Food Plant Flooding - Preparing for the Unexpected

Plan for the worst and prepare for the unexpected. 

Some floods are quick to rise and slow to recede, while others are slow to rise and slow to recede. If the projected flood represents a minor threat, you can work on a few prevention activities while in production mode. For example, minimize inventories that are vulnerable to wet conditions, relocate chemicals and pesticides, move things up and/or out, flex your product quality testing protocol, and establish an “in and out” traffic plan. Keep in mind, regional routes may have to be changed as some roads and bridges will likely be closed. It is important to establish clear communications during a flood disaster.

If the projected water levels are expected to be more consequential, it may be necessary to establish a mobile communications center to keep people informed prior to and during the event. Another consideration is to direct incoming water on a more desired route. Strategically positioned sandbags and other temporary dikes can alter the watercourse. In case the water level goes higher than anticipated, plan to redirect the water by allowing it to escape. In some cases water may rupture underneath a building from the bottom floor. If an evacuation is imminent, don’t wait too long. Be proactive with a plant shutdown. Start making plans for temporary storage and acquiring restoration goods such as portable generators, pumps, tubing, lights, bleach, extension chords and air movers, as they will likely be in short supply.

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WHAT TO DO DURING A FLOOD

Once worker safety and property security have been established, the next step is to monitor the rise and fall of the floodwater. Some water levels will require specific and timely responses to minimize damage. Hip waders, small flat-bottom boats, kayaks, and portable lights are helpful during the monitoring process. Preventing damage and re-routing water during the rise and fall can reduce the amount of restoration work needed. A small team of surveyors can report damage. Be on the lookout for stray animals, snakes, rodents, mosquitoes, and filth flies.

When the water starts to recede, it is easier to remove large debris before the muck arrives. Timely wall scraping followed by a low-pressure rinse with bleach water can also reduce the amount of work. Removing muck with scoop shovels after the water recedes is a difficult task.

As surveyors report to the command center, decisions can be made for communications, waste removal, salvage, and cleanup. Since the entire region is likely in a similar situation, a timely start can lead to a timely recovery, restoration and startup. Employees, customers, suppliers, regulators, loss risk providers, and corporate headquarters all have an interest in what is happening. They should be informed of the recovery timetable. An action plan and timeline of each person’s responsibility is beneficial.

When the infrastructure (especially power) is restored, it is safe to begin the restoration process. Structures will need to be evaluated for their integrity and alternatives developed. Contaminated equipment should be evaluated for salvage. Product contact surfaces must be evaluated for their integrity and alternatives developed. If floodwater has made contact with product contact surfaces, then super cleaning or replacement equipment is necessary. Raw materials, packaging supplies and other supplies will need to be evaluated and determined if salvageable.

DEVELOP AN ACTION PLAN

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Before the floodwater recedes is a good time to establish a cleanup-to-startup action plan. As the floodwater recedes, plans of action with more realistic timetables can be developed. Before any rebuilding comes demolition, and before any demolition comes worker training. Anyone involved in the demolition, rebuilding, cleaning, and other recovery preparations at your plant should receive flood recovery awareness training to address potential hazards, health questions, and protective equipment.

As safe access to the building becomes possible, evaluations of security, structural integrity, equipment damage, and leftover products may begin. Site traffic patterns such as where to locate the communications or command center, trash collection, temporary toilets, contractors, employees and other recovery necessities may be started. Dispose of any equipment and materials that are not salvageable. Use a witness to validate and document the desired disposal. This is a good time to review the overall disaster impact and examine the grounds, building, and equipment design alternatives. Flood disasters are stressful for everyone involved, but preparation and planning can make a huge impact in the recovery effort.

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