Flood Survival: What You Need to Know

With the onset of heavy summer rains and the 2013 hurricane season, it’s time to consider the steps we might take in the event that we get caught in a flood. Flooding is the most common type of natural disaster–it accounts for 40 percent of all natural disasters worldwide each year and floods kill an average of 46 people in the U.S. each year. Staying safe during a flood takes a combination of proper planning and quick thinking.

Some floods develop slowly over a period of days from heavy rains and hurricanes. Flash floods can develop quickly, sometimes in just a few minutes and without any visible signs of rain. Tidal flooding can also happen with or without rain in your area. Be aware of flood hazards no matter where you live, but especially if you live in low-lying areas, near rivers and bays, or downstream from a dam. Keeping an ear to the radio or local TV stations is a great way to stay informed. In low-lying or flood prone areas, a NOAA weather radio with an alarm can be a life-saving investment.

FEMA and the National Weather Service use the following terms to announce flood information:

- Flood Watch: Flooding is possible. Tune in to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or local television for updated information.

- Flash Flood Watch: Flash flooding is possible. Be prepared to move to higher ground. Listen to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for information.

- Flood Warning: Flooding is occurring now or will occur soon; if advised to evacuate, do so immediately.

- Flash Flood Warning: A flash flood is occurring; seek higher ground on foot immediately.

Receiving the warnings is not enough to keep you safe, however. You have to act on them. Make a flooding/disaster plan for your household. Build a disaster pack to keep at home, which can be taken with you if you need to evacuate. Include enough food and bottled water for each person for three days. Don’t wait for bad weather to start preparing. Make sure you have everything you need before you need it. And consider these flood survival tips:

- If you have more time, stay alert to flood watches and warnings for your local area, and the areas upriver and upland from your location. If you have a day to prepare, move important things to the highest and driest location you have. Bring important and irreplaceable papers, photos, files, and data with you as you leave.

- If you only have minutes to get out, don’t waste time gathering up possessions. Most things can be replaced, lives cannot. Do not wait for instructions to move to higher ground if authorities think flash flooding is possible.

- Drinking water can become contaminated during and after a flood, so make sure you have safe water with you, both in your home and if you evacuate. The American Red Cross suggests a gallon of water per person per day.

- As you evacuate, take plenty of cash, no-cook foods, spare clothes, sanitation items, your cell phone charger, rain gear, and lots of bug out-type supplies in case you have to provide for yourself after your exodus.

- Don’t try to ride it out! If you are told to evacuate, do it. And as you go, beware of streams, ditches, drainage channels, canyons, and other low-lying areas along the evacuation route. Flash floods can happen in these places far away from the storms that bring the rain.

- Don’t drive through the water, turn around and find another path. Driving through flooded areas is extremely dangerous.

CC image from Flickr.