water emergencies

Water Emergencies

What to do before, during, and after

It’s Monday morning. You walk into your building, and you’re standing in two inches of water. It’s flowing from the ceiling and gushing down the walls. After the initial panic wears off, you’re ready to act. But what’s the first thing you should do?

Water emergencies require quick thinking and rapid response to minimize the damage. Knowing what to do before, during, and after a water emergency can help minimize costly and disruptive damage.

Before: Keep an eye on common sources of leaks.

  • Know where your main water shutoff valve is located and how to turn it off.

  • Maintain a list of emergency contacts, such as a local plumber, roofing contractor, water remediation company, and your insurance agent. Refer to this article for additional steps you can take to prevent water damage.

  • At least once a year, have a professional inspect your roof. He will check the condition of flashing, vent seals, caulking, roof drains, and other roof penetrations.

  • Maximize service calls. “If you have a contractor look at anything in your ministry, have them stay an extra 15 to 20 minutes to look at your other systems,” said Tim Cool, founder of Smart Church Solutions. Spotting potential problems early will help minimize damage.

  • Roofs, HVAC units, water heaters, sprinkler systems, and pressure regulators are common sources of water damage.

Pay attention to these potential sources that can cause a devastating flood in your facilities.

Pressure regulators. If you have a municipal water supply, you have pressure regulators on your main water lines. These regulators can eventually fail, leading to massive spikes in water pressure, which can cause water connections, filters, and supply lines to burst, causing extensive flooding. Frequently test your building's water pressure. If it becomes too high, replace the regulator.  

Sprinkler system. Automatic fire sprinkler systems should be inspected regularly to check for leaks or sweating. When having volunteers work in your building, make them aware of sprinkler heads. Bumping one head can set off an entire system.

HVAC condensation drain lines.  Each HVAC unit removes a lot of moisture from a building. If a drain line becomes plugged and starts overflowing, you may have gallons of water draining into your building. Regularly check your drain lines, and catch pans if applicable, to make sure water is freely flowing. “An easy way to check is to look at your HVAC unit while the air conditioning is running. You should see water coming out the drain line. If there isn’t, you have a problem,” said Cool. To prevent blockage, plan to have your HVAC drain lines blown out twice a year to make sure they’re clear.

During: Find the source of the water leak.

  • If you can, shut off the water at the source, or shut off the main water supply to your building.

  • Call your insurance agent or insurance company to begin the claim process. Your agent can assist you with understanding your policy and can direct you to contact a water clean-up company.

  • Contact a water remediation company to begin the cleanup process. While you are welcome to contact your preferred vendor, Brotherhood Mutual works with ServiceMaster. They can be reached by calling 1-800-RESPOND (1-800-737-7663). Their team of professionals will begin removing the water and drying your building quickly to reduce the risk of mold growth.

  • The water remediation company may request the following information:

    • Name of your insurance company and agent

    • If you have insurance coverage

    • Date and time water started

    • If you have found the source of the water and turned it off

    • What the source of the water is

    • Size and location of affected areas

    • Materials that are damaged (e.g., carpet, tile, wood, drywall, etc.)

  • This information prepares the team so they can act quickly upon arrival.

  • Be prepared for details. The water remediation company will provide a detailed list of everything that needs to be cleaned and repaired. It’s possible that it will be several pages long.

  • Take photos and/or video, if possible, to document the damage.

  • If the water is clean, remove as much of it as you can before professional help arrives. Do not attempt to remove water contaminated by sewage. If in doubt, leave it to the professionals.

  • Refer to these additional tips for drying your building after a water leak.

After: Repair, then budget for facilities maintenance.

After fixing the leak, repairing the damage, and replacing equipment, consider budgeting for the next time a piece of equipment breaks down. “Fix what’s broken, but plan to fix it again in 20 years when it breaks again,” said Cool. “Roofing, HVAC, water heaters, and flooring are all things that need to be replaced eventually. The sooner you can budget for their replacement, the less money you’ll have to come up with when it reaches the end of its service life.”

Related Resources

Updated November 2020