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7 must-do steps for flood disaster preparation

Disaster preparation for a flood includes gathering necessities, relying on local media sources and being aware of the dangers rising waters bring

Flooding is one of the most common natural disasters, as it can occur anywhere in the United States. Whether you live in an area that’s prone to frequent flooding, or are concerned about a flash flood event, these disaster preparation tips will offer peace of mind in the event of an emergency.

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1. Stockpile bottles of water

Hoarding bottles of water is a disaster preparation staple. During a flood, local water sources can become contaminated, and unsafe to drink until local authorities give it the all clear. Because of contamination concerns, you should not drink, cook or bathe with tap water until it’s been deemed safe.

For those living in areas prone to flooding, have a few cases of bottled water on hand that can be used in an emergency. If an area is being warned about flash flooding, pick up a case of water at the store, just in case local water sources become contaminated.

2. Store ready-to-eat canned food

In addition to bottled water, it’s important to have food on hand that can be eaten without requiring a heat source. Canned food works well because it protects the food from contaminated flood waters and has a long shelf life, making it easier and cheaper to store.

Store your stockpiled canned goods separate from your household food, and try not to borrow from your stockpile; the goal is to make sure you’re prepared in the event of an emergency. Check it periodically to make sure cans aren’t going out-of-date.

3. Heed all written and broadcast emergency directions

Much like the success behind the seatbelt rhyme, “Click it or ticket,” the flood warning rhyme, “Turn around, don’t drown” is a powerful tool that encourages people to think about the road conditions while driving in heavy rains or during flood situations. It only takes 12 inches of water to cause a small car to be carried away in a flood, and 18 to 24 inches for larger vehicles.

City and local officials spend hours deciding on the best way disseminate information and how to make judgment calls for the area based on current and future weather patterns, all with the public’s safety in mind. Following warnings and trusting their efforts is advised during a flood emergency.

4. Follow local media for the most up-to-date information

National broadcasts may relay general information about emergency situations across the country, but rarely will they provide the details that can save lives for residents going through it. That’s why it’s important to have a variety of ways to keep up with local news outlets through television and radio broadcasts, as well as social media for information on disaster preparation.

Many cities and towns have launched their own emergency applications that offer push alerts to residents who sign up, giving them an even more up-to-date snapshot of current weather conditions. Research news organizations in your area to see if they offer an emergency smart phone application.

5. Safely store sensitive and valuable belongings

Store important documents such as social security cards, birth certificates and other licenses in air-tight and waterproof containers to minimize damage. Include sentimental items that can’t be replaced, such as photographs. Insurance documents should be included as well, along with a list of serial numbers for your valuable belongings.

6. Use precaution when cleaning up flood waters

Many people are concerned with drowning when it comes to flood emergencies, and that’s a valid fear; flash floods are the top weather-related reason for death in the country. However, there is another reason to be as prepared as possible when it comes to flooding: bacteria.
Flood waters accumulate a massive amount of debris, and will often include sewage, making everything it touches contaminated. When dealing with flood waters or cleaning up the aftermath, be sure to sanitize everything, and always wash all exposed skin when finished, as well as put on clean clothes.

7. Be prepared to leave

In the event of an emergency, you may not have time to gather all of your important belongings, which is why it’s important to have a Go Bag. These are bags already assembled that contain personal and survival necessities, as well as important phone numbers and emergency contact information. New York City’s Emergency Management Department has been participating in Ready New York, a Go Bag disaster preparation campaign, since 2007. Over half of the city’s population now has a bag prepared in case of an emergency.

Katelyn James, Ready New York outreach coordinator, recommended each Go Bag be stocked with:

  • Copies of important documents (insurance and credit cards, birth certificates, deeds, photo IDs, proof of address, etc.) and cash in small bills kept in a waterproof container
  • Extra set of car and house keys
  • Bottled water and nonperishable food, such as energy or granola bars
  • Flashlight with extra batteries, though LED flashlights are recommended
  • Battery-operated AM/FM radio
  • Extra chargers and batteries for mobile phones and devices
  • Extra medication and a list of the medications each family member takes, why they take them and their dosages
  • First-aid kit
  • Toiletries
  • Notepad and pen
  • Contact and meeting place information for your household, and a small regional map
  • Lightweight rain gear and a Mylar blanket

Disaster preparation will look different for every family as they evaluate their surroundings and what they deem important, but it should involve many of the steps included here. A flood can be devastating, but you can minimize the damage by preparing well in advance.

This article, originally published on Aug. 23, 2017, has been updated.

Rachel Engel is an award-winning journalist and the senior editor of and In addition to her regular editing duties, Engel seeks to tell the heroic, human stories of first responders and the importance of their work. She earned her bachelor’s degree in communications from Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma, and began her career as a freelance writer, focusing on government and military issues. Engel joined Lexipol in 2015 and has since reported on issues related to public safety. Engel lives in Wichita, Kansas. She can be reached via email.