Recurring floods at High Chaparral

In January 2023, large areas of High Chaparral, a wild west theme park in Sweden, was under water. In this article, we dive into the learnings from this flood event, the risk management plan put forward, and how the park was restored in time for the start of season.

This is not the first time the park has been impacted by flooding. In February 2020, the park faced a similar situation, as water flooded several areas of the theme park due to rain and snow that melted quickly.

Since this incident, Underwriters and Risk Engineers from If have monitored the risk in close cooperation with the client.
Mathias Bergendahl, CEO of High Chaparral Sweden, has been working with several authorities, including the municipality and other stakeholders to tackle the problem. As the park is situated along a river that stretches for more than 40 kilometres before it passes High Chaparral theme park, the cause of the flooding was soon uncovered. With a better understanding of the underlying problems, Bergendahl worked together with local political leaders to find alternative solutions, as a similar flood event was likely to occur again in either the near or distant the future.
Specifically, High Chaparral is working to raise awareness among national, regional, and local government agencies about the heavy and time-consuming permit-related processes that hinder the possibility to construct, or make changes to, structures and areas that are in dire need of rebuilding due to changing climate conditions. To be even more effective in seeking help from authorities, High Chaparral has teamed up with If’s Head of Sustainability to enable changes to these bureaucratic procedures.

Flood event in 2023

Another flood event occurred in January 2023, this time devastating in comparison to the flooding in 2020. The water level rose by 14 centimetres in less than one day, allowing water to quickly spread to several places due to melting of snow coupled with heavy rains.

Senior Claims Engineer at If in Sweden, Magnus Johansson, took contact immediately and visited the site the following day. Magnus explains, “Together with the client, we established an overview where all stakeholders involved had access to progress in real-time. Especially, the employees at High Chapparal benefitted from this, as they were able to manage the online booking process for different buildings as the rooms became ready.”

CEO Mathias Bergendahl
Mathias Bergendahl, CEO of High Chaparral

Signs that a flooding is coming

” With the 2020 flooding fresh in our memory, we were relatively quick to secure power boxes in the park and a few spots we knew might come in harm’s way. There are several similarities between the two events, and we learned in 2020 where to look for signs as to whether a flooding is near and if the park will be heavily impacted,” noted Mathias Bergendahl.

“As I was abroad at the time ahead of the flooding, I received daily updates from a colleague on site. As we learned that the water was rising to high levels, I ordered the start of preparations, which at that time specifically focused on power boxes in the park as well as on the campground.”

“Both the flooding in 2020 as well as in 2023 followed the same patterns. To understand the water level, we can quickly make an assessment simply by visiting a lake further up the river, where we can usually see if the water level is rising. That’s our first indication that the conditions for a flood event are heightened. Next, water usually first approaches the park by entering the nearby pastures and farm areas. When that happens, we can safely expect that we may be a few days away from a flood event. Additionally, we have an area next to the river adjacent to the campsite that confirms the flood warning. When water rises to the nearby pasture and walkway, we’re in for a challenge. The good thing about having these concrete locations as indicators for an upcoming flood event, is that they enable us to have a few days warning, providing us with the opportunity to gather our resources and prepare as much as we can.”

Together with the client, we established an overview where all stakeholders involved had access to progress in real-time.

Magnus Johansson, Senior Claims Engineer, If

Our business continuity plan

“On the 16th of January 2023, staff quickly rushed to the park to immediately assess the structures and areas that had been severely damaged. In the cottages used for both staff and guests, staff began to remove items such as beds, refrigerators, etc.”

“The 2023 flooding came as a surprise and we were not as prepared and ready to act, as we should have been. Before 2020, the last flooding was in 2004, so most people in the region regarded it as unlikely to occur again, especially not three years after the previous flood incident. Now, we know better, and we acknowledge the increased risk for flooding, which requires that we are much more prepared for future incidents. In fact, ahead of winter this year, we have already raised many of the cottages to higher platforms, formed a more comprehensive action plan, as well as lifted all furniture and items in cottages up on beds and tables, thus minimising the risk of damages, should the water levels rise even further.” 

A positive rebuilding phase

Prior to the initial rebuilding phase, important milestones were defined in dialogue with the client.  Magnus Johansson, Senior Claims Engineer at If, recalls “I especially remember one important conversation with our client in the first days after the incident. Together, we defined some important milestones for the next period of rebuilding. The most important milestone was to be ready for the season’s start on the 18th of May 2023. This required that all staff buildings should be prioritized. It was a tight schedule, but we managed to do it, just in time.”

“It may sound a bit strange, but the rebuilding of our site was truly a very positive period. One would think, it would be stressful, but due to the very positive teamwork with If and the suppliers If contracted, it was never a question of whether we would be able to open in time. If and others enabled us to continue our usual launch plans for the season, and in that way, we could focus solely on getting the park ready for first our employees and next our guests.”

High Chaparral
High Chaparral

The potential risks that remained

“High Chaparral was built in the 1960s, at a time when building permits were not a high priority. Equally, drawings, plans, and our knowledge about the grounds beneath the surface, not the least along the river, was and still is limited if not non-existent. After the flooding, we had to restabilise a bridge and make additional changes to limit damages to structures such as a restaurant. In late 2023, we hired a consultant to do a full scan of our grounds with the help of geotechnology. With that project, we hope to eliminate estimations and rather base our further mitigation work on knowledge.”

Written by

Caroline Bødkerholm, If