Anywhere it rains, it can flood. Floods are among the most common and costliest weather-related disasters. They can occur in any state or U.S. territory at any time of the year. A flash flood is a sudden, rapid rise of water resulting from heavy rain, rapid snowmelt, ice jam or the failure of a dam or levee. Often flash floods occur when snowmelt or rain overflows drainage capacity, a common occurrence in urban areas. Knowing the dangers of flooding and making preparations may save your life. Take time to learn what to do if there is flooding in your neighborhood.
The best action you can take for any disaster is to plan ahead. Here are some preliminary preparations that will help to keep your family safe:
- Learn the emergency warning procedures for your community or installation. Include specific guidelines for your workplace and your child's school. You may be able to sign up for an emergency notification text on a mobile device.
- Prepare an emergency kit for your family that is easy to grab at a moment's notice.
- Have a family emergency plan so every member of your family knows what to do in an emergency.
- Prepare your children. Sesame Street Let's Get Ready! is a program with videos and activities to help children prepare for emergencies.
- Use technology to be informed. Ready.gov's Get Tech Ready suggests ways to utilize technology to access critical information during an emergency.
- Create a home inventory. A home inventory will help you file an insurance claim should you suffer damages from a disaster.
Before a flood arrives
You can minimize your risks by knowing the hazards created by floods and preparing for them. Here are some things to do before a flood occurs:
- Know the terminology. As in other weather-related disasters, a 'watch‘ indicates a flood or flash flood is possible in your area, and a 'warning‘ indicates a flood or flash flood is occurring or about to occur in your area.
- Learn about your community's flood risk by accessing your community's flood map.
- Consider flood insurance. Standard homeowners insurance doesn't cover flooding, including the flooding resulting from hurricanes, tropical storms and heavy rains. The National Flood Insurance Program offers information about available insurance coverage policies.
- Plan evacuation routes. Note potential road closures in low-lying areas, and locate emergency shelters in your community in case you have to evacuate your home.
- Make alterations to your home. If your home is in a flood-prone area:
- Elevate your furnace, water heater and electric components at least 12 inches above the projected flood elevation.
- Install backflow valves or plugs to sewer connections to prevent floodwaters from entering your home.
- Install sump pumps with back-up power to remove water from your home.
During a flood
If flood waters are approaching, it is important to get to higher ground. Stay aware and use caution to evacuate safely. Here are the key points to flood evacuation safety:
- Stay informed. Listen to reports on the radio or television to learn where flooding may occur.
- Be ready to evacuate, if ordered.If there is time, turn off the main water valve and the main power switch, and close the main gas valve (this may require a special tool). Take your emergency kit and maps to help you navigate around closed roads.
- Leave immediately if a flash flood is possible. Do not wait for an evacuation order if you live in an area that can quickly become overwhelmed by water. Flash floods can occur without heavy rain.
- Beware of flooded roads. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than half of flood-related drownings are from drivers who believe they can drive across a flooded road. Cars and trucks can be swept away in less than two feet of water. If you encounter a flooded road in your car, turn around. The water may be deeper than it appears if the roadbed is washed out beneath it. Be especially cautious at night when it is harder to tell the depth of the water. If floodwaters rise around your car, leave the car and flee to higher ground if you can do so safely. If walking, turn around if flowing water is above your ankles.
- Keep children out of the water. Swift-flowing flood water is dangerous and may be contaminated.
Recovering from a flood
The aftermath of a flood can be almost as hazardous as the flood itself due to electrical dangers, mold and contaminated water. In addition to flood dangers, any disaster can take a toll on your physical and mental health. In addition to a good pair of rubber boots and gloves, these guidelines can help you recover from a flood:
- Obey all road barricades. Once authorities have granted you permission to return home, observe all road closures. Do not go around a barricade; even if the water has receded, the road may be unstable.
- Check your home for danger. Do not enter your home until you have checked for damaged gas lines, downed power lines and cracks in the home's foundation. Call your utility company if you hear or smell leaking gas; call the electric company to repair dangerous live wires; and call a contractor if the home's foundation is not stable.
- Turn off the electricity. Even if there is no power, the power should be off until you determine the environment is dry enough to turn it on. Run generators outdoors to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Be wary of contaminated water. Standing water and mud may be contaminated by oil, gasoline or raw sewage.
- Watch for wildlife. Poisonous snakes may be prevalent after a flood.
- Make sure your food and water are safe. Unless the water is deemed safe to drink, boil water for one minute (three minutes if elevation is above 6,500 feet). Remember to boil water used to wash dishes, brush teeth, prepare food, wash hands, make ice or make baby formula, as well. Throw away canned goods, water bottles, baby bottle nipples and plastic utensils that have gotten wet. If in doubt, throw it out.
- Contact your insurance agent. Your agent can assist you with knowing what needs to be preserved to prove your claim. Take photos and video of the damage as soon as possible, since the adjustor may not be able to reach you until conditions are safe.
- Remove wet items from the home. Mold can grow within 24 to 48 hours. Discard anything that cannot be cleaned and disinfected: carpeting and padding, mattresses, upholstered furniture, stuffed animals, books and most paper products.
- Disinfect items that got wet. To prevent illness, you must clean items that got wet. See CDC recommendations to clean and sanitize items.
A thorough guide to recovering after a flood is easily available online. Repairing Your Flooded Home, from the American Red Cross, details how to take care of yourself, repair your home, handle financial issues and prepare for the next flood. Reading this booklet prior to a flood may help you be better prepared by understanding the destruction flooding can cause. Disasters can be devastating, but the proper preparation can help you better manage the emotional, physical and financial toll of such an event.