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Create a flood business continuity plan to stay afloat

In the event of a flood, don't settle for watered-down action plans. Download our free flood business continuity plan template to create a flood-specific recovery strategy.

Business continuity and technology disaster recovery plans typically address numerous potential disaster scenarios. However, as every crisis will be different, the processes for response, recovery and the return to business operations will differ as well. Without the right preparations, an organization might just find itself in deep water.

Floods, mudslides, sinkholes, pipe bursts, water main breaks and other water-based disruptions can cause serious damage. Businesses, government organizations, data centers, personal property, employees, business information, office facilities and other resources can all be compromised by a flood or similar event.

Specific preparations are advisable, both on site and off site, to prepare for a flooded data center or office. If an organization does not quickly mitigate such a disruption, it can result in damaged facilities and potential reputational harm from not getting back online fast enough. Employees are often displaced from their regular work locations until flood damage has been repaired, causing further delays in resuming normal operations.

Fortunately, the use and acceptance of remote working can reduce the likelihood of a long period of disruption. However, preparations may be necessary for organizations with remote employees who live in a flood zone.

To get started on your own plan, download our free business continuity plan template. Unlike a standard business plan template, it focuses on the effects of flooding. Use the template to formulate new plans or to update existing plans to better address flooding situations.

Types of flooding events

Flood damage is not limited to weather events. The following are five different types of flooding scenarios that may disrupt business operations:

Aerial flooding is weather-related, and typically results from heavy rainfall or snowfall which may eventually melt. Flash floods are sudden extreme flooding conditions resulting from severe rainstorms, hurricanes, melting snow and tropical storms.

Catastrophic flooding results from an infrastructure failure, such as a dam burst or levee failure, as well as water main breaks that suddenly release thousands of gallons of water onto streets. Sinkholes are often caused by flooding under a street that over time weakens the street until it collapses.

Coastal flooding is often a result of severe storms, such as hurricanes, causing storm surges, and underwater seismic activity that results in tsunamis.

Riverine flooding results from overflow conditions affecting rivers, streams, lakes and other bodies of water, typically due to severe weather. Mudslides may occur in situations where heavy persistent rainfall can turn ground into rivers of mud.

Urban flooding results from blockage to storm sewers and other drainage systems due to trash and other detritus that overwhelms the systems.

Flooding can also be caused by facilities issues such as burst pipes, as well as failed waterproofing and drainage systems.

Get the lay of the land

There are several activities an organization or an individual can perform to determine the likelihood of a flooding situation. In some situations, it may just be a matter of asking the right people the right questions.

Is the business in a flood plain? Many government organizations, such as FEMA and state, county and local emergency management organizations can help find out. Check with these organizations to find out if an office or data center is in a flood plain or an area with a history of flooding.

There are numerous ways to find out if a geographic location has a history of severe weather. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Weather Service and weather reporting media are the primary sources for this data.

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Local, county and state government agencies can provide data on infrastructure, including streets, highways, bodies of water, utilities and underground water systems They may also have historical data on flooding and other water-based events.

Lastly, check with building management, facilities and other organizations to determine the state of a building's waterproofing and flood mitigation capabilities. See how frequently inspections of these elements have been conducted within the organization. Where is the critical equipment located? Data centers, telecommunications equipment and utility power systems are often located in building basements and may be at risk if the basement floods.

As much as possible, keep critical assets such as data centers, phone systems and security systems above potential flood levels. For data centers and other information systems that are located below street level, position them on raised floors and install water detection equipment under the raised floor. Where feasible, use alternate data center resources such as cloud-based technology services.

Strategies for flood preparation

Once a business has established the potential likelihood of a flood occurring and made the necessary repairs or changes to any internal risks, it can move on to the next phase of preparation: How to plan for the immediate aftermath.

One of the top priorities should be to establish and execute evacuation plans for flooding. While most office buildings will have some level of evacuation plan, ensure that all organizations in a building have documented and regularly tested evacuation plans and that tests are reviewed and critiqued by local fire departments and emergency organizations.

Assuming a flood necessitates an evacuation of employees, establish an alternate work location, even if it is in a local hotel. As seen in the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work is a suitable alternate to an on-site office. Ensure that remote work technologies and in-home resources are in place and regularly tested.

After any disaster strikes, communications are critical. Ensure that communication among employees and others is maintained. From the moment a flooding crisis appears or is clearly imminent, communications among employees and their families, management, external stakeholders, customers, first responders, media and other government entities must be activated and maintained by the organization. Activating emergency notification systems and similar tools during the event and post-flood is recommended until normal business operations have resumed.

Translating flood strategies into BCDR plans

Business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) plans typically include a list of scenarios the plan addresses. Among the items typically found on such lists are "acts of God" and "natural disasters," each of which can include flooding. To optimize BCDR plans for flooding scenarios, each section of the plan should address how the plan helps the organization prepare for, respond to and recover from a flooding event.

Action items in previous sections of this article are all relevant points for consideration in a flood business continuity plan. Specifically, the various activities fit into the following phases: preparation, management and recovery.

The preparation phase should include the following activities:

  • Perform a risk analysis to understand the types of flooding events.
  • Analyze data on weather.
  • Analyze geography that could support floods.
  • Identify historical occurrences of flooding.
  • Identify potential internal building and external infrastructure vulnerabilities.
  • Prepare incident response, business continuity and disaster recovery plans that address flooding.
  • Train employees on responding to flooding.
  • Identify alternate work arrangements if an evacuation is needed.
  • Define how business will operate post-flood.

The management phase should include the following activities:

  • Update contact data for all employees, first responders and other relevant entities, such as cleaning and restoration services.
  • Install and test emergency notification systems.
  • Regularly test evacuation procedures (especially for people with mobility challenges).
  • Establish logistics to relocate people to home or alternate work locations.
  • Document internal procedures for dealing with health-related incidents from the flood.
  • Establish procedures to recover technology to an acceptable level.
  • Establish procedures to temporarily resume business activities until the effects of the flood can be determined.

Activities in the recovery phase include the following:

  • Return employees to work (whether in the original building or a new location).
  • Complete on-site repair and cleanup activities.
  • Replace assets damaged in the flood.
  • Resume business operations to an acceptable level.

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