The headline is stark. But this was not from a rising river. This was from a broken fire sprinkler system within the building. One of the problems with this event is that the break was not discovered until an employee came in early to do some work. By that time the water was eight feet deep in the basement. As is very common in building design, the electrical and elevator systems were located in the basement and were inundated.
Water in a building can be devastating. Water in a basement with critical infrastructure can result in long lasting interruption to business activities in that building. It is also very expensive. Water removal, building dry out, mold removal, damage to equipment, replacement of supplies and loss of business cost money. These costs may or may not be covered with insurance or FEMA assistance. In the case of FEMA, only a portion of losses can be recovered.
Prevention is often impossible. Things happen. Pipes break, sprinkler heads pop off or a valve may malfunction. Maintenance can help some of that, but “IT” happens somewhere everyday.
Early warning is key. The first question I have in a situation like this is why there was no flow alarm on the sprinkler system? A sensor within the fire sprinkler system should have sounded audible and visual alarms as well as send a signal to a monitoring station. Water flowing in a sprinkler system should trigger the fire alarm automatically. Either those things didn’t happen or there was no one to see and hear the alarms.
Any facility with important infrastructure located below ground should also have water alarms. These simple devices tied into the building alarm system detect water on the floor sounding an alarm to mitigate potential damage. This can provide warning when water from outside the building floods a basement whether from flooding rains or from a water main break next door.
The ultimate mitigation to this sort of damage is careful consideration of locating critical electrical controls, emergency generators and other important infrastructure in basements.