There are definite steps you can take to ensure the safety of yourself and others if you believe a sinkhole may exist on your property. This post details the eight specific actions you should take.
Step #1: Keep Away
The first step you should always take if you believe a sinkhole exists on your property is to keep away from it. In particular, make sure you keep children away from the possible sinkhole area. Then, locate any animals you may have and keep them away as well.
Step #2: Leave Your Impacted House Immediately
Determine if the hole is impacting your house in any way. If it is, then leave the home and stay out of it. The most obvious signs that the hole is impacting your house include the following:
- Sinking, sagging, or cracking walls
- Difficulty closing doors and/or windows
- Cracks in floors, pavement, patios, and/or ground surface in or around the house
Step #3: Fence or Rope Off the Area
Making sure to use materials that are visible in both the daytime and nighttime, block the area of the sinkhole with fencing or rope. The critical point here is to make it clear to anyone that the area is definitely off limits and to block it off as best you can.
Step #4: Contact Your Insurance Company
Contact your insurance company to make them aware of the situation as soon as possible. You may find that your insurance policy covers both assessment of the situation as well as repair. At the same time, you may find out that your insurance covers neither. It’s important to understand what your insurance covers and does not cover so that you can budget for the right course of action. You will want your insurance adjuster to be on top of the situation as soon as possible (after securing and marking off the area). In conjunction with contacting your insurance company, check with your local government office to find out if an agency exists that can assist you in evacuating your home, assessing damage, and reporting the sinkhole. In some Florida communities, the local Emergency Management Office can provide assistance in circumstances in which the home is endangered.
Step #5: Consult with a Soil Testing Firm or Engineering Company
To know for sure if you have a sinkhole, you will need to obtain the results of a test by a licensed engineer with a professional geologist on staff or by a geological testing firm, either of whom can perform an evaluation of your property. Pricing can vary widely from such firms. As such, it is important for you to understand from your insurance company whether or not the geological assessment is covered by your insurance policy. If not, you will want to obtain price quotes from at least two separate engineering/geological testing firms. You may also find that your local Water Management District performs sinkhole assessments, and these may be less expensive than those performed by private companies.
Step #6: Monitor the Sinkhole for Signs of Growth
Sinkholes can change in size rapidly. Continuously monitor the size of your sinkhole, making sure to remain at a safe distance from the sinkhole at all times.
Step #7: Watch for Further Structural Damage
If you originally decided to stay in your home because you saw no signs of damage impact from the sinkhole, continue checking for signs of damage impact. Sinkhole dangers can evolve quickly, and you need to remain vigilant and be ready to evacuate your home at the first sign of damage.
Step #8: Avoid Dumping Anything into the Sinkhole
Dumping materials into sinkholes could possibly contaminate groundwater. Before putting anything into a sinkhole, await specific instructions from your local government agency and insurance company. You do not want to be liable for any damage.
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