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The definition of a flood is as followed: “an overflow of water that submerges land which is normally dry”. Not too complicated, right? Keep in mind that this can be any source of water- lakes, rivers, etc. (not just oceans). As water escapes into populated areas, it can cause serious damage, and even kill people. Some floods are known as “Flash Floods”, which develop extremely quickly. With these types of floods, there’s usually no time to react or prepare. Before talking showing you important flood safety tips, let’s take a look at the different types of floods that you may encounter.
Types of Floods
There are several types of floods to know:
These types of floods happen in low-lying areas when the ground becomes too saturated with water. When this happens, the water can’t “run off” as quickly as it accumulates, and so the area floods. In some cases, this can be followed by a river flood, where water begins moving into local waterways.
Floods caused by rainfall typically happen when rain water hits an impenetrable surface (like asphalt, concrete, or frozen ground). In an urban environment, it only takes about 22 millimeters of rainfall (or 1 inch) to cause “ponding” of water. Note, if you’d like to skip straight to the flood safety tips, you can do so by scrolling down. Otherwise, let’s learn about the next type of flooding.
As their names imply, riverine floods happen when the rate of flood in a river exceeds its capacity. This usually happens at a bend in the waterway.
Believe it or not, these can be extremely dangerous, especially for people who live or work by rivers.
These floods can rise as quickly as a few minutes, but in many cases, will take several weeks. This really depends on the source of the increased flow, as well as the channel width. Slow-rising riverine floods are more common in larger rivers (like the Mississippi River for example). Don’t worry- I’ll show you some flood safety tips below for how to survive a riverine flood.
These events can occur hundreds of miles off the coast and still cause flooding. That’s how powerful they are.
A perfect example of this was the tsunami that hit Japan in 2011. Not only was Japan hit with an extremely powerful magnitude-9 earthquake, but it subsequently experienced coastal flooding in several cities. That’s why it’s a good idea to be knowledgeable about flood safety tips and earthquake survival.
10 Flood Safety Tips to Know
Without further ado, here are 10 flood safety tips you should know:
- Tip #1: Get Out Early: If you can get to higher ground before extensive ponding happens, then you dramatically increase your chances of survival. Obviously, this is easier said than done (with flash floods, you’ll have little, if any, time to react).
- Tip #2: Be Careful in Flowing Water: Can you guess what the most common cause of death is during floods? It’s drowning! Rapidly-moving water can easily sweep you off your feet (even if it’s not that deep). It doesn’t matter how strong you think you are- Mother Nature will beat you every time.
- Tip #3: Don’t Drive: One of the biggest mistakes people make during floods is getting in their vehicles. A car that stalls on a bridge or road can easily be picked up by flood waters and washed away. Below, I’ll show you a few flood safety tips to follow if you do decide to drive during a flood.
- Tip # 4: Shut Off the Power: If you think that flood waters are going to enter your home, shut off the electricity. Although water isn’t the best conductor, you can still get electrocuted if any open wire get exposed to the water.
- Tip #5: Watch For Downed Power Lines: Speaking of electricity, always keep an eye out for downed power lines. Remember, you don’t need to physically touch them to get electrocuted- you only need to be in the water where they fell in.
- Tip #6: Be Wary of Intruders: I don’t just mean human intruders. Animals like raccoons, snakes, and other critters will likely seek refuge in your home during a flood. One bite from a rabies-infested raccoon or a poisonous snake will put you in an even worse life-threatening situation.
- Tip #7: Watch Your Step: You might be thinking, “Obviously I’m going to watch where I’m walking”. You’d be surprised! When s*** hits the fan, people don’t think critically. If you panic, you can easily step on a hazardous object. Flood safety tips like this one are simple but effective.
- Tip #8: Check for Gas Leaks: Once the flood is over, check for gas leaks. Under no circumstance should you light a stove, light, candle, or lantern if there’s gas in the air. It can cause an explosion, killing you instantly.
- Tip #9: Manage Exhaust Fumes: You wouldn’t believe how many people die by their own wrongdoings. Carbon monoxide (CO) is a poisonous by product of generators and camping stoves. Without proper ventilation, they can kill you. When using these devices, make sure you’re well-ventilated!
- Tip #10: Service Damaged Septic Tanks: If human waste leaks into the surrounding area, it can pose a serious health risk to you and your family. That’s why I recommend servicing a damaged septic tank as quickly as possible.
Some of these flood safety tips are obvious (like #1 for example), while others aren’t so obvious (#8 and #9). Still, they’re all important for staying safe during and after a flood. I would be exceptionally cautious about driving during floods, because quite frankly, it’s one of the biggest mistakes people make. For that reason, I want to talk about flood safety tips that relate to driving during a flood.
How to Drive in a Flood
Floods can happen anywhere. In the United States, flash floods are one of the top weather-related killers. Unfortunately, a large portion of these fatalities can be traced back to people trying to drive through deadly flood waters.
Your vehicle, no matter how large, is no match for even the weakest floods. For that reason, I want to dedicate an entire section of this article to teaching you how to drive safely during a flood.
I’m not condoning that you drive during a flood. But if you find yourself behind the wheel when a flood strikes, you need to be prepared. So please- pay attention to the following flood safety tips as they could potentially save your life.
Whether it be on roads or in parking lots, don’t drive through standing water. All it takes is a measly 12 inches of moving water to sweep your vehicle off the road. Not to mention, roads saturated in water are prone to collapse. Your biggest fear should be an engine stall. If this happens when driving through standing water, you might become stranded. If you don’t think it can happen to you, these folks are prime examples that it can - and it also shows some pretty crazy behavior:
If there isn’t an alternate route available, you may have no choice but to drive through water. If that’s the case, keep the following flood safety tips in mind (and don't be like those folks in the video above):
- Estimate the Depth: Do not enter the water without making a judgment call as to how deep it is. You don’t want to experience the “oh s***” moment when you suddenly realize your vehicle is being swept away. If you think that the water is more than 1-2 feet deep, don’t enter. It’s simply not worth the risk.
- Watch for Downstream Objects: If a heavy item is traveling downstream in your direction, you could die. Watch for these objects before entering the water. With that said, watch for downed power lines as well. If you see a downed power line, don’t even think about crossing. Find an alternate route.
- Check Your Breaks: Once you’ve safely made it through standing water, check your brakes at a low speed. Wet breaks are extremely dangerous since they can make it difficult to stop. If you notice that your vehicle isn’t stopping as efficiently as it should, try the following: gently press on the brake pedal with your left foot, while hitting the gas with your right foot. This should do the trick.
Even if you follow these flood safety tips, your vehicle still might stall. If this happens, see if you can safely exit your vehicle to get to higher ground. If this isn’t possible, call 911 immediately. As you saw in the video above, you might need to get saved by emergency rescue. But if you follow the “no driving during a flood” rule, you’ll never need to worry about this.
Is Your Emergency Kit Prepared?
A massive flood, like the one caused by Hurricane Katrina, can devastate entire communities. If this happens, you’ll be without power, food, and most importantly, clean water. That’s why you need to build a bug out bag. What is it? It’s basically a bag designed to keep you alive indefinitely after a disaster. While I won’t go into the details of how to build one in this article, I will encourage you to check out my article on the topic. It will cover the ins and outs of how to build the best bug out bag.
While all types of floods are dangerous, flash floods are easily the most deadly. That’s because people have very little, if any, time to prepare for them. Hopefully, these flood safety tips will increase your chances of survival. The most responsible thing you can do is figure out whether or not you live in a flood zone. If you do, then these flood safety tips are geared towards you. If not, memorize these tips anyway. You never know when you’ll need them.
NOTE: This post originally written by David, March 6, 2016, categorized under Floods and Natural Disasters. Updates: May 2019.