How to Stay Safe After a Flood

In 2017, news of flooding hit the mainstream media with major flooding in Houston and Florida following hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Often media coverage is skewed and filled with unnecessary scare tactics to gain more viewers, but in this particular instance floods should scare us! All of us, not just those who live in hurricane prone areas. There are countless other causes of flooding, such as rivers cresting, excessive rainfall or snowmelt. Not to mention, there’s always a concern over indoor flooding. While this isn’t as serious as flash flooding, it’s still an area of concern. For reference, some of the common causes of indoor flooding are broken or leaky pipes, leaking water heaters, clogged sewer or drain lines, and faulty washing machine hose.

Don’t discount yourself from being a possible flood victim. At the next large family gathering, casually ask how many family members have either dealt with either flash floods or indoor floods, or known someone who has. It’s astonishing how many people have experienced this.

You cannot control flooding, but you can control preparation. This doesn’t necessarily mean having sandbags at the ready, but rather having knowledge of what to after a flooding crisis is a great way to prepare. After all, floods are among the most frequent and costly natural disasters, making it crucial to learn what to do to keep your family safe and your damage minimal. Here are some tips on how to do just that.

Tips to Stay Safe After a Flood

  • Avoid contact with floodwater at all costs. It’s highly possible it will be contaminated with sewage and other hazardous materials.
  • Stay out of the way of emergency service professionals.
  • Do not attempt to walk, swim or drive through floodwater to get somewhere. Even a small amount of water can knock an adult over, and it only takes two feet of water to float a car.
  • Steer clear of underpasses, dips, low spots, canyons, etc. They will quickly fill with water and pose a risk of drowning.
  • Do not return to your home until it’s safe. It’s important to wait until authorities specify it’s safe to return. Until then, monitor NOAA weather radio and your local news to find out when you can return.
  • When you are traveling, follow routes recommended by officials. Take caution to avoid areas with washed out streets, downed power lines, fallen trees, and areas with earth slides.
  • Under no circumstance should you enter a building or home before checking for safety. This means inspecting for structural damage, foundation cracks, and other visible damage. Once that is complete, turn off gas lines at the meter before entering.
  • Once inside, check for gas leaks. If you smell gas or hear hissing noises get out as fast as possible. Call the gas company or fire department to report a gas leak immediately.
  • Keep an eye out for rodents and other animals that may have entered the building during the flood. Call animal control if you find trapped animals.
  • If the electricity wasn’t shut off prior to the flood, turn it off at the main breaker as long as you can reach it without touching any water. Look for any electrical damage, which means frayed wires, sparks of any kind, or the small of burning. Report any damage you find immediately.
  • Prior to any clean-up, take photos for insurance claims. You’ll need photos of the inside, the outside, and contents.
  • Open any and all windows and doors that you can, to start airing the building out and helping with odor removal.
  • It should go without saying, but do not consume any water. Wells will need to be pumped and the water needs to be tested for purity. Only consume bottled water that hasn’t been in contact with flood water.
  • Floodwaters likely carried debris and other hazardous materials into the building, be on the lookout for glass and make sure you are wearing safe footwear to avoid cuts. If you have the misfortune of getting a cut, clean and care for the wound immediately. If possible, seek medical treatment to avoid infection.

Tips for Cleaning Your Home After a Flood

  • First and foremost, before entering your home, stop and find out if the main power switch was turned off prior to flooding. If the answer is no, do not enter your home until an electrician has determined it safe!
  • Prevent flood water from entering your system during clean up by wearing protective clothing while cleaning. This is an excellent reason to keep rubber boots, rubber gloves, and disposable Tyvek Hazmat suits with your emergency preparedness supplies.
  • Immediately throw out any item that can absorb water and can’t be properly cleaned and disinfected, such as mattresses, pillows, carpeting, stuffed animals, and plush baby toys. Take caution when removing items from your home that are waterlogged, as they’ll be much heavier with the absorbed water. Protect yourself by lifting heavy items properly.
  • Dispose of all cosmetics, food, beverages, and medicine that was either exposed to flood water and/or mud. This does include canned goods and any other containers with food or liquid that is sealed shut. This is a perfect time to practice the adage: when in doubt, throw it out. Nothing is worth the possible contamination of yourself and your loved ones.
  • Immediately schedule service for damaged septic tanks, if you are unsure if there was damage have it checked. Damaged sewage systems are a huge health hazard.
  • Take caution when pumping out water from a flooded basement. The recommendation is to gradually pump roughly one-third per day, to avoid any structural damage. When you pump all the water out at once, pressure from water saturated soil outdoors may cause basement walls to collapse.

Lastly, another flood related detail you should prepare now is flood coverage on your home insurance or renters’ insurance policy. Standard homeowners’ insurance policies don’t typically cover flooding; you need additional flood insurance. Take the time to revisit your current coverage and carefully consider if you need to make changes to your policy to be better prepared.