyone else still in the building?” Unfortunately, my response was, “Yeah… No… uh, I actually don’t know…”

I looked over towards the loading dock and was relieved to see most of my veteran cellar and production staff standing out there. A responder and I then hustled over to the front parking lot to see how the taproom folks were doing. Most of my FOH staff, the electrical contractors, and a few patrons were assembled. On both sides of the operation things still seemed very uncertain and scattered. Some folks strayed away from the group to make phone calls; a new intern exited out of a side door and decided to take a smoke break instead of look for the rest of us; it was shift change and a manager reported that two employees walked straight out to their cars and left the premises completely without checking in or making any sort of eye contact.

Eventually I was relieved to find out that there was likely not a fire and that the events were most likely caused by an alarm glitch. With the “all clear,” the incident commander and I did a sweep through the building. We found that one of my newer employees had been inside the whole time. He had been doing work in the cold room and unable to see or hear any sign of distress.

After this much-needed drill and impromptu walk through, the incident commander mentioned that he noticed some imminent danger items that needed to be taken care of. He recommended that I meet with the department fire prevention planner ASAP.

The following were our corrective action items and #LessonsLearned:

  1. Evacuation plan: We didn’t have a written evacuation plan of any sort and didn’t train people enough on what to do in the event of an emergency of any kind (fire, medical, weather, security). It was just assumed that we are all ripe with common sense and old enough to know that, when a fire alarm goes off, you leave the building. It is required by OSHA and recommended by fire departments that employers have a developed emergency action plan and that employees are trained on basic emergency response and procedures. We now introduce everyone to the emergency action plans on the first day of work and refresh them on an annual basis in the form of unannounced drills and verbal training. Everyone now knows and understands that any alarm is to be taken seriously and that failure to act accordingly (even in a drill) will result in termination. If an emergency alarm is sounding, employees have been instructed to evacuate the building and tell anyone who may be lingering along their path to get out.
  2. Lack of accountability or meeting point:When the incident commander asked me whether everyone was okay, my heart sank. Since we didn’t have any kind of evacuation plan it led to a number of mistakes and added time to determining if my employees were alive and safe. While my intern was stupid for taking a smoke break, I was doubly stupid for not telling him where to meet us if he ever had to exit through a side door in the event of an emergency. We now have a designated meeting spot that is easy to access and at a safe distance from the building if it were to be burning. Everyone has been instructed to meet there and check in with either myself or a shift manager, and that they are to remain at the meeting spot until given the “all clear.” I wasn’t so mad about the folks making phone calls but I was steamed over the two guys that left altogether. In addition to not being able to account for them, they could have gotten in the way of the emergency responders and caused an accident as they sped off into the sunset. On top of the designated meeting spot, shift managers are to check in with their crews early on to know who is at work that day as well as to have a general idea of what’s going on as far as tasks are concerned so that we can ensure that a newbie doesn’t get left in the cold room again (more on the cold room below).
  3. Notification and response equipment: So the newbie got left in the cold room without even knowing that there was an alarm going off. It’s not sound proof in there, but we did tell him that it’s okay to wear headphones when doing warehouse inventory. Maybe he really couldn’t hear, but maybe it was also my fault for not telling him what to do when alarms go off. Either way, we have now installed a loud alarm and strobe light in the cold room. We were also warned for not having enough fire extinguishers placed throughout the facility. Apparently, one at the entrance and one in the kitchen is not sufficient. Even with the two extinguishers we had, we did not provide any training for our staff on how to use them. We were also asked to correct issues with excess combustibles (pallets stacked 20+ high) in an unsprinklered area. Finally, they also didn’t like the teetering stacks of kegs and packaging materials.
  4. Egress path: We thought that familiarity with the building was enough for our staff to know how to get out. I was informed that it isn’t just a matter of getting employees out of the building since we also have patrons who may be on a tour. Most importantly, if the fire department has to enter, a treacherous path or inability to see exit signs can put them at a higher level of danger and risk. Since we were under renovation and in the middle of a packaging run, we did not have adequate exit signage at our new doors and there were full pallets, hoses, and other bottling items that were completely obstructing the egress path. There are now illuminated signs at each of the doors as well as marked lines where no equipment or product is to be stored, even temporarily.
  5. Chemical storage: Our hot liquor tank gets pretty hot but the space behind it makes for good chemical storage… but not really. We had some flammables (aerosols and isopropanol) and oily rags stored next to a potential heat source. Being a designated chemical storage area, the fire department was also quick to find oxidizing sanitizers very close by as well.
  6. Permits: We weren’t told that we were out of compliance for doing renovations on the building, but that building permits are often required for certain work and that we should have been doing some sort of job hazard analysis for each phase of the remodel.
  7. Other: We had a few electrical cords with bad wiring and an extension cord daisy chained (plugged into another extension cord). One of the cords was in a puddle of beer and cleaner.

Emergency Preparedness and Natural Disasters II

Background: This event occurred during Hurricane Harvey.

The skies were getting darker and the urgent weather alerts were buzzing in on my phone at a more frequent rate. It was a Friday and the hurricane was anticipated to hit landfall in our region within the next 8-12 hours. While no one wants a hurricane to roll through the neighborhood, it was convenient that it was waiting for the weekend to swing by. There wasn’t much that we could physically do to prepare. In designing our facility from the ground up, the owners had taken extreme weather into consideration, so there was at least a certain degree of structural engineering that we could hope would stand up to gale forces and intense precipitation.

Plywood was placed to support the large storefront/tasting room window. All of the other windows we had were small and on the typically leeward side of the building and it was decided that we not spend time boarding them up. Flood waters were not anticipated so we didn’t make any efforts to put sandbags or barriers at the base of the doors. We were at the peak of our seasonal production capacity and all of our cellar tanks were weighed down and full with product. The kettle and hot liquor tanks were partially to completely filled with water. It wasn’t common practice for us to store any items or equipment outside but we made a pass around the exterior to make sure we didn’t have anything lying around just waiting to be taken up by the wind. Our lot was mostly flat so we didn’t have too many trees or branches to worry about. We did what we could to make sure that the compressed gas cylinders were capped and secured to protected walls as opposed to structural pylons. We weren’t sure if the outdoor silo was going to be leak-proof so we transferred as much grain as possible into our indoor storage bin and sealed the top down with plastic wrap and duct tape. As far as keeping things at the right temperature was concerned, we had no emergency backup for our chillers or glycol system pumps, so all we could do was cross our fingers that the outdoor temperatures would stay cool and hope that the power wouldn’t cut out. There were no mandatory orders of evacuation or even pre-evacuation, but management allowed us to leave early to go grocery stores and do any home preparations we needed to do.

By Saturday we were hit with substantial rains and wind which carried on throughout most of Sunday. The brunt of the storm was south and east of us. The power had gone out on Saturday night. The hurricane got downgraded to a Category 1 storm by Sunday.

On Sunday we got a wellness check-in text and facility status update from our manager. Most roads were clear and there were still no evacuation orders in our area. The facility had held up just fine. The brewery owners had invited the staff and our families to come in that evening for a group dinner as they had propane stoves, plenty of excess water, and food in the pub kitchen storage.

The power outage lasted until Monday afternoon and we were given the option to come to work in the morning. We donned headlamps to try to do some work. After a few hours, we decided our efforts for the busy week ahead weren’t all that important in comparison to what was happening to our community around us. We pilfered some low-fills and went home to spend an extra afternoon with our families.

In the end, although we made it through the hurricane relatively unscathed we didn’t really have an action plan for the event.

#LessonsLearned points to remember:

  1. Watch weather status and be prepared: In cases of impending weather, it is important for employers to be aware of forecasts and timelines. Employers are ultimately responsible for how they manage their response to inclement weather. While profits and production schedules are important, brewing tasks may not be the same level of urgency as things like health care. Things can wait. Keep non-essential staff at home from the get-go and be willing to send employees home before the conditions get too dangerous. Be aware that if you wait too long, it might be necessary to have shelter or accommodations in place for your staff. Also, take the time to remind staff to have a safety plan of their own. Track the weather and news reports so that you can be aware of storm status, evacuation orders, and avoid sending your staff out into dangerous conditions. Be understanding and flexible if employees feel that the conditions are unsafe.
  2. Have a plan in place: Develop an emergency action and business contingency plan. Make a checklist of what needs to be done to prepare the facility for a storm so that prep work can be completed as quickly and effectively as possible. Know the numbers for critical personnel such as staff, legal, and support agencies. Make sure any business documents are in waterproof containers or on a digital back-up of some sort.

Emergency Preparedness and Natural Disasters III

When it comes to emergency and disaster preparedness, I’ve seen both ends of the spectrum. I’ve been at smaller operations where consideration to accommodating natural disasters is non-existent; staff is expected to come in to work a full brew shift despite blizzards, flash floods, or collisions suffered in transit. I’ve been at larger organizations where the emergency action process is written, practiced regularly, and is nothing but unfinished business; planning for a disaster of any sort begins hours to months in advance.

In both cases, the aftermath of a weather disturbance or natural disaster has always concluded with “we could have handled that better.” So the question is: when the skies unleash, what are you going to do?

Many times when I ask what folks are going to do to keep their staff safe in the event of an emergency, their answer is usually in the form of a question, and not in the Jeopardy kind of way: “Uh, you just call the police, right?” or “Um, wow, well I think we have some kind of plan in place. Can I get back to you?” Emergency action plans should be clearly defined, and anyone on staff should be able to recite how they are supposed to respond. The responsibilities and actions may differ in complexity based on a person’s job title. A shift apprentice brewer may have an action as simple as saying, “I text my boss before I come in. A production manager or facility owner may have a more intensive list of things to cover.

Emergency action plans may include response to medical emergencies, fire evacuation plans, and more of the weather-related items such as shelter in place, early release, and/or facility shutdown. The purpose of an emergency action plan is to keep employees safe and minimize response time. When it comes to weather, if the conditions outside are truly dangerous (slick roads, flooded roads, closed roads, multiple accidents), is it really worth it to require an employee to come in because there’s a brew schedule? Some emergencies are difficult to anticipate, but it is always wise to take a proactive approach to forecasted inclement weather, as this type of emergency can generally be predicted.

Still not sure where to start? Here’s an example of what my organization does to prepare for inclement weather. Smaller organizations may be able to simplify their processes but, in either case, it’s recommended to have emergency plans in writing and to review these plans with employees regularly.

  1. When inclement weather is in the forecast, we start the day before. With the National Weather Service, there’s plenty of access to forecast reports. If the skies are looking scary and there are warnings of big snow or precipitation, we usually get put on alert to start looking outside and paying attention to the local news.
    • Think essential: In the case of a brewery, you may consider brew and production staff as essential, especially if you choose to be gung-ho on a brew day. It is up to the employer to decide, but in our case, we designate “essential” as facility maintenance and security type staff only.
    • Be creative: If it looks it’s going to be bad, supervisors in our organization might talk with staff the night before and tell them to work from home. Work from home, you say? How does that work at a brewery? Back when I was working in breweries, we always had little research projects that we wanted to work on but could never find the time to do. On one occasion, we were given the opportunity to get paid for doing technical research on a snow day and it turned out to be quite productive. On another occasion, I had a manager who just decided to pay folks for staying home and staying safe—anyone who came in with an injury from a sledding incident got to buy pizza for the shift team and go up on the wall of shame.
  2. On the morning of an anticipated weather disturbance, there is a small group that wakes up early (around 4 a.m.) to assess the severity of a storm and decide on whether or not to call a “snow day” before employees start their commute. This group usually consists of our vice president, facilities/maintenance manager, site services manager, and sometimes the manager of health and safety. They contact each other via phone and text, report how the weather is looking from their homes, and begin to track road and traffic conditions on the local news.
  3. Factors we consider:
    • Road conditions: We have staff coming in from all over the region, so we don’t just assess how the roads are where our facility is located. We look at all of the highways leading in from surrounding cities and suburbs. Also, we are located in a region that embraces sustainability and bike culture, so we have the to think about bike paths and bus delays.
    • School closures: Many people who work here have kids. If kids are off of school or day care centers are closed, many are going to miss work anyway.
    • Storm path: It may be stable at 4 a.m., but if the storm looks like it will worsen throughout the day, we may just call it early to avoid having staff come in just to be immediately sent back home in even worse conditions.
    • Plowing: We have to plow a private road that leads up to our flagship facility, and we have experienced a few instances where the plows malfunctioned and were unable to complete the job. If the main drive is treacherous, people stay home.
    • Facilities: Our facilities manager often ventures out early to assess roads and to ensure that our actual facilities are still in shape for occupancy. Do we have heat, water, power?
    • Others in area: Find out if other local businesses nearby are electing to close for the day.
  4. By 5 a.m. the decision is made. Because we have a larger staff, we will notify our staff using an emergency notification service which is through a service called EverBridge. Everyone gets a default message in their email, but there is an option to get texts to your cell phone as well. This service is provided to all staff and visitors. Since we have many employees, we may also notify local media/news agencies. Alternatively, smaller operations can have a simplified “committee” and rely on group text or email.

#LessonsLearned points to get you started:

  1. Have a plan for medical, fire, and weather emergencies.
  2. Post those plans in a common, accessible place such as a company safety manual or internal website.
  3. Review the information regularly (at least annually).
  4. Don’t be stubborn. Remember that the safety of your staff comes first! If the conditions are dangerous, don’t make your staff go out and brave them solely out of convenience for the production schedule.

Emergency Preparedness and Natural Disasters IV

When electrical equipment becomes submerged or otherwise damaged by the incursion of floodwater, personal safety and facility structures are threatened. As damage assessment begins, the condition of the electrical distribution equipment and controls can be deceiving because of the perception that it may appear to be operable from the outside. Most people understand water and electrical power sources do not coexist well together. Because water is a conductor of electricity, it is very likely that electrical equipment submerged in flooding conditions is damaged. If improperly reactivated, it can result in shock or electrocution hazards, and/or lead to structure fires, that could cause severe damage to the equipment.

Electrical distribution and control systems are engineered with preventative components that provide protective functions to prevent injuries, electrical fires, and damage to the electrical system. These protective elements are designed to disconnect the supply of electricity if a condition within the system is outside its normal operating conditions. When these components become damaged by water, they often become incapable of providing protection and, as a result, personal injury or facility damage can occur.

#LessonsLearned things to consider for damaged electrical equipment:

  1. Personal safety hazards involving flood-damaged equipment
    • During or immediately following a flooding event, especially in areas with electrical equipment and controls where standing floodwater has collected or wet conditions are present, hazardous conditions may exist. Electricity may be live, and anyone who makes contact with the water or other wet surfaces could suffer a very serious or fatal shock. Even if the electric utility has disconnected electric power to the facility, it could be reconnected without warning, so an electrocution hazard could always be present. In these scenarios, it is vital to contact a qualified electrical service company or a service representative from the local electric utility before entering a flooded building or home. Qualified electrical personnel can determine whether the electric service has been disconnected and will take steps to prevent it from becoming reconnected unexpectedly.
    • Those who do not understand the design and construction of electrical systems and components often believe flooded electrical equipment will be safe to operate if it is dried out and cleaned up. While it is true some types of water-damaged electrical equipment can be reconditioned, retested, and safely returned to service, this determination can be provided only after a thorough inspection by a qualified electrician or electrical service company.
    • While clean water damages electrical system components, floodwater is especially destructive because of contaminants and dirt in suspension, which cause corrosion, destroy the integrity of the insulation system, and disable protective functions. If water-damaged equipment is reconnected to its electrical source without proper evaluation and reconditioning or replacement, often it will fail immediately and violently. Even if the equipment doesn’t fail immediately and may seem to be operating normally, it often fails sometime later and can cause serious property damage and personal safety hazards to anyone in the vicinity.
  2. Repair or Replace?
    • Residential electrical equipment: Generally speaking, the electrical equipment found in homes, such as load centers and circuit breakers (including all arc fault and ground fault circuit interrupters) and related wiring and wiring devices, should be replaced if it has been wet or submerged under water. Non-metallic (NM) cable within walls can be safely reused if it has a nylon or PVC outer jacket and the ends of the wiring runs have not been submerged under water. Older types of residential wiring with a braided cloth or impregnated jacket always must be replaced.
    • Non-residential power systems: In non-residential buildings, such as commercial, industrial, and institutional facilities, larger electrical power equipment systems can be reconditioned, retested, and reused in some cases if a thorough evaluation is provided by a qualified electric service company. However, in most cases, reconditioning is either not possible or is not economically feasible, and replacement will be the best option.
    • Circuit breakers: Molded case circuit breakers and fuses are not designed to be serviceable; these will always require replacement. Larger power circuit breakers can often be reconditioned, but if these devices are fairly old, the choice to recondition or replace usually will be based on cost. Power circuit breakers with electronic trip units usually require replacement of the electronic elements, as these will be thoroughly damaged by water.
    • Transformers: General-purpose transformers commonly called “dry type transformers” must be replaced because water inevitably will damage the insulation properties of the core and coil assemblies. Other large transformer types, usually referred to as cast coil transformers, often can be reconditioned because the epoxy material used to cast the core and coil assemblies inhibits water from entering into the windings. Oil-filled transformers can be evaluated and returned to service after thorough evaluation and testing.
    • Distribution panels, switchboards, and switchgear (active and passive): Free-standing and wall-mounted power equipment, such as motor control centers, distribution panels, switchboards, and switchgear, contains both active and passive components. Passive components are made up of the structural metal framework and current-carrying bus structures, while active components consist of circuit breakers and fusible devices. The passive parts of the system usually can be cleaned, tested, and reused; active components should be either replaced or evaluated for reconditioning by a qualified service company.
  3. Leave It to the Professionals
    • Water-damaged electric motors: Equipment such as motors, variable frequency drives, and other motor controllers will be severely damaged by water in most cases, and replacement is usually inevitable. This equipment should be thoroughly inspected and evaluated by a qualified service shop before any attempt is made to restart or reuse.
    • Automation and control products: Automation and control products, such as programmable logic controllers and machine safeguarding components, are electronic devices that nearly always suffer total damage from water. Because these devices often control large machines, it is vital that their operational integrity is not compromised. Injury or death can result from inadvertent operation of a machine controlled by these types of devices if water has compromised their intended functions. All equipment and controls always should be approached with care to ensure personal and structural safety. Any time flooding conditions are present, owners of facilities and homes should consult a professional electrical service company to determine whether the equipment is safe to operate.

Emergency Preparedness and Natural Disasters V

Threat of rising waters: Steps to take 24 hours before a flood

With flooding imminent, these steps can help a company protect its facilities and expedite resumption of operations after the flood. This information is based upon a study of flood claims by Zurich Risk. While there is no substitute for a comprehensive flood contingency plan, these steps represent a checklist of items that, if completed, can help reduce the impact of a flood on business operations.

  1. Utilities preparation
    • Fill fuel tanks for emergency generators and fire pumps.
    • Isolate any low level electrical circuits and equipment.
    • Close any manual sewer backflow prevention valves.
    • Verify indoor fuel tanks exposed to water inundation are secured against buoyancy.
    • Where boilers and emergency generators rely upon fuel pumps to transfer fuel from bulk storage tanks to day tanks, verify the fuel pumps and their power supplies are located above the anticipated flood water levels and supplied by emergency power.
  2. Sump pump preparation
    • Obtain portable sump pumps to backup fixed sump pumps that do not have installed redundant pumps.
    • Verify all fixed and portable sump pumps are working.
    • Verify or provide emergency power for electric motor driven sump pumps that do not have engine driven pump backup.
    • Verify that emergency power circuits for sump pumps will not be exposed to damage by the anticipated flood.
    • Verify sump pump discharge lines have check valves if water backflow is possible when the pump is not running.
  3. Outside preparations
    • Clear flood exposed parking lots and other outside areas of vehicles, trailers, storage, and portable equipment from flood prone areas.
    • Verify outside structures such as fuel tanks, transformers, emergency generators, and cooling towers are anchored to secure foundations.
    • Remove debris and trash that could restrict or obstruct drain inlets, culverts, and road underpasses which carry water drainage away from the site.
    • Close perimeter gates to prevent debris floating onto the site.
    • Sandbag ramps or access ways to basement entrances or loading docks. These ramps and access ways are notorious sources of severe flooding especially when power fails and electric dewatering pumps stop working.
    • Exercise any automatic-closing flood gates to make sure they are ready to operate if needed. If possible, leave automatic gates in the closed position.
    • Install any manual flood gates.
  4. Production process preparation
    • Implement safe and organized shutdown of hazardous processes.
    • Relocate high valued or critical machinery, computers, tools, dies, patterns, records, and stock above anticipated flood levels. Raise the exposed materials above the floor, move to a higher floor, or move off site to higher ground.
  5. Fire system preparation: Inspect all fire protection systems to ensure they are in service.
  6. Business data preparation: Backup computer data to an offsite location that will not be affected by the flood.
  7. Construction project preparation: Review construction projects. Protect or relocate equipment and supplies, and temporarily brace new construction.
  8. Emergency supplies preparation: Obtain and store emergency equipment and supplies in a protected location. Equipment and supplies may include emergency lighting; lumber; nails; duct tape; sandbags, sand or more modern alternatives (flood gates); tarps; battery power tools; manual hand tools; engine driven chain saws; nonperishable food and water; two-way radios; portable electrical generators; portable sump pumps.
  9. Staff preparation
    • Personnel safety is the primary concern. Allow no actions to save property that jeopardize the health and well being of personnel.
    • Advise staff of concerns with potential flooding, and procedures to follow if an evacuation is ordered.
    • Apply safe work procedures to all flood preparation work. This includes the use of all appropriate personal protective equipment and electrical safety practices for damp or wet locations.
    • While it is always desirable to maintain appropriate personnel on site during a flood emergency to maintain care, custody, and control over the site, no personnel should be endangered in this effort.
    • Plan safe work procedures for all actions taken after a flood

Final Steps Before the Flood

If flooding is expected, the following steps should be taken to minimize damage to equipment and to make post flood recovery as rapid as possible:

  • Make sure all personnel are evacuated from the property before rise of floodwater.
  • Remove as much property and equipment as possible to high ground storage, if available. Move the highest value property first.
  • If time permits, construct flood barriers with sandbags or other materials. Even if these do not hold back flood waters, they may resist flood currents sufficiently to prevent destruction of structures.
  • When flooding is imminent, shut down all fuel burning equipment which is subject to flooding. In the case of steam boilers, it is best if these can be allowed to cool prior to immersion.
  • De-energize all electrical circuits prior to immersion in flood water.
  • Get all vehicles to high ground.

After the Water Recedes

These recommendations are intended to assist in restoring your property and equipment after a flood:

  1. Boilers 
    • Carefully inspect foundations and settings of boilers for settlement. DO NOT OPERATE a boiler if there is any evidence that the foundation has been undermined.
    • Make sure the setting (brickwork, refractory, and insulation materials) is thoroughly dry. Use portable heaters where necessary.
    • All safety appliances, such as safety and relief valves, steam gage, water column, high and low-water cutouts, and blow down must be cleaned and repaired as needed.
    • All controls must be inspected and tested before operation, especially the water level control and low-water fuel cutoffs.
    • Burners should not be fired until checked by a burner technician. An explosion may occur if the combustion controls do not function properly.
    • Boilers should not be operated if proper feed water is not available. If operation is essential, and if feed water contains mud, it will be necessary to blow down the boiler every eight hours and to open and clean the boiler at least once per week until proper water quality is re-established.
  2. Electrical Equipment 
    • DO NOT ENERGIZE equipment which has been flooded until properly cleaned, dried out, and until insulation has been tested. This includes enclosures, bus ducts, conduit, and cables.
    • Windings in electric machinery should not be dried at temperatures exceeding the rating of its insulation system. In general, a maximum temperature of 194 degrees F or 90 degrees C may be used. Check with the manufacturer for equipment specific information and recommendations.
    • Dry type transformers should be cleaned and thoroughly dried as described for windings.
    • Oil filled transformers should be thoroughly inspected for damage and oil samples should be drawn from top and bottom for lab analysis. The laboratory should be instructed to include a Karl Fisher test for water content. Maximum water content is 35 ppm. If water is found in the oil tank, the oil charge must be renovated by a competent service firm.
  3. Before Operating Machinery 
    • Contact the manufacturer for recommendations.
    • Inspect foundations for cracking, weakness, or settlement. If settlement is suspected, check and correct alignment of all shafting, and check all stationary components for level.
    • Inspect all machine internals for silt accumulations and clean as needed.
    • Open the cylinders of all reciprocating engines or compressors and remove foreign material or water.
    • Drain and clean lubrication systems. Wipe oil containing elements with lint-free rags and refill with new lubricants as required.
    • Carefully clean and TEST governors and controls.

The toll on electronics and equipment continues even after the water recedes. If energized during the event the affected equipment and machinery may have sustained damage to the circuit breakers, in-line fuses, motors and main fuses which may have “blown and shorted” from the initial onslaught of water infiltration. The second onslaught of damage to electronics is “ongoing and continuous” even as the water recedes. Electrical wiring, motors, computers, motor starters, contactors and control cabinets received contaminates from the flood water (ground water and salt water from flooding is very contaminated) this water contains chlorides, sulfides heavy metals, hydrocarbons and other biological inhibitors and environmental waste chemicals that are unhealthy, toxic and corrosive. As the water recedes the stainless, copper, aluminum and plain steel substrates of micro-circuitry and electrical components which have been covered in contaminated water continue to oxidize from the contaminates in the water as the oxygen hits the contaminated metallic surfaces which increases corrosion exponentially. Painted surfaces can bubble, pop and peel. All metals can corrode and resulting in oxidation.

Flash rusting and corrosion enhanced by flooding and drying can be adverted with proper mitigation protocols. Fast action is the key to being able to restore sensitive electronics, equipment and electrical gear. Some items may corrode from the secondary effects of the flooding just by being in non-climate controlled conditions and being exposed to high moisture meaning relative humidity has reached condensing levels or the dew point has been exceeded meaning these items have been exposed much higher levels of humidity than designed and energizing them without a thorough analysis of the effects of corrosion may result in premature failure.

Equipment Restoration Candidates: if proper dewatering and corrosion control inhibitors are applied:

  • Electrical Gear: Certain transformers, controllers, electrical cabinets, breakers, switch gear & cabinets, wiring and distribution equipment can be effectively restored and tested. Certain small controllers, case molded circuit breakers and dry transformers may need replaced.
  • IT Equipment, Computers and Servers: Hard drives that have been immersed in flood water should be stabilized and processed for data recover. Computers, routers, servers and switches that are subject to high moisture may be restored effectively.
  • Boilers, HVAC and Fire Pump Systems: Are possible candidates for restoration. Certain devices such as limit switches, burner management control, motor controllers and motors may need repaired or replaced. Pressure vessels, coils and pumps will need preservation to ensure they may be restored.
  • Equipment and Machinery of all types: Including Restaurant and Food Processing, Bio-medical, Elevators, Security Systems, Automated Access Systems, Machine Shop Equipment and PLC and Relay Logic Control Panels can be effectively restored but small sensitive items may need to be replaced.

Mitigation Protocol Steps

These mitigation steps are critical if restoration is to be attempted on valuable equipment and machinery and must be employed as soon as safely possible after the site is cleared for entry.

  • De-energize and Lock out/Tag out power sources
  • Security and caution tape off all open access hazards and open panels and install temporary barriers for drying purposes
  • Inspect for hazards and mitigation needs
  • Remove standing water from equipment areas; extract or pump standing water and air wash all equipment interior and exterior surfaces
  • Open all control and cabinets to expose the components and install temporary barriers for drying purposes
  • Rough clean and rinse all gross contamination areas with deionized water
  • Air wash all surfaces
  • Apply contact cleaner to circuit boards and low voltage electrical devices
  • Apply Corrosion Control Inhibitors to all Electronics and Structural Components and Cabinets

Wire, Cable and Flexible Cords

When any wire or cable product is exposed to water, any metallic component (such as the conductor, metallic shield, or armor) is subject to corrosion that can damage the component itself and/or cause termination failures. If water remains in medium voltage cable, it could accelerate insulation deterioration, causing premature failure. Wire and cable listed for only dry locations may become a shock hazard when energized after being exposed to water.

Any recommendations for reconditioning wire and cable are based on the assumption that the water contains no high concentrations of chemicals, oils, etc. If it is suspected that the water has unusual contaminants, such as may be found in some floodwater, the manufacturer should be consulted before any decision is made to continue using any wire or cable products.


Have any safety questions or lessons learned stories? We’d like to hear from you! Email us at safetyexchange@brewersassociation.org