Flash Flooding: Preparation and Survival

As pleasant as a rainfall can be, it can quickly turn into a dangerous flooding situation.

Four Ways to Be Prepared

  1. Learn if your home or place of business is in a flood prone area.
  2. Designate a meeting place ahead of time in case of evacuation and have essential survival items handy.
  3. Have an emergency plan in place if evacuation from your home is not possible or necessary. Have plenty of food, water and fuel at home to last you a week.
  4. Consider health and safety issues if you come in contact with flood waters.

What Else Should You Know?

“When heavy rains persist and water levels rise, city streets can easily become rivers,” explains Pete Bell, CEO of Cotton Companies, on of the country's leading disaster relief companies.

“These storms can also affect city areas surrounded by or built around bayous, rivers, and other natural or man-made run-offs. Quickly developing storms can [also] create flash flooding in areas of high construction with limited run-off.”

"Previous weather conditions can contribute to flooding potential as well," says Bell. “If the weather has been extremely dry for over a week, even a somewhat mild shower can cause flooding.

"In times of drought and high temperatures asphalt on streets and sidewalks becomes less absorbent, creating the perfect situation for additional run-off and flooding.”

Aging sewer system may not be able to handle large amounts of quickly falling rain, while those that have substantial leaks or have sustained damage over the years create another potential for flooding.

"For example,” says Bell, “the flooding that occurred in New York City in August was due to city systems that could not handle the amount of water that came after weeks of high temperatures.”

Bell’s Three Tips for City Dwellers

  1. Stay indoors if possible. Move valuables and emergency supplies to higher ground and pack a spare set of clothing and other essential survival items in a waterproof bag to keep them dry in case of you have to evacuate.
  2. Stay updated on local weather conditions, either via weather radio, local radio or television. Many transit authorities update emergency information on their Web sites as well. Know the difference between a "flood watch" and "flood warning."
  3. Pay attention to evacuation routes of buildings and subways you may enter during storms, as well as from your home. If you are at work when the flooding worsens you should have a designated area to wait it out, i.e. a local hotel. Always follow evacuation instructions from authorities immediately.

Final Tip

If you’re on the road and caught in a storm with flash flood potential, stay away from low-lying areas. Do not try to cross flooded roadways since it only takes 24 inches of water to sweep a car off the road and standing water can hide the fact that the road below has been washed away.

Updated: 5/2009