Flooding is one of the most common disasters that we face and they can be incredibly destructive. They can claim lives and destroy properties. They can happen anywhere and at any time and for those effected, it can be a very emotional time. If unprepared, recovery from a flood can be a slow, costly, and stressful process.
Whilst the UK has suffered severe flooding on so many occasions, most places are still so unprepared. There are a few steps that you can take to better prepare yourself for flooding in your area.
Understand Flood Warnings
There are three types of warnings that are issued and by taking the time to understand them, you can better prepare for what is coming. The three warnings are:
- Flood Alert – flooding is possible and will be issued 2 hours to 2 days in advance.
- Flood Warning – flooding is expected and will be issued half an hour to 1 day in advance.
- Severe Flood Warning – severe flooding and danger to life.
Causes of Flooding
Flooding can have both man-made and natural causes. The most common cause is heavy rainfall but that doesn’t mean it is always caused this way which we are going to look at here. Some of the most common causes include:
- Heavy Rain – The first thing that people think of is heavy rains. No matter where you live, there are systems in place that are designed to move rainwater into appropriate basins and reservoirs. During heavy rain, these can become overwhelmed and they don’t drain as fast as they need to. The systems back up and the water rises.
- Overflowing Rivers – If you live along a river and areas upstream from you experience heavy rains, it could lead to a serious overflow where you live.
- Broken Dams – When heavy rains come, and water levels rise, aging dams can fail and unleash torrents of water on unsuspecting households.
- Storm Surges and Tsunamis – Storm surges related to hurricanes and other storms can lead to significant flooding, as can tsunamis that are sometimes caused by underwater earthquakes.
- Lack of Vegetation – When there is a lack of vegetation, there is little to stop water from running off. Lack of vegetation after a drought can cause flash flooding.
- Melting Snow and Ice – A winter of heavy snow and other precipitation can lead to a spring of flooding. After all, that snow and ice have to go somewhere when they melt.
The causes listed above are just a few of the many reasons that a flood may occur. It doesn’t always happen just because of a heavy rainfall which means you should always be prepared.
How to Prepare for a Flood
Flood defenses are used to prevent or control the potential negative effects of flood waters. Methods such as the planting of vegetation and constructing channels, have been used throughout history. More modern defenses include:
- Diversion canals
- Floodplains and groundwater replenishment.
- River defenses, e.g. levees, bunds, reservoirs, weirs, and so on.
- Coastal defenses, e.g. groynes, sea walls, revetments, gabions, and so on.
- Retention ponds.
- Moveable gates and barriers.
Specialist flood protection products can also be purchased that will make a huge difference to the state of your home following a flood. Four items that you should consider investing in if you are at risk of flooding are:
- Airbrick Protection – In the event of a flood the easy to fit cover clips on to a vent to stop water from entering.
- Sandbags – Sandbags can provide protection around doors and windows.
- Doorway Protection – These barriers simply clip to and seal against the flat outside surface your door frame.
- Toilet Pan Seals – Prevents sewage back-flow through the toilet system.
Build an Emergency Kit
Should the worst happen, an emergency kit could make all the difference. This kit includes a collection of basic items your household may need in the event of an emergency.
Try to assemble your kit well in advance of any emergency. If you have to evacuate at a moment’s notice you will not have time to be searching your house for the supplies that you need. Below we will start off with a few tips about your emergency kit before giving a list of essential items.
Emergency kit tips:
- Document Protection – Important documents should be kept in water-tight containers with lockable lids.
- Vacuum Packing – You can vacuum pack warm blankets, waterproofs and a change of clothes to save space.
- Safe Water – Flood water is NOT safe to drink so always include bottled water.
- Batteries – Be sure to pack extra batteries for any battery-powered equipment that you include. The more, the better.
Include the following items in your emergency kit:
- Water, one gallon of water per person per day, for drinking and sanitation.
- Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food.
- Battery-powered or hand crank radio.
- First Aid Kit.
- Infant formula and diapers, if you have an infant.
- Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation.
- Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities.
- Can opener for food (if kit contains canned food).
- Extra set of clothes including wellies and waterproofs.
- Sleeping bag or warm blankets.
- Emergency cash.
If you have pets and children, make sure that you include any essential items for them too.
Make a Communications Plan
You need to have an emergency communications plan in place so that all members of the household understand how they are to make contact with the other members. There is a good chance that you won’t all be together when the flooding occurs so by having this plan in place, everybody will know that the other family members are safe.
The first step in creating your plan is to take note of how each member is to make contact. The more methods of communication that you have in place, the better. Cell phones are an easy option but can’t fully be relied upon following any disaster. The more people trying to use their phones at the same time, the more chance that the network will become flooded. If using cell phones, text messaging is the best option.
You also want to appoint an out-of-town contact so that should you not be able to contact other members of the family, you will contact this person instead. Everybody should understand that they are to keep this contact updated at all times so that they can relay the information. If your internet is working, email and social media are easy ways to keep everybody informed that you are safe.
Two-way radios don’t become overloaded which makes these a better option during a disaster. Also note down set locations where, if needed, you can leave written notes for other family members to read.
The second part of your communications plan should include a meeting place where you will all head following a disaster. Have a plan B too in case the first meeting place becomes inaccessible.
Next up, you want to include any phone numbers that you may need including those of your household. If your phone becomes damaged, you will need a written copy. Even if you have the numbers memorised, in the shock of a crisis, it can become easy to forget.
Keeping Children and Pets Safe
During a flood, children and pets are more at risk. They will be frightened, they won’t understand what is happening, and more importantly, they won’t understand how to stay safe.
When flood warnings have been issued, arrangements need to be made to evacuate your children and pets as early as possible. Getting them out early is much safer for them but also means that should severe flooding occur, you know they will be safe and you can focus on getting yourself to safety.
Never let your children or pets play in any flood water. Flood water can hide dangerous debris. Also, swallowing flood water or mud can cause diarrhoea, fever or abdominal pain.
Most buildings insurance policies cover for any damage that is caused by flooding but won’t cover your contents unless you also have a home contents insurance policy.
Check all the details in your buildings and contents insurance policies that relate to flooding and make sure that you have enough cover to protect you in the event of a flood.
During a Flood
Always keep your radio tuned in to stay up-to-date with the latest information on the flooding and any guidance that they give. If instructed to leave your property then do so as soon as possible. If flash floods are a real possibility, get to higher ground ASAP, don’t wait around for instructions.
If you need to evacuate your property, bring any outdoor furniture inside and move any valuable items to an upstairs floor. Turn off your utilities at the main switches or valves if instructed to do so. Disconnect electrical appliances but never attempt to touch electrical equipment if you are wet or standing in water.
After a Flood
Even though the flood waters may have started going down, there will still be many dangers present. Here are some tips to follow:
- Avoid moving water. If you fall over in 15cm (6 inches) of water moving at only 6mph you are unlikely to be able to stand up again.
- There can be significant risks from slip and trip hazards beneath the water as well as from diseases and other contaminants which will be in the water in both urban and rural environments.
- Vehicles can quickly become unstable in moving water – 30cm (12 inches) of water moving at only 6mph is enough to float the average family saloon.
- Stay away from damaged areas unless your assistance has been specifically requested by police, fire, or relief organization.
- Emergency workers will be assisting people in flooded areas. You can help them by staying off the roads and out of the way.
- Play it safe. Additional flooding or flash floods can occur. Listen for local warnings and information. If your car stalls in rapidly rising waters, get out immediately and climb to higher ground.
- Only return home when instructed that it is safe to do so.
- Roads may still be closed because they have been damaged or are covered by water. Barricades have been placed for your protection. If you come upon a barricade or a flooded road, go another way.
- Standing water may be electrically charged from underground or downed power lines.
- Be aware of areas where floodwaters have receded. Roads may have weakened and could collapse under the weight of a car.
Cleaning your home:
- Turn off the electricity at the main breaker or fuse box, even if the power is off in your community. That way, you can decide when your home is dry enough to turn it back on.
- Before you enter your home, walk around and take lots of photos of the exterior damage. If there is standing water around your foundation, do not go in! Water pressure against your foundation poses a continued threat to your safety.
- Wear protective clothing, like a waterproof jacket and trousers, rubber gloves and a face mask.
- Wash your hands with disinfectant if you have been in contact with floodwater, mud or handled items that have been in contact with floodwater.
- Make sure any open cuts or wounds on exposed skin are covered by a waterproof plaster.
- Once the water levels are lower outside than inside your property, you can begin to get rid of the water by using a pump or bucket.
- You will need to do an initial clean and follow this by disinfecting all surfaces that were contaminated by floodwater. You can clean contaminated surfaces with a brush, hot water and household cleaning fluid.
- Don’t forget to clean enclosed spaces under kitchen units or floorboards. If floodwater was contaminated with oil or diesel, you’ll need to use a detergent like washing up liquid. Once you have finished cleaning, use household disinfectant on everything that has come into contact with floodwater.
- You can use your central heating to help dry out the house once the heating system has been checked by a qualified engineer. You can speed this up by keeping the building well ventilated by opening as many windows and doors as possible and using a fan.
If you get advance warning of flooding, you should move your car to higher ground to reduce the risk of costly damage.
- Only drive through water if you know that it’s not too deep – generally this would mean no more than halfway up your wheels.
- Don’t try driving through fast-moving water, such as at a flooded bridge approach – your car could easily be swept away.
- If you’re driving and become stuck in flood water, it’s generally best to stay in the car and telephone for help rather than try to get out – unless the water is shallow, stationary and you can see the ground beneath the water.
- If you return to find your car standing in flood water it’s best to leave it and telephone for help or wait for the flood water to subside, rather than try to get to it and move it – unless the water is shallow, stationary and you can see the ground beneath the water.