Tornadoes and hurricanes may get most of the news coverage, but flooding is far more common and far more damaging. Over $2 billion dollars in property damage is caused by flooding every year. Flooding is also the most dangerous form of weather-related death. This is why it is vital that you know how to prepare yourself when a flood happens.
A burst pipe in your home is one thing, but when nature lets loose and sends a flood to your area that is a whole different order of hazard. That’s why we’ve created this flood damage preparedness guide for you and your family. If you follow the instructions in this guide, you can maximize your chance of staying safe and protected from a flooding event. It requires knowledge of what to do before, during, and after a flood.
Before a Flood
Floods are caused for many different reasons, but they all amount to the same thing. A flood happens when water is forced onto normally dry land in an amount greater than the land can handle. There are two main types of floods. A normal flood grows slowly and departs slowly. A flash flood, on the other hand, is a very quick event involving large amounts of water moving rapidly over land. You can experience a flash flood even where there is no rain. There are also special flooding conditions caused by some storms such as hurricanes. These flooding events are called a storm surge.
Weather forecasters use four different terms to describe flood danger:
Flood advisory: This means that weather conditions are right for a flood, but there is no evidence yet. If your area is under a flood advisory, that is the perfect time to start gathering items together in case it escalates.
Flood watch: When the weather conditions get serious enough, a flood warning may be issued. If you haven’t started to prepare yet, this is the time! Once it hits the next level, you have little time.
Flood warning: This means a flood has been sighted and it is time to take action.
Flash flood warning: Flash floods are fast, so there isn’t always time to issue a watch or an advisory. Take action, but be very cautious.
Build a preparedness kit
In the event of a flood, you need to be prepared to leave your home. Most floods recede within three days, though some rare floods may last much longer. Therefore, a preparedness kit is necessary. Your kit should consist of the 5 Ps:
- The people and pets you want to protect.
- Any prescriptions or other medical equipment you and your family need.
- Important papers, such as your insurance policies and personal identification. These can be physical or stored on a thumb drive.
- Personal needs, such as food, clothing, electronic devices, cash, and first aid equipment. The preparedness kit link can help you decide what you need.
- Any priceless mementos that cannot be replaced, within reason. Large items and things too inconvenient to carry should be moved to the top floor of your home in the event of a flood.
Other things to do before a flood
- Know your flood risk. Learn if you’re prone to flash floods and the most likely sources of flooding for your region.
- Get flood insurance. Most homeowner’s insurance doesn’t cover flooding! An extra $700 a year can save your home.
- Know where to go. If you need to evacuate, you’ll need to know where to go. Learn where high ground is in your area and how you can get to it in multiple ways.
- Make improvements to your home to make it more flood-resistant such as installing check valves to prevent flood waters from backing up through the sewer system into your home.
During a Flood
If there is a flood watch in effect, you need to start taking action in case you need to evacuate your home. Here are some steps to take when a potential flood is on its way or is happening.
- Move all precious materials and important papers you won’t be taking with you to the highest point in your home. If you are caught by a flood and you cannot leave, you should move yourself there as well. However, do not enter an attic that only has one way out or you could be trapped.
- Listen to the radio or the television for evacuation orders and flooding locations. A crank radio is useful to have in case the power goes out. If a warning is called, it is also okay to evacuate unless authorities tell you otherwise.
- Charge any electronic devices you plan on taking with you, then turn off your utilities at the main switch, especially electric and gas.
- Clean and plug your sinks and tubs, then fill them with fresh water just in case you are trapped. Alternatively, keep empty storage containers in your home and fill them when a watch is in effect.
- Move any outdoor furniture into your home to protect it. If you are not planning on leaving by car, move your vehicle into your garage.
- Unlock a front window in case mud carried by the flood jams your door.
Leaving the home
It takes very little water to knock someone over or to sweep a car away. Water only needs to be ankle deep to sweep you off your feet. Two feet of water is enough to start making your car float. NEVER try to drive through flowing water where you don’t know the depth. Instead, turn around and find another route.
If you are in a car and the water starts to suddenly rise around you, abandon your vehicle immediately and get to high ground.
If you are on foot, do not let pets and small children enter the water. In addition to the current, flood waters pick up oil, gas, sewage, and many other contaminants along the way. Touching the water can have serious health risks. Also watch for downed power lines.
Move to high ground and stay there until you hear that it is okay to return to your home. Take your crank radio or other devices to stay informed.
In short, get to high ground and stay out of the water as much as possible, then remain there until you get the okay to return.
After the Flood
The danger is not over once the flood waters recede. To stay safe after a flood, follow these steps:
- Wait until you are given the okay to return. Watch for damaged roads, open drains, and downed power lines on the way back.
- Observe your home from the outside. Do any places look like they are sagging? Are there missing supports? If so, avoid entry in case of a collapse. If water covered the entire first floor, avoid any entry until you can get your home inspected by an engineer. It is very likely to collapse.
- If your door is hard to open, use the window you unlocked to gain entry. Flood waters may have swollen the door or it could be blocked by mud.
- Inspect your home using a flashlight. Do NOT use any source of flame. There is always the possibility of a gas leak after a flood. If you smell gas, leave the area and call the authorities.
- While inspecting your home, look out for wild animals. They may have been washed into your home. Snakes are a special concern.
- Don’t drink any water until the water is declared safe. If you are certain your filled sinks/tubs or water containers were above flood level, you can drink from those.
- Don’t turn any utilities back on until you know it is safe to do so.
Preparing an Insurance Claim
After a flood, you will need to speak with your insurance company. Documenting your flood damage is essential. Take as many photographs as you can of the damage so you have evidence for your claim. Also inventory any damaged or destroyed items. Having this evidence ready will expedite your claim. Once you have completed this, contact the insurance company.
If the structure is safe, you can start cleanup efforts. Use gloves, boots, and coveralls while handing flood damage. The damp goods are likely contaminated.
The first thing to do is to sort your goods between damaged and undamaged goods. Clean and disinfect anything that got wet. Throw away any food that touched the water, including canned goods. You will also need to contact a water damage company like ServicePros to draw the water from your structure. Depending on the severity of the flood, you may also need to call a mold remediation service to take preventive measures.
If you follow the steps in this guide, you can keep you and your family safe in a flood. For more information about how to keep children and pets safe, read parts two and three of this guide.
Flood Preparedness For Kids
How do you keep your kids safe in a flood? It’s an important question. Floods are among the most dangerous forms of weather possible on earth. In fact, they kill more people than any other kind of weather. Children can easily become panicked by rushing water. That’s why we want to share with you some tips on how to prepare your children in case you live in a flood-prone area, and how you can keep them safe.
Before the Flood
- Flood safety starts with education. Educate your children about what a flood is and what causes it. You can find many YouTube videos of flooding that are suitable for children. Make sure they know things like how water can easily sweep people away and why they should never touch flood water. Answer any questions they have about floods.
- Share your flood safety plan with your children and practice it with them. Ask them what they should take and what they should leave behind. Make sure they know where high ground is and where you would plan to meet if you got separated. And make sure they know to go to the top floor if they are caught in the house.
- Make sure they know where the emergency equipment is and how to use it. Teach them how to use a weather radio and what the different weather signals mean, like the difference between a flood watch and a flood warning.
During a Flood
- Use a buddy system to keep your children near you at all times.
- Under no circumstances should they touch flood water, cross an active flood on foot, or try to swim.
- Keep a clear head yourself. If you appear like you are in control of the situation, your children will be calmer.
- Take your emergency preparedness kit and get to high ground. And make sure it has enough equipment for everyone! Packing your car when there is a flood watch is a good idea.
- If you have infants, make sure you bring along diapers and formula. Consider investing in a strap-on baby carrier to keep your child close to you while you escape the flooding.
After the Flood
- Try to prepare your children for the shock of potentially losing their items or even their home.
- Do not let them enter the house after it has flooded until it has been checked by an adult. Houses can be very unstable after a flood.
- Don’t let older children use anything with flames near a flooded house. Teach them about the smell of leaking gas so they can report it to an adult.
- If it is possible, have your children help volunteer with cleanup efforts. This can foster a sense of community spirit, and it can make them feel less sad about any damage that might have happened to their home.
Flooding is a very scary event for adults, let alone children. But the more your child can feel like they have some power in the situation and can trust that you know what to do, the calmer they will be in an emergency situation. We hope that these tips serve you and your children well the next time you face a major flood.
Flood Preparedness For People With a Disability
If you are disabled or taking care of a disabled or elderly person, the prospect of going through any natural disaster is scary. The only way to lessen that fear is to prepare early. Preparations for your unique circumstances will vary, but there are some general principles you can follow to stay safe if you’re caught in a flood and disabled.
Before the Flood
You should first find out what the risk of flooding is in your area. Floods can happen anywhere, but some places are much more prone to it than others. Finding out the risks can help you decide how much preparation you need for your situation.
Know where your local evacuation shelters are and their accommodations for disabled people. If you are housebound, talk with your local emergency management team to learn how you would contact them for rescue if evacuation orders are given. Some teams have a registry that you can put yourself on so they know to come look for you in the event of a flood.
You should also establish a personal support network that can help you in times of emergency. If you can get a ride with someone out of the flood zone, all the better. Make sure they have the space to take your medications and equipment, and they know the details of how to take care of you. You can give them written instructions or even taped instructions.
Wear a medical ID bracelet to identify your disability in case people outside of your support network find you. You may also want to carry emergency contact paperwork in your wallet. If you are unable to speak, keep a dry erase board and marker in with your emergency gear. Test the marker periodically to make sure it still works. You need to be able to communicate with rescue officials in some way.
During the Flood
If you are able to drive yourself, take your emergency gear and head to the closest evacuation shelter or to high ground. Follow the standard rules for driving in a flood: if the water is more than 2’ deep, find another route. This is enough for vehicles to start floating. You may not be able to get out and test the water, so be extra cautious and avoid flowing water over a road.
If you cannot drive yourself, contact the authorities. You can also use several pieces of emergency gear to help them find you. There are emergency strobe lights that you can put in a window so they know which room you’re in. You can also use a whistle, bell, or other noisemaker.
After the Flood
The most important thing after a flood is that you have the ability to continue your care. You may want to draw up an after-disaster plan using this guide from FEMA. It can help you address questions you may not have considered after a natural disaster. Seek help from authorities and friends to inspect your house for safety as well as cleanup. You can also call a flood damage cleanup service to inspect your home.
Flood Preparedness For Pets
During a flood, our pets are in real risk of danger. Even if they instinctively know to go to higher ground, the chance of them getting lost is quite high. So how can you keep your pets safe when you are trying to escape from a flood? There are several ways to do this.
You should first know that if an area is unsafe for you, it’s unsafe for your pet. Abandoning your pet at home and hoping for the best is a good way to get your pet injured or killed. Take your pet with you if at all possible. However, if your pet is a small caged one like a gerbil or a bird, this may become complicated. Unless you have room in your car to carry the cage and food, your best bet is to move everything to the highest point in your home and give them enough food and water to last for three days. Ideally, your disaster plans should take into account your pets so you won’t have to do this.
If you are having to evacuate from a flood, chances are your neighbors are as well. You can work together to get everyone, pets included, to safety. Also, if you are away from home and a flood hits, your neighbor can rescue your pet. Just another good reason to make friends with your neighbors.
Find out if your local evacuation shelter allows pets. This should be done well in advance because some will turn away pets. Also call local hotels and motels. Your range of possible evacuation options will be limited because of your pet, so know where to go before a flood! Some veterinary hospitals and local animal shelters may be able to temporarily shelter pets as well.
If you are taking a pet yourself, you’ll need to take some precautions:
- Make sure that your pet is wearing identification. If they decide to escape during the evacuation, that will help others locate you afterward. Consider microchipping your pet as well, along with putting your cell number on the ID tag.
- Make sure that your flood preparedness kit also has gear for your pet. It needs to have pet food, extra water, and any veterinary medications your pet needs.
- If you are taking a pet, consider leaving the area well before any evacuation order comes from the authorities. That will give you more time.
- If you must stay in your home, keep your pet with you and block off escape routes. Your pet may try to panic and hide under furniture. If you suddenly have to leave, you don’t want to waste time trying to coax them out of a hiding spot. Keep your pet inside on a leash or in a carrier.
After the flood, there are additional things to note. Your pet is likely going to be very disoriented. The flood will have changed the environment. Keep pets on a leash or in carriers until the safety of the area is confirmed and there is a wild animal check. You don’t want your cat discovering a snake in their favorite hiding spot! Also be prepared for behavioral problems. Pets undergo stress just like people do! Give them time to calm down and get used to the situation.
Flood Preparedness For Seniors
If you are an elderly person, there are special considerations that you’ll need to take if you want to stay safe in a flood. Here is what you need to know so that you can preserve your life and property.
Before a Flood
- Keep all of your important documents in a safe deposit box or a waterproof safe in your home. This includes investment paperwork, house deeds, wills, advance directives, passports, and other crucial information.
- If you receive Social Security payments, pension payments, or investment withdrawals via check every month, start using direct deposit instead. You don’t want to run the risk of a check washing away or having a loss of your physical address delay payments.
- Know your needs. What medications and medical gear will you need to take with you? How fast can you reasonably move in an emergency? Do you need to refrigerate any medication?
- Make an action plan and a support team. If you know that you’ll need assistance in evacuation, make contacts with at least three people who can help. Make sure they are aware of your medical needs and can take any medical gear you have with them.
- Review your plan yearly to ensure it’s up to date.
During a Flood
- If there is a flood watch, start getting your gear together in case you need to leave. Besides your medical gear and prescriptions, you should also have the items listed earlier in the guide or have your support team provide them.
- Listen for evacuation instructions or for a flood warning to be announced. Once this happens, put your plan into action. If you are evacuating yourself, follow the safety guidelines above about what to take and about what you should do if you encounter water.
- If there is a special evacuation spot for people who need medical assistance, head to that shelter. If you cannot make it there, move to high ground.
After the Flood
- Make sure your home is safe before re-entering. Call a water damage specialist to remove any standing water and to perform an inspection.
- Confirm that your safe deposit box remained safe.
- Be prepared to stay with your support team, if necessary, until your home is repaired.
- Talk with your doctor and with nearby pharmacies to get any prescriptions transferred should you have to live elsewhere for some time.