As the recent millennium holiday period proved, when it comes to floods, Sod's Law very much applies. The less convenient the time - the more disastrous the occurrence. If floods do not come at weekends, they do on Bank Holidays.
Over the New Year break, flooding meant that we had as many call-outs in one week as we normally have in three. Which is why having flexible and integrated response systems is vital. As a company, the first we know of a flood - rather than an "ordinary call-out" is when we get calls from assistance companies, insurers or loss adjusters which involve as many as ten dwellings in a small area. Since our technicians are responsible for individual postcodes this is picked up quickly. What then happens, depends on the type of flooding which takes place.
The worst scenario is the flash flood where the water hits 30 of 40 buildings but is in and out within hours. Then, we have to be in those houses with our equipment as soon as possible and it is literally all hands on deck.
It may seem callous but from a manager's point of view when the waters settle and stand in the street for several hours or even days, we are given the breathing space which makes planning more coherent and sensible. However, whether it is a frantic reaction or a measured response, we are fortunate in being a national organisation which can call in technicians from other parts of the UK if needed.
Being an international company also has its advantages in that we can call in dehumidifiers and fans from our sister companies in Europe if necessary. Most dwellings need several pieces of drying equipment, so when a street or part of a town goes under water our resources can get pretty stretched.
The key to our response is our people and their attitude. When recruiting we have to be completely honest with those joining us - this is not a nine to five job with weekends and public holidays as a statutory right. In fact, as we have pointed out they are often the first to go. We have been fortunate in that as a growing company we are not only able to offer good working conditions but added responsibility and the great feeling that comes with being part of a company that has doubled in size in the last year. We are now first among equals in the £1billion property restoration/disaster management market.
From a management point of view, concentrated flooding is far better than when, as happened recently in Cornwall, there were 30 jobs spread over a 50-mile area. But floods are not predictable and their extent is dictated by rainfall, rivers, state of drains, local conditions, geography and building types.
One thing that can be predicted is the effect damp has on structure and the time it takes to dry out and then reconstruct. If we can get into a dwelling within a few hours of a flood then the cost can be reduced by as much as 90%. Within 12 hours costs can be reduced by 70% and within 24 hours costs can be halved. After 48 hours the damp has started to work its way deep into the fabric of the building and the costs of drying and reconstruction -if only of plaster and floorboards start to mount dramatically.
A sense of urgency
It is an area the whole industry must get together on. The insurance and housing industries, and loss adjusters in particular, pride themselves on their handling of business interruption. It is time some of the same urgency was brought to bear on domestic disruption.
One factor not often recognised is that rehabilitation takes far longer than for the flood water merely to subside. Typically, a flooded property will take four to eight weeks to dry with reconstruction taking the same again. Of course, in situations where a river has flooded and brought in damaging silt there can be added complications, as is the case when sewers, cess pits or chemical supplies flood.
But it is all routine for us and floods happen far more often than is realised. Our records show that floods involving ten or more dwellings happen around every seven weeks throughout the year. We have been to the same street in Birmingham three times in the last 12 months.