A study has found that, due to climate change, the risk of drenching storms have increased in both arid and wet climates. What this means is that, chances are, there will be more flooding in both types of regions. Unfortunately, it was only in the last few years that people have taken flooding seriously. With so many deaths caused by flooding all around the world, it’s common sense that you take the necessary precautions before a flood occurs and learn how to survive through one.
Section 1: Before a flood
There are many reasons why a flood occurs – snowmelt, very wet/saturated soils, impermeable rock, heavy rainfall, long periods of rain, dam breakage, and overflowing bodies of water (i.e. streams, rivers, and lakes). The basic definition of a flood is when a normally dry area or land is suddenly covered with water where the amount of water is greater than what the land can absorb.
Now, there are two main flooding events. One is the normal flood event that occurs slowly and typically take place near large rivers. This type of flooding event may last 24 hours or more, possibly days. Flash floods, the other type of flooding event, develop quickly – within 6 hours, more often within 3 hours – due to heavy rainfall from thunderstorms, dam or levee breaks, mudslides, etc. This type of flooding event happens so fast that a lot of people are often caught unaware, at times trapping them or causing damage to their property before they had a chance to protect their possessions.
There’s no way that you can predict when exactly a flood will occur. Is it next month? A couple of months from now? Next year? It doesn’t really matter WHEN it will occur because, as we’ve found out over the years, it WILL happen. What you need to do then is to prepare for a flood before it even becomes a blip on anyone’s radar.
Buy flood insurance
What is flood insurance? Flood insurance covers damage caused by flood to property and possessions. Typically, flood policies have limits of $250k for the house and $100k for personal property.
Why do I need it? First of all, 25% of flood claims each year are for homes located in low risk zones. Second, in general, homeowners’ and renters’ insurance policies do not cover damage caused by floods. Third, one inch of water can already cost a small 1,000-square foot home a loss potential of $10,819 due to damage to home and possessions.
Where can I buy flood insurance? Unfortunately, this type of insurance is only available if your community participates in the National Flood Insurance Program. If you live in an NFIP-participating community, talk to your insurance agent regarding where you can buy flood insurance. If he/she does not sell flood insurance, you can get an agent referral from the National Flood Insurance Program’s Help Center at 1-800-427-4661.
What is covered by flood insurance? Check out this document from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that details exactly what is and what is not covered by your policy.
2. Prepare your home and property.
The first thing you have to do is to protect your home. If your home is not prepared to handle floods, then everything inside is much more likely to get damaged. Below are things you can do to help prepare your house.
- If possible, elevate your home where your living area is above most flood levels.
- Create barriers such as levees and floodwalls to prevent water from entering your home.
- Install sump pumps and drains that will remove water that gets collected within your barriers and inside your home.
- Seal your basement walls with waterproofing compounds to prevent seepage.
- Prevent flood water backing into your drains by installing check valves.
- Clear debris from your gutters and downspouts.
- Elevate the furnace, washer, dryer, and water heater at least 12 inches above most flood levels. If it’s not possible, construct shields or floodwalls to protect your service equipment.
- Seal the exterior walls of your home and cover any openings below the flood level.
Extra tip: If you’re renting or planning on having a house built, avoid choosing a floodplain as your location.
Next is the contents of your home. In preparation for a flood, you’ll need to make sure that you have done the following:
- Store important documents such as passports, birth certificates, licenses, social security cards, and insurance papers in waterproof containers. You can do the same for sentimental possessions such as photographs.
- Create copies of all your important documents and store them in a secure location such as a safety deposit box. Store copies in a USB drive as well as in the cloud.
- Take pictures of your items as well as their receipts. These, too, can be uploaded to the cloud so you can access them anywhere. This will help filing a claim that much easier, especially if the flood has already run away with all your stuff. Store copies in a USB drive as well as in the cloud.
- List down all the valuables inside your home and store the information in the same USB drive as well as the cloud. If there are any heirlooms or treasured items stored in your basement, start storing them in sealed waterproof containers and placing them in the top floor of your home.
- List down all the prescription drugs that you and your family members take as well as the pharmacy you frequently buy them from. You can store this information in the cloud too. Having them accessible wherever you are enables you to get emergency supplies much easier.
3. Create an action and evacuation plans
You don’t want to get trapped inside your house when you could have gotten to safety if only you had a plan in place. Aside from prepping your house, you need to prep yourselves. Establish an evacuation route. How do you exit your house? What will you be bringing with you? Where do you head after you get out of the house? Having a clear plan to follow, especially in navigating your community, will prevent mistakes from being made when you’re in a panic. When making your own escape plan, be sure to check the flood evacuation map from the Department of Public Safety or the American Red Cross. Also, ensure that you have multiple evacuation points so you have a backup plan in case your main exit point has been flooded or is no longer accessible. More importantly, every member of your family should know where you all are meeting up (such as the local emergency shelter) just in case you get separated while evacuating. Try to practice this a couple of times so everything is clear.
If you and some of your family members live in different houses, create an action plan on how you’ll stay in contact. Text messages are less draining on your battery than calls. Also, include a family member who lives out of your immediate geographic area so that you have someone who can receive your information and relay them to the proper authorities.
4. Gather “Go Kit” and “Stay Kit”
There are two scenarios you have to prepare for: staying inside your home and getting out. For each case, you’ll need to make the appropriate “kits” that will help you and your family to survive.
The “Go Kit” should have the following:
- A change of clothes including extra socks
- ready-to-eat food for three days
- Can opener
- a warm drink in a flask
- bottled water (one gallon per person per day so three gallons at least)
- mobile phone and charger
- emergency blanket
- battery-powered radio
- first aid kit
- multi-purpose tool
- sanitation and personal hygiene items such as soap, toothpaste, etc.
- copies of personal documents
- emergency contact information in paper so you can still access this when your phone runs out of battery
- Cash and credit cards
- car keys and house keys
- manual can opener
- Light rain gear
- baby supplies and pet supplies if needed
You can use this 72-hour kit checklist from Floodtools.com to help you keep track of what you’re packing in your kit. Make sure that your “go kit” is easily accessible (i.e. near the door) so you can quickly grab it once you are told to evacuate your home.
Your “Stay Kit” should include the following:
- emergency contact information printed on paper
- battery-operated flashlight and spare batteries
- battery-operated radio and spare batteries
- first aid kit
- essential medication
- three days’ supply of bottled water (one gallon per person per day)
- three days’ supply of ready-to-eat meals
- copies of important documents stored in a waterproof container.
- pencil, paper, pen knife, and whistle
- spare keys to your home and car
- baby supplies and pet supplies if needed
Your “stay kit” should be located in the top level of your home, far away from contaminating flood water.
5. Know your Flood Warnings
The National Weather Service will warn people whenever floods threaten. However, they utilize different terms that may confuse the average Joe/Jane. Knowing what each one means will help you be more prepared for what may come.
Flood Advisory: this is issued when the weather that is forecast may cause flooding but it is not bad enough that a warning is required. People are advised to be aware that the flooding may be significantly inconvenient but not life-threatening unless you do not exercise caution.
Flood Watch: this is issued when weather conditions are right for flooding. While this warning does not mean a flood WILL happen, it will alert you to the need to prepare before it does happen and gets worse.
Flood Warning: this is issued when flooding is imminent or already happening. This means that preparations should be already done, it’s time to take action.
Flash Flood Warning: this is issued when a flash flood is imminent or occuring. If you’re in a high risk area, you need to get to high ground NOW. Keep in mind that you don’t need heavy rain, or even rain at all, in your area for a flash flood to occur. In other words, when you get this warning, move your ass!
Section 2: During a flood
Step 1: Stay informed. Check forecasts and warnings online, on TV, and on the radio. Monitor them for warnings and advice.
Step 2: When a flood is imminent, you’ll need to start preparing your property. Keep in mind, the following actions need to be done only IF you have time before evacuation becomes necessary.
- Start securing hazardous items and rolling up rugs.
- Move your furniture, electrical items, and valuables to a higher level.
- Ensure your important documents are still in that waterproof container.
- Turn off all utilities once you are told to do so by authorities. Shut your gas off as well. Just remember that only a professional can turn it back on.
- Unplug all your small appliances.
- Fill plastic bottles with clean water for drinking and store them at a higher level.
- Bring outdoor furniture inside.
- Turn off propane tanks.
Step 3a: If you need to leave, make sure to do the following actions:
- Pick up your “go kit.”
- Empty your freezers and refrigerator. Leave the doors open to avoid damage if they float.
- Make sure to lock all windows and doors in the house.
- Alert your nearest neighbor or the police of your plan to move to a safer location.
Step 3b: If you got the warning too late and can no longer leave.
- Keep monitoring the news for warnings and advice.
- Get your “stay kit” and go to the highest level in your house.
- Fill bathtubs and sinks with water that you can use for washing clothes or the floor and for flushing the toilet. Keep in mind, this water is NOT for drinking.
- Boil your tap water until your water supply has been declared safe.
- Dispose any food that comes into contact with floodwater. The water may already be contaminated with sewage.
Other don’ts you need to keep in mind during a flood:
- Don’t walk through moving water even if it’s just 6 inches because that’s already enough to knock you over.
- If there’s no other way but to walk in water, try to avoid walking in moving water. Also, look for a stick, a pole, or something similar that will help you check the ground’s firmness and level as well as to avoid hazards such as open manholes. You definitely don’t want to suddenly fall into a deep end.
- Don’t allow your children to play in the floodwater.
- Never drive your vehicle into flooded areas, no matter how big it is. Most deaths due to floods are from those trapped in vehicles. Just 12 inches of water can float a small car. Two feet of rushing water is enough to carry away an SUV or pickup truck. Remember: turn around, don’t drown.
- Don’t touch electrical equipment when it is wet or you’re standing in water.
- Avoid walking barefoot in floodwater. If you can, avoid getting in contact with it altogether because it may be contaminated or contain insects/animals that can hurt you.
Section 3: After the flood
Once the water begins to recede, it’s time to assess the damage and try to minimize your losses. If you relocated before or during the flood, make sure that you only return when authorities have stated that it is safe to do so. Also, make sure to continue monitoring the news for updates and instructions.
What to do for your loved ones:
- Keep a pulse on how they’re dealing with the stress of the evacuation.
- If you have pets, check how they’re doing and keep them under your direct control.
- Warn your family members about avoiding areas that still have floodwaters.
- Keep in mind that roads that used to be submerged in water may have weakened and suddenly collapse under the weight of your car.
- Look out for downed power lines. Make sure to report them to the proper authorities.
Once you are allowed to return home, make sure that it is safe to enter:
- If your house is still surrounded by floodwaters, stay out. You need to either wait for the water to recede by itself of use any available commercial water pump
- Inspect the exterior of your house for broken or damaged gas lines, cracks in the foundation, loose power lines, missing support beams, damaged porch roofs, etc. If there is visible structural damage outside the home, you may want to contact a building inspector to let you know if it’s safe to enter the house.
- Keep an eye out for snakes, insects, and other animals that may be around or inside your home. Use your long stick/pole to poke around the mess outside your home to make sure it’s safe.
- Avoid stepping in puddles or standing water if they are power lines down outside your home.
- Don’t force a jammed door open as it may be providing support to a portion of your home. Look for a different way in.
- Sniff the air for gas and listen for a hissing noise. If there is any indication of a gas leak, get out and alert the proper authorities right away.
- For those with a propane tank system, make sure to turn off all valves then consult a professional to check the system.
Once you have concluded that the house is safe, you need to do the following:
- Start poking around again through the debris to see if there are any “surprises” hiding.
- Don’t use any gas or electrical appliances that were submerged in floodwater until a professional has checked them for safety.
- Throw away any food, drinks, and medicine that came into contact with floodwater.
- Clean and disinfect anything that had contact with the floodwater.
- Check your circuit breaker panel for any breakers that may have tripped.
- Any damaged sewage lines need to be serviced as soon as possible. While waiting for a plumber, make sure to avoid using sinks, showers, and toilets.
- If any of the water pipes are damaged, turn off the water at the main valve and call a plumber.
- Check your telephone to see if there is a dial tone.
- Clean up any chemicals that were spilled. Make sure to use rubber gloves and discard any rags that you used for cleaning.
- Check the furniture and stairs as they may be unstable. The same goes for the ceiling, windows, and doors. They may be in danger of collapsing.
- Open your windows to ventilate your home as well as help it dry out faster. You may also use high capacity air movers and dehumidifiers in order to dry out the humidity faster
- Any items that absorbed water and cannot be cleaned or disinfected such as stuffed animals, mattresses, carpeting, etc. needs to be thrown out. When in doubt, just throw it out. Remember, contaminated water!
- If you have a basement, pump out any water gradually – around one-third of the water each day – to prevent any structural damage.
- Start taking photos of the damage to substantiate your insurance claim. Make a list of all that was lost or damaged as well. Include the value and age of the items on the list. Once you have the necessary documentation, call your agent or insurance agency and file your claim.
Section 4: Flood preparedness tips for Seniors
Some of us will need extra attention and help during an emergency. If you are a senior citizen, the same actions listed above apply to you. However, you’ll also need to take extra steps to ensure that you’re never caught in a bad place when your location becomes flooded.
Before a Flood:
Step 1: Create a personal support network.
It’s important that you have a network of individuals who will check in on you in case of a natural disaster. These individuals could be your family, friends, neighbors, personal attendants, etc. Ideally, you should have three people who can help you in an emergency.
When creating a personal support network, make sure of the following:
- They know to check up on you after a disaster and, if necessary, offer help.
- Exchange important keys such as house keys and car keys.
- Let them know exactly where you store your emergency supplies.
- Share copies of your health information such as medication and diet. Also, share your evacuation plan and copies of your emergency documents. Make sure to discuss how fast you can move during an emergency and how much assistance you’ll need.
- Discuss how you will get in contact with each other during an emergency. Telephones won’t always work.
Step 2: Make copies of your important papers such as passports, social security card, investment paperwork, insurance policies, etc. and store them in a waterproof container.
Step 3: Start getting your pension payments, Social Security payments, and investment withdrawals through direct deposit instead of a check every month. This allows you access to much needed cash that would not wash away during a flood. Also, if you have to relocate briefly due to the flooding, you don’t want to risk any delay in payments.
Step 4: Know exactly what your needs are. Do you need medication? Is there any medical gear that you can’t leave home without? Does your medication need refrigeration? Do you need your cane, walker, or wheelchair?
Step 5: Create a “Go Kit.” Here’s a checklist that you can use. Make sure that your kit is inside a duffel bag or backpack to make it easy for you to carry. If you can’t carry a backpack, consider a storage container with wheels. Place an ID tag on your bag/container. While you’re at it, label your equipment (cane, walker, etc.) as well.
Step 6: Practice your drill every 6 months to keep it fresh in your mind and determine if you need to change parts of the plan based on your capabilities.
Step 7: Make sure you review your plan every year (evacuation route and shelter) and update your kit accordingly. Replace the water, medication, and food using the “first in, first out” rule.
During the Flood:
- Once a Flood Advisory has been issued, make sure that your “Go Kit” is already near the door in case you need to leave. Make sure to get in touch with your personal support network to let them know what may happen.
- Monitor the news for updates and instructions.
- If you are evacuating by yourself, you may want to leave before authorities advise you to do so. This way, you’ll have more time to prepare your home and your things before the flood gets there.
- If you aren’t able to make it to your designated shelter, move to higher ground.
- Once you arrive, make sure to advise the proper authorities in the shelter of any needs you may have. Let your contacts know that you have arrived safely.
After the Flood:
- Make sure that your home is safe before entering. If not, be prepared to stay in the shelter or with one of the people in your personal support network until your home is repaired.
- If you do have to live elsewhere, make sure to get in touch with your doctor so that your prescriptions get transferred to nearby pharmacies.
- Have a professional perform an inspection inside your home. He can check for damage in the foundation, walls, and ceilings. He can also look for broken power lines, gas lines, and damaged water pipes. He can also test electrical appliances to see if they were damaged as well.
Section 5: Flood preparedness tips for Pets
In an emergency, your pet’s safety and well-being are solely in your hands. Your emergency kits as well as evacuation plans must include your pet.
Here’s a top tip: if your location is unsafe for you, then it’s not safe for your pet either. So if it’s at all possible, never leave your pet behind. If you can’t, you’ll need to place them in the top level of your home and give them enough food and water to last for 3 days.
Before the Flood:
Step 1: Create an Emergency Kit for your pet
Your pet has stuff he or she will need too in times of an emergency. Make sure to pack the following items in a sturdy container that can be carried easily. Also, keep the kit right beside your emergency “go kit” so you won’t forget it when emergency strikes.
- Sturdy leashes, harnesses, or carriers that will allow you to transport your pet safely.
- Food, drinking water, and bowls
- a manual can opener (if your pet eats canned food)
- medication and copies of medical records in a waterproof container
- a first aid kit
- current photo of you and your pet (in case they get lost)
- information sheet listing vet’s contact name & number, medical conditions, feeding schedule, and behavior problems
- toys and bed, if transportable
Step 2: Include your pet in your evacuation plans
- Not all emergency shelters, hotels, and motels will accommodate a pet. This means that you’ll need to make sure that your evacuation route will include shelters that will accept your pet. Call around and ask about their pet policies and if these could be waived in case of an emergency.
- Consider having your pet microchipped. At the very least, make sure that he/she is wearing an identification tag so that people can return him/her to you if he/she escapes during your evacuation.
- Practice your evacuation plan with your pet so that they get used to it and remain calm when the actual event takes place.
- Prepare a list of phone numbers of people who would be able to care for your animal in an emergency. This list can include friends, relatives, animal shelters, and veterinarians.
During the Flood:
If you’re planning to take your pet with you, don’t wait for an evacuation order. Instead, get out early so you have enough time. Also, keep him on a leash or in a carrier once you hear a Flood Advisory and make sure to block all exit points. This ensures that he won’t be panicking and hiding under the bed or couch when things start to get rough outside which means you won’t have any problems taking him out when you need to evacuate.
After the Flood:
Your pet may start acting out because of emotional stress, either becoming aggressive or defensive. Make sure that you are aware of his/her state of mind and protect him/her as well as others from hazards. If behavior problems persist, consider taking him to your vet for consultation.
Don’t let your pet wander off once the flood is over. Keep him on a leash and close to you. There may be damaged fences, weakened roads, broken power lines, and other debris scattered around that could endanger him/her. Not to mention, there may be snakes, insects, and other wild animals hiding under the debris that could attack your pet.