When it comes to natural disasters, floods are the one type that can hit just about anywhere. Even in the middle of the desert, if unusual rains occur or a pipe bursts in your bathroom, your home can experience flooding. Knowing what to do in a flood to protect yourself and your property is critical.
Flooding is a serious risk. Flash flooding is the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the country. Each year, approximately 200 people are killed in flash floods. Over half of all flooding deaths are vehicle-related. In the past 20 years, 2.3 billion people have been impacted by flooding disasters, and millions more have dealt with minor floods due to sewage, burst pipes, or drainage problems. Flooding also brings serious health risks to your home and community, from bacteria in flood water to deadly mold that grows in damaged buildings and even structural damage to homes and commercial buildings.
Those statistics are frightening, but there are ways to protect your family. Thorough education about flood risk and what you can do to protect yourself and your property will help you be more confident in tackling any floods that may come your way. Whether you are at high risk for flooding near your home or simply want to be informed, this guide will give you the tools you need to navigate a flood safely and with confidence.
Understand the Risk
Flooding can happen to anyone. However, different events and problems are more of a risk for your home depending on where you live. For example, a homeowner who lives in a desert region isn't likely to experience flooding because of prolonged rain, but a burst pipe or flash flood is a potential risk. By identifying the risks in your area, you will be better able to protect your home from the potential of flooding.
Identify Different Causes of Flooding
Before you can protect your home properly from flooding, you need to be able to identify the different causes of flooding specific to your area. Here are some tips to help you identify the different causes of flooding, so you can find the potential problems that may impact your home.
· Consider the likelihood of a heavy rain event. Some parts of the country are more prone to rain issues than others. Typically heavy rain does not cause flooding because of the rain itself, but rather because of rising waterways. Flooding can also occur when the rain falls too quickly for the ground to soak it up properly, allowing it to flow into your home. If your home does not have proper drainage around the foundation, you can experience an isolated flood after extensive rain, even if your community does not flood.
· Weigh the risk of extreme weather events. Tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, and torrential downpours can all lead to flooding. Determine the risk of these types of extreme weather events in your area.
· Consider the impact of snowmelt. If you've had a heavy season of snow, spring can increase flood risk as that snow melts and runs off. Since the ground under the snow is still frozen, this water cannot absorb into the soil, and this water must flow into waterways. Homes in lower elevations can be flooded when this starts.
· Understand the risk of flash flooding. Flash floods occur when the rain falls too quickly and the ground and natural drainage paths become overwhelmed. This can overflow rivers and allow fast-moving water to rush through the town unexpectedly. Flash floods typically happen quite quickly after the start of rainfall during heavy rains. If you live near drainage paths or waterways, you are at risk for flash flooding.
· Identify any levees or dams in your area. Over 3,5000 dams in the United States are now classified as unsafe, so if you live near one, this is a serious risk. Failure of a levy or dam can instantly flood an entire community. If your home is in the flood path, you will face fast devastation. Identify any dams or levees in your area that may put your home at risk.
· Know the risk of floods from burst pipes. Interestingly, one of the most common types of floods comes from a risk that resides in your home! If a pipe in your basement bursts, your home can quickly flood, causing damage and expense.
· Watch for flooding from household appliances. Yes, even your appliances can cause a flood inside your home. Specifically, refrigerators, dishwashers, washing machines, water heaters, and toilets can all overflow and cause a flood.
· Understand the risk that poor drainage causes. Heavy rains can cause flooding no matter how well drained your home is, but if you have poor drainage that routes water towards your home instead of away from it, you increase the risk significantly.
· Check the foundation for flood-causing damage. Flaws and cracking in the home's foundation can allow groundwater and rain to enter the home through the floors when the area becomes over-saturated with water. The only protection against this is professional foundation repair.
· Protect your home from clogged rain gutters. Rain gutters are designed to funnel rain and melting snow away from your home's roof and foundation. However, if the gutters are clogged or are not properly designed, they can actually funnel water towards these areas. Keep the rain gutters in good repair to protect your home.
· Be aware of the risk of sewer backups. When something blocks the sewer line leading away from your home, dirty sewage water can back up into your home and cause a stinky mess.
Determining Your Home's Risk Level
In addition to identifying these risks that may be around your home, you can determine the flood risk level of your home specifically using certain tools. Here's how:
· Search your address on the FEMA Flood Map. This interactive map allows you to search almost any address in the United States and see its expected flood risk.
· Use Map My Risk to determine additional risk. Another online tool allowing you to search your address. This one is a bit more detailed and will provide another look at your potential flood risk.
· Consider your home's elevation. Homes that have a higher elevation are at less risk for flooding than homes that are at low elevations. Consider your home's elevation in comparison to the homes around you to weigh your risk.
· Look for nearby bodies of water. A creek, river, or drainage pipe near your home can make it an increased risk for flooding. If you can't find your address in the flood zone maps, look for these types of risk factors.
For more information about your flood risk, visit:
· ReTipster: Is Your Home at Risk for Flooding? Find out in 2 Minutes or Less
· Flood Safety: Assessing Your Flood Risk
· FloodSmart: Defining Flood Risks
· FEMA: Homeowners – Frequently Asked Questions About Flooding
Before Flooding Happens
No matter where you live, you can experience a flood. You need to be prepared for the risk, whether or not your home is in a high-risk area. If your home is in a flood zone, you need to take even greater precautions. Here are some guidelines to help you be prepared before flooding happens.
General Advice for Preparing for Flooding
· Purchase flood insurance if you're eligible. You may be eligible to purchase flood insurance if your property is located in a National Flood Insurance Program participating community. You can see the status of your property through FEMA's website.
· Place important papers up high or in a waterproof case. If your home floods, things that are located higher up are going to be safer. Place important papers on closet shelves or on the second floor of your home, rather than on the ground floor or in the basement.
· Protect your photos. Photos can't be replaced if they get wet. Place them high to protect them in the event of a flood.
· Talk to your family. Make sure your family knows what to do if a flood comes to your area. Talk about your plan, the protections you will have in place in your home, and where you will go if your area is flooded.
· Practice your communication plan. Have a communication plan in place for emergencies, and practice it with your family. Know who you will contact and how to contact them in case you suffer a serious emergency. Make sure the plan includes an out-of-area contact person who everyone can touch base with in a flood event.
Preparing Your Home for Flooding
· Elevate critical components in your home. Your electrical panels, switches, sockets, wiring, and appliances should be elevated, if possible, to minimize damage if you have a flood.
· Waterproof the basement. If you are at high risk for flooding, consider adding waterproofing to your basement for another layer of protection.
· Invest in a working sump pump. A sump pump is critical to prevent basement floods in minor flooding events. Invest in one, and consider a backup sump pump to keep things running even if you have a power outage.
· Have a home inspection. Home inspections aren't just for new home purchases. Have a home inspection to help you determine whether or not your home is well prepared for a flood.
· Keep gutters and downspouts clear. Make sure you do not allow your gutter to get full of leaves. Make sure the downspouts point away from your home and are clear. If water doesn't flow well away from your roof and foundation when it rains, you are at risk for flooding.
· Determine if your home has proper drainage. If you're seeing puddles of water in your yard after a heavy rain, you have a flood risk. Contact a plumber or landscaper to learn more about drainage options.
· Keep your sewer systems in good repair and add check valves. Floods from backed up sewers are some of the messiest. Keep them properly maintained, and consider installing a one-way check valve where the sewer main leaves your house to provide additional protection.
· Shut off electrical and gas service if you know a flood is imminent. If you know a flood is likely going to hit your home, shut off the gas service and electricity. If you suspect a flood, turn off electrical power at the circuit box to those areas at highest risk, but wait to address the gas line until instructed by your local utility service.
· Plug basement floor drains in anticipation of a flood. The floor drain can allow sewage backup and damage to the basement walls and floor.
· Remove appliances in anticipation of flooding or elevate at least a foot above the expected water level. If you have warning that a flood may come, remove or elevate your appliances, furnace, and water heater. This will protect these costly items from water damage.
Packing Your Emergency Kit
If you are stuck at home or need to evacuate your home, an emergency kit will help take care of your family's needs until you can get back on your feet.
· Pack an emergency kit that has all necessary medications and medical supplies to get your family through at least a week. If you are stuck at home or have to evacuate during a flood, you need to know that your family's medical needs will be met.
· Stash enough food and water for at least three days. Your emergency supplies need to include supplies for your family to eat and drink Aim for a minimum of three days' worth of supplies, including one gallon of water per person per day. Make sure you include the necessary tools to open any cans or boxes. Rotate out the food and water every six months to ensure it stays safe.
· Add basic toiletry and first aid supplies. Make sure you have basic toiletries, including antibacterial wipes, and first aid supplies in your emergency kit. Don't forget the toilet paper, toothbrushes and toothpaste, and feminine hygiene products. Also, pack diapers if you have babies in the family.
· Pack some supplies for flood cleanup. You will want extra-large trash bags, rubber gloves, and disinfecting wipes to help with flood cleanup.
· Add in some disposable eating utensils. Paper plates, plastic utensils, and napkins are all going to be important.
· Make a copy of your keys. Make a copy of your house and car keys in case you can't get to your actual copies.
· Include a battery-powered radio and light. You will need to be able to know what is going on outside of your home, so include a battery-powered weather radio. You will also need light if the electricity goes out, so add some powerful flashlights. Include extra batteries for all of these.
· Remember to pack some items to alleviate stress. Comfort items for babies, toys and games for kids, and something adults can use to pass the time will make the days after a flood more bearable.
· Add a few more items. Matches in a waterproof container, a plastic whistle to alert emergency providers, scissors, tweezers, extra clothing, durable footwear, and a blanket or sleeping bag can all help keep your family safe after a flood.
· Store the items in one or two waterproof containers you can quickly grab. Plastic waterproof cases are a great option for an emergency kit because they are easy to grab and keep everything well contained.
· Include copies of important documentation, such as your insurance provider and medical provider names and numbers. Make a list of all of the potential numbers and names you might need after a flood, and make sure you have the contact information ready to go.
Creating an Evacuation Plan
If your family is asked to evacuate, make sure you have a plan that is easy to follow. Here are some tips:
· Stay aware of what local officials are asking. If an evacuation order is issued, follow the guidelines.
· Know two to three different evacuation routes. Always have a plan B in case your preferred evacuation route is flooded. Follow recommendations from emergency providers when they are given.
· Have a place to go. Know a safe place away from your area where you can go if you ever need to evacuate. Have a plan in place with a friend or family member that will ensure your family is safe, even when evacuation orders are sent. Also, choose a backup meeting place if the first one falls through in the event of a flood.
· Keep your car at least half full of gas at all times. Gas stations will be out of service or overrun with customers in the event of a flood. Having a half tank of gas at all times will ensure you can get out if you need to evacuate.
· Choose a contact person. Choose someone who lives out of your area that your family can contact after evacuating. Make sure all members of the family have the name and number, so that you can get in touch with one another after your evacuation if you are separated.
Planning for Pets
Do you have pets? Here are some tips to prepare for flooding when you have pets in the home:
· Include pet food and medications in your emergency kit. Your pet will need to eat too, so make sure you have planned for this. Don't forget a few toys to help reduce anxiety.
· Know that your evacuation plan includes your pets. Make sure your safe haven will welcome your pets. If not, find an emergency shelter option just outside of your main area that will allow shelter for your pets for a short period of time.
· Put proper identification on your pets. Whether it's a microchip or a collar, make sure your pet can be identified and the contact information is current. This will help you get reunited if you are separated during a flood.
· If possible, crate your pets while evacuating or dealing with a flood. This will help prevent a frightened animal from escaping while you are dealing with the emergency.
Planning for Children and the Elderly
If you have children at home or elderly loved ones nearby, here are some additional precautions to take in regards to flooding:
· Give children a plan for what to do if evacuations are ordered while they are at school or away from home. Make this age-appropriate, but make sure they know what they should do to stay safe.
· Make sure all care providers for children or elderly loved ones understand the flood plan. This will give you peace of mind when you cannot be with the ones you love during a disaster.
· Plan extra time for helping the elderly when evacuating or preparing for a flood. Older people may have mobility concerns or need additional help to evacuate, so try to give yourself enough time. If in doubt, consider evacuating before an order is called so your elderly loved one is fully protected.
· Pack items that will make the evacuation or time stuck at home easier to handle. Comfort items are particularly important for children and the elderly. Also, make sure the food you pack is something these family members will happily eat.
· Help your elderly loved ones make their own plan for dealing with flooding. Many older individuals fear that they will be left behind when a flood causes evacuation. Provide reassurance that you have thought of them and their needs.
For more information about what to do before a flood strikes, visit:
· The Charter Township of Commerce, Michigan: What to Do Before, During and After a Flood
· Get Prepared Canada: Before a Flood
· American Red Cross: Flood Safety
· Emergency Essentials: What to Do Before, During, and After a Flood
· National Geographic: Flood Safety Tips