The arrival of spring means the focus for disaster preparedness shifts to floods. And for good reason: water risk is predicted to eliminate $5.6 trillion from gross domestic product globally by 2050, with a full 36% of those losses coming from floods. But by understanding the different types of floods and how to prepare for them, facility and maintenance managers can reduce risks and recover faster. 

At the heart of your disaster preparedness planning, you need a preventive maintenance schedule backed by a modern enterprise asset management (EAM) solution. 

What is a flood, and why is it different than other natural disasters? 

According to the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, a disaster research center, the definition of a flood is when you have water in an area that’s usually dry, when you have water that’s overflowing its usual confines, or, and this is the broadest definition, when you have water where you don’t want it.

We tend to think of floods involving a lot of water, but there’s not one universally accepted volume required to meet the definition of flooding. If the server room in your facilities starts filling with water, it won’t matter how big or small that room is, you’ll think of it as flooded.  

Floods are different than other natural disasters in a couple of important ways. First, there tends to be more of them. While earthquakes can only happen along fault lines, floods can happen just about anywhere, simply because more things can cause them. While lighting strikes and campfires are behind most forest fires, there are many more possible causes for floods, from weather to structural failures.   

What are the different types of floods? 

There are four broad categories of floods: 

  • Fluvial 
  • Pluvial 
  • Coastal 
  • Groundwater 

It’s important to know the differences once you start looking at how to better floodproof your facilities. 

Fluvial floods are when a river, creek, or stream rises high enough to push water into surrounding low-lying areas. In some cases, it’s from heavy rains. In others, melting ice can cause these floods. Pluvial floods are also from heavy rains, but don’t involve a body of water overflowing.  

Coastal floods have various causes, including storm surges, rises in sea level, tidal or “sunny day” flooding, and even tsunamis. Regardless of the cause, the definition of a coastal flood is when seawater covers dry, low-lying land. 

With groundwater flooding, water that’s already underground in natural aquifers rises to the surface after heavy rainfall. Unlike other types of flooding, groundwater flooding tends to develop slowly and then remain for a long time, allowing the water to enter buildings through seepage and cracks in foundations. Once the water gets in, it can cause a lot of damage, even degrading the integrity of the structure. 

Often, the differences between the types of floods are mostly academic. In many cases, it’s hard to know exactly what caused a flood. In others, you have more than one type of flood happening at the same time. So, you might have heavy rain that causes a river to overflow its banks that then eventually leads to structural damage that causes more flooding. 

How can facility managers assess and then mitigate flood risk? 

Because flooding can be so destructive, federal and local governments tend to track it closely. So, regardless of where your facilities are, you should be able to reach out to the right government agency and get accurate information on local flood risks.

For example, in America, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) runs the Flood Map Service Center, while in Australia, there’s the Flood Risk Information Portal (AFRIP). In some locations, insurance companies can be a solid source of information on flood risks. Because it ties directly to their bottom line, they tend to pay it a lot of attention.   

Once you know the types of flooding you’re most likely going to face, you can start to look at your facilities for possible water entry points, including: 

  • Sewers 
  • Equipment 
  • Downspouts 

With a sense of where the weak points are, you can start to floodproof your facilities. 

It’s worth remembering that saying something is “floodproof” is the same as saying something is “bulletproof.” Nothing is actually completely bulletproof, but some things are more resistant than others. It’s impossible to make something perfectly floodproof, but you can make it much more resistant. 

Dry floodproofing 

Dry floodproofing is a collection of strategies to keep water out of a structure, keeping the inside dry. It starts during the design phase of the facility life cycle, where the architect includes various features to meet or exceed local flood-related building codes, for example building above a specific elevation.  

Local government agencies routinely update the building codes as they learn more about flood risks, so it’s important for a facility manager to make sure they have all the latest regulations before starting any retrofits or renovations. There could be things that, while they were completely code compliant during initial construction, are now no longer allowed. 

Dry floodproofing can be either passive or active. Passive measures can include installing seals to exterior doors and windows and sealing the floors. You should also look closely at your landscaping, especially the grading around structures to ensure water is directed away from exterior walls and foundations. Pooling at the bottom of a slope poses much less of a risk than water collecting right beside a wall, where it can put pressure on the foundation and even start seeping into the basement.   

Active dry floodproofing measures are for when you know a flood is on its way, and they include closing watertight doors and floodwalls. Temporary sandbag dykes are another example of active dry floodproofing. 

What is the connection between preventive maintenance and disaster preparedness? 

Disaster preparedness is not a “set it and forget it” process. 

So, even once you have everything in place, you need to make sure it stays there. Facility and maintenance managers should include inspections and tasks for all items related to their flood prep plans, including, for example: 

  • Checking rain gutters 
  • Clearing eave troughs 
  • Inspecting and reapplying sealant  
  • Testing sump pumps 
  • Checking for backwater valves 

It takes only a little time and effort to check that a downspout is properly secured to an outside wall and pointed in the right direction so it moves water away from the foundation. Repairing the damage from a broken downspout, where you have to excavate to access the foundation and install new waterproofing is a lengthy, expensive project.   

How does an enterprise asset management (EAM) solution help you prepare for floods? 

Remember, disaster prep is more than just having a pile of sandbags ready to go in the basement. Disaster prep also involves a lot of documentation and double-checking. 

With the right EAM solution, you get a central database for all your critical documents, including all your key contacts for communication and escalation, ensuring the right people get the right info, right on time. You also safeguard all your emergency operating procedures.  

And because everything lives in the cloud, you have instant access from anywhere. If you’re still stuck using paper records, how accessible are they going to be once your office is underwater?   

But long before the water arrives, you can see a lot of benefits from an EAM. By streamlining the process for setting up and scheduling preventive maintenance work orders, you ensure you have the right combination of inspections and tasks to keep all your flood-related equipment ready.

The last thing you want is to discover the sump pump needs a new motor when the basement is already under inches of water.  


With the arrival of spring, facility and maintenance managers need to think about floods. Unlike many other natural disasters, floods have many possible causes, including heavy rains, storm surges, and structural failures. Part of preparing for floods is understanding the local risks. Because of how quickly floods can cause a lot of damage, governments tend to watch them closely, making them a good resource for flood-related information.

Once you have a sense of the risk, you can look at ways to floodproof your facilities. For example, you can check the facilities for possible entry points, from sewers to improperly placed downspouts. It’s important to remember that disaster prep is not a “set it and forget it” process.

By adding flood prep inspections and task to your preventive maintenance work orders, you can ensure you’re ready long before the water arrives. Implementing a modern enterprise asset management solution helps you keep all your critical documents safe and accessible while also helping you set up and schedule the PMs you need to stay a step ahead of floods.   

About the author

Jonathan Davis

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