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Commercial Winter Weather Guidance

12/5/2018 (Permalink)


Among the biggest weather events of the winter are the recurring monster snowstorms that wallop the Northeast and wreak havoc on travel throughout the U.S. during a 6-week period from late January to early March. Frequent snowfalls are accompanied by persistent cold temperatures that prevent melting. When it is all done businesses throughout the region experience roof collapses, frozen pipes, and the logistical challenge of getting employees to work when neither roads nor transit systems can keep pace with the snow.

While these “snowpocalypse” storms receive the most attention, winter cold and storms pound many parts of the U.S. during the past year; the lessons learned from these heavy storms can help businesses elsewhere prepare for and respond to snow, ice, and freezing temperatures in 2018 and beyond. With this goal in mind, following is guidance on severe winter weather and business protection.

Use Social Media to Communicate Before, During, and After a Major Storm

Winter storms launch a “blizzard” of social media, as people across the Northeast post photos, videos, and personal anecdotes about the snow. While many of these posts help inject humor into a difficult and sometimes dangerous weather event, they also helped strangers isolated by the storm come together and commiserate. At least as important, social media serves as a way for emergency management officials to warn residents about approaching weather conditions (including how to prepare and what to do during and after a storm), and some businesses use it to stay connected with employees, customers and business partners. This allows them to communicate quickly, widely and accurately—providing such information as the opening status of the business, whether employees need to report to work, any delays in the provision of goods and services, and when updated operational information would be available. Importantly, while these same social media tools that employees use in their personal lives can be applied to post-disaster business communications at little or no cost, planning ahead is essential to finding the specific social media platforms that will work best. 

Telecommuting Should Be Part of Every Winter Weather Business Continuity Plan

Due to the rapid and heavy snow accumulation last winter in the Northeast, a number of states and localities issued widespread travel bans. Even after the bans were lifted, many roads remained impassable, and Boston’s public transit system was incapable of transporting its usual 1.2 million daily riders. For many employers, telecommuting became a vital option that allowed them to avoid a shutdown while keeping employees off of clogged or dangerous roads and stalled mass transit systems. However, for telework to be successful, employers need to plan ahead by identifying telecommuting strategies, documenting a telecommuting policy, putting in place an I/T structure to support the program, and testing the system prior to a blizzard or other emergency. 

Keep the Power On and the Business Running with Generators

Snow and ice have the potential to weigh down tree limbs and pull down power lines, causing widespread and long-lasting power outages. Although power outages associated with winter storms are not as severe as anticipated (due to the powdery light snow that falls in most areas), that is not always the case. In fact, one of the worst storms in this regard was the unprecedented 2011 Halloween nor’easter which hit when many trees were still in leaf, resulting in tree and branch collapses that caused an estimated 3.2 million commercial and residential power outages, some lasting long after the snow had been removed or melted. A commercial generator can help businesses minimize disruption when faced with such a situation, but only if one is purchased, installed, and maintained prior to the time of need. It is also critical to have effective generator safety practices in place to minimize risks to people and property, including fire, damage to electrical equipment, and, most tragically, carbon monoxide poisoning. It is also important to have contracts in place with reliable vendors  to ensure delivery of generator fuel and other critical supplies. 

Snow Removal is Essential to Keep a Clear Path to Your Business

After snowfall, it is important to clear parking lots, driveways and sidewalks to provide safe access for employees, customers and suppliers. In some jurisdictions, there are legal requirements for snow removal; but even if that is not the case, promptly removing snow and minimizing icy surfaces is important for reducing the likelihood of slips and falls, and shows customers you are open for business. Smaller snow amounts can be handled by maintenance staff (assuming the right snow removal equipment is on hand), but large accumulations generally require professional snow removal contractors. These crews are in heavy demand after a storm, so it is critical to have outside service contracts in place prior to the first snowfall of the season. When selecting a contractor, it is important to make sure the people who remove your snow/ice will show up as anticipated, do a thorough job, and work within previously negotiated price guidelines.

  • Make sure the contract covers all of your needs (e.g., parking lots, driveways, walkways, roofs).
  • Look for an established, licensed and bonded professional.
  • Check references.
  • Ask to see the contractor’s certificates of insurance. Make sure coverage for liability and workers’ compensation insurance is current.

Beyond the big headline blizzards, severe winter weather can occur in many parts of the U.S. from late fall until early spring. By the time these storms are broadcast by local forecasters, it may be too late to put in place the measures needed to remove heavy snow and ice, protect roof systems and water pipes, and keep employees and operations productive. With advance planning, businesses can minimize “snowpocalypse” disruption as they wait for warmer weather to arrive.

Contact us at 973-383-2024 if you have a service need or click here to visit our website to learn more about SERVPRO of Northern Sussex County's System Services. 

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5 Ways to Winterize and Holiday-Proof Your Commercial Property

11/23/2018 (Permalink)


For many small businesses, the holiday/ winter weather season is when they will earn a significant part of their revenue for the entire year. For others, it is a time when they will close for a short break or long winter hiatus. Regardless of your business model, preparing for the holidays and winter season can help prevent problems caused by indoor hazards or winter weather.


  • Choose decorations wisely. Some may be combustible and should be kept away from any heat or ignition sources.
  • Use battery-operated candles in place of traditional ones.
  • Never hang decorations from fire sprinklers or block them—this can prevent sprinklers from operating properly.
  • Do not cover emergency exit signs, fire extinguishers or fire alarms with decorations; also avoid overcrowding aisles or cluttering any place that would make it difficult to exit in an emergency.
  • Do not place extension cords in high-traffic areas of your workplace, or under rugs, carpets or furniture.
  • Promote safe ladder use. This can help protect both employees and customers.
  • Turn off all indoor and outdoor electrical decorations before leaving the building.


  • Inform customers in advance if you’ll be closing for the holidays or a longer seasonal break.
  • Update your company website to reflect closing details. Shut down any unnecessary office equipment.
  • Secure your building and set alarms. Advise your security company that you will be vacating the property. Verify/update emergency contact information they have on file.
  • Consider hiring a patrol service to conduct recorded rounds while inspecting the premises at different times of day and night to reduce the threat of vandalism and theft.


  • Thermostats should be maintained at a minimum of 55°F when the building is unoccupied.
  • For early detection of a broken pipe or valve, consider installing a monitored electric leak detection system for the main domestic water line. Monitored electronic sensors can also be installed near water sources for early leak detection.
  • Run a small trickle of water to keep pipes from freezing.
  • Open cabinet and utility room doors to expose pipes to warmer room temperatures to help keep them from freezing.
  • Ensure all pipes located in vulnerable areas, such as crawlspaces, exterior walls, attics and unheated basements, are insulated with sleeves or wrapping. The more insulation you have, the better. Hardware and big box stores usually carry foam or fiberglass insulation.
  • UL-approved gas or electric unit heaters can be installed in unheated sprinkler control valve/fire pump rooms.
  • Indoor and outdoor fire protection sprinkler systems should be monitored by a constantly attended central station to provide early detection of a sprinkler pipe rupture due to freezing. At minimum, if your business is not located close to where you live or are spending the winter, have someone check the property to ensure the heat is working and the pipes have not frozen. 


  • If the building will be unoccupied for a prolonged period, safely clear the roof of all debris, dirt and leaves, which can block gutters and downspouts. Debris buildup can prevent snow melt from properly draining away from the building and can cause ice dams and heavy snow buildup on your roof.
  • Inspect gutters/downspouts for securement. Heavy snow/ ice can cause gutters to weaken and sag, leading them to break away from the building and allow for water intrusion.
  • If a winter storm occurs during a holiday or seasonal break, arrange for snow removal for employee access and plan to have a professional remove any excess snow from the roof. This will prevent excessive loads on the roof which could cause structural failure.


The winter holidays should be a time for businesses to reflect on past challenges and accomplishments, and make plans to prosper in the New Year. But at the same time, it is important to take steps to prevent injury or damage that can be caused by risks that are unique to this season. Doing so now can provide a head start on New Year’s resolutions to strengthen your business in 2019.

Contact us at 973-383-2024 if you have a service need or click here to visit our website to learn more about SERVPRO of Northern Sussex County's System Services. 

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Reduce Damage to Homes from Alternative Heating Sources

11/11/2018 (Permalink)


Consumers often turn to alternative heating systems like wood pellet stoves (a.k.a. wood burning stove or wood pellet furnace) during the winter to heat their homes. If you’re considering switching to a wood pellet stove, space heater, or fireplace this winter, consider the following safety information.

Use Caution

  • Before using any heating device, install carbon monoxide detectors in several parts of the house.
  • Except where specifically recommended by the manufacturer, only the fuel (e.g., pellets, corn, log wood, coal or gas) for which a stove is designed should be used.
  • Never use a kerosene heater indoors.

Stove Placement

Alternate heating stoves can vary in construction regarding self-contained insulation and thermal protection. A single layer iron-walled stove, for example, can generate enormous heat several feet in all directions. On the other hand, more sophisticated multiple walled insulated forced-air stoves can remain safe to the touch when in use.

Placement of the stove must take into consideration adequate space for installation, maintenance and replacement, flue or vent pipe routing, and most importantly, safe location relative to combustible materials. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recognizes appropriate American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and Underwriters Laboratories (UL) standards and testing of the reduction of heat with distance from the unit as well as non-combustible shielding (defined in codes). Properly tested and rated stoves will have an attached safety label and an installation manual, which will detail the manufacturer’s recommended minimum separations. Some general guidelines are provided for different types of stoves in the following sections for cases when labels are missing.

In most cases, protection of the floor or combustible surface under a stove is required and specified including shielding beneath and extending on all sides in accordance with the code and label requirements. This includes adequate protection in front of the fire box and where ash removal is required.

Standards also exist for locating and routing flue and vent pipes in order to provide separation from combustibles adjacent to and through walls and to existing chimneys.

Pellet Stoves

These modern devices operate through an automated fuel-delivery process. In some designs, a fan delivers air to the fire and blows exhaust by-products out of a vent pipe that is smaller and typically less expensive than a chimney. Often, a separate fan blows air through heat exchangers in the stove and out into the home.

  • Always hire an installer who is licensed and certified.
  • Stove placement must allow for access to proper venting and electrical sources and must meet minimum required clearances. Certified installers operate according to these guidelines.
  • Outlets must be checked for proper voltage, grounding and polarity.
  • According to model building codes, multiple walled insulated forced-air stoves within compartments or alcoves should have a minimum of 3 inches of working space clearance along the sides, back and top with a total width of the enclosing space being at least 12 inches wider than the stove.
  • Stoves having a firebox open to the atmosphere should have at least a 6-inch working space along the front combustion chamber side.
  • Keep the stove clear of all combustible materials.
  • Use PL vent pipes tested to UL 641.

The following materials should never be used to vent pellet appliances:

  • Dryer vent
  • Gas appliance Type B vent
  • PVC pipe
  • Single-wall stove pipe, unless approved by local codes and the installation manual.
  • Inspect chimney before installation. Relining may be required.
  • Altitudes higher than 2,500 feet may require special venting options.
  • An outside air source may be required for houses with tight construction or strong kitchen, bath or other exhaust fans.
  • Manufacturer’s instructions must be closely followed regarding sealing joints and seams, particularly of pressurized mechanical exhaust vents.
  • Regular maintenance is critical to ensure safe operation.
  • Frequency of cleaning will depend on the fuel type, grade and content.
  • Components should be inspected daily.
  • Professional cleaning is recommended for vent systems before each seasonal use.

Wood Stoves

These traditional heat sources remain popular, but have been linked to an increase in house and chimney fires.

  • Choose a stove that has been tested by UL.
  • Second-hand stoves should be free of broken parts or cracks.
  • Maintain at least a 36-inch clearance between the stove and combustible materials or use fire-resistant materials to protect woodwork and other areas. Follow manufacturer’s guidelines.
  • Keep the stove clear of combustible materials.
  • Noncombustible floor covering should be used under and around the stove. The material should extend 18 inches on all sides.
  • Prior to using the stove, place a layer of sand or firebrick in the bottom of the firebox.
  • Vent pipes or chimneys must be inspected prior to use.
  • If a stove pipe is used:
  1. Use 22- or 24-gauge metal with a total length of less than 10 feet.
  2. Maintain at least 18 inches between the top of the stove pipe and the ceiling or other combustible material.
  3. Ensure that the stove pipe enters the chimney at a spot higher than the outlet of the stove firebox and that it does not extend into the chimney flue lining.
  4. The inside thimble diameter should be the same size as the stove pipe for a proper seal.
  5. The stove pipe should not pass through a floor, closet or concealed space, or enter the chimney in the attic.
  6. If a metal chimney is used, make sure it is UL-approved.

Whether masonry or metal, the chimney should extend:

  • At least 3 feet above the highest point where it passes through the roof, and
  • At least 2 feet above any portion of the building within 10 horizontal feet of the chimney.

The chimney flue lining should not be blocked.

  • Keep the chimney flue and stove pipe clean and free of obstructions.

Space Heaters

These appliances can be an affordable option for heating a small space, but they also are the leading source of house fires during winter months.

  • Look for products that have been tested by UL.
  • Buy a model with an automatic shut-off feature and heat element guards.
  • Maintain a 36-inch clearance between the heater and combustible materials, such as bedding, furniture, wall coverings or other flammable items.
  • Do not leave a heater unattended.

Electric heaters should be inspected prior to use.

  • Check the cord for fraying and cracking, and look for broken wires or signs of overheating in the device itself.
  • Use only heavy-duty extension cords marked with a No. 14-gauge or larger wire.
  • If the heater’s plug has a grounding prong, use only a grounding (three-wire) extension cord.
  • Never run the heater’s cord (or any cord) under rugs or carpeting.

Liquid-fueled heaters must be operated using only the fuel recommended by the manufacturer.

  • Never use gasoline or any other substitute fuel.
  • Allow the heater to cool down prior to refueling.


This popular heat source is found in homes throughout the United States, but requires proper maintenance and caution to ensure safe operation.

  • Annual inspections are required by a professional chimney sweep.
  • Regular cleaning will keep the fireplace free of obstructions and creosote.
  • Have a removable cap installed at the top of the chimney to keep out debris and animals.
  • Install a spark arrestor that has 1/4-inch mesh.
  • Maintain proper clearance around the fireplace and keep it clear of combustible materials such as books, newspapers and furniture.
  • Always close the screen when in use.
  • Keep glass doors open during the fire.
  • Use a fireplace grate.
  • Approved fireplace tools are recommended.
  • Never burn garbage, rolled newspapers, charcoal or plastic in the fireplace.
  • Avoid using gasoline or any liquid accelerant.
  • Clean out ashes from previous fires and store them in a noncombustible container with a tight-fitting lid. Keep the container outside and away from the house.
  • Never leave a fire unattended.
  • Make sure the fire is completely out before closing the damper.

Gas fireplaces require specific maintenance:

  • Adjust the milli-volt output.
  • Keep the glowing embers and logs clean.
  • Inspect and clean the air circulation passages and fan.
  • Clean the glass as needed.
  • Avoid obstructing the vents.

Contact us at 973-383-2024 if you have a service need or click here to visit our website to learn more about SERVPRO of Northern Sussex County's System Services. 

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Put A Freeze on Winter Fires

11/2/2018 (Permalink)


Heating, holiday decorations, winter storms and candles all contribute to an increased risk of fire during the winter months. NFPA and the U.S. Fire Administration are teaming up to help reduce your risk to winter fires and other hazards, including carbon monoxide and electrical fires.


Heating is the second leading cause of U.S. home fires, deaths and injuries. December, January and February are the peak months for heating fires. Space heaters are the type of equipment most often involved in home heating equipment fires, figuring in two of every five fires (40%). More statistics on heating fires.

Carbon Monoxide

Often called the invisible killer, carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas created when fuels such as gasoline, wood, coal, propane, etc. do not burn completely. In the home, heating and cooking equipment that burn fuel are potential sources of CO. Carbon monoxide incidents are more common during the winter months, and in residential properties. More statistics on carbon monoxide incidents.

Winter storms

Most of the U.S. is at risk for winter storms, which can cause dangerous and sometimes life-threatening conditions. Blinding wind-driven snow, extreme cold, icy road conditions, downed trees and power lines can all wreak havoc on our daily schedules. Home fires occur more in the winter than in any other season, and heating equipment is involved in one of every six reported home fires, and one in every five home fire deaths.


Portable generators are useful during power outages, however, many homeowners are unaware that the improper use of portable generators can be risky. The most common dangers associated with portable generators are carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, electrical shock or electrocution, and fire hazards. According to a 2013 Consumer Product Safety Commission report, half of the generator-related deaths happened in the four coldest months of the year, November through February, and portable generators were involved in the majority of carbon monoxide deaths involving engine-driven tools. 


December is the peak time of year for home candle fires; the top four days for home candle fires are New Year’s Day, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and Christmas Eve. Each year between 2009 and 2013, an average of 25 home candle fires were reported each day. More statistics on candle fires.


Electrical home fires are a leading cause of home fires in the U.S. Roughly half of all home electrical fires involved electrical distribution or lighting equipment, while nearly another half involved other known types of equipment like washer or dryer fans, and portable or stationary space heaters. More statistics on electrical fires.

Christmas tree disposal

Christmas trees are combustible items that become increasing flammable as they continue to dry out in your home. Nearly 40 percent of home fires that begin with Christmas trees occur in January. Although Christmas tree fires are not common, when they do occur they’re much more likely to be serious. More statistics on Christmas tree fires.

Contact us at 973-383-2024 if you have a service need or click here to visit our website to learn more about SERVPRO of Northern Sussex County's System Services. 

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Last-Minute Winter Weather Checklist

10/24/2018 (Permalink)


Prepare for a Power Outage

Heavy snow and high winds are a recipe for widespread power outages. It’s important to prepare a plan now before a possible outage.

Prevent Roof Collapse

If heavy snow begins to accumulate on your roof, remove the snow with a snow rake and a long extension arm that will allow you to remove the snow while standing safely on the ground. Find additional guidance at

Stay Safe and Warm

Inspect your source of heat for any damage which can cause a fire and result in costly property damage. Also, remove combustible items placed near a heat source. For more information, check IBHS’  guide on alternative heating at

Prevent Frozen Pipes

Prevent costly water damage caused by frozen pipes by:

  • providing a reliable back-up power source to ensure continuous power to the building;
  • insulating all attic penetrations;
  • ensuring proper seals on all doors and windows; and
  • sealing all cracks and openings in exterior walls.

Additional guidance is available at

Know Your Winter Weather Alerts

When severe winter weather is on its way, it’s important you know and understand what each alert means so you can respond accordingly. Learn more about alerts at

Contact us at 973-383-2024 if you have a service need or click here to visit our website to learn more about SERVPRO of Northern Sussex County's System Services. 

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10/15/2018 (Permalink)

When there’s a water intrusion, like a roof leak or leaking water line, mold can quickly become a problem in your home or business. Mold can cause health effects and can also cause significant damage to your property.  Fortunately, SERVPRO Franchise Professionals have the training, protective gear, and specialized equipment necessary to handle your mold problem. Although every mold damage scenario is different requiring a unique solution, the general mold remediation process stays the same. The following steps illustrate a “typical” mold removal process.

Call the Team in Green

The mold cleanup and restoration process begins when you call SERVPRO®.  A representative will ask a series of questions to help determine the necessary equipment, resources, and personnel needed.

Inspection and Damage Assessment

Your property will be carefully inspected for signs of mold using technology designed to detect mold and hidden water sources. Mold feeds on cellulose and water and can be hidden from plain view.

Mold Containment

Various containment procedures will be placed to prevent the spread of mold and isolate the contaminated area with physical barriers and negative air pressure to keep the mold spores from spreading during the cleanup process.

Air Filtration

Specialized filtration equipment captures microscopic mold spores out of the air. SERVPRO® technicians utilize powerful air scrubbers and HEPA vacuums to prevent the spread of these mold spores while the mold remediation is in progress.

Removing Mold and Mold-Infested Materials

The mold remediation process depends on the amount of mold growth and the types of surfaces on which the mold appears. Antifungal and antimicrobial treatments will be used to eliminate mold colonies and help prevent new colonies from forming. Removing and disposing of mold infested
porous materials, like drywall and flooring, may be necessary to remediate heavy mold growth.

Cleaning Contents and Belongings

SERVPRO® Franchise Professionals clean your furniture, decorative items, curtains, and other restorable items affected by mold. They use a variety of cleaning techniques to clean and sanitize your belongings. They are also trained to remove odors and deodorize using fogging equipment.


Depending on the level of mold damage, drywall, subfloors, and other building materials may be removed.  Restoration may involve minor repairs, such as replacing drywall, painting, and installing new carpet; or it may entail major repairs such as the reconstruction of various areas or rooms in a home or business.


SERVPRO® Franchise Professionals handle water
damages every day and know prompt action is required to prevent mold growth. If there is an ongoing moisture problem in the building, be alert for:

  • The presence of visible mold.
  • Strong musty odors, which may indicate mold is present.
  • Any evidence of past moisture problems that might have caused undetected mold growth.
  • Excessive humidity.  These conditions may require the expertise of a qualified Indoor Air Quality/Environmental Professional to inspect the building for mold growth and water damage problems.

Contact us at 973-383-2024 if you have a service need or click here to visit our website to learn more about SERVPRO of Northern Sussex County's System Services. 

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Reduce Flood Damage to Businesses

10/6/2018 (Permalink)


Your plan for disaster preparedness should include flood information and outline how to prepare for floods. Read on for information about floods and flood safety tips, and how to make them part of your emergency preparedness plan as you prepare for a flood.

Types Of Flooding

Topography and weather conditions play a prominent role in the impact different types of flooding have on specific locales. The following are some examples of specific types of flooding.

  • Rising water may be the greatest risk to inland areas away from a river bed after a heavy snow pack begins to melt or after heavy rainfall.
  • Moving water is a serious risk in areas near rivers or in coastal storm surge areas because it creates significantly larger lateral forces on a building.
  • Overtopping, breaching or opening of dams, levees, and other flood control mechanisms, which are designed to divert the flow of water to provide protection, can lead to flood damage that may be more significant than if the levees were never installed. The Mississippi and Missouri River floods of 2011 included breaches of levees, as well as controlled flooding by the opening of various flood gates on levees. The result was thousands of acres of farmland, crops, livestock and fish farms being destroyed to protect urban areas.
  • Flash flooding can occur in every region as a result of slow-moving thunderstorms or excessive rainfall from any storm system.
  • Large, slow-moving tropical storms can dump excessive amounts of rain on coastal locations and then move inland to continue the devastation, resulting in widespread flood damage.

Floods can occur anywhere, often with little or no warning, and with devastating consequences. Protecting the bottom line in order to remain open, or to re-open quickly after a flood disaster, requires taking steps now to prevent or reduce flood damage should your business be in the path of rising water. Below is a brief overview of issues that small businesses must address to reduce the likelihood of flood damage and to prepare financially and operationally should a flood occur. Many of the topics covered here involve complex issues that are best addressed by hydrological, engineering, regulatory or insurance experts; the goal here is simply to outline the basics in order to help business owners understand why they need to mitigate against flood risk and some of the challenges they may face.

Tropical Storm Allison (2001): A Case Study in Flooding

Often, businesses and homeowners let down their guard when a tropical weather system does not result in hurricane-force winds. Tropical Storm Allison is a good example of how rains associated with a tropical system can be equally devastating. The storm dumped approximately 32 trillion gallons of rain (enough to meet U.S. water needs for an entire year), according to the Tropical Storm Allison Recovery Project. This included 28 inches of rainfall during a 12-hour period just northeast of downtown Houston, and rainfall amounts ranging from 10, 20 and 30 inches in locations throughout the Southeast—earning Allison the infamous distinction as the costliest tropical storm in U.S. history.

Understanding Your Flood Hazard

There are several flood principles that should be considered to determine your facility’s exposure to flood waters and the type of protection to be deployed:

  • Duration: It is important to know if flood waters are expected to recede quickly or may be trapped due to the slope of the land. The longer a facility is exposed to flood waters, the greater potential for flood-proofing failures due to a breach in the protection.
  • Depth: Flood waters greater than 3 feet create hydrostatic pressure on walls that can cause cracks in masonry and greatly increase the potential of collapse to unreinforced masonry. When estimating the potential depth of flood waters, it is always best to include a safety factor to account for inaccuracies in the estimate.
  • Velocity: As flood water velocity increases, so does the pressure exerted on flood protection. River flooding can be very fast moving water at first and then may settle down. Coastal locations may be exposed to wave action from storm surge.
  • Water Condition: Many times flood waters are dirty, brackish or contaminated with biological and chemical materials including waste water, sewage, pesticides, industrial waste, toxic and non-toxic chemicals, or oils. Debris that is churning in the water can impact buildings and flood protection systems, create breaches in the protection and cause extensive damage.

Location, Location, Location

Proximity to water is the number 1 risk factor for flooding, but property owners should not assume being out of the floodplain will help you entirely avoid the possibility of flooding. It is always a best practice to locate your property as far away from bodies of water as possible. Flood maps available from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) identify 100-year and 500-year flood zones throughout the United States. The flood zones also delineate participation in the NFIP, as well as permitting and other requirements that communities adopt in order to meet NFIP standards and qualify their citizens for lower flood insurance rates. By definition, the 100-year and 500-year flood zones mean there is a 1 (.20) percent chance of flooding annually in an area based on topography and historical data; it does not mean that flooding will occur only once in a century (or 500 years). There also are other important points to consider.

  • Floods can and very often do occur outside the 100-year flood zone. In fact, approximately 25 percent of all flood damages occur in relatively low risk zones commonly described as being “outside the mapped flood zone.”
  • Specific boundaries on some flood maps may be arbitrary or include inaccuracies. For example, a property lying just outside the 100-year flood zone is almost equally likely to be flooded as one just within.
  • Obstructions or landfill can change the topography, storm-water drainage patterns, and flow of water over natural floodplains. Although permits are required for flood zone fill (and must be based on engineering assessments demonstrating “no impact”), it is possible that non-permitted work has occurred near your property.
  • Floods show no respect for the estimated probabilities. As Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director Craig Fugate observed following a spate of natural disasters, “It just seemed like it was back-to-back and it came in waves. The term ‘100-year event’ really lost its meaning this year.”

The Importance of Elevation

When it comes to flooding, there really is no better solution than adequate elevation, aside from choosing a location well outside of a 500-year flood plain. If such a location is not possible, the best way to increase the safety margin against flood damage is to raise the elevation of your building above the 500-year flood elevation. Flood-proofing your building is another option to reduce damage. Through the NFIP, there is extensive regulation of floodplain development at the community level.

Permits are needed for a wide range of activities including construction of new buildings, additions to existing buildings, and substantial improvement to the interior of existing buildings that are within the most hazardous flood zones. Part of the permitting process involves whether your building site is higher than the base flood elevation (BFE), which is the elevation at which your property has a 1 percent chance of flooding annually, as indicated on the NFIP flood maps. Major storms and flash floods can cause waters to rise higher than the BFE—therefore, it is always a good investment to build in a safety factor several feet above the BFE. This safety zone is called “freeboarding.”


For example, IBHS’s FORTIFIED for Safer Business™ Standards, a package of enhanced voluntary construction standards that greatly increase a new light commercial building’s durability and resilience to natural hazards, requires FORTIFIED buildings to be at least 3 feet above the BFE or above the 500-year flood elevation. There are also ways to retrofit your existing building so that it meets or exceeds BFEs. While only a structural engineer/design professional can determine what is right for your property, the options include raising foundation onto pilings or columns or adding landfill, as long as “no impact” floodplain requirements are met.

  • When elevating a building so that the walking surface of the lowest floor is at the minimum elevation, areas under the BFE can be used only for parking and limited storage—under-floor bathrooms, utilities, and ductwork are not allowed.
  • Equipment, utility connections and all interior utility systems including ductwork must be elevated above the BFE. In addition, fuel and propane tanks must be properly anchored, since they can become buoyant even in shallow water.

What is “Dry Flood-Proofing”?

Sealing a building so that water will not enter is called “dry flood-proofing” or “flood-proofing.” Flood-proofing protects your building by coating the exterior with a membrane to prevent flood waters from entering. NFIP regulations allow flood-proofing as an alternative to elevation above the BFE for newly constructed or substantially improved non-residential structures only—new and improved homes must be elevated above the BFE to meet NFIP requirements. It is important to determine whether dry flood-proofing will provide the protections your property needs before choosing this option. This also applies if your business is located outside the 100-year flood zone, but you want to invest in additional flood protection. Dry flood-proofing is a complex procedure that should be done by professional experts. If done incorrectly, it may not protect your property and can lead to decay, mold, or termite damage:

  • As a general matter, dry flood-proofing is best suited to areas with clay soils where floods are short in duration and less than 3 feet deep.
  • Buildings in poor structural condition should not be dry flood-proofed, as the exterior walls will be under extreme pressure during a flood.

There are a variety of dry flood-proofing measures; a professional can help to determine whether any of them are right for your situation:

  • Applying a waterproof coating or membrane to exterior walls
  • Sealing all wall penetrations including where utilities enter the building
  • Installing waterproof shields over all openings, including windows and doors
  • Anchoring the building to resist flotation
  • Strengthening walls to withstand flood water pressures and flood debris

The Vulnerable Basement

Even above the BFE or outside the floodplain, basements are prone to floods because water may flow down into them. They also may have an increased hydrostatic pressure exerted upon them when the surrounding ground is saturated. Recognizing that elevation is the best form of mitigation, there are a number of additional measures business owners can take to reduce the likelihood and scope of basement flood damage.

  • Thoroughly inspect your basement and the surrounding property for evidence of water entry and sources of water flow and leakage.
  • Correct potential problems—for example, extend and redirect downspouts, re-grade sloping landscape, and caulk any interior wall cracks.
  • Basement walls should be designed to resist hydrostatic pressure.
  • Use flood-resistant materials where possible, including floor coverings, wall coverings, and wall insulation. Most flood-resistant materials can withstand direct contact with water for at least 72 hours without being significantly damaged.
  • Do not store valuable equipment, documents, or inventory in any crawlspace or basement where flooding is possible.

The “Green” Factor

In addition, there are steps you can take now to reduce health and environmental damage should a flood occur.

  • Anchor fuel and propane tanks to prevent them from being swept away. When they break away, the contents may leak, creating fire, explosion and pollution risks that can adversely affect health and the environment.
  • Install sewer backflow valves to block drain pipes from sewage back-up, which can occur if there is flooding in your area.
  • If you are supplied by well water, protect your well from contamination. A licensed well drilling contractor can inspect your well and suggest improvements.

Financial and Operational Protections

The NFIP makes flood insurance available to commercial owners and renters. As is the case with residential property, costs vary depending on how much insurance is purchased, what it covers, and the property’s flood risk. NFIP coverage limits are up to $500,000 for a commercial building, and up to $500,000 to protect its contents. Insurance coverage also may be available from private insurance companies, depending on your business’s location, building and business characteristics, and property value.

The best way to learn more about flood insurance benefits, costs, and options is to contact your insurance agent. Finally, take steps now so you can quickly resume operations should a flood or other hazard damage your property. Although flood insurance may cover losses to your structure and contents, many businesses that are severely damaged never fully recover financially due to the loss of management focus, employees, and market share. IBHS’ Open for Business® planning tool helps small- and mid-sized businesses resume their critical business operations and work processes and deliver the goods and services expected by customers or clients–consider it a vital part of your flood preparation planning and practice.

Contact us at 973-383-2024 if you have a service need or click here to visit our website to learn more about SERVPRO of Northern Sussex County's System Services. 

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How to get federal disaster assistance

10/6/2018 (Permalink)


Author: Jay MacDonald

When local and state resources are overwhelmed by a severe disaster, your state’s governor will request that the president issue a Major Disaster Declaration. This is the only declaration that can activate a range of federal assistance programs for individuals and families. Assistance may include temporary housing, low-interest loans and grants, counseling for post-disaster trauma and other services.

FEMA service information to keep handy:

To register for federal disaster assistance:

Phone: (800) 621-3362
Teletypewriter, or TTY: (800) 462-7585

To locate a mobile: Disaster Recovery Center

To appeal a FEMA grant denial, write to:

FEMA - Individuals & Households Program
National Processing Service Center
P.O. Box 10055
Hyattsville, MD 20782-7055

Or send fax to: (800) 827-8112
Attention: FEMA -- Individuals & Households Program

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, doesn’t activate all of its assistance programs in every natural disaster. It largely depends on the nature of damages reported by your state.

To qualify for federal disaster assistance, your losses must have occurred in an area covered by a Major Disaster Declaration. If you have online access, you can quickly determine this at FEMA’s Federal Disaster Declarations Web page.

A number of criteria are used in the determination of a major disaster area, including the amount and type of damage, the imminent threats to public health and safety, and level of insurance coverage in place for homeowners and public facilities, according to

Make an insurance claim

After determining whether you are in a major disaster area, you should file an insurance claim with your home and/or auto insurance company for any damages incurred. Failure to file an insurance claim may affect your eligibility for federal assistance, because by law, FEMA cannot provide money for losses that are covered by insurance.

Once you file your claim, FEMA may be able to provide some assistance in the following circumstances.

  • Delayed insurance settlement: If your settlement is delayed longer than 30 days, FEMA may loan you some money. It will expect you to repay the loan when your settlement arrives. How to file: Write FEMA with a full explanation and insurance claim number, the date of the claim and documentation.
  • Your insurance settlement falls short: If the maximum payment from your settlement doesn’t cover your disaster-related needs, FEMA may help make up the difference. How to file: Write FEMA with a full explanation and complete insurance documentation.
  • Additional Living Expenses exhausted: If you’ve exhausted your insurance company’s maximum loss-of-use settlement, FEMA may be able to help with your disaster-related temporary housing needs. Write them with explanation and documentation.

Types of federal disaster assistance: housing and nonhousing

There are two types of direct federal disaster assistance available: housing needs and nonhousing needs:

Housing assistance. This includes temporary housing and money to help repair or replace your primary residence. To qualify for housing needs assistance, you or someone living with you must be a U.S. citizen, noncitizen national or qualified alien; your home must be your permanent residence; and you must have been living in the home when the disaster hit but not currently able to due to damage from the disaster.

Nonhousing needs. These include medical, dental and funeral costs; clothing and household items; tools; home fuel; disaster-related moving and storage; and replacement of a disaster-damaged vehicle. In order to qualify for these, you or someone living with you must be a U.S. citizen, noncitizen national or qualified alien; you must have serious disaster-related needs and expenses; and you must have accepted all assistance for which you are eligible from insurance proceeds and Small Business Administration, or SBA, disaster loans.

The SBA provides federally subsidized disaster loans to repair or replace homes or personal property of qualified homeowners and businesses. SBA loans comprise the lion’s share of federal disaster assistance.

Additional forms of direct federal assistance include crisis counseling; disaster unemployment assistance; legal services, including assistance with insurance claims; and special tax consideration that enables you to deduct a casualty loss that exceeds 10 percent of your adjusted gross income on your federal tax return for the current or previous tax year.

What’s next

Once you’ve applied for federal disaster assistance, you can check the status of your application within 24 hours via the same method you applied. FEMA will also mail you a copy of your application along with a detailed guide that walks you through the assistance process.

An inspector working with FEMA will contact you 10 to 14 days after your application to schedule a time to visit your home and inspect the disaster-related damage. There is no charge for this inspection, but you must be present during the inspection and prepared to offer the inspector proof of ownership and occupancy.

  • Proof of ownership includes any of the following: deed, tax records, mortgage payment book or a homeowners insurance policy showing you as the owner. Lacking these, the inspector may be able to obtain proof from a county property tax website.
  • Proof of occupancy includes any of the following: driver’s license with address, a recent utility bill in your name or any first-class government mail sent to you at your address during the past three months.

Do you qualify?

Inspectors submit their report to FEMA but play no role in determining your eligibility for assistance.

It will take FEMA about 10 days to review your inspection. If you qualify for a grant, FEMA will send you a check by mail with a letter explaining how you are to use the money (you’ll receive this via direct deposit if you supplied your bank routing number on your application).

The grant is tax-free and does not require repayment. However, you cannot give it to someone else and you must use it as specified by FEMA. If you don’t, you won’t be granted any additional assistance and you may be asked to pay it back.

If you do not qualify for a grant, you’ll receive a letter explaining why. You have the right to appeal. Appeals must be written and mailed within 60 days of receiving FEMA’s decision.

In a third scenario, FEMA may send you an application to apply for a loan through the Small Business Administration. You must complete and submit the SBA loan application to be considered for a loan as well as certain types of grant assistance. If the SBA then determines that you do not qualify for a loan, it will automatically refer you back to FEMA for grant assistance.

Contact us at 973-383-2024 if you have a service need or click here to visit our website to learn more about SERVPRO of Northern Sussex County's System Services. 

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Is your workplace prepared in the event of a fire?

10/6/2018 (Permalink)



What would you say is the biggest cause of workplace fires? It's not equipment failure. It's not electrical faults. It's not storms or natural disasters. It's people and carelessness.

Every year, in more than 70,000 workplace fires across North America, an average 200 people die, thousands are injured and many firms are either put out of business or severely disrupted.

October is Fire Protection Week in the US and Canada, so now is a good time to review and remind employees of safety rules. A few simple steps will help identify and reduce risks. Things like:

  1. Assessing your buildings for risks -- I'd make that a visual inspection tour
  2. Reducing clutter and keeping escape routes clear
  3. Storing flammable chemicals under lock and key
  4. Locating heat-producing equipment, even coffee-makers, away from flammable material
  5. Checking building security to prevent possible arson fires
  6. Enforcing no-smoking or designated area rules
  7. Checking fire extinguisher service and replacement dates
  8. Ensuring employees know how to operate extinguishers
  9. Enforcing rules for the use of spark - and fire-producing equipment
  10. Conducting permitted, controlled burning/fires a safe distance from buildings
  11. Checking operation of fire and smoke alarms

It's even more important that employees know what to do if fire does break out. Even if it's not mandatory, you should have a written emergency action plan that includes details of evacuation routes, location of assembly points, procedures for raising the alarm and, if appropriate, a written list of individuals and their responsibilities.

As much as everyone loathes them, evacuations should be practiced at least once a year. It's a good idea to alert employees of an intention to have a practice drill but not to tell them exactly when it will happen.

Here are a couple of documents you may find useful in drawing up or reviewing your plans: and

And if you'd like to know more about Fire Safety Week or get other information about fire safety, visit the National Fire Protection Association, a US-based global organization, at

Finally, please make sure you have adequate insurance in place, not just against property damage and liability arising from fires but also coverage to protect you against income losses arising from business disruption.

Contact us at 973-383-2024 if you have a service need or click here to visit our website to learn more about SERVPRO of Northern Sussex County's System Services. 

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Flood Cleanup: Avoiding Indoor Air Quality Problems

10/1/2018 (Permalink)


During a flood cleanup, the indoor air quality in your home or office may appear to be the least of your problems. However, failure to remove contaminated materials and to reduce moisture and humidity can present serious long term health risks. Standing water and wet materials are a breeding ground for microorganisms, such as viruses, bacteria, and mold. They can cause disease, trigger allergic reactions, and continue to damage materials long after the flood.

This fact sheet discusses problems caused by microbial growth, as well as other potential effects of flooding, on long-term indoor air quality and the steps you can take to lessen these effects. Although the information contained here emphasizes residential flood cleanup, it is also applicable to other types of buildings.

Prepare for Cleanup

Read Repairing Your Flooded Home prepared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross. The booklet discusses flood safety issues and can save your life. The booklet also contains detailed information on proper methods for cleaning up your home. You should also consult the wealth of information on the FEMA, CDC, and The American Lung Association sites on the subject, which are listed below:

This fact sheet provides additional information not covered in the original FEMA/American Red Cross booklet on indoor air quality concerns related to flooding (however, because this fact sheet was prepared in 1993, it is more than likely that FEMA and the Red Cross and the American Lung Association do have more up-to-date information and resources available which you should consult). Many of the methods used for general cleanup, as detailed in the booklet, are the same as those used to avoid problems with indoor air quality. For brevity, we have not provided detail on the general methods used for cleanup here. This fact sheet is intended to be used in conjunction with the FEMA/American Red Cross booklet and resources. Children are different from adults. They may be more vulnerable to chemicals and organisms they are exposed to in the environment.

Avoid Problems from Microbial Growth

Remove Standing Water

Standing water is a breeding ground for microorganisms, which can become airborne and be inhaled. Where floodwater contains sewage or decaying animal carcasses, infectious disease is of concern. Even when flooding is due to rainwater, the growth of microorganisms can cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. For these health reasons, and to lessen structural damage, all standing water should be removed as quickly as possible.

Dry Out Your Home

Excess moisture in the home is an indoor air quality concern for three reasons:

  • Microorganisms brought into the home during flooding may present a health hazard. These organisms can penetrate deep into soaked, porous materials and later be released into air or water. Coming in contact with air or water that contains these organisms can make you sick.
  • High humidity and moist materials provide ideal environments for the excessive growth of microorganisms that are always present in the home. This may result in additional health concerns such as allergic reactions.
  • Long-term increases in humidity in the home can also foster the growth of dust mites. Dust mites are a major cause of allergic reactions and asthma.

See Step 4, Dry Out Your Home, of the American Red Cross/FEMA booklet, Repairing Your Flooded Home, on steps that should be taken to open up and dry out ceilings, walls, and floors in the home. Be patient. The drying out process could take several weeks, and growth of microorganisms will continue as long as humidity is high. If the house is not dried out properly, a musty odor, signifying growth of microorganisms can remain long after the flood.

Remove Wet Materials

It can be difficult to throw away items in a home, particularly those with sentimental value. However, keeping certain items that were soaked by water may be unhealthy. Some materials tend to absorb and keep water more than others. In general, materials that are wet and cannot be thoroughly cleaned and dried within 24-48 hours should be discarded, as they can remain a source of microbial growth.

Information on the types of water-damaged materials that should be discarded are provided in Step 4, Dry Out Your Home, of the American Red Cross/FEMA booklet, Repairing Your Flooded Home

The booklet suggests that you may be able to dry out and save certain building materials (for example, wallboard, fiberglass insulation, and wall-to-wall carpeting that were soaked only with clean rainwater). You may, however, want to consider removing and replacing them to avoid indoor air quality problems. Because they take a long time to dry, they may be a source of microbial growth. For information on mold prevention and cleanup, visit

In addition, fiberboard, fibrous insulation, and disposable filters should be replaced, if they are present in your heating and air conditioning system and have contacted water. (If a filter was designed to be cleaned with water and was in contact with clean rainwater only, ensure that it is thoroughly cleaned before reinstalling.)

Avoid Problems from the Use of Cleaners and Disinfectants

The cleanup process involves thorough washing and disinfecting of the walls, floors, closets, shelves, and contents of the house. In most cases, common household cleaning products and disinfectants are used for this task. FEMA also suggests the use of disinfectants and sanitizers on the ductwork for the heating and air conditioning system, if it has been flooded.

Disinfectants and sanitizers contain toxic substances. The ability of chemicals in other household products used for cleaning to cause health effects varies greatly, from those with no known health effect to those that are highly toxic. Read and follow label instructions carefully, and provide fresh air by opening windows and doors. If it is safe for you to use electricity and the home is dry, use fans both during and after the use of disinfecting, cleaning, and sanitizing products.

Be careful about mixing household cleaners and disinfectants together. Check labels for cautions on this. Mixing certain types of products can produce toxic fumes and result in injury and even death.

Avoid Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas that can be lethal at high levels. Carbon monoxide levels can build up rapidly if certain types of combustion devices (for example, gasoline-powered generators, camp stoves and lanterns, or charcoal-burning devices) are used indoors. Do not use combustion devices designed for outdoor use indoors.

Avoid Problems from Airborne Asbestos and Lead Dust

Elevated concentrations of airborne asbestos can occur if asbestos-containing materials present in the home are disturbed. Airborne asbestos can cause lung cancer and mesothelioma, a cancer of the chest and abdominal linings. If you know or suspect that your home contains asbestos, contact the EPA TSCA Assistance Information Service at (202) 554-1404 for information on steps you should take to avoid exposure.

Lead is a highly toxic metal which produces a range of adverse health effects, particularly in young children. Disturbance or removal of materials containing lead-based paint may result in elevated concentration of lead dust in the air. If you know or suspect that your home contains lead-based paint, contact the National Lead Information Center to receive a general information packet, to order other documents, or for detailed information or questions. Call and speak with a specialist Monday through Friday, 8:00 am to 6:00 pm eastern time (except Federal holidays) at 1 (800) 424-LEAD [5323].

Contact us at 973-383-2024 if you have a service need or click here to visit our website to learn more about SERVPRO of Northern Sussex County's System Services. 

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