The recent hurricanes Harvey and Irma are making people aware of the importance of flood preparedness. While Harvey and Irma were exceptional cases, they aren’t isolated incidences.
Flooding is a common cause of disaster worldwide. With the rates of flooding disasters only increasing, it is important to take steps towards flood preparedness to ensure survival.
The key points we'll discuss here for flood preparedness are:
- How to Prepare for a Flood: How to stay informed, protect your home, pack a flood emergency kit, and make an evacuation plan.
- What to Do During a Flood: Risks of flood water, evacuating during a flood, and drinking water safety.
- Staying Safe After a Flood: Utility safety, contacting loved ones, cleaning up, and looting.
- Flood Emergency Kit: A checklist of items to stockpile for flood preparedness.
Flood Disasters Overview
Flooding is the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the USA. Approximately 200 people die per year due to flooding and billions in damages are caused.(source)
Worldwide, it is an even bigger problem with 2.3 billion people affected by flooding in the past 20 years.(source)
Despite how common flooding is, few people are prepared for a flood. A survey by FEMA found that only 39% of Americans have a disaster plan. Only 52% of them have disaster supplies in their home. Even fewer had emergency medications and other specific supplies.
This is all despite the fact that most Americans live in an area which has been struck by a natural disaster.
Floods Can Happen Anywhere
Most people incorrectly believe that flooding can only happen in coastal areas or near rivers.
This is not the case. As the FEMA video explains, flooding can happen anywhere. Of course, if you live in a floodplain, the risk is much greater. Check the FEMA flood map to see if you live on a floodplain.
How to Prepare for a Flood
The most important thing you can do to ensure you survive a flood is stay informed. By getting advanced warning about flooding, you can evacuate sooner and avoid much of the damage.
Get an emergency radio with NOAA alerts. You can program the radio to sound an alarm if a disaster is near you. The emergency radio will also be your lifeline to the outside world if you have to hunker down through a disaster.
There are three types of flood alerts:
- Flood Advisory: Be Aware! This is the lowest level of alert. It is issued when flooding might happen, but isn’t likely to cause a warning.
- Flood Watch: Be Prepared! A flood watch is issued when conditions are favorable for flooding
- Flood Warning: Take Action! A flood warning is only issued once a flood is imminent or in process.
Protecting Home from Flooding
1. Keep Water Out of Home
There are several barricades and devices you can use to keep flood water out of your home. The main ones are:
1. Sandbags are the easiest and most affordable way to keep the water out.
They are only really suitable for mild flooding and will likely be in short supply in flooding emergencies, therefore it is wise to stock up in advance.
2. Dams are becoming more popular with people living in flood areas. Some dams are placed in front of doors or windows to prevent water from leaking in. Others can be inflated and put around the entire property.
3. Sump Pumps are used to remove water from your house if it is already flooding. There are many different types available. You should be looking at battery powered andor submersible models for emergency use.
2. Turn Off Utilities
Whenever a disaster strikes, you should immediately turn off the utilities, including: gas, electric, and water. This reduces the risk of electrical fire, burst pipes, and gas leaks.
After turning off the electric main, unplug all appliances. This helps protect them from shorting when the electricity is turned back on.
Never turn off electricity while standing in water. If there is already water where the electricity main is, use a long broom handle while standing on a dry surface to shut off the main.
3. Get Flood Insurance
Even if your home is only hit with a few inches of flooding, the damage can be huge. This is because mold can set in quickly, and cleanup is very intensive.
According to data from the National Flood Insurance Program, the cost of water damage cleanup is:
- 1-4 inches of water: $7,800
- 9-12 inches of water: $18,930
- 18 inches: $26,285
4. Protect Belongings from Flood Water
- Bring outdoor furniture inside
- Move appliances and valuable items to higher ground
- Roll up rugs and move them to higher ground
Emergency Flood Kit
Food and Water
Incidences of diarrhea and vomiting are also common during flood emergencies because of contact with tainted water. For this, it is important to have electrolytes on hand to treat dehydration as well as anti-diarrheal medications.
Flood Evacuation Plan
1. Under What Circumstances You Will Evacuate?
2. Where Will You Go?
3. How Will You Get There?
4. What To Do If Stuck in Home During Flooding
What to Do During a Flood
Risks of Flood Water
- 6 inches of water: Will knock you off your feet. It will also reach the bottom of most cars and cause them to lose control.
- 12 inches of water: Will float many vehicles.
- 24 inches of water: Will carry away even large vehicles like SUVs.
The video below shows how even flood water which looks “tame” can wash away a truck.
Other Risks of Flood Water Include:
- Electrified Water: Downed power lines or lights can electrify water. Stepping into it can cause death by electrocution. Learn more about electrical safety during storms
- Disease: Flood water contains toxic wastes including sewage. Coming into contact with it or accidentally drinking flood water can result in health complications.
- Injury: Debris floating in flood water can cause serious injuries.
- Damaged Buildings, Roads, and Bridges: Flood water can wash away building materials. Be careful before entering flooded buildings as the floor could collapse. Bridges and sidewalks could collapse under you.
Evacuating During a Flood
In most cases, it is best to hunker down in your home until the storm passes and the flood water goes down. It can take days or weeks for flood water to recede, which is why it is important to have emergency supplies stockpiled.
Even if you are prepared to stay in your flooded home, it isn’t always wise to. Stagnant flood water can quickly turn toxic. Mold growth can start in as little as 24 hours – creating respiratory issues if inhaled. Thus, once the threat has passed, many people choose to leave their flooded homes.
An evacuation order might also be placed if your home is flooded. Rescue workers will go door-to-door evacuating people to shelters. You’ll be forced to evacuate, whether you want to or not.
To make sure you are able to evacuate quickly and safely:
- Pack Bug Out Bags ahead of time.
- Consider buying a boat or raft to use for flood evacuation.
- Keep whistles, flares, and neon paint to be used for signaling to rescue workers.
- Go to the roof, never to the attic or anywhere you could get trapped by flood water.
- Don’t fight an evacuation order. Listen to the authorities.
Drinking Water Safety
During the flood, use your emergency radio to listen for drinking water alerts. Unless the water company specifically says the tap water is safe, assume that tap water is contaminated and do not drink it.
Often, water companies will issue a “boil alert” during flooding. This means that you should boil tap water for at least 1 minute before drinking or cooking with it. Even water for brushing your teeth should be treated.
Boiling doesn’t remove chemical contaminants though. This usually isn’t an issue for healthy adults. However, infants can be susceptible to nitrates in water. Only bottled water should be used for mixing infant formula.
To learn more about water preparedness, read this Comprehensive Guide to Emergency Water.
Stay Safe After a Flood
Utility and Electrical Safety
No matter how eager you are to get your power and water back, never turn on the utilities until you have checked with the authorities
The risk of electrical shock or fire is great after a flood. If you weren’t able to shut off your electric main before leaving your home, do not reenter until an electrician has checked for safety. Likewise, don’t re-plug any electrical appliances that got wet until an electrician inspects them.
Contacting Loved Ones
Landline phones typically don’t work after large disasters. Even cell phones often don’t work because networks get flooded.
However, internet connections often do work. You can contact loved ones using email or social media. You’ll need a way to recharge your phone to stay connected, such as a solar or hand-crank charger.
If you get separated from loved ones during flooding:
- Have a designated contact person to reach in case family members are separated.
- Decide on a meeting point in case of separation.
- Check your loved ones social media pages. People often check in there.
- Use the Red Cross Safe and Well website to register yourself as safe or to search for loved ones.
These issues should be considered before disaster strikes. Learn how to make an emergency communication plan.
Cleaning Up Flood Damage
Wait until authorities say it is safe to return home. If you find your home is still surrounded by water, do not enter.
Remember that flooding can cause serious damage to your home. There could be extensive structural damage, meaning you could fall straight through floors or have the roof collapse in on you. It is better to be safe than sorry in this situation!
If you do deem it safe to start the flood cleanup process:
- Take photos: You’ll need these for a flood insurance claim.
- Wear protective gear: You’ll need waterproof boots, trousers, rubber gloves, and an N95 face mask. This protects against toxic water and debris.
- Disinfect all surfaces: Flood water can contain toxins and sewage. Anything which has come in contact with flood water needs to be disinfected or thrown away.
To learn more, Flood Safety has a good guide to cleaning up after a flood.
Unfortunately, looting is common after disasters. Boarding up broken windows can help prevent looting as thieves will usually go for the easiest target. You might also want to band together with your neighbors to form a watch.
Others take a more aggressive approach to preventing looters – such as writing warning signs on their doors that “Looters will be shot.”
Emergency Kit Checklist
You’ll need to divide your flood disaster supplies into two categories: Supplies for evacuating your home and supplies for remaining in your home.
Supplies for Evacuating before/during a Flood
- Bug out Bag: Your bug out bag will contain food, water, first aid items, clothing, and other important gear. Get a 3-Day Bug Out Bag Checklist.
- Emergency documents: These should be waterproofed and put in your bug out bag. Here's a List of Emergency Documents to Prepare.
- Dry sacks: These keep gear dry and can also be used for storing wet gear. A large dry sack can also serve as your bug out backpack.
- Boat/raft with fuel or oars: Not everyone can keep a boat in their home. However, if you live in a flood area, you should at least have an inflatable life boat.
- Rain jacket, waders and dry suit: Flood water contains sewage and other toxic waste. If you have to go out in it, always wear protection. Sanitize gear that has come in contact with flood water.
- Distress signals: These include a whistle, HELP flag which can be put on the roof and signal flares.
- Glow sticks: These improve visibility during stormy and dark conditions.
- Pet carriers and supplies: Read this post about Disaster Preparedness for Pets.
- Life jackets: Even if you don’t have a boat, you’ll want life jackets. It only takes a few inches of flood water to sweep someone off their feet!
- Sandbags or polyethylene pipe barriers: When flooding is eminent, you should plug drains to prevent sewage backup. Remember to do this before you evacuate to minimize damage to your home. Drains should also be blocked if you are staying at home. Use an emergency toilet during the flood instead of relying on the sewage system.
- Shutoff Wrench: Turn off gas, water mains, and electricity before evacuating. Always turn off utilities when hunkering down too.
- Extra cash
- Map and compass
- Emergency numbers and addresses
Flood Supplies for Remaining in Your Home
- Bottled water: The minimum amount you should have is 1 gallon per day, per person. However, it is best to have more. Read this post about How Much Emergency Water to Store. Also read this important post on How to Store Water.
- Non-perishable food: MREs and “boil in the bag” foods are good choices for flood preparedness. Aim for a variety of these Emergency Preparedness Foods
- Water treatment method: Flood water contains bacteria, viruses, and chemicals. Boiling alone won’t be enough to treat it. Read this Guide to Water Treatment Methods.
- Emergency radio: Critical for listening to weather reports. Learn How to Choose an Emergency Radio.
- Flashlights: Because of heavy winds and potential gas leaks, it is best to avoid candles during most natural disasters. Instead, use flashlights. Look for ones with a high IPX (waterproof) rating.
- Supplies for boarding up windows: These include wood, hammers, nails, plastic tarp, and duct tape. Here’s a video of how to board up windows.
- Tools: These include a manual can opener, knife, multipurpose tool (see best multi tool choices here), and pliers.
- Gas stove: This is for cooking as well as for boiling water for sanitizing.
- Power source: Cellphones (though not always reliable) have become crucial for communication during a flood. Have a backup way to keep your phone and other devices powered, such as a solar panel, USB power bank, and rechargeable batteries and charger.
- Fire extinguisher: Opt for the ABC rating.
- Emergency toilet: The easiest way to do this is with the two-bucket method.
- Trash bags: You’ll need a LOT of these for your emergency toilet and other waste, especially if you need to bag up items contaminated by the flood water.
- First aid kit: Here’s a complete first aid kit supplies checklist. Remember to brush up on your first aid skills too!
- Mess kit: Camping-style kits are great for emergency prepping.
- Waterproof matches
- Tent - How to choose the best survival tent
- Sleeping bags
- N95 face masks: Read about survival face masks here.
Where to Store Flood Emergency Supplies
The safest room during a hurricane is an interior room without windows on the first floor. Ideally, you will have all of your flood emergency supplies in this room.
However, since the “safe room” is often a bathroom or pantry, you might not be able to get all of the supplies in the safe room. In this case, consider where you can keep the supplies nearby so they are accessible.
You'll never want to keep flood supplies in the basement, garage, or other areas which will get flooded first or be inaccessible during flooding.
If you have a roof escape hatch installed, consider keeping some emergency supplies here too. Flood waters rise rapidly and you might not have time to carry supplies up to the attic while escaping the water.