Flooding is the most common natural disaster in the United States.
The causes of flooding vary greatly from region to region, but the outcome is frequently the same: damaged property, loss of personal belongings, and—worst of all—loss of life.
While you have little power to prevent a flood from occurring (thanks, in part, to the unrestrainable power of Mother Nature), there’s a lot you can do to prepare for a flood.
If you prepare yourself efficiently, then you might be able to save your property, your personals, a whole lot of money, and the lives of your loved ones.
So let’s make you flood-savvy:
- Types of Floods
- Learn Your Flood Risk
- Flood Supplies
- Preparing Your Property for Flooding
- Flood Insurance
- Flood Evacuation Plan
- Surviving Floods
- After A Flood
Types of Floods
Generally, there are three different types of floods. You should know how each of these floods occur so you’ll be able to monitor and recognize flood-inducing situations.
- Slow-onset flood
A slow-onset flood is a flood that occurs very slowly. This type of flood happens when rain falls for a long period of time. Lakes, man-made drains, and ground-absorption can’t contain all the excess water, so it spills into urban areas.
- Rapid-onset flood
A rapid-onset flood (also known as a flash flood) is a flood that occurs in a very short amount of time. A flash flood may result from a tsunami, but not always. Flash floods typically happen after periods of extremely heavy rainfall.
- Storm surge
A storm surge occurs when storm winds pull water onto land (from a body of water, like a lake or river). Storm surges can create flooding as high as 35 feet. They mostly occur over a short period of time—typically between 4 to 8 hours.
Learn Your Flood Risk
Before you develop an action plan, you need to know exactly what your area’s flood risk is. If you’re living in the United States, you’ll experience higher flood risks depending on which region you’re living in and what season it is.
- Coastal Regions: greater risk of flooding during Hurricane season (June through November)
- Midwest: greater risk of flooding in spring and during heavy summer rains
- Northeast and Northwest: greater risk of flooding during spring ice jams
- Southwest deserts: greater risk of flooding during late summer monsoon season
It’s important to evaluate how close you are to bodies of water. Are you situated right on the coastline? Do you live nearby a lake or river? Do you live downstream from a dam or levee?
If you said yes to any of these questions, then your flood risk will be higher any time of year.
Severe flooding may leave you stranded in your home, car, or other environment. You should assemble an efficient array of survival gear to help you through any period where you’re deprived of food, water, or shelter. Survival gear should include—but is not limited to—food rations, water, weather-resistant clothing, and tools.
A survival backpack is a great way to consolidate your gear. It keeps all of your survival essentials in one place, and you’ll easily be able to carry it from place to place. The SEVENTY2 is designed by survival experts, and will get you through that ever important first 72 hours following a flood or other emergency situation.
Preparing Your Property for Flooding
If a flood is imminent, you should prepare your property to block, reduce, or withstand floodwater.
To fortify your home:
- Construct barriers (levees/berms/flood walls) around your property to block floodwater—you might need permission from your local government due to building codes.
- Clear debris from gutters so they won’t get backed up with rainwater.
- Have backflow valves installed in your plumbing (to prevent floodwater from rising into your house through the drains).
- Add waterproof lining to your basement walls.
- Have a sump pump on hand to pump water from your household (and have a battery-powered backup on hand in case of a power failure).
To secure your belongings:
- Elevate critical utilities so they won’t get wet (electrical panels, wiring, appliances, etc.)
- Move valuable furniture and materials to a higher floor or safer location
- Bring outdoor furniture indoors or fasten them to a secure surface (they can pose a serious hazard if they’re swept away by floodwater)
- Keep important documents in waterproof containers.
Running gas and electricity are extremely dangerous if floodwater enters your home:
- Disrupted gas mains can spark a fire or an explosion.
- Floodwater may become electrically charged if it meets electric circuits and poses the danger of electrocution.
For those reasons, you should consider turning off your gas and electricity in the event of a flood.
Invest in flood insurance if you think your property is at risk of flood damage.
Flood insurance likely won’t be expensive in low-risk areas. It’ll be more expensive in high-risk areas, but should be considered a necessity. Remember, just a few inches of flooding can cause thousands of dollars in damages.
If you’re going to purchase flood insurance, make sure you get coverage for both your property and the contents of your property—typically, your property and your belongings are covered on separate policies.
Also keep in mind that most insurance policies require a 30-day waiting period before they’re activated. Don’t wait until there’s a storm on the horizon to get covered!
Flood Evacuation Plan
Flooding may force you to evacuate your home. Make sure you chart out an evacuation plan that’ll quickly and safely get you out of harm’s way.
On the FEMA website, you can find a flood map for your area. The flood map will map out the areas of your community that are most vulnerable to flooding. You can use a flood map to chart evacuation routes that avoid those areas.
Your evacuation route should:
- Avoid heading in the direction of the flood source (most likely, a body of water)
- Avoid using a route that takes you to a lower elevation (lower elevations are more likely to be flooded)
- Avoid crossing bridges that span a body of water
When considering evacuation destinations:
- Choose several different places you can stay. Pick destinations that lie in different directions and know alternative routes.
- Be prepared to go by foot or by alternative modes of transport. You may not be able to use your car during certain flooding situations.
Don’t forget about your live animals! Make sure to pick evacuation destinations that are pet-friendly, and be sure to pack food for them and appropriate shelter, if necessary. If you have livestock, be sure to evacuate them to higher ground.
If local authorities advise you to evacuate your home, you should leave immediately.
Consider this the golden rule of flood survival. During a period of heavy rainfall or a hurricane, you should be prepared to evacuate at short notice, even if a flood warning hasn’t been issued.
Here are some other important survival tips:
- When evacuating, never drive around barricades—local responders use them to safely direct traffic in an evacuation.
- Tune in to local alert systems for emergency updates or evacuation information. These include the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and NOAA Weather Radio. Always have a portable radio with you.
- Seek higher ground if you can’t get safely away from the disaster area.
- If your vehicle gets trapped in moving water, stay inside it. If water is rising in the vehicle, climb onto the roof.
- If you’re trapped in a building, seek refuge on its highest level. Don’t climb into a closed attic, and only climb onto the roof if necessary.
- Never wade in moving water, even if it doesn’t appear to be deep. 6 inches of moving water can knock you down. One foot of moving water can sweep away your vehicle (SUVs and pickup trucks, too).
Again, we can’t stress the importance of having sturdy survival gear on hand. If you’re stranded, rescuers might not be able to reach you for hours or days.
After A Flood
Danger may persist even after floodwaters subside. Follow these tips to keep safe:
- Listen to local authorities, and only return home when they say it’s safe to.
- Snakes and animals may be in your house. Make sure to wear heavy gloves and boots while you’re cleaning up.
- Do not touch electrical equipment if it’s wet or if you’re standing in floodwater.
- Don’t wade in floodwater. The water may be contaminated or contain dangerous debris or animals. It may also be electrically charged.
Be careful when you’re pumping water out of the basement, and pump out only a third of basement water per day. If basement water is removed too quickly, then pressure from the water-saturated soil could cause your basement walls to collapse.
Don’t let flooding destroy your home and family. Keep these flood prep tips in mind and weather any storm that comes your way.