Water is one of the world’s most precious resources, but at the wrong time or the wrong place it can be a powerful enemy.
Our first water event occurred in our downtown office in Place 9-6 on October 20, 2004. The date is easy to remember because it was Brian’s 20th birthday. The building was modestly old and in marginally good repair. Buildings come with on-site maintenance engineers who ensure that all the workings of the building are maintained in good operating condition. I have to say we were reasonably well served in this area, but shortly before the flood day, the building maintenance guy had been fired for a reason that was never fully revealed to us, meaning our replacement was green in terms of knowledge of this particular building. He was somewhere on the learning curve, but not near the top.
Around mid-morning of flood day, while our staff was comfortably working through the backlog of print projects, an explosion came from immediately above our heads near the middle of our work area. A high-pressure water flow immediately followed this, and in seconds, most of our ceiling tile were dropping around us, while boiling water from a 2” water pipe relieved itself at full pressure into the ceiling space over our heads. Most of us were smart and ran out of the building. Almost as smart, I ran around to major equipment pieces and started disconnecting electrical plugs. Many of them were plugged into power bars sitting on the floor. At this point, they were also underwater, and as I yanked at the cords, there were sparks and the crackle of electricity. I soon realized there was a risk in my actions and left the rest of the plugs alone.
The building was heated by a perimeter heating system. Since our new maintenance engineer had not yet become familiar with the boiler system, it took him some time to locate the correct valves to shut off the supply, then another hour or so to gravity-drain eleven floors of pipe down through our space.
When the water pipe burst, the fire alarm had gone off. Predictably, building occupants grumbled as they strolled out of the building; surely this was just another inconvenient drill. The muster point was just past our side doors, and as the crowd filed past, they were met by a large, steady flow of steaming water exiting our doors and draining onto the LRT tracks beside the sidewalk. The firemen and trucks arrived in a few minutes. Some were exploring the building with the maintenance guy to find shutoffs, and several were in our space helping squeegee out rivers of water.
Once the trauma turned to damage assessment, it was time to get back to work. Several of our machines were damaged and unusable, and the fire department didn’t want us to operate in the water-soaked environment. I happened to know the third floor of the building was unoccupied at the time, and I had a key that fit. In about two hours we had enough computers and print equipment relocated to this floor with temporary data cables strung to get back into our workflow. For the most part we had two of everything, so the redundancy served us well. I recall we bought new shoes for all our staff, because they had all been running around in ankle deep water to help us mitigate the damage. We were a construction site for the next month or two, but at least we were operating.
What did we learn from this experience? Even without trying, you can end up in hot water.
Our second water event was one that affected many Calgarians; the infamous 2013 flood. For several days heavy rain and melting snowcap forced high water through Calgary (as well as many other southern Alberta cities). Since roads to our office locations were closed, all we could do was watch the helicopter coverage of the rising waters. Particularly for our Macleod Trail location, we could see water right to the envelope of the building but could not discern how high it was on the building. It turns out it came up onto the glass and had been running in through gaps in doors, but the main breach in the building was the north side. The Lounge Burger restaurant was at the north of the building and acted as the “bow of the ship” as water flowed south directly down Macleod Trail and up against our building. Water broke through their exterior door, came down the hallway, and into our space through our interior door and through the drywalled hallway walls. I say water, but it was as much mud as it was liquid.
There was no way to do any work at two out of three locations, so Brian called and texted our affected staff and had all willing members meet for a work party. They went as a group into Mission and found the first building that looked like it was in trouble. They helped all day, carrying ruined furniture and belongings out to the front yard. This served as a vivid memory that many people were worse off than we were!
When we were finally allowed back into our space, we went into our Stampede space as a group of owners anticipating the worst. Astoundingly, our damage was minimal. The water had entered the space but due to one hole in the floor we had drilled recently to run an electrical conduit, much of the volume had escaped harmlessly down into the empty parkade below. What we were left with was several days’ worth of mopping and scraping slimy mud to carry outside. A few inches higher and we would have lost some expensive pieces of equipment.
What was also fortunate was that we had just completed a Lean exercise, cleaned out some unused items, and put most of our media and small equipment either up on dollies, or mounted on wheels. We got off with only losing a bit of paper, operating time, and soiled some cleaning equipment. The power was turned on a few days later, so in the meantime we carted out a few pieces of equipment to another location and continued working at a smaller capacity.
Our Inglewood location was untouched, but without power for several days. What did we learn from this experience? Even though you think you’re prepared for different situations, you can still get caught by surprise.