Heavy rains, melting spring snow, hurricanes and other weather events can quickly lead to flooding. In fact, according to Ready.gov, floods are the most common natural disaster in the U.S.
Before a flood occurs, it’s a good idea to assess your chances of being impacted by it. You can find more information to help gauge your relative risk of flood damage on the National Flood Insurance Program’s (NFIP’s) website.
And it’s important to remember that floods present a unique set of challenges. This is particularly true in terms of insurance; a standard homeowners policy does not cover flood damage. To be protected, you need to purchase a separate flood insurance policy.
Be prepared for flooding
Long before the threat of a flood reaches your home, you should create a family disaster plan so you will be ready when danger strikes. The National Disaster Education Coalition recommends discussing the dangers a flood poses and dividing up responsibilities among family members so everyone knows what to do in the event of flooding.
Also, choose places to meet if you are separated before or during a flood.
Prepare for the possibility of flooding by planning an evacuation route. Know how long it takes to evacuate your home and consider others who may be evacuating at the same time.
If you live near the coast, contact the emergency management coordinator (EMC) in your local municipality to see if your home is susceptible to a storm surge. The EMC can also supply information about the safest routes to take during an evacuation and how long it may take at a time when roadways may be jammed.
The EMC can also provide information on the location of the nearest shelter.
Carefully examine your need for flood insurance according to your property’s flood threat, as determined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Home insurance does not cover flood damage, and it’s a mistake to believe that buying flood insurance isn’t necessary because of federal disaster aid. Typically, federal aid comes in the form of loans that must be paid back.
On the other hand, car insurance companies may cover flood damage to your car, assuming you have comprehensive coverage.
FEMA points out that even a few inches of floodwater can cause tens of thousands of dollars in damage. The FEMA website reports that the average flood claim payout from the National Flood Insurance Program in 2019 was $52,000.
It makes sense for many homeowners–even those who do not live in high-risk areas–to consider flood insurance to protect their home. Some homeowners in high-risk areas must purchase flood insurance, but floods can strike almost anywhere. FEMA notes that more than 20% of NFIP flood claims come from outside of high-risk flood areas.
Prior to flood evacuation, prepare your home
Moving furniture and other valuables to an upper floor can help protect them from water damage. If you have time, bring outdoor furniture inside. It’s also important to unplug electrical appliances and turn off utilities (gas and electric) at the main switches or valves, if instructed to do so. Do not touch electrical equipment if you are wet or standing in water.
If you live near a river or creek, be alert during heavy rains. It is not uncommon for a flash flood to sweep down a river and catch nearby residents by surprise.
When a flood watch or warning is issued, the American Red Cross says you should:
- Monitor storm reports on radio, television, and internet. Stay tuned to local news sources so you can stay on top of weather conditions as they develop. It recommends listening to the National Weather Service’s NOAA Weather Radio, as well as local TV and radio stations.
- Check supplies. Keep your emergency kit up to date, replenishing any supplies that have run low.
- Keep children and pets out of the water. Flood waters can be especially dangerous for smaller, less mature people and pets.
- Avoid flood waters. It is especially important to stay away from any water that rises above your ankles.
- Watch out for hazards. During a flood, you may have to evacuate your home.When returning home after a flood, look for dangerous obstacles, including downed power lines and damaged gas lines. Do not enter your home if you encounter such dangers.
- Be careful at night. The American Red Cross notes that when darkness falls, dangers rise, as it can be harder to see the dangers posed by flood waters. Be extra cautious during these times.
- Be careful during cleanup. Wear protective clothing, such as rubber gloves and rubber boots, when cleaning up after a flood. Beware of snakes and other animals that may have entered the home with the floodwater.
Driving during a flood
The National Weather Service has a slogan for those who are driving toward flood waters: “Turn around, don’t drown!” Never drive a car into any area where you don’t know the depth of the waters. According to the NWS, the majority of flash-flood fatalities are a result of driving into deep flood waters.
If you find yourself in deeper flood waters, abandon your vehicle as soon as possible, as flood waters can quickly rise and can sweep away your vehicle and your life.
If you do drive through flood waters, your insurance company might cover damages to the vehicle, but only if you have comprehensive coverage, which is optional.