Dealing With Natural Disasters

June 8, 2018

With the landfall and Midwestern persistence of tropical depression Alberto, the 2018 hurricane season is officially upon us. And, while meteorologists are still unsure about the severity of the season to come, it does seem likely that commercial real estate owners nationwide should be on alert when it comes to natural disasters.

In states like Missouri, Illinois, Kansas, and Kentucky, the immediate force of tropical storms or hurricanes pose little threat. However, the storm systems they create can trigger severe weather such as damaging winds, flooding downpours and tornadoes. These situations, in turn, demand that property owners develop a comprehensive and aggressive plan for disaster remediation, rebuilding and recovery.

Property owners who earmark capital and other resources for thorough evaluation of weather-related damage – and are willing to implement remediation plans quickly – are positioned to save money and protect their investments in the long term.

The first step in dealing with damage resulting from a natural disaster is to contact the insurance carrier. It’s likely that major insurance carriers’ resources will be stretched thin in the wake of severe weather, so property owners are wise to establish a claim quickly and work within the constraints of policy claim requirements. Document the condition of the property prior to any disaster situations, then again after the severe weather hits and before any work begins – this ensures that there is clear documentation of what issues should be included within the settlement.

The damage that is evident after severe weather may be just the beginning. This is especially true in cases where flooding is present, as water damage can lurk beneath the surface and spread gradually. In these cases, moisture mapping can be a critical capital planning tool.

Moisture mapping uses moisture meters and thermal imaging equipment to identify the areas within a property that have been impacted by water and provide a strategic guide for the repairs needed. This assessment will help owners locate water-damaged materials and identify the source of continuous structural damage. It will also indicate where mold growth has happened, and where it will spread based upon the materials involved in the property. Using this information, property owners can prioritize their remediation plans, focusing on work areas to remove hazards, alleviate future health problems and minimize legal liability.

As the presence of moisture is being mapped, property owners may also want to locate where asbestos testing may be required due to structural damage. While asbestos use in building materials curbed in the early 1980s, buildings constructed within the past 30 years may still have asbestos in the roofing materials, joint compounds and floor tile mastic. A comprehensive survey for any on-size hazardous materials – including lead paint, sewage waste or fuel present as a result of the storm – should be a consideration.

Structural damage may also be a factor in remediation, as high winds and flooding can cause considerable damage to a building’s structure and foundation. Property condition assessments can reveal whether the damage is cosmetic, primarily impacting drywall and floors, or if there’s damage to critical building systems. In steel structures, keep an eye out for corrosion; in concrete buildings, cracking and rebar corrosion can cause problems; in wood structures, corrosion of metal connections may be a concern as well.

These damage reports and assessments can serve as a critical capital planning tool, helping the property owner understand where and when money is best spent to ensure the health, safety and protection of real estate investments. They can even direct opportunities to rebuild in a way that better adapts a property to meet market needs.

The good news is that comprehensive solutions are available to commercial real estate owners. Firms like Intelica can act as a single point of contact for these services, which helps streamline capital planning as well as contractor coordination. Intelica ensures that any efforts to repair and rebuild are done conscientiously, quickly and diligently to make the most of owner and investor resources.