If you know what to do before, during and after a flood, you can protect your family from a life-threatening situation and greatly minimize damage to your home and property.
According to Rafael Lemaitre, Director of Public Affairs for FEMA, “Floods are the most common and costly disasters we see in the U.S.” Granted, the threat of a flood doesn’t cause the same fear as a hurricane, tornado, wildfire, or earthquake, but they are to be feared none the less. Flooding causes more deaths than any other natural disaster, per the National Weather Service (NWS). The national 30-year average for deaths attributed to flooding is 127. The national 30-year average for deaths attributed to lightning is 73, for tornadoes it’s 68, and for hurricanes it’s 16. The large difference in the death tolls is a feature of the amount of warning that you receive for each disaster.
Anyone living near a lake, creek, river, stream, flood plain or below sea level are at risk of a potential flooding scenario.
What is the difference between a Flood Watch and a Flood Warning as issued by the National Weather Service?
Flash Flood Warning: Take Action! A Flash Flood Warning is issued when a flash flood is imminent or occurring. If you are in a flood prone area move immediately to high ground. A flash flood is a sudden violent flood that can take from minutes to hours to develop. It is even possible to experience a flash flood in areas not immediately receiving rain.
Flood Warning: Take Action! A Flood Warning is issued when the hazardous weather event is imminent or already happening. A Flood Warning is issued when flooding is imminent or occurring.
Flood Watch: Be Prepared!: A Flood Watch is issued when conditions are favorable for a specific hazardous weather event to occur. A Flood Watch is issued when conditions are favorable for flooding. It does not mean flooding will occur, but it is possible.
Flood Advisory: Be Aware!: A Flood Advisory is issued when a specific weather event that is forecast to occur may become a nuisance. A Flood Advisory is issued when flooding is not expected to be bad enough to issue a warning. However, it may cause significant inconvenience, and if caution is not exercised, it could lead to situations that may threaten life and/or property.
Prevention and preparation –
According to Katie Collins Garrett, a meteorologist and communications specialist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, nearly all fatalities due to flooding can be prevented. She states, “the number one thing is turnaround and don’t drown. Absolutely don’t go into floodwaters.” This includes driving into any flooded areas.
Driving into floodwaters is a major cause of flood fatalities. An especially risky maneuver is to drive into a flash flood. A flash flood occurs when excessive water fills normally dry creeks or river beds along with currently flowing creeks and rivers. Flash Floods, according to the National Severe Storms Laboratory, are the most dangerous kind of floods, because they combine the destructive power of a lot of water, with incredible speed and unpredictability. We all have an instinct to try and get home at these times, but it’s truly not worth the risk. Turn around and find an alternate route home and save yourself and your family the grief.
During a flood emergency, it is important to listen to the instructions of your local officials. To stay up to date on weather developments, you can sign up to receive text alerts from state and local government officials on social media. Your local and state officials are providing you with information that could save you and your families lives. So take heed!
The FEMA app, which is available for Apple, Android and Blackberry mobile devices, is a great way to stay updated during a flood emergency. Users of the app are able to receive weather alerts from the NWS for different locales, tips on what to do during floods or other natural disasters, and information on open shelters.
Additionally, you can prepare for an impending flood by stocking up on food, water and supplies to last three days. Also, have a Family Disaster Plan and practice the plan on a regular basis. (If you go to our website and sign-up for our newsletter, you can download our Family Disaster Plan for free.)
During a flood –
If you’re asked to evacuate, you should first turn off your power at the fuse box, and shut off your gas at the gas shut-off valve. Various churches and nonprofit organizations, like the American Red Cross, provide shelter for affected individuals and families. The American Red Cross helps disaster victims by providing safe shelter, hot meals and essential relief supplies. The Red Cross also supports first responders, links family members outside the disaster area and provides blood and blood products to disaster victims. (The Red Cross depends on donations from the public and volunteers, so plan on donating or volunteering when you can. You never know when you, or someone you know, may need the services of the American Red Cross.)
During a flood, power outages may be prevalent which could make communicating difficult to impossible. It is suggested that you have a corded phone, since cell service may not be available. As long as the phone lines have not been damaged, a corded phone will still work even during a power outage. Also, it’s highly recommended that you have a NOAA weather radio on hand. These radios usually have a hand crank and are self-powered, while some also use batteries. Plus, they should have an outlet for charging your cell phone via USB connection, and a flashlight. You should also have an emergency contact card in your purse or wallet, and an emergency contacts list on your cell phone.
Since people rely heavily on social media to communicate with family and friends these days, Facebook launched Safety Check in 2014. Safety Check is a feature that can determine whether people in a disaster affected geographical area are safe. If Facebook determines that you are in a disaster affected area, they’ll send a notification asking if you’re safe. If you click the “I’m Safe” button, you’ll let your Facebook friends know that you are okay.
After a flood –
Drowning is certainly a major risk of flooding, but you should also be aware of the dangers of contaminants in floodwaters. According to the Center For Disease Control (CDC), floodwaters and standing water pose various risks, including infectious diseases, chemical hazards and injuries associated with downed power lines. Floodwater often contains infectious organisms, including intestinal bacteria such as E.coli, Salmonella and Shigella, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
All of these bacteria can cause nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and in severe cases death. It’s safe to say that these bacteria are to be avoided, so try and stay out of the water. Definitely do not drink floodwater and do not eat any food contaminated by floodwater.
After the flood waters have receded, consider hiring remediation experts to do a deep cleaning of your home or business, and also have your home or business certified structurally sound.
Get flood insurance to protect your property –
If you live in a flood prone area, you should consider getting flood insurance to offset the financial damage caused by a flood. Your home owner’s policy does not cover flood damage, although you may be able to get a rider added to cover minor damage caused by water. A rider will not cover the complete loss of your home. Don’t assume that you’re safe. According to FEMA, more than 20% of flood insurance claims come from homeowners outside of mapped high-risk flood areas.
The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) works closely with more than 80 private insurance companies to offer flood insurance to homeowners, renters and business owners. In order to qualify for flood insurance, the home or business must be located in a community that has joined the NFIP and agreed to enforce sound floodplain management standards. Information about the NFIP can be found at www.floodsmart.gov.