We live on a volatile planet. At any given time, there are fires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and volcanic eruptions taking place all around the globe. These natural disasters may vary depending on where you live, but floods, in particular, can happen nearly anywhere. If you live in a flood zone or find yourself in the path of one of these disasters, what can you do to protect yourself and survive?
No Two Floods Are Alike
When we’re talking about floods, we use one term to describe them all. In reality, however, no two events are alike. There are multiple types of flooding, including:
- Fluvial or river flooding: These floods occur when the natural water level of a river or other body of water rises. You might see river flooding after heavy rains or in the spring as snow begins to melt.
- Surface water floods: These events can happen anywhere. If rainwater can’t soak into the ground, it will accumulate on the surface, creating flood-like conditions.
- Flash floods: These floods happen when there is a fast and dramatic increase in water levels, usually after heavy rains. They’re incredibly dangerous because they can occur without warning.
- Storm surge and coastal flooding: Storms like hurricanes push a lot of water ahead of them, creating a storm surge. This type of flooding is common in low-lying coastal areas.
- Burn scar flooding: Australia experienced this kind of flooding in early 2020. After devastating wildfires, rain might seem like a blessing. Yet without all the underbrush and plant life to absorb liquid, these rains trigger massive floods.
You may never experience all of these floods, but it’s important to understand the different types of flooding so that you know how to prepare for them.
Know Your Risk For Flooding
The next step to help you survive a flood is to understand your risk. Floods can happen anywhere — no one expected Houston to flood in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, for example — but some places are more at risk than others. Knowing whether your property is in a floodplain can help you figure out the best plan to ensure your survival.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) maintains a map of flood plains throughout the United States. Enter your address or your coordinates to center the map on your home and get a better idea of the risk you might face.
Keep in mind that under extreme circumstances, a property listed outside of a flood zone might still be at risk, so it’s always a good idea to prepare for anything.
[Editor’s note: I keep many hazard risk assessment tools here for all types of natural disasters, including flooding, and much more.]
Protect Your Property If You Can Do So Safely
As the water rises, your first instinct is to protect your home and property. With some preparation, you may be able to weather the storm in your home even as floodwaters rise outside. The goal here is to build a barrier between your home and the floodwater. Fortunately, there are different ways you can accomplish this task.
Sandbags are a common and easily accessible option. In fact, many cities may provide sandbag fill sites ahead of storms or flood weather. They’re not the most effective option, but they’re readily available and don’t cost a lot of money.
If you live in a floodplain, you may need something a little sturdier than bags of sand. Aquadams are inflatable barriers filled with water that can protect your property from rising floodwaters. Door Dams are also an option, making your door watertight. Both options can be a little pricey, but in areas that are prone to flooding, they’ll easily pay for themselves the first time they prevent your home from flooding.
Have Plenty of Supplies To Make Recovery Easier
If your neighborhood floods, going to the store for groceries won’t be an option. This scenario is another one where having plenty of food and water on hand could mean the difference between an easy recovery and not while waiting for things to go back to normal. Depending on the severity of the flood, that could be a few days or weeks, and, at least in the beginning, you’ll be on your own.
A clean source of drinking water will be of particular importance because floods mean your tap water is likely contaminated and unsafe to drink. It may be visibly dirty flowing from the faucet if the water system is even working at all, but seemingly clear water may be contaminated as well.
If you end up having to evacuate then you’ll want to have plenty of ready-to-go supplies that you can toss into your car on a moment’s notice. Floodwaters can rise quickly, and you might not have a lot of time to prepare if you have to make your way to higher ground.
Protect Your Valuable Belongings
Floods are incredibly destructive and will damage or destroy everything in their path, including everything you cherish. There are a few things you can do to protect your valuables. For example, start by putting them higher up in your home — on elevated shelves or upper floors. That way, you’ll hopefully be able to recover them after the waters recede.
[Editor’s note: I remember my parents having to deal with localized flooding when I was a child and our neighborhood flooded – it was a scary sight! And the floodwaters ruined quite a bit, but some things were salvaged by moving them to the second floor.]
Another option is to put important items like papers and photos in a waterproof safe. This setup should be your go-to for things like birth certificates, home deeds and car titles — items that you may need to make insurance claims or simply don’t want the hassle to replace after a disaster. If you live in a one-bedroom home or keep your safe on the ground floor, make sure it’s bolted to the foundation to ensure that even the roughest waters won’t be able to sweep it away.
Finally, make sure you know where everything is, especially if you have to evacuate. That way you can grab essential items, toss them into your go bag and get to safety. Keeping digital copies of your important paperwork is also a good option, especially if you save them to the cloud so that you don’t have to worry about losing flash drives or trying to repair a flood-damaged laptop.
Safety First – Never Swim!
If you wait too long to evacuate you might find yourself hip-deep — or worse — in floodwaters, trying to make your way to safety; we’ve all seen photos of people on their rooftops. Never swim in floodwaters! In fact, you should avoid getting into the water whenever possible. Floods pick up everything, from the sewage in your city’s wastewater lines to all sorts of dangerous debris. It wouldn’t take much for a simple cut to get infected by the waste in these floodwaters, leaving you in a dangerous predicament.
More crucially, floodwaters can also move fast enough to sweep away cars and small buildings. What do you think that would do to you if you got caught in the current? Even a few inches can sweep you away. Plus, as waters start to recede, things like storm drains and manholes create incredibly powerful suction, more than enough to pull a person down into the local sewer system. Rescuers won’t find your body for days or weeks if they find you at all.
If you need to get out of your home in a flood and driving isn’t an option, consider keeping a small inflatable raft on hand that you can use to ride the current if it appears safe to do so. It doesn’t have to be big or fancy, just sturdy enough to keep you out of the water while you get to safety.
[Editor’s note: Trying to ride out an ongoing flood would be a last-ditch option. The best plan to is to get out early–before you get caught in dangerous floodwaters–which means you need to be paying attention to the weather and, like it or not, heeding calls from the authorities to evacuate should they ask you do so.]
Shut Everything Down If You Can Do So Safely
If water starts to make its way into your home then you need to shut down your utilities to prevent them from creating another dangerous situation. Power is the biggest concern here, especially if the floodwaters are high enough to reach your home’s breaker box. Water can cause a short which will knock out power to your home and possibly those in the neighborhood. Water also conducts electricity, which could make it dangerous to touch any standing water in your home. Of course, ONLY every turn off the power if it’s clear that you can do so safety… knee-deep in water is NOT the right time.
You may want to shut off the gas at the main cut-off, too. The latter isn’t as vital, but it can help prevent more water damage if a pipe gets damaged by floodwaters or debris. The goal is to ensure that your home will be safe to re-enter once the waters recede and emergency services clear you to return.
Be Ready to Evacuate
Even the best preparations may not be enough to protect your home from a flood when it comes down to it. Waters rising too quickly or other unforeseen complications will mean that evacuation is your only option. Unless you are 100% sure that your sandbags or Aquadams will keep out the flood, you need to evacuate your home before you end up trapped by the rising waters. Set up your waterproofing supplies and get out before things get bad.
Make sure you memorize your evacuation route and have backups ready if one of the roads on your path has flooded. If your area is prone to flooding, your evac plan might look incredibly similar to those of your neighbors and friends, so make sure you’re leaving early to avoid the mad press of people trying to escape.
Before flood season starts, have a mechanic inspect your car and make sure that it won’t break down when you need it the most. Keep enough fuel in your tank to get you to your destination. You may even want to keep an extra can of fuel with your bug out supplies, just in case you run out in an area impacted by the flood where all the gas stations are closed.
[Editor’s note: I’m adamant about keeping our vehicle’s gas tanks half full just in case we ever have to evacuate. After all, the last thing you want to do is to attempt to fill up at the gas station when you’re in the biggest hurry of your life, lol.]
We get incredibly attached to our belongings, but when you look at your home through the lens of a flood or other natural disaster, you start to realize that things are just that — things. You can replace nearly anything in your home, except for the people living there. Keep yourself and your family safe first.
Recovering After a Flood
Once the waters recede and it’s safe to return to your home, your focus will need to be on recovery. Water damage is no joke. In addition to the obvious issues, you may find that you have mold forming in your home that could be dangerous to your health. You need to dry everything out and remove any destroyed materials as quickly as possible. Some of these tasks you may be able to do on your own, though it is an exhausting and time-consuming process. In other cases, you will likely want to call a professional; it’s a good idea to have a few numbers on-hand before needing them so you know who to call which will help to avoid getting scammed because it does happen.
Be mindful of any areas that touched the floodwaters as they will need some sort of attention. Even furniture may need to be discarded entirely. For walls, you may have to strip off drywall before calling in a restoration company to dry the framework beneath so that it doesn’t start growing mold or, worse, rotting. For other belongings, you’ll need to assess the situation on a case by case basis.
This time is also when you’ll want to make a claim against your flood insurance. It’s a long process, so starting as early as possible will help you get the ball rolling so that you can receive reimbursements for your lost property. If you don’t already have flood insurance then consider purchasing a policy today, especially if you live in an area prone to flooding because almost every homeowner’s policy excludes flooding.
Stay Safe as Waters Rise
Whether you’re on the coast preparing for storm surge or in the Midwest getting ready for your annual flood season, preparation is what will keep you and your family alive and well as the floodwaters rise. Start preparing now, even if you don’t expect to see flood conditions at your property.
Remember that flooding can happen to anyone no matter where we live. And whether you believe it or not, everyone lives in a flood zone… it’s just a matter of time.
[Note: This was a guest post.]