How to Prepare for a Flood

A home in Craig, Missouri, is surrounded by floodwater. Midwest states are battling some of the worst flooding in decades as rain and snow melt have inundated rivers and streams. Scott Olson/Getty Images

When it comes to natural disasters, floods reign supreme. In the U.S., they kill more people and destroy more property each year than tornadoes, hurricanes or lightning. And experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expect widespread flooding through spring of 2019.

Flooding is already happening in the upper Mississippi and Missouri river basins. And as the Northern hemisphere shakes off winter, record snowfall and ice melt is only exacerbating the problem. So, roll up your pant legs and get ready, because the best way to deal with floods is to be prepared.


Before a Flood

If you know there's a chance of flooding in your area, start now to get prepared.

Communication is key. When all systems are normal you have multiple modes of getting in touch with loved ones. But if cell phone towers are damaged from major flooding, or landlines and the power grid go down, you need a backup. Have a plan in place for how everyone will get in touch with each other, including a safe place to meet up in the event you have to evacuate. And then add a Plan B. And C.


Stock an emergency kit. Ironically, as water floods around you, it'll be vitally important to have safe drinking water available to hydrate everyone for at least three days. And ditto on food. So fill your emergency kit with canned victuals, since cooking might be out of the question for a while. Think about what else you'll want to have handy, including batteries, flashlights, blankets, rubber boots and a first-aid kit. A battery-operated, or wind-up, radio is vital.

Amber Bradshaw, who survived the "thousand year flood" of the Carolinas in the fall of 2018, has some great suggestions on her website for other additions, including umbrellas, disposable plates and cutlery, a zip-close bag of fire starter, some cash, and an old-school paper map. Have some basic items packed for yourself, your kids and your pets, too. In the event of an evacuation, you don't need to worry about packing a suitcase with your essentials.


Prepare Your Home and Yourself

Do you need flood insurance? Start there because those policies can often take up to a month to go into effect. That means, if a hurricane is headed your way, it's too late to get a policy. (Insurance companies follow the weather too, so good luck getting a policy if you're in the direct path of a coming storm.)

You can, however, have a plumber install check valves on your pipes to prevent flood waters from contaminating your lines. Also, if you have a sump pump, be sure it's working properly. And finally, if you have time, consider piling sandbags around your home's perimeter when you know a storm is brewing.


Know your risk, too. Do you live, work or go to school in a place that's prone to flooding? If you don't know, find out now and figure out the best route to higher ground. It's also a good idea to sign up for RSS feeds that provide notifications about local flooding from The Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service.

If a flood watch or warning is issued, keep your cell phones, radios, computers and any other important electronic devices charged. If the power goes out, you'll want to have maximum juice in them to last the duration. Finally, if it looks like a flood is going to hit your area, get out. Don't wait for an evacuation order.


During a Flood

It's great to be prepared, but what if a flash flood rushes in before you've had a chance to leave? The safest response is to get as high up as possible, call 911 and avoid the flood water at all costs. Do not, for instance, wade around in the basement or any room in which water is covering the electrical outlets or extension cords. If you hear crackling or popping sounds, clear out immediately.

And don't drive. All it takes is 6 inches (15 centimeters) of moving water to sweep you off your feet. And 12 inches (30 centimeters) can float a car and carry it away. In fact, more than half of all deaths caused by flash floods are vehicle related.


Even if your home still has running water, assume it's contaminated. (Remember that emergency kit?) If you evacuated, don't return until the authorities give you the all clear. Your home's structure, power and plumbing might all be compromised, and toxins and sharp objects could be lurking beneath any lingering flood water. At this stage, patience is vital. Sit tight and wait for the waters to recede, and for contractors, plumbers and electricians to assess the damage.

And call your insurance agent. Above all, if your place is deemed habitable but the power's off and you're using a generator — please, please follow the instructions and don't run the thing indoors. Failure to comply with that simple rule is the reason carbon monoxide poisoning is among the top causes of mortality post-disaster.