Lessons Learned From a Flooded Office

By Ron Pereira Updated on March 3rd, 2021

As I pulled into the Gemba Academy parking lot Thursday morning, February 18th, I noticed something strange…there was ice everywhere.

Now, as you may have heard, Texas was recently blasted with some crazy cold temperatures which did bring some snow and a little ice. But not the amount of ice I was seeing. So I parked my car and carefully walked to the door. I tried to use my little key fob to unlock the door but it didn’t work. Very strange. So I pulled out my physical key and manually opened the door.

Upon entering our front vestibule I immediately noticed something odd. I couldn’t tell for sure what it was but, for some reason, it reminded me of the humidity you notice when visiting an indoor pool.

I then turned my head to the left and looked through the glass doors that lead into our front office area and my stomach sank. There was water spraying everywhere. I opened the door into our office area and discovered around 3 inches of water across our entire facility.

Hello, Lizard Brain

The human brain fascinates me. I enjoy teaching people about the difference between the so-called reptilian brain, which controls our tendency to want to fight or flee, and the prefrontal cortex, which is engaged when we’re thinking critically and attempting to solve problems.

To be sure, when I first realized a pipe had burst, I was in 100% reptilian brain mode. I quickly did my best to calm down and am happy to report that we’re now in great shape as a result of some luck, immediate action, and hard work. And like any major life experience there was much to learn from this crisis. I’d like to share some of these lessons in this article.

Lesson 1: Control Your Emotions

At first, I did freak out for a few minutes and may have used a swear word or two. But then I quickly calmed down, made a few phone calls, and started to think about what to do.

As I mentioned earlier, I was most definitely working from my reptilian brain when I first discovered the issue. This is normal when first facing a crisis. It’s how our early ancestors stayed alive. If they heard a rustling in the bushes they ran.

Your chances of success are limited if you stay in the reptilian brain for too long. That’s why we need to quickly move to the prefrontal cortex area of our brain as quickly as possible so we can think and solve problems.

Key Lesson: When dealing with a crisis, control your emotions and transition from your reptilian brain to the prefrontal cortex area of your brain as soon as possible.

Lesson 2: Move to Action

After calling some colleagues to fill them in on what was happening, I called my wife to let her know that I may be at work a little later than normal. She then sent a message out to a few friends asking them to pray for me and the company.

Well, as it turns out, I have some awesome friends who are happy to pray…but also to help. So, around 10 minutes after speaking with my wife, my friend Mike pulled up. He had a broom and some big push squeegees in hand and asked me how he could help.

Around that same time I spoke with another one of my best friends, Colter. Colter is one of those guys who is steady, calm, and in control. He’s also extremely useful when it comes to working with his hands. I specifically remember telling Colter how we were likely doomed and definitely needed professionals to come in and help. All Colter said in reply was that he’d be over soon.

Once I got off the phone with Colter I noticed Mike was already moving water out of the building with his broom. So I joined him. He’d push water over to me and I’d use my snow shovel (that I brought to Texas when we moved from Chicago) to give the water one big push out the door. That darn curved snow shovel really moved the water! After 30 minutes we began to notice a difference.

By this time, without me knowing about it, Colter had texted and called around 30 of our friends. Within the hour there was a small army of folks in our building with brooms, push squeegees, and shop vacs hard at work. At one point I was nearly moved to tears as I looked around at all the people helping out.

But, to be sure, it all started with Mike grabbing a broom and moving the water out of the building. He took action.

Key Lesson: Planning and thinking is important, but when you’re faced with a crisis you must eventually take action.

Lesson 3: Professionals Are Not Always Needed

By around 3 pm the last of my friends had left. We had moved all of the water out and had transitioned to drying things out. We started with several big fans and “air movers” that were loaned to us.

Our insurance company (Hartford) has been amazing. They immediately put us in touch with a professional restoration company. The restoration company called and explained that we were on the list but that the list was long and it would be several days before someone could come out.

So, I started to watch some YouTube videos and called on some folks that I knew could give me advice on the next steps. This lead us to removing all the baseboards, drilling holes along the bottom of every wall, and “choking” the water out of the building by turning the heat up. We also gained access to a few dehumidifiers and had around 40 fans and air movers that my friend, Colter, located for us running nonstop.

Someone from the restoration company finally did show up. They walked around with their fancy meters and checked things out. They explained that we did a great job and that our insurance company should love us since we saved them A LOT of money! We are replacing a few pieces of drywall and repairing some special walls in our video studio that got super saturated but, beyond that, we’re in great shape.

Key Lesson: While professionals (including lean consultants!) can add value, you can do a lot on your own once you gain some basic knowledge and have an idea of what to do. All it took for me, in this situation, was a few phone calls and a couple of YouTube videos. 

The Importance of Standard Work

With all of this said, we did learn some humbling lessons. We didn’t have good standard work for how to deal with this sort of crisis. And, to be sure, if it weren’t for my friends helping out we would have been doomed. In fact, we recently heard about a similar-sized business who didn’t move the water out right away. They’re now facing a complete loss.

We’re definitely going to improve our cold weather facility standard work and reaction plans, which may include simply turning water off to the building and draining the lines before heading home when we fear extreme cold is upon us.

In typical Texas weather fashion, we are back to temperatures in the 70s and even touched 80 degrees a few days ago. The ice and cold seem to be gone…but the lessons they taught us will stay with us forever.

  1. Christopher Biggs

    March 5, 2021 - 8:58 am

    Kudos. When faced with a crisis, doing something is much better than nothing. Next, what are emerging practices and taking immediate action to clear the Airway, start the Breathing, and restore the Circulation is another way to respond to our reptilian brains. After that, look for good practices and finally bring in the experts to put into place best practices (if needed). Great story and good luck in your offices.
    PS. This is a standard drill for complexity thinking.


    March 5, 2021 - 9:31 am

    I drive by your facility often on the way home from the office. No doubt that week was a bit weird as we seldom see temperatures at “0.” I love the approach because it represents the power of teams, principles, action, etc. We were without power for a couple of days and boiled water for 5 days after that and then lost internet connections for a day. From thinking through the snow shoveling process in the driveway [a first for me in Tx] and developing a future checklist the week was a learning experience for sure. Similar to your experience the most impactful was a neighborhood that saw people delivering water, picking up items from the stores for others, offering a warm place by a fireplace, offering extra bedrooms and showers if needed. Random neighbors picking up 20-30 cases of water and then delivering them to whomever needed them. So many shared standard work and lessons learned with tankless water heater disasters. The power of community and utilizing the principles and tools are the golden nuggets upholding the lean thinking systems. It was quite remarkable to see it play out so amazingly that week. Thanks for sharing. I was super close. Get me on your text team next time. I would’ve loved to help out. Teamwork!

  3. Alex Barrett

    March 10, 2021 - 12:28 pm

    Congrats on being able to adapt to the rare situation that Texas usually never sees. I really thought it was interesting to hear more about the “reptile” brain and how when collecting ourselves in situations we have to move to info from the prefrontal cortex as soon as possible. It was great to hear about the connections you have and how important they are to you. By taking action and figuring out ways to get around this issue it allows you to learn but can also save you a lot of costs in the long run.

  4. Brett Dolan

    March 15, 2021 - 4:26 pm

    Wow what a tough situation to be put into! I thought it was very interesting that you talked about our fight or flight instinct as part of the “reptilian brain” as I have never heard that before. Lesson 3 also really resonated with me as I am a hands on person and prefer to try and figure things out on my own (or with my friends) before reaching out for help. Not only does this teach you ways to handle crisis, but by figuring out things on your own you are able to save money. Finally, I also think it is very important to gain control of your emotions before taking any action as it is difficult to make the proper decisions when using your reptilian brain.

Have something to say?

Leave your comment and let's talk!

Start your Lean & Six Sigma training today.