Above the flood: Protecting lives, homes and businesses from extreme flooding
Floods are the most frequent type of natural disaster in the world. In fact, the World Health Organization says between 1998–2017, more than two billion people worldwide were affected by floods. In the U.S. alone, floods are the most common natural disaster as 90 percent of all presidentially declared natural disasters involve flooding.
Often caused by heavy rainfall, rapid snowmelt, overflow of dams, and other water systems or a storm surge from a tropical cyclone or tsunami in coastal areas, flooding is usually divided into two categories: flash flooding and river flooding. Both can cause death, injury and property destruction. Flash floods are usually caused by slow-moving thunderstorms or thunderstorms that move over the same area one after the other. According to the National Weather Service, flash floods typically occur within six hours of heavy rainfall and are usually more life-threatening. Flash floods can come with no warning causing outages, disrupting transportation, damaging buildings and creating landslides.
Each year, more deaths occur due to flooding than any other hazard related to thunderstorms. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect yourself, your family, and your home.
According to the National Public Service campaign Ready, you should do the following to prepare for a flood:
- Make a plan for your household, including your pets, so that you and your family know what to do, where to go and what you will need to protect yourselves from flooding and COVID-19.
- Build a “Go Kit” of the supplies you will need if you have to quickly evacuate your home.
- Know types of flood risk in your area. Visit FEMA’s Flood Map Service Center for information.
- Sign up for your community’s warning system. The Emergency Alert System and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Weather Radio also provide emergency alerts.
- If flash flooding is a risk in your location, monitor potential signs such as heavy rain.
- Learn and practice evacuation routes, shelter plans, and flash flood response.
- If you live in a storm surge flooding zone or a mandatory hurricane evacuation zone, make plans to stay with family and friends. Evacuate to shelters only if you are unable to stay with family and friends. Check with local authorities to determine which public shelters are open. Review your previous evacuation plan and consider alternative options to maintain social and physical distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
- Don’t forget to include your pet in your emergency plan. Remember that some evacuation shelters do not accept pets.
- Purchase or renew a flood insurance policy. Homeowner’s policies do not cover flooding. It typically takes up to 30 days for a policy to go into effect so the time to buy is well before a disaster. Get flood coverage under the National Flood Insurance Program.
- Keep important documents in a waterproof container. Create password-protected digital copies.
- Protect your property. Move valuables to higher levels. Declutter drains and gutters. Install check valves. Consider a sump pump with a battery.
- If you are under a flood warning, you should find a safe shelter right away. Do not walk, swim or drive through floodwaters. Keep in mind, it only takes six inches of moving water to knock you down. Depending on the type of flooding expected to occur, evacuate if told to do so, move to higher ground or a higher floor, or simply stay where you are.
Floods can happen anywhere and can occur during any season. All it takes is a few inches of water to cause major damage to your home and its contents. The International Codes (I-Codes), and specifically the International Residential Code ensure homes are properly constructed to prevent the worst of flood damage.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) considers hazard resilience to start with building codes and urges adoption and use of the latest published editions of the I-Codes for buildings and structures. Reducing Flood Losses through the International Codes was developed by the Code Council and FEMA to help state and local officials integrate the I-Codes into their current floodplain management regulatory processes. The publication relates to structures, buildings and other development in special flood hazard areas in order to satisfy the requirements to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program.
This year’s Building Safety Month will cover disaster preparedness as natural disasters are increasing in severity and frequency. Advance planning for devastating events, like floods, helps individuals and communities increase the health and safety of their population during a disaster, protects the local tax base, ensures continuity of essential services and supports a faster recovery in the aftermath of a disaster. Check out our Building Safety Month Disaster Preparedness webpage for ways you can help your family and community when a disaster strikes.
The Code Council, FEMA and the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes offer resources to help communities prepare for floods and stay safe during cleanup as well. Be sure to check out the Code Council’s Flood Safety & Recovery Page and FEMA’s Flood Information Sheet to remain informed.