Floods

Floods can happen anytime and anywhere across the country due to significant rains or snow melt. People don’t have to be near a lake or coastline to be at risk. They often happen fast, so no matter where you are, you should always be ready. Proper preparation help programs, partners, and families ensure their recovery in the event of emergency flood situation. Those impacted by floods may use these resources to provide relief during an emergency.

Preparation: Even if you feel you live in a community with a low risk of flooding, remember that anywhere it rains, it can flood. Before a flood, you should know the terms, what to do, and the causes of flooding:

Terms and What to Do

  • Flood Watch: Flooding is possible—tune into radio or television for information
  • Flash Flood Watch: Flash flooding is possible—tune in and prepare to move to higher ground
  • Flood Warning: Flooding is happening or will soon happen—if advised to evacuate do so immediately
  • Flash Flood Warning: a flash flood is happening—seek higher ground on foot immediately

Children in the midst of a flood.Causes of Flooding

  • Tropical Storms and Hurricanes
  • Spring Thaw
  • Heavy Rains
  • West Coast Threats
  • Levees & Dams Flash Floods
  • New Development

Some important things you can do to prepare include:

  • Learn about your community's emergency plans, warning signals, evacuation routes, and locations of emergency shelters.
  • Plan and practice a flood evacuation route with your family. Ask an out-of-state relative or friend to be the "family contact" in case your family is separated during a flood. Make sure everyone in your family knows the name, address, and phone number of this contact person.
  • Create an emergency kit. FEMA recommends that emergency kits are equipped with a flashlight, spare batteries, candles, and matches. This is a great kit during a power outage as well.
  • Keep a battery operated radio on hand to monitor local conditions when the possibility of floods or other bad weather conditions occur.
  • Keep a minimum of three days of non-perishable food and bottled water on hand for emergency situations.
  • Make copies of important documents. Take pictures of your furniture, appliances, and valuable possessions Save receipts of expensive household belongings (furniture, appliances, electronics, etc.) so you have proof of original costs. Make a list of other valuable items (clothing, small appliances, books, etc.) making note of their original cost. Keep the originals in a safe location away from your home; keep the copies in a safe and easily accessible place.
  • Give your contact information and “In Case of Emergency” or “ICE” information to a trusted friend, your child’s school, your employer, and your insurance agent, to make sure you can be reached after a flood or other emergency.
  • Inform local authorities about any special needs, i.e., elderly or bedridden people, or anyone with a disability.
  • Identify potential home hazards and know how to secure or protect them before the flood strikes. Be prepared to turn off electrical power when there is standing water, fallen power lines, or before you evacuation. Turn off gas and water supplies before you evacuate. Secure structurally unstable building materials. Elevate the furnace, water heater, furniture, appliances, and electronics.
  • Build barriers to stop flood water from entering the center or home.

Visit the CDC website for more Stack of sandbags to stem rising flood waters.key facts about flood readiness.

Impact: FEMA recommends when a flood warning is issued, heed official instructions. During a flood, you should: 

  • Listen to the radio or television for information.
  • Be aware that flash flooding can occur. If there is any possibility of a flash flood, move immediately to higher ground. Do not wait for instructions to move.
  • Secure your home. If you have time, bring in outdoor furniture. Move essential items to an upper floor.
  • Turn off utilities at the main switches or valves if instructed to do so. Disconnect electrical appliances. Do not touch electrical equipment if you are wet or standing in water.
  • Be aware of stream, drainage channels, canyons and other areas known to flood suddenly. Flash floods can occur in these areas with or without typical warnings such as rain clouds or heavy rain.
  • Keep away from downed power lines and any other electrical wires—electrocution is often a major cause of death in floods.
  • Watch out for animals that have lost their homes during a flood. Animals may seek shelter in your home and aggressively defend themselves.

Cars driving through high water.Relief: Although floodwaters may be down in some areas, many dangers still exist. Some important things to remember after a flood include:

  • Stay tuned to local alerts and warning systems to get information and expert informed advice as soon as available.
  • Avoid moving water and stay away from damaged areas. Stay out of any building if it is surrounded by floodwaters.
  • Return to the center or your home only when authorities say it is safe. Use extreme caution when entering buildings; there may be hidden damage, particularly in foundations.
  • Roads may still be closed. If you come upon a barricade or a flooded road, go another way because they may have been damaged or are covered by water. Barricades have been placed for your protection.
  • If you must walk or drive in areas that have been flooded:

    • Stay on firm ground. Moving water only 6 inches deep can sweep you off your feet. Standing water may be electrically charged from underground or downed power lines.
    • Flooding may have caused familiar places to change. Floodwaters often erode roads and walkways. Flood debris may hide animals and broken bottles, and it's also slippery. Avoid walking or driving through it.
  • Be aware of areas where floodwaters have receded. Roads may have weakened and could collapse under the weight of a car.

Flood waters overwhelm property and homes.Staying Healthy: A flood can cause physical hazards and emotional stress. Look after yourself and your family as you begin the process of cleanup and repair.

  • Avoid floodwaters; water may be contaminated by oil, gasoline, or raw sewage.
  • Service damaged septic tanks, cesspools, pits, and leaching systems as soon as possible. Damaged sewer systems are serious health hazards.
  • Listen for news reports to learn whether the community’s water supply is safe to drink.
  • Clean and disinfect everything that got wet. Mud left from floodwaters can contain sewage and chemicals.
  • Rest often and eat well.
  • Keep a manageable schedule. Make a list and do jobs one at a time.
  • Discuss your concerns with others and seek help. Contact the Red Cross or other local organizations for information on emotional support available in your area.

Recovery: Recovering from a flood can be both physically and mentally difficult. Often, the hardest part is knowing where to begin and who to contact. Below is a list of resources to help in a recovery effort:

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Floods. HHS/ACF/OHS. 2012. English.

Last Reviewed: September 2013

Last Updated: August 27, 2014