Flooding, looking back….looking forward

Now that summer has packed up its bags for another year we can cast one eye back to the devastating floods caused by Storms Desmond, Eva and Frank last winter. This may well seem like an age ago for restoration companies, having long since completed our works on these losses. However, with winter now waiting just around the corner we start to also cast one eye forward. Given the UK’s recent track record, it doesn’t seem unreasonable for us to expect more extreme weather and potentially further flooding too...……

Last winter’s flooding resulted in one of the busiest ever periods for BELFOR UK and in particular the Major & Complex Loss Team. Whilst it was similar to previous weather events, many large commercial & industrial areas located along the key river valleys were badly affected. This made the scale and complexity of losses significantly greater than before. As a result the UK Major & Complex Loss Team received record numbers of enquiries and requests to provide support on ‘major’ losses. The variety of industries which the team responded to was also significant, including; major manufacturing, engineering, printing, food production, pharmaceutical, medical/healthcare, housing associations, education, media/television and hotels.

Whilst it’s not uncommon for BELFOR to deal with such losses it was the first time so many had been received during a single event in the UK. To put this flooding event into some sort of context, in just two months the UK Major & Complex Loss Team dealt with the same volume of ‘major’ losses that it would expect to handle over the course of a full year. Fortunately, BELFOR has the flexibility to scale up capacity very quickly, integrating experienced staff onto complex projects with ease. This is due to European wide Technical Training and standards, common restoration techniques & methodology and the use of standardised BELFOR equipment and chemicals. Importantly, this meant that the UK Major & Complex Loss Team capacity never ‘dried up’ last winter and they were able to supply the personnel and resources needed to meet demand throughout, delivering on commitments made to customers. In some instances customers were ‘back in business’ less than a week after being flooded.

Major and complex losses present a range of unique challenges during ‘business as usual’ times. They require experienced project management, specialist operational teams, technical resources and specialist Health & Safety support, to name but a few. In major surge events all of these resources naturally become stretched very quickly and it is therefore imperative for restoration companies to implement surge plans and adopt different working practices.

After any incident which causes damage to buildings and assets, the speed of response and the initiation of ‘immediate measures’ or ‘first aid’ is crucial. It not only increases the chances of successful recovery it can put and keep restoration and recovery options on the table, often preventing a total loss. When done correctly, immediate measures don’t just ‘stop the clock’, preventing further damage, they also provide key stakeholders and decision makers with the most valuable commodity …. ‘time’. Time to stop, time to breathe, time to take stock and fully assess the damage. All available solutions can then be considered enabling the optimum route for recovery to be identified.

Immediate measures carried out by BELFOR after the flooding last winter included actions such as: ‘pumping out’, ‘debris and specialist waste removal’, ‘high level/gross cleaning’, ‘removal of vulnerable assets’, ‘freezing damaged documents’, ‘pre-treating/oiling machinery’ and ‘installation of temporary drying systems’. These actions made areas safe, secure and accessible from the outset. They also limited cross contamination and prevented secondary damage, such as corrosion and mould growth. Once the first phase of immediate measures and detailed damage assessments had been completed, recovery plans were then agreed and the main recovery phase of the projects commenced.

By handling losses in this 2 stage approach the BELFOR Major & Complex Loss Team were able to maximise resources whilst mitigating damage and prioritising recoveries. In doing so, all calls for assistance were responded to within 24hrs by the team. Valuable mitigation advice was provided to customers and immediate measures were carried out, all of which contributed to millions of pounds in direct savings and business interruption cost savings.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of large and technical losses comes after the first phase, when the ‘dust has settled’. The customer has overcome the initial shock of the incident, has seen some initial positive recovery action and can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Pressure now quickly builds on all parties involved to push forward and scale up activities…..“yesterday is too late”. At this stage strong, experienced Project Management and effective communication is paramount to the recovery project. Understanding the customers’ key recovery priorities, managing their expectations and developing confidence and trust, are vital to success. During a major surge event with resources fully stretched, this becomes even more challenging and it can be all too easy to stumble at this critical phase.

It became clear at the start of January that both the number and scale of projects the UK Major & Complex Loss Team were managing meant that additional technical support was required. Being part of the largest global restoration company, BELFOR UK were able to call upon support from BELFOR’s International Major & Complex Loss Team. Within 48hrs, specialist Machinery & Electronics Restoration colleagues, together with technical resources, arrived on site from BELFOR Belgium, BELFOR Germany, BELFOR Poland and BELFOR DeHaDe (BELFOR’s specialist Machinery Restoration and Repair division).

This depth of resources and flexibility to scale up capacity meant that across Europe BELFOR France, BELFOR Germany and BELFOR Netherlands were able to respond to and support their customers needs too, following the devastating floods which impacted their regions this summer.

Casting one eye forward towards next winter and further afield…….we should ask; as an industry, are we in good shape to deal with another so called ‘one in a 100 year event’? Add to that, the fact that every weather event is different and presents its own unique challenges. We believe we are in good shape, though it is impossible to predict exactly what might come.

We should also be mindful that change is also constant, and we cannot be certain how the market will develop in the future. Flooding from last winter’s storms saw a significant number of businesses and organisations tackling and managing their own recoveries, adopting a ‘DIY approach’, which has its inherent risks. Was this perhaps due to a combination of factors such as; increased awareness and previous experience?...greater accessibility of information and resources?....insurer underwriting and claims strategies?.....perceptions of supplier capacity? No doubt, businesses and organisations will need to take a more pro-active approach to their recoveries and Business Continuity Planning in future, especially where flooding is concerned. As such it’s important for restoration companies to engage with their customers and work in partnership to develop solutions to meet the challenges that lie ahead.

What we can say for certain is that BELFOR has the most experienced and dedicated people, who are supported by unparalleled global resources, and therefore, we are better positioned than most, which was proven out in 2016. I doubt that there would ever be an event in the UK which would overcome these combined resources, but if it does BELFOR will be ready….…even if it happens in the middle of the Christmas & New Year holidays…..again!