Bringing Children Back to Flood-Stricken Schools & Areas Safely

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Flooding can cause immense destruction and those located in flood-prone zones see repeat flooding costs skyrocket. The incidence of flooding of schools was not widely known before Superstorm Sandy, but as hurricanes have grown more intense and frequent, the prevalence and risk of flooding among the nation's schools have increased. In 2017, Hurricanes Irma, Harvey and Maria wrought widespread devastation. This year, Hurricane Michael slammed the Florida panhandle with record-breaking storm surges, wiping the area clean. Pacific storms have contributed to widespread flooding in Central Texas, and Willa has worsened the problem and became the country's first Nor'easter of fall 2018. With flooding likely to worsen in coming months and years, school officials will face the crises of flood-stricken schools and work to ensure safe facilities upon the return of children. First, they need to understand the risks and prevalence, the role of planning and best practices to recover from severely flooded school facilities.

Risks Are Severe for Flood-Stricken Schools

Flooding is the most common natural disaster, and its prevalence is increasing. Floods in 2016 in West Virginia caused $130 million in damage to schools, and estimations for the damage caused to schools by 2018 hurricanes are still unknown. Schools face the threat of flooding due to several reasons, including their age and condition. The annual deficit funding gap for maintaining schools nationwide is $38 billion, says The PEW Charitable Trusts hindering the ability to mitigate losses and plan for flooding.

Moreover, the EPA and Administration for Children and Families (ACF) recognized the risks of flood-stricken schools in early 2013, hosting a massive conference call to review the dangers that exist during and after flooding occurs. Some of the top risks include:

  • Drowning caused by a sudden rise in waters and failure to evacuate students in time.
  • Injuries caused by damaged buildings.
  • Contamination of drinking water and food.
  • Infectious diseases existing within damp, damaged areas.
  • Stress on children, disrupting the learning environment.
  • Poor access to care and medications.

This list might sound like the key factors to consider before waters recede, but these risks continue afterward. Carpeting may need professional cleaning. Upholstery will need replacing. Electrical systems can be damaged and in need of significant repair or replacement.

Careful Planning Is Essential to Bringing Children Back to Schools After Flooding

The only accurate way to reduce the impact of flooding is to ensure facilities are properly maintained and all needs are addressed when flooding occurs. Schools must provide a safe and healthy environment for children, including access to:

  • Safe drinking water supply
  • Functioning toilets areas
  • Electrical power
  • Communications system
  • Medical care
  • Safe travel routes and drop-off areas.

School officials should also follow these critical steps in preparing for the risk of floods:

  1. Modernize flooding maps to reflect the changes in sea-level due to climate change and its impact on high flood-risk areas.
  2. Leverage federal assistance for planning and recovery, as well as gather the appropriate documentation necessary for FEMA reimbursements if gymnasiums are used as a safe place for people during and after a storm strikes.
  3. Develop a flood preparedness plan, including evacuation, containment, recovery and more.
  4. Rebuild schools or specific buildings to reduce the impact of flooding, such as levees.

Best Practices to Ensure a Safe Return to School

The steps to reopening a school are not necessarily finite. Flooding is a disruption, but it is also impractical to keep a school closed when a particular wing or other area is under repair. In anticipation of reopening and upon reopening, leaders should follow these best practices for managing flood-stricken schools:

  1. Consider air quality. Air quality may be reduced for numerous reasons, including generator exhaust, particulates from material and debris removal and more. Officials should consider installing CO detectors, smoke alarms, and air filtration systems to reduce the impact on air quality. Ducts tend to not flood, provided the entire school was not submerged to the roof.
  2. Exercise caution in selecting cleaning materials/supplies. The type and hazard of cleaning materials and supplies can also affect air quality. So, it is essential to choose materials and to clean supplies that will not add to the problem.
  3. Look beyond the debris. Flooding hides risks, such as contributing to the growth of mold inside walls and inaccessible areas, so it is essential to look beyond the initial debris field.
  4. Remember play areas. Child-play areas are essential to encouraging a return to school and maintaining a healthy mental state for children. Play areas should be checked for damage, including non-structured areas. For instance, sandboxes may need more sand, or rubber-mats to prevent injuries may need replacement.
  5. Complete all remediation before children return to a given area. There are times when the rush to reopen and lack of funds make remediation measures go out the proverbial door. Do not allow children entry into any areas that have not been adequately inspected and certified to be suitable for use.

Recover From Flooding Successfully With the Right Flood-Response Plan

Disruptions to regular school continuity after flooding can be challenging to overcome. Restoration of facilities and the confidence of children are essential. The education facility manager and school district officials need to ensure flood-stricken schools are safe, clean and free of risks before children ever return. Since the steps to proper flood remediation can be complicated and detract from the budget, school boards should consider partnering with Cenergistic who will strategically aid schools with preparation advise, adjusting of building automation systems (BAS) and work on the ground to streamline recovery. Learn how by contacting Cenergistic online or calling 1-855-798-7779 now.


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