This article originally appeared in Risk Management’s September 2021 issue.
All types of enterprises confront the risks of water-related property damage and business disruptions, but for universities and other private and public schools, even a short-term closure in a facility can affect the quality of the education provided to students.
“In the context of all the issues on the minds of school administrators today, this may not rise to the highest level of concern, but it nonetheless can be quite serious,” said Heather Savino, underwriting officer and education industry lead at The Hartford. “Water leaks can be prevented and mitigated. This is one of the risks that schools can truly manage and control.”
That is good news, given the high cost of repairing a water leak. In a recent insurance claim paid by The Hartford, a sprinkler pipe in the unheated attic of a university burst due to extreme freezing conditions caused by a polar vortex. Nine research labs and offices were damaged, as were desktop computers and other critical equipment, resulting in the payment of a $4.1 million claim.
More ordinary water damage incidents can easily run into the seven figures. “Although property insurance absorbs the brunt of these losses, the typical school client carries a deductible which generally runs $10,000 to $50,000 per claim. That can add up for the policyholder who has one or more claim,” Savino said.
Leading Causes of Loss
Unlike businesses that run 24/7/365, schools are more exposed to higher severity water damage losses because buildings are often shuttered during the summer months and holiday periods. “High-value equipment is not all that is at risk either,” Savino said, pointing out that many universities own fine art, rare books and other priceless artifacts.
Most leaks stem from an accidental discharge of water, which can occur when a plumbing system or HVAC system fails. If a building’s heating system does not turn on during a cold winter snap, for instance, pipes can freeze and burst. Damage can result from older pipe valves finally giving out, substandard roof maintenance programs and workmanship failure, such as the improper repair or testing of a building’s fire sprinkler system.
“Our claims data suggests that HVAC and plumbing system failures account for 47% of water damage losses,” Savino said. “Around 11% are linked to sprinkler system leaks and the remainder is related to pipes that freeze up."1
Climate change is another factor in several recent water leak incidents, due to parts of the country experiencing unusual weather patterns causing atypically frigid temperatures. “Given the age of age of many school buildings, particularly in certain geographies, their facilities and equipment were not designed to withstand extreme cold spells,” Savino said.
Schools also are at risk of water leaks caused by the sheer number of people occupying them, including students who may forget to turn off a bathroom sink faucet in dormitory housing or inadvertently leave the water running in a bathtub. A few water damage claims are even the result of student pranks.
The longer a water leak persists, the greater the damage. This is especially the case at schools with high-density buildings located in urban settings where multi-story floods can cause extensive damage. Moreover, such schools have limited options to relocate students during the cleanup, remediation and reconstruction. “A more geographically dispersed school typically has access to other buildings for student relocation purposes,” Savino said.
Early Intervention Is Crucial
There is cause for optimism, however. Schools have access to leak-sensing technologies, including a range of internet-connected water sensors that can alert personnel to potential water leaks in real time to compel an immediate investigation.
“Just a few years ago, a school’s building maintenance staff needed to conduct a visual inspection of each property to detect a possible water leak,” said Camryn Santos, director of strategy IoT innovation at The Hartford. “Its very difficult to physically monitor every pipe or fixture in every building on a constant basis. However, now with modern IoT-enabled water sensors, schools can use technology to monitor their property. This allows them to know where the leak is at any given time and remediate the issue quicker. It’s a game changer.”
The sooner a water leak can be detected, the better the chances are of limiting the damage and duration of the disruption to students and faculty. “We strongly encourage the universities and schools we serve to develop a water damage prevention program that includes the wide use of IoT-enabled water sensors,” Santos said. She recommended that schools can implement different types of water sensors across their building footprints:
- Leak sensors (also called puck sensors) that detect the evidence of water based on contact.
- Automatic water shutoff valve sensors that detect leaks and remotely shut off the water system in a building or part of it.
- Flow-monitoring sensors that calculate the flow rate or quantity of water moving through a pipe to discern evidence of a possible leak or burst pipe, including slow and gradual leaks that could result in a mold contamination issue.
- Temperature and humidity monitoring sensors that identify potential freeze conditions before pipes burst, as well as developing mold conditions.
No school is immune to the possibility of a water leak occurring somewhere on campus. Consequently, the best way to avoid the resulting cost and disruption is through early detection and intervention. “Real-time feedback provided by IoT-enabled water sensors offers peace of mind to facility managers at schools and other enterprises,” said Savino. “It’s one of the risk management tools to help prevent water damage.”
For more information, read more about The Hartford’s insurance solutions for educational institutions.
1 Data from Middle & Large Commercial Segments, Marine and Programs on policies written from 01/01/2014 thru 12/31/2018 with losses.
La información proporcionada en estos materiales brinda información general y de asesoría. It shall not be considered legal advice. The Hartford does not warrant that the implementation of any view or recommendation contained herein will: (i) result in the elimination of any unsafe conditions at your business locations or with respect to your business operations; or (ii) be an appropriate legal or business practice. The Hartford assumes no responsibility for the control or correction of hazards or legal compliance with respect to your business practices, and the views and recommendations contained herein shall not constitute our undertaking, on your behalf or for the benefit of others, to determine or warrant that your business premises, locations or operations are safe or healthful, or are in compliance with any law, rule or regulation. Readers seeking to resolve specific safety, legal or business issues or concerns related to the information provided in these materials should consult their safety consultant, attorney or business advisors. All information and representations herein are as of July 2021.