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Water damage mitigation plans are crucial to help protect human services organizations

May 6, 2024

Systems in buildings that are relied upon to be in good working order – like fire suppression systems, restroom plumbing, or HVAC – can pose a substantial threat if they are not regularly inspected and maintained.

Water damage from systems like these can cause significant losses and lead to serious disruptions for human services organizations, hindering their ability to complete their mission for their clients.

Non-weather water claims are a large source of claims for commercial lines insurers. At Nationwide, they are one of the four most frequent indemnity claims, and internal claims data has shown costs are increasing – the median spending for water damage claims has risen more than 20% year-over-year.1 Across the insurance industry, they cost approximately $16 billion a year.2

Non-weather claims were problematic even before the pandemic led to supply chain issues and inflation caused the cost of materials to skyrocket. Since 2015, large losses over $500,000 have doubled, and losses over $1 million have tripled.3

Disruptions and impacts to organizations

For human services organizations, large losses represent a serious risk to services that communities rely upon. Water damage can pose additional logistical issues and strain on staff for human services organizations if there is extensive damage and repairs needed.

Understanding and managing the risk of non-weather water damage is pivotal for the continuity and mission of human services organizations.

A water leak and resulting damage could mean food spoilage for a food bank and make a serious impact to communities in need. Facilities such as shelters or residential programs that provide beds or temporary housing for clients could be particularly impacted. Water damage could lead to a situation where operators would be forced to relocate people who depend on them.

Particular care needs to be taken at places where people may not be present for an extended period of time. Locations such as a daycare or a church that may be unoccupied for days at a time could suffer catastrophic damage if water burst from pipes and drenched the interior for an extended period.

Another potential serious issue is the health risk posed for workers, volunteers, or residents who may have lowered immune systems or other medical conditions that could be aggravated by factors such as mold or mildew.

How damage can occur

The cause of damages can be the result of many different factors, but often they can stem from characteristics such as geography, plumbing installation and maintenance, or the condition of appliances and mechanical systems. Risks can take many forms including the following:

  • Geography: Cold-weather climates have always had to worry about frozen pipes and the potential for bursting when the temperatures plummet. However, with unpredictable climate changes even warm-weather states can have a severe freeze. Warm-weather states may also have a high incidence of non-weather water losses. Reasons for this can vary from soil and geological interactions to hydrology and physiology. According to a recent study, CA, FL and MD lead the nation for highest average claim incidence. CA and MD have an average risk of 1 in 10, and FL has a 1 in 9 risk.4
  • Faulty plumbing: Fixture leaks, ruptured connecting hoses and old plumbing with leaky joints are just a handful of examples where plumbing can leak. These leaks may begin in locations that are not easily visible or accessible. Inspections and monitoring should take place regularly to spot potential trouble.
  • Appliances and other mechanical systems: Water heaters, HVAC systems, and appliance leaks and failures are another major source of water leaks that can lead to severe damage. Proper maintenance, installation and monitoring should take place to reduce the likelihood of system failures that could lead to leaks.

Awareness and planning are key when working around pipes and sprinklers, behind walls (carpenters, electricians), under floors and underground.

If work such as remodeling or renovating is occurring at a facility, care needs to be taken while working with possible sources of water damage. As contractors are managed through risk transfer, human services organizations will want to ensure they have a water mitigation program in place.

To be successful, contractors will need to conduct a review of their potential water exposures on the jobsite, conduct a self-assessment of current policies and procedures and then adopt a formal construction water mitigation program or specific policies that address their risk management gaps.

Preventing leaks

Persistent inflation and rising costs to repair and rebuild property make it vital that property owners and building occupants work to mitigate the risk of water damage.

Preventing water damage can include several methods. One newer approach is to install water sensors. Internet-connected and app-enabled devices can be installed on pipes and valves to detect leaks before they cause severe damage. One review noted that sensors could reduce losses by up to 93%.5

Plumbing should be installed following all applicable building codes. Following proper plumbing installation and maintenance procedures by qualified technicians is also an important factor in reducing risk.

Implementing a water-mitigation program is a critical practice that can help reduce the risk of a damaging event. Reducing these losses takes a multiprong approach with a water damage mitigation program. The steps of the program should include:

  • A dedicated team that has been trained and understands how to address water-sensitive issues
  • Document all re-work and repairs
  • Address water sensitive issues quickly
  • Ensure all shut-off valves are located and marked adequately
  • Verify the water damage response plan is ready to be implemented
  • Be prepared to implement a severe weather plan
  • Centrally monitor automatic sprinkler systems
  • As applicable, utilize leak detection/water sensors in common areas

Nationwide’s Loss Control Services has resources such as a customizable Water Mitigation Program (WMP) that is designed to be a guide to help building owners and occupants create a customized plan to protect facilities, assets, and integrity from the impact of water damage.

This checklist also is available to help identify potential areas of risk. The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety also has resources that can help property owners learn more about appropriate building codes.

More resources that can help human services organizations protect their operations, employees, and residents can be found on the Human Services page of