Floods are the most common natural disaster in the U.S. and are among the most damaging forces on Earth. Massive amounts of waste are generated in the wake of floods. The solid waste and recycling industry needs to be well prepared for floods to protect people and assets.
By Will Flower

Flooding is defined as the temporary overflow of water onto land that is normally dry. Floods typically result from heavy rains, hurricanes, storm surges, snowmelt, or the failure of dikes, dams, sea walls and other water control systems. Some floods come quickly with little warning, while others can be forecasted several days in advance. Damage from floods can be devastating including power outages, disruption to transportation systems, damage to homes and businesses, and the destruction of cars and trucks.

Flood damage results in a large amount of waste that can stress waste management systems and infrastructure. Planning, preparation and practice are critical steps to ensure solid waste companies are protected and ready to assist customers and communities
following a flood.

Planning for storms and floods helps waste companies respond to natural disasters. Proper planning includes the development of an Emergency Response Guide that will help managers identify the resources needed to respond to an emergency. The planning process includes:
• Determine if you are in a flood zone. The government maintains maps of flood zones that can be used to research the risk potential for a flood at or near your business.
• Sign up for warnings and alerts. Many communities have online or text warning systems that can provide warnings and alerts.
• Assign tasks and responsibilities. A good Emergency Response Plan will assign tasks so that all employees know what to do, where to go, and what will be needed following a natural disaster.
• Update contact directories. Home phone number, cellular telephone numbers and e-mail addresses change. Update contact lists to ensure you have current information.
• Check flood insurance policies. Make certain that you have the proper coverage in the event of a loss.

Meteorologists are usually able to predict flooding associated with storms. If a flood is forecasted to threaten your area, take the following actions:
• Help employees get prepared. Remind employees to prepare their home and to get food and water sufficient for at least three days, medications, flashlights, batteries, cash and first aid supplies.
• Gather supplies. When floods occur they can last several days. Be prepared with adequate water, fuel and emergency supplies.
• Restock emergency preparedness kits. Make sure emergency medical supplies are not expired.
• Clean out gutters, downspouts and drains.
• Back up computers and secure important documents.
• Move equipment and rolling stock to higher ground and secure other critical assets in a safe area.
• Keep vehicle fuel tanks full.
• Keep cell phones charged.
• Monitor weather updates and emergency instructions.


Working in Flood Conditions
Resuming solid waste services after a flood can be dangerous. Managers must use their best judgment following floods to re-establish operations and assist the community in cleanup efforts. Flood damage results in an enormous volume of waste. Rugs, furniture and construction/demolition waste will appear for several weeks following a flood. If possible, crews should work in teams to safely manage the excessive volume and large amount of bulky waste.

Remind drivers and helpers to:
• Wear personal protective equipment including high visibility safety vests, heavy work gloves and boots during clean up.
• Avoid wading in floodwater, which can be contaminated and contain dangerous debris.
• Be aware of the risk of electrical shock or electrocution from downed power lines. Underground or downed power lines can also electrically charge the water. Do not touch electrical equipment if it is wet or if you are standing in water.
• Do not drive into moving floodwaters—six to 12 inches of rapidly moving water can move a car.
• Clean headlights and keep them on. Good lighting will help you see and allow other drivers to see you.

If a driver must cross over a flooded street, he or she should:
• Slow down. Flooded roads could be much deeper than anticipated. Even large waste collection vehicles will hydroplane anytime the tire treads cannot adequately displace the water on the road surface. It is difficult to maintain control of a truck when tires cannot contact the road surface due to excess water.
• Stay in the center of the road where water tends to be less deep.
• Check breaks once you are through the flooded roadway. Slowly and lightly tap the brakes to dry them after exiting the water.
• Always remember, all vehicles on a flooded roadway will have less traction. Drivers of passenger cars may slow down and brake more often. As a result, truck drivers need to practice defensive driving and be mindful of pedestrians.

Document Losses
Finally, it is important for managers and safety professionals to document all property damage resulting from a flood. Use photographs and keep track of all expenses incurred before, during, and after the storm. Insurance claims will require documentation including the date and amount of the loss. WA

Will Flower is the Senior Vice President of Corporate and Public Affairs at Winters Bros. Waste Systems (Long Island, NY). Will has 38 years of experience in the area of solid waste management and environmental protection. He has worked in the Director’s Office of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and held operational and executive leadership positions at Waste Management, Inc., and Republic Services. Inc. Prior to his current position, he served as the president of a large recycling center on Long Island.

Share your safety tip. Submit your suggestions to Will Flower at [email protected].