by Ali Kriscenski


Extreme weather events have costly impacts on the built environment. Damage from wind, rain and flooding also have devastating effects on local, state and regional economies where resources  channel into recovery and rebuilding. Weather events such as Hurricane Katrina, Superstorm Sandy and the 2021 Texas Winter Storms have had widespread impacts on building codes, zoning regulations and power infrastructure regulations intended to improve resiliency in the built environment. 


You can utilize the collective lessons learned to improve preparedness and prevent flooding at your facility.


Assess Your Flood Risk

Many municipalities have moved property records online along with interactive resources such as flood mapping. This type of interactive tool can help you quickly identify your property’s flood risk. If not offered through your local zoning, you can go directly to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Flood Map Service Center. This portal allows you to match the address of your facility against flood risk areas verified by the United States Geological Survey (USGS).


FEMA’s Flood Map Service Center can also help you find the base flood elevation (BFE) that applies to your property. BFE is the elevation to which a flood is anticipated to rise, meaning there is a 1% chance that a property will experience a flood as depicted on the FEMA Flood Map. Properties within a BFE are subject to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), where flood insurance is required to reduce the socio-economic impact of severe flooding events. 


Reduce Your Site’s Stormwater Runoff

Natural vegetation and permeable surfaces (asphalt, concrete, or pavers) help absorb local site rainwater and reduce stormwater runoff. In urban settings, increased stormwater management strategies that use natural vegetation can have tremendous positive effects to reduce flooding impacts. They can also lower heat island effects to help reduce cooling demand and increase energy savings. If your facility is prone to flooding, a stormwater management strategy that incorporates native landscaping, rain gardens, permeable hardscapes and green roofs can reduce flooding impacts. 

Rain Gardens: Simple Stormwater Solutions 

Excessive stormwater runoff can create dangerous flooding situations, particularly in urban settings where significant housing and infrastructure are located below grade. This was evident in the severe flooding that ravaged New York City and New Jersey following Hurricane Ida in 2021. The issues were too much hardscape and poor stormwater management. One element that can contribute to improved stormwater management is a rain garden. This landscaping element is simply a concave garden designed with native plants, drainable soils and percolating layers. Its components encourage rain and storm water to filter through and complete the hydrocycle by recharging ground water.


Flood Protection Barriers

In certain flood-prone areas, it’s common practice to deploy flood proofing measures, such as sandbags, to protect buildings from flooding. The increase of extreme weather events has led to innovations in the options available for point-of-use flood protection such as flood barriers, gates, doors or containment. 


Flood control devices can be made of fabric, glass, metal or plastic. They can be custom-designed to fit specific openings or standard sizes that can be deployed along building perimeters. Flood barriers can help divert water away from building entrances and lower levels long enough for flood waters to subside. In locations where seasonal flooding is expected, permanent flood barriers such as levies or flood walls may provide a more effective and permanent solution.

Elevate Critical Electrical and HVAC Equipment

In the wake of severe storms, many municipalities have adjusted building codes in anticipation of flooding and extreme weather events. New construction and renovations located within flood-prone areas are required to elevate electrical and mechanical equipment above expected flood levels to prevent widespread power and energy disruption. Mechanical equipment located in basements or at ground level is susceptible to flooding damage. This includes fuel tanks, electrical panels, furnaces and air conditioning units. Building owners can proactively hire an HVAC contractor to relocate mechanical systems to be elevated on a platform or secured to vertical structures one foot above the design flood elevation (DFE) to prevent flooding damage and ensure operations during and after a flood.


Protect Your Business

Flood preparedness can be managed by an in-house facilities team with help from experts. Preparing for severe weather events and anticipated energy disruption can seem daunting, however with insight and expertise from seasoned professionals you can floodproof your facility. Prioritize critical systems and work with HVAC/MEP professionals to protect your business operations from flooding. Contact Therma today to learn more.


Ali Kriscenski was trained in high-performance building design at Boston Architectural College. She has worked with leading architecture and construction firms in NYC and New England and served on the executive team at the Forest Stewardship Council International. She was the managing editor at Inhabitat and has worked pro bono for the Green Building Institute, ISEAL Alliance and Habitat for Humanity.



Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) – FEMA Flood Map Service Center: Welcome!

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) – Flood Insurance

City of Chicago – Green Roofs: Best Management Practices

The New York Times – Flooding From Ida Kills Dozens of People in Four States

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – Soak Up the Rain: Rain Gardens
National Trust for Historic Preservation – Permanent Floodwalls

Facilitiesnet – Critical Steps for Effective Flood Protection

Facility Executive – Disaster Planning for Facility Managers