What’s a Flash Flood Warning?
Flash flood warnings are nothing to ignore.
When rain begins falling in Austin, we’re all prepared for two things—bad drivers and the inevitable flash flood warning on our phones. In an area of the state that is so prone to drought, we know that when it rains, it pours. Some of us have gotten so used to these alerts that we really don’t even notice them any more.
So what is a flash flood warning anyway? When I was growing up, I always imagined a wall of water bearing down on our neighborhood when I heard the term “flash flood.” The reality is less dramatic, but more insidious
According to the National Weather Service, flash floods are those that begin within six hours of heavy rainfall. The Texas Hill Country has been nicknamed “Flash Flood Alley.”
"Leading the United States in the number of flash and river flooding-related deaths annually (an ominous honor), Texas, specifically the Hill Country, is the most flash flood-prone region found in North America." (Sault, Spring. “Why the Hill Country is A.K.A. ‘Flash Flood Alley,’” Texas Hill Country, June 3, 2016)
To determine when a flash flood warning should be issued, the City of Austin has uses the Flood Early Warning System—a network of 130 rain and creek gauges that are constantly monitored. (You can read about the history of this system in a great Government Technology article.)
We love living in the Texas Hill Country and a little flooding now and then isn’t going to scare us away from the best city in the country, but we know that makes sense to pay attention to those inevitable flash flood warnings when they come through. (Also, drive safely when it rains. No one wants to get stuck on the side of MoPac in a fender bender on their way to work.)
If you’ve experienced any water damage due to a recent storm, give SERVPRO of North Central Austin a call and we’ll come out to make it “Like it never even happened.”
Know Your Hurricane Categories
Hurricanes are a fact of life in Texas. Take a minute to learn more about them.
It’s hurricane season. For those of us who are fascinated with weather (which includes a lot of us here at SERVPRO of North Central Austin), it’s a time when we watch weather reports the way other people watch the sports news.
Here in Austin we’re a little removed from the immediate effects of such massive weather events, so it’s easier to watch hurricanes come and go without having our own lives upended. Because we don’t have to worry about hurricanes, we aren’t all familiar with the differences in hurricane categories. But even just living in a gulf-coast state, it’s a good idea to know what’s coming when we hear about a category 2 or a category 4 storm headed for our lone star beaches.
We’ve compiled a handy reference guide to put the different types of hurricanes into perspective
- Tropical storms have a wide range of speeds. Winds can blow at anywhere from 39-72 mph.
- That's about the range of speeds that you'll use when driving down I-35, depending on the time of day.
- The most recent tropical storm to hit Texas was Imelda. It landed a year ago at Freeport on September 17, 2019.
- Category 1 hurricanes travel at 74–95 mph.
- That's the speed of the average college fastball pitch.
- Texas' last category 1 was just this summer when Hurricane Hanna hit Padre Island on July 19th.
- Category 2 hurricanes have a speed of 96–110 mph.
- That's roughly the speed of a human sneeze. (Gross.)
- Our last category 2 hurricane was Ike, which hit Galveston on September 13th, 2008.
- Category 3 hurricanes go about 111–129 mph.
- That's the speed of a falling skydiver.
- Hurricane Rita was Texas' last category 3 hurricane. It landed near Port Arthur on September 23, 2005.
- Category 4 hurricanes travel at 130–156 mph.
- That's the speed of the average LPGA tour drive.
- Texas' last category 4 hurricane was Harvey. On August 25, 2017 it landed in Rockport.
- Category 5 hurricanes have winds 157 mph or faster.
- The how fast a golden eagle flies. (Check out this video filmed from the back of one of these amazing birds.)
- Thankfully, Texas has never been hit by a category 5 hurricane.
One of the reasons we’re proud to work for SERVPRO is knowing that no matter how big or how small a storm is, there is a nation-wide team of franchises ready to respond in the moment of crisis. So even though we aren’t all hit by hurricanes, we’re all here to help those who are.
We can do the same for you.
What is a Moisture Meter?
What's actually happening when a technician puts a moisture meter on a wet floor?
If you’ve ever had a restoration team repair flood damage to your home, you’ve probably encountered some sci-fi looking devices that the technicians pulled out and occasionally told you were saying something significant. It’s understandable if you wondered whether these are actually high-tech tools or just gimmicks meant to fool you into paying a contractor.
One of these mystery tools is called a “moisture meter” and today we want to explain them a little better so you know what our technicians are looking at.
Obviously we can only vouch for our own technicians’ honesty, but we can re-assure you that moisture meters are a legitimate piece of technology used throughout the industry. In fact, consumer-grade moisture meters are widely available at hardware retailers or online.
How Do Moisture Meters Work?
There are two main types of moisture meters: resistance meters (pin meters) and capacitance meters (pinless).
Pin meters have two small sharp detectors that are inserted into wood. They detect moisture by measuring the electrical current that travels between the pins. This is a fast and proven method of measuring moisture in wood, but it will slightly damage the material that’s being inspected.
Capacitance meters are good for using on materials that can’t or shouldn’t be penetrated with pins. They work by creating an electromagnetic field that is affected by the moisture in the material.
How Do Technicians Use Moisture Meters?
Your SERVPRO technicians will make an initial moisture reading during their first visit to your building. At that time they’ll make a determination about the best drying method depending on the moisture level and material that’s being restored, and then they’ll get the restoration process started.
Every day after that, a technician will visit your site to take follow-up readings. They’ll use the same moisture meters on the same material to ensure consistency, so if they used a capacitance meter on the wall during the initial inspection, they’ll use a capacitance meter in every other reading.
If you have experienced water damage, contact SERVPRO of North Central Austin and let us know how we can help you.
After a Storm
What should you do after a storm floods your home? After a significant weather event, you may find yourself dealing with conflicting impulses. On one hand, you'll be eager to start the cleanup process right away. On the other hand, you'll probably feel overwhelmed and unsure where to start. While it’s best to have a restoration professional working through the process on your behalf, there are certain steps you can begin while you wait for help to arrive.
The first and most important thing to know is how to re-enter a building safely. Never begin damage mitigation until a building has been cleared as safe.
- Do not touch electrical equipment if you are wet yourself or standing in water.
- Don’t walk through floodwaters. Water can be contaminated by oil, gasoline, or raw sewage or possibly even be electrically charged. (See our earlier blog post on water contamination levels.)
- Turn off electricity to any rooms that are affected by flooding.
- Don’t operate any electrical equipment while standing in wet or damp locations.
- Do not turn on ceiling fixtures if ceiling is wet or enter rooms where ceilings are sagging from retained water.
- Wear protective clothing such as boots, long pants, and gloves when entering your home or dealing with flooded areas. I realize this is going to be uncomfortable in Austin since storm season is generally in the late summer heat, but it’s not worth the risk of injury to wear shorts in a flood clean-up.
Once you get into your building, notify your insurance agent. Your policy guidelines will influence your next steps and your agent should be able to recommend a trusted water restoration team in your area. To make sure that your agent has an accurate assessment of the damage, take photos or video to record the condition of your building and possessions. Don’t move any objects or collections without documenting their condition.
At SERVPRO of North Central Austin, we’re ready to answer your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but there are still some steps you can take the moment you get back home while you’re waiting for our team to arrive.
The faster you act, the more effective the restoration process will be and the better your chances are of saving water damaged possessions.
- Remove any paintings, art objects, documents and other sensitive materials to a safe, dry place.
- Wipe excess water from wood furniture after removing lamps and tabletop items.
- Raise wooden furniture out of standing waters and place on blocks if possible.
- Remove as much excess water as possible by mopping and blotting.
- Move large furniture away from walls for better air circulation.
- Remove and prop up wet upholstery cushions for even drying.
Tips for Carpet Care
If the affected room is carpeted, there are a few things you can do to prevent further damage to your carpet that might not be obvious if you’ve never been through a flood before.
- Place aluminum foil between furniture legs and wet carpeting.
- Remove books, newspapers, magazines, or other colored items from wet carpets.
- Do not leave colored area rugs on wet carpets (or white rugs on wet colored carpets). Color transfer from one can stain the other.
Let Us Help You
Most people only ever have to recover from a flooded home once in their lifetime. When it does happen, it’s good to have a partner who has been through this before. At SERVPRO of North Central Austin, we have years of experience and the backing of the SERVPRO system to draw on and help make your home "Like it never even happened."
If you are dealing with flood damage, call us for help at (512) 579-0189 or request help online today.
Why SERVPRO? Our Technicians
Our technicians make us who we are.
When we call our employees “technicians,” it’s not just flattery. Our team members are trained in the science of restoration. One example of this training is psychrometrics.
I must confess that I wasn’t familiar with this term before I came to work for SERVPRO of North Central Austin. Psychrometrics is the study of air and its properties. Technicians must measure the thermodynamic properties of temperature, humidity, vapor pressure, and dew point to evaluate how these properties will relate to the effect the moisture has on various structural materials and contents. When they aren’t favorable, the technician has to intervene to prevent damage to materials.
Since they don’t only work with water loss restoration, our technicians have to learn fire theory as well. Technicians are trained on the components of combusion, how protein residues can affect kitchen fires, and how ionization from burning plastics can react with smoke, just to give a few examples.
Our technicians put in hours of continuing education training and receive numerous IICRC certifications every year. This expertise is one of the reasons why we believe in our company and in our team.
Flood Water Contamination Categories
How clean is the water flooding your room?
When you have flooding in your building, how safe is it? What is it carrying throughout your room? In the restoration industry, we have categories that we use to describe the type of water involved in a flood.
Category 1 water is clean. This water must come from a sanitary water source. When a water supply line breaks, a tub overflows, or fresh rain leaks through a roof, the water starts out as a category 1. Once the water picks up debris or chemicals from the walls or ground or begins to grow bacteria from sitting in place, this categorization can change, but as long as it’s in category 1, water is considered safe.
Category 2 water is also called “grey water.” This water carries chemicals or biological contamination. Examples of grey water include flooding that comes out of washing machine or dishwasher (as compared to flooding that comes from the water source into the machines). This water may appear either clear or dingy, but still contains chemicals, soap, or particulate from the dishes or laundry.
Category 2 water can also be created as clean water sits and deteriorates. As mold forms in the water, it changes the contamination level of the flooding.
While grey water isn’t safe for humans to drink or wash in, it isn’t totally useless. Don’t forget that category 2 water is still safe enough to water plants or wash a sidewalk.
Category 3 water is often called
black water." This is water that has been grossly contaminated beyond any safe use. Water can become category 3 if sewage backs up or if there is runoff that contains pesticides or toxic chemicals. Wind-driven rain from storms or rising water from flooding bodies of water are also considered category 3.
Just because water is considered “black” does not mean that it will actually appear dirtier than the other categories. It’s always important to take precautions when entering a flooded area, whether it looks dirty or not.
Partner with Professionals Who Know Water
When you’re experiencing water damage, you should always feel comfortable asking your restoration team any questions you have about the water contamination and its effect on the repair process. A good and compassionate professional will take the time to explain what you’re dealing with in your building.
If you have water damage and would like SERVPRO of North Central Austin to evaluate your needs, call us at 512-579-0189.
What Is a Flood Cut?
While scary looking, a flood cut is an important step in getting your room back to the way it was before the flood happened.
If you’ve recently experienced flooding in your home or office, you’ve probably been told that you need to have a "flood cut" to your walls. You may have been told that the technicians will need to cut the bottom four feet off of your drywall.
This might seem a little excessive when you first hear this news, so let's talk a little about this procedure and give you the background you need to understand why it's being suggested.
Flood water always carries contaminants into a room. Even when water looks clear, it will carry bacteria and chemicals from the ground inside and outside your building. While there are various techniques for cleaning floors and upholstery, the best way to ensure that your walls are clean is to remove the drywall completely.
Let us reassure you that a flood cut is standard procedure when a room has been flooded. It may seem extreme, but if done properly, this first step will make your reconstruction process more effective in the long run.
A flood cut is what happens when a restoration or cleanup team removes all the drywall and baseboards below the four foot mark. This is an industry standard height no matter how high your flooding was because it’s the standard size that drywall is sold in. You may occasionally have a lower cut recommended, but be aware that if you use this height, you’ll have to cut the drywall you purchase down to size.
The flood cut isn’t only standard, but also a very important first step in restoring a flooded room.
If you've experienced flooding in your home, contact SERVPRO of North Central Austin and let us give you a recommendation for restoration.
Preparing for a Flood
Prepare now for flooding this fall.
Right now, Austin is in the middle of summer. At this time of year, we’re usually more worried about fires than floods, but that’s exactly when we should prepare our homes and families for autumn rainy seasons.
Assess Your Flood Vulnerability
The most conclusive way to find out if your home or office is vulnerable to flooding is to check a flood map.
If you’re having trouble interpreting the flood map or figuring out what your actual risk is, call on the experiences of your neighbors. Ask neighbors who’ve lived on your street for years whether they’ve seen high water nearby. Post a question on a community group asking about the worst storm that anyone in that area has experienced.
Finally, explore your neighborhood and take note of creek beds that could become low water crossings. The next time it rains, take a drive over to them and see how close the water gets to the road.
Make a Plan
Flooding can happen fast in many environments. You need to have an evacuation plan ready and an emergency bag packed before water begins to rise.
You should already be aware of which roads in your community are likely to flood first. Plan a route to higher ground that doesn’t use any potential low water crossings. Talk to friends or family members and arrange for a place to go during a storm if an evacuation is ordered. If you think you might need it, put aside an envelope of literal “rainy day” cash so that you’ll have the funds to use if you need to spend the night at a hotel.
Your evacuation bag should contain everything you’ll need for a couple nights away from home. For example
- Sanitary items
- Pet or baby equipment and supplies
- A change of clothing
- Emergency blanket
- Maps of the area (don’t rely on your phone’s map. If power goes down, you’ll need a map even after your phone dies).
- Paper copies of important documents, such as medical information, deed or lease to your home, and insurance information.
You should also have some supplies set aside in case you're stranded in place.
- Food and water for three days
- A flashlight and extra batteries
- A battery powered (or crank-powered) radio
- First Aid supplies
Plan Ahead for Potential Home Repairs
Finally, take time to create a plan for repairing your home after a flood occurs. Talk to your insurance provider about the flood insurance you might need. Talk to others in your community who have been through home repairs and get names of contractors they’d recommend (or recommend you avoid).
Educate yourself about flood damage. The more informed you are about what to expect, the less scary it will be to deal with the aftermath of a flood.
It’s always intimidating to plan for any natural disaster. It’s important to realize that even though you may never have experienced a flood, you’re not alone in the process.
While most homeowners may never have to deal with a flood, professionals in the restoration, insurance, and local and national governments have years of specialized experience with these disasters. You can benefit from their experience before the rain even begins to fall.
Celebrate Safely at Home
How are you going to celebrate safely this weekend?
With many central Texas communities cancelling their July 4th fireworks displays, Austin families are looking for ways to recreate the excitement of these celebrations at home. The problem is that fireworks are a notoriously dangerous and destructive activity for nonprofessionals. Even the simplest fireworks require diligent supervision—25% of firework-related emergency room visits are from sparklers alone (National Safety Council).
So what do you do with your family when you want to have a colorful, but safe holiday? We reached out our neighbors to see what suggestions they had.
Looking for something to shoot into the air that is safe to do right in your back yard? Debbie suggested silly string, bubbles, or confetti. Don't forget to use recycled confetti if it's available. (Debbie Smith, The Kenzie at the Domain)
Laura suggested some interactive games you can play with the family. Replicate the popping of firecrackers with a bubble gum contest. You can give away a prize for the biggest bubble or loudest POP!
After the sun sets, hide glow sticks around the house or yard, turn off the lights and have a hunt to see who finds the most. (Laura Vivion, Bosworth & Associates)
Celebrate the spirit of fireworks by drawing on the sidewalk in colorful chalk. Everyone can draw a firework explosion, no matter what your age or skill level. Bonus points for getting to share your art with your neighbors (who are probably just as frustrated with the cancellations as you are). (April Laws, BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois)
Whatever your friends and family end up doing this weekend, we hope you have a safe and happy Independence Day!
Customer Loyalty in the New Normal
What changes are you making to keep customers loyal during a time of social distancing restrictions?
COVID-19 has been an unprecedented experience for most business owners. Almost no one expected at the beginning of the year that we would have to shut our doors and go virtual for three to four months. For some of us, this was an easier prospect than for others.
Those who already had a strong online presence were hurt far less than those whose services require person-to-person interaction. As we try to recover, we must admit that the pandemic has not been beaten yet. Unlike in a movie, there was no press conference announcing a cure and no all-clear announcement. We have to adapt to a new normal.
Going forward, businesses will have to plan for the ebb and flow of the COVID-19 rates in our community the way we do for other natural disasters and events that are beyond our control.
Do you have a plan for reassuring customers that their safety is your top priority? How can you communicate this? When a customer walks through your door and is greeted by a cheerful, but mask-covered smile, it tells them that you care enough to put their safety over your comfort.
When you allow for social distancing either by providing online ordering options or by reducing the capacity of your building, it tells your customers that you put their safety over profits.
When you have a Certified: SERVPRO Cleaned sticker on your door, it shows your customers that you didn’t hire just any cleaning service, but that you cared enough to have a professional bioremediation consultation and the date that the cleaning was performed.
These small steps can keep your customers loyal through whatever may come over the next several months as we deal with our new normal.