Survival

Flood Survival 101

flood

Water is the most persistent, consistent and pervasive killer in nature the world over. That is kinda funny when you think about it because it is also an incredibly precious life giving resource. So precious that the absence of water will kill just as readily as too much of it, but it is too much water, a flood, that is its most lethal form.

Flooding claims the lives of hundreds in the U.S. every year, and many thousands more globally. The cost in lives and damage is enormous, and the places that are not vulnerable to flooding are vanishingly few.

Floods are among the most common natural disasters that occur, and may not occur from rain alone. No matter who you are and where you live, flooding is a perennial threat, one you should take pains to be prepared for. In today’s article, we’ll be doing just that.

What Am I Facing?

Flooding is quite simply water standing or moving in great quantity over an area that should be dry. Flooding can happen quite rapidly or slowly develop over time depending on the cause. Flooding is always dangerous, but it is the rapidly occurring type, a flash flood that is the most dangerous.

Flash flooding occurs when a very large mass of water is quickly deposited or routed through or across an area, resulting in fast moving walls, sheets or columns of water. Depending on the intensity and volume, flash floods can sweep away people and vehicles, or even dislodge structures from their moorings.

Floods are often caused by heavy rainfall, but the mechanism of the flood per se is actually a river overflows thanks to the incoming water and spills its banks.

While rain is our major culprit for causing this, a river may be overwhelmed by such things as major ice or snow melt-off, a broken damn, dike or levee, or even an errant beaver dam! It’s true! Coastal flooding may occur from storm surge off of an incoming hurricane, or from a tsunami caused by an earthquake.

Moving flood waters have immense force behind them, and it takes 6 inches of moving water or less to bowl an adult off their feet. 10 to 12 inches will carry off a car.

Light or poorly anchored structures are easily destroyed or even swept away by flood water, with even well built and reinforced structures vulnerable to destruction thanks to water’s way of dislodging the dirt from beneath a building, literally undermining it.

The fun does not stop there. Since flood water cause so much destruction, you won’t be dealing with mere water, whether it is freshwater or salt: flood waters will destroy and carry away man-made things of all kinds, so you’ll be coping with sharp debris, broken glass, spilled chemicals, fuel, sewage, dead bodies and more, all concealed by the murky, swirling water. This makes moving through floodwaters a highly hazardous proposition.

The duration and aftermath of a flood make survival difficult and very dangerous. You can bet your bottom dollar that power will be out, and downed lines or inundation of other electrical utilities will make shock a serious threat.

Drowning from being trapped by rising, moving water is a constant danger, especially when in a vehicle. Most roads will be impassable or nearly so, and the resulting stoppage of transportation will mean everything from medical aid to food and clean drinking water will be extremely difficult to procure during and after the event.

Even after the waters have receded the threat remains: mold and other biohazard threats will pop-up quickly in water-logged and sewage contaminated buildings, creating secondary and tertiary risk or disease and death.

In short, the onset of a flood will effectively halt all the gears of society. Anywhere it can rain, it can flood, with precious few exceptions. So no matter where you currently reside, pull up a chair and pay attention.

You may live in a place where the flooding only occurs every several hundred years, but you can bet your bottom dollar that if you don’t prepare for it that year will be this year. Don’t be that guy or gal: a prepper should be well-rounded and able to face any threat.

The next sections will give you the knowledge, insight and tools to do just that.

Phases of Flood Preparation and Survival

You’ll prepare and arm yourself against a flood’s disruptive and deadly effect the same you will any other natural or man-made disaster: Pre-Event, Ongoing Event and Post-Event.

Pre-event planning and material preparation will give you the edge and clarity needed to make good decisions prior to you finding yourself up to your neck in the middle of your living room while adherence to best practices during and after an event will ensure you avoid or are able to endure the worst a flood can do.

The following sections contain procedures, policies and tips to help you prepare.

Pre-Event

Know the specific flood threat in your area. Flooding can happen nearly anywhere, but some areas have it much worse than others, or are far more prone to a particular type of flooding than others, e.g. flash floods. All have their own unique challenges.

Flooding on a wide open plain or prairie is slower moving than the thunderous crash and devastation wrought by flood waters ripping downhill off of a mountain. Check out FEMA’s Flood Map Service Center to start figuring out your specific risk.

Identify Safe Areas. You need to know exactly where you will go in a flood. It might be higher ground, to a relative or friends house out of the danger area, shelter or other place. There is little time to ponder this when the water is rising.

Understand the signs and warnings of flooding. Especially flash flooding. Know about how much rain needs to fall, for how long, and where before you are worried about flood risk. Make sure you are acutely aware of risk factors if you live in or around an area where flash floods are common.

Find, map and practice evac routes. To and from shelters, or to your BOL. If you work or play in and around flash flood-prone areas, learn multiple routes out of and away from them.

Know the specific flood threat in your area. Flooding can happen nearly anywhere, but some areas have it much worse than others, or are far more prone to a particular type of flooding than others, e.g. flash floods.

All have their own unique challenges. Flooding on a wide open plain or prairie is slower moving than the thunderous crash and devastation wrought by flood waters ripping downhill off of a mountain. Check out FEMA’s Flood Map Service Center to start figuring out your specific risk.

Identify Safe Areas. You need to know exactly where you will go in a flood. It might be higher ground, to a relative or friends house out of the danger area, shelter or other place. There is little time to ponder this when the water is rising.

Understand the signs and warnings of flooding in your area. Especially flash flooding. Know about how much rain needs to fall, for how long, and where before you are worried about flood risk. Make sure you are acutely aware of risk factors if you live in or around an area where flash floods are common.

Find, map and practice evac routes. To and from shelters, or to your BOL. If you work or play in and around flash flood-prone areas, learn multiple routes out of and away from them.

• Take Protective Measures. Keep drains and gutters clear on your house. Make sure that grading favors moving water away from your foundation. Install a sump pump in your basement if you have one that is power-grid independent.

If finances and resources allow, raise or elevate things like appliances and electrical service boxes. Move all valuables to higher levels in your home.

• Stock up on needed supplies and equipment. This is prepping 101. You may not need to leave immediately as soon as you are warned of flood conditions, but the longer you wait the worse you’ll make things on yourself.

Worse, if you are forced to shelter in place you will be stuck only with the things you have and keep above the rising water. I’ll break down the basics you should include in your flood kit later in the article, but if you are a seasoned prepper already you likely have most or all of it on hand.

• Purchase/Renew your flood insurance policy. The typical homeowner’s policy does not cover flooding and “flood-related” damage. Worse, adding a policy can take up to 30 days or so to take effect. Dealing with this stuff sucks but is necessary to protect your assets.

flooded neighborhood

During a Flood

• Tune In. Listen to NOAA weather radio, the Emergency Alert System or local weather alerts via radio or other communications device for updates and ongoing instructions.

• Evacuate. Depending on severity and timetable of the flooding, head to your safe area that you determined earlier. If you receive an evacuation warning before the flooding begins in earnest, heed it.

• Avoid Bridges Over Fast Moving Water. Bridges can be weakened to the point of failure by flood water, and collapse at any time. Don’t risk moving over them, especially if they have been barricaded by authorities.

• If trapped in a vehicle in fast moving water, stay inside. If the water is rising and you can get to the roof, do so.

• If trapped in a structure go to the top floor, but do not enter the attic: you could be trapped by rising water. If unavoidable you may go to the roof.

• DO NOT ENTER FLOOD WATERS. By foot or vehicle. Fast moving water is a major killer during a flood, and even slow or standing water can hide many dangers discussed above.

• Keep a signaling device handy. A bright flashlight, hand flares, chemlights or brightly colored cloth all work to signal rescuers and good Samaritans.

Post-Event

• Do not drive unless absolutely necessary. There are very few wheeled vehicles that can hope to navigate the treacherous morass of a flood zone. The chances that you will get marooned in a bad spot are high.

• Do not wade into flood waters. Again, the dangers from debris and contamination are substantial. The risk of shock from power lines and other energized equipment is high.

• Beware animal encounters. All kinds of critters will be moving through the murky water, or driven into unexpected places trying to escape it. Be especially careful of snakes.

• Use gasoline powered tools safely. That means outdoors and away from windows. The risks of carbon monoxide poisoning are high if not used judiciously.

• Listen to instructions from authorities. That means no bucking travel restrictions and roadblocks. Go home only when given the ok from supervising agencies and organizations.

Floods are very survivable so long as you act with haste and early, assuming you are not caught on dangerous ground in a flash flood. Use the steps above as a guide for creating and streamlining your flood survival and response plan.

Flood Defenses

Defending against a flood can be done, but it is almost always an excruciating and difficult task, even if you have access to heavy earth moving equipment.

The most common solution for the average homeowner is utilizing sandbags for controlling, funneling or directing water away from your dwelling, or at least minimizing the water’s effects on it.

Building an effective sandbag wall takes time and a ton of sweat, so you’ll need some helpers or a big head start on the flooding and a bunch of moxie to see you through. The key to effective deployment is threefold: the fill of the sandbag, the arrangement of the bags and the height of the wall.

Sandbags should only be filled about 2/3rds full to ensure they can be closed prior to placement, and also so they conform better to the sandbags they are placed on. The arrangement of the sandbags should be so that a row is placed snugly end to end, and successive layers placed so the middle of the ones on top are directly over the “joint” of the row below.

Lastly, a sandbag wall should be three times wider at the base than it is tall for stability. This is the only way to ensure that the momentous force of the water will not topple it.

To improve performance, you can line the water side of the sandbag wall loosely with heavy mill plastic sheeting, and secure it under the top and bottom rows of sandbags.

This prevents any water from seeping through the cracks and creases of your wall. Take extra care that the plastic is left very loose prior to the arrival of the water so that it will not stretch and tear under the pressure.

Another alterative are Aqua Dams, in essence giant water-filled rubber vessels that nest together. They use water to control oncoming water in an effective way. They are laid in place and connected prior to being filled, forming a linear damn or giant ring around a structure like a castle wall.

The tremendous weight of the filled vessels means they are extremely difficult to shift, even for onrushing flood water and if you have the money to afford them (and fill them) they make excellent fortifications against floods.

Your Flood Survival Kit

The following items are recommended for civilian flood survival kits. Many of you will have all of this and then some. Consider this a base to grow off of, but also keep in mind that you may have to go mobile at a moment’s notice. Adapt this kit to your BOB accordingly.

• Water – 1 gallon per person per day minimum. Have 3+ days on hand minimum.

• Food – Supply for 3 to seven days per person. 2,000 plus calories is ideal if active, but can be less with little ill effect for survival. Good foods you might consider are:
◦ Foil packed or canned food – shelf stable and calorie dense. Ready to eat is ideal, but dehydrated meals will save room and weight if you do not mind preparing them.
◦ Specialty foods for infants or elderly
◦ Snacks – for quick calories and morale boosting

• Can Opener

• Utensils and mess kit or paper plates

• Heavy Duty Large Tarps and Cordage

• Blankets, pillows, etc.

• Clothing – Seasonally appropriate plus rain gear. Gloves. Waterproof sturdy boots and waders are also a good idea.

• First Aid Kit – Includes:
◦ Basic Care Items – Band-Aids, antiseptic, first aid tape, compression wraps, medication for pain, flu, nausea, allergy, etc.
Trauma Kit – For dealing with major injuries. Include hemostatic gauze, tourniquets, suture kit, etc.
◦ Prescription Meds – At least a one week supply, plus spare corrective lenses or contacts and needed items.

• Hygiene Items – Toiletry items, hygiene items, baby wipes and any feminine products if needed.

• Flashlights and spare batteries.

• Battery or crank-op. NOAA Emergency Radio

• Cell Phone – Keep it charged and also keep a charged spare battery, power cell or solar array with it.

• Cash and Cards – You can assume electricity and all basic services will be down for the count in a flood affected area. You’ll need cash for wheeling and dealing as well as paying for commodities. Cards will still work, though, in neighboring areas unaffected by the flood.

• Keys – for all vehicles and home.

• Documents – Keep paper copies of all important docs and ID’s in a completely waterproof container. Alternately do the same for electronic copies on a flash drive. Think things like insurance, medical records, bank account info, deeds, titles, social security numbers, etc.

• Toolkit – Basic tools to help you deal with the devastation and improve your short term living conditions. Include things like a serious carpenter’s hammer, nails, handsaw, prybar, clamps, vise-grips, pliers, etc.

• Pet Care Items (if applicable) – Food, additional water, collapsing water dish, a cage for a small pet, harness, sturdy leash, muzzle, health and immunization records, etc.

Other Considerations

Underground shelters, bunkers and basements feature prominently into the plans of many preppers. For obvious reasons, such a subterranean retreat may not be the best idea in flood prone areas.

It would be a shame to see your safe haven turn into a watery tomb with you inside it. This is not to say that it cannot, or should not be done, only you will have to spend a lot more effort and a fair bit more money to make the concept viable.

First, any intakes, exhausts, vents, seals, seams and so on would need to be quadruple checked for water resistance. Similarly you need to ensure your entrances/exits will be above the water line of all but the most biblical flooding, lest you become truly trapped.

A common solution to this issue is to build your bunker or shelter a little ways up a slope and into the hillside itself. This arrangement furnishes almost all the classic merits of a subterranean shelter while providing ample drainage from the hill itself and gravity.

If you are using a basement or an annex to it as an underground shelter, you will need to consult an engineer to even begin to make such a structure waterproof. Without a purpose laid foundation and other elements to ensure such performance, it may prove impossible.

Conclusion

Floods are common and deadly, and even if the water does not kill you the aftermath presents serious hazards all on its own.

Whether you are planning on evacuating or riding out the wave in place, you’ll need a plan, know-how and a survival kit to make a go of it. Use this article as your guide to prepare for a flood event in your locale.

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Charles Yor

About Charles Yor

Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.
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4 thoughts on “Flood Survival 101

  1. Charles,

    Water is the most persistent, consistent and pervasive killer in nature the world over. That is kinda funny when you think about it because it is also an incredibly precious life giving resource. So precious that the absence of water will kill just as readily as too much of it.

    Water is dangerous enough that it has its own MSDS (,strong> Material Safety Data Sheet) that can be found here:
    MSDS: Dihydrogen Monoxide:https://phoebe.colorado.edu/MSDS/Archive/Water/MSDS-Water-DHMO.pdf

  2. Worked for an off road training program. We taught 1 foot of moving water can move a vehicle. Something to think about when crossing moving water

  3. Flooding claims the lives of hundreds in the U.S. every year, and many thousands more globally. The cost in lives and damage is enormous, and the places that are not vulnerable to flooding are vanishingly few.

    This is true; but, luckily I happen to live in one of those places; however, luck only played a little in my circumstance since I was keenly aware of flooding and after renting this property for 2 years, checking flood and topographical maps of the area and talking with neighbors in our rural neighborhood made the purchase with the knowledge that flooding, short of biblical, would not be a problem, and in that case towns & villages all around me would be 30-50 feet deep in water.
    The reason I was so keenly aware of flooding, is that I moved here to Ohio for college and stayed; but, was born and raised in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, famous for its multiple floods.

    The first and most famous Johnstown Flood occurred on May 31, 1889, with the failure of the South Fork Dam on the Little Conemaugh River 14 miles upstream of the town. The poorly maintained private dam broke after several days of extremely heavy rainfall, releasing 11800 acre feet of water with a flow that temporarily equaled the average flow of the Mississippi River, killing more than 2200 people. That dam was part of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club whose membership included people like Andrew Carnegie as well as Andrew and Richard Mellon.

    Johnstown had additional major floods in 1894, 1907, 1924, 1936, and 1977. The biggest flood of the first half of the 20th century was the St. Patrick’s Day Flood of March 1936.
    After the 1936 flood, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredged the portion of the river passing through the city, constructing concrete river walls, creating a channel about 20 feet deep and very wide. At completion, the Corps proclaimed Johnstown “The Flood Free city.”

    Those new river walls withstood Hurricane Agnes in 1972, but on the evening of July 19, 1977, a series of severe thunderstorms dropped 11 inches of rain in eight hours on the watershed around the city and the rivers began to rise. By morning, the city was under as much as 8 feet of water.

    What had happened between 1936 & 1977 was infrastructure development. Johnstown is in a valley, surrounded by rolling wooded hillsides, much of which were my play areas in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. There were hundreds of acres of trees with foot paths, and a few small streams flowing down the mountains into the Stonycreek and Little Conemaugh rivers. Any rain falling on to that area would drip through the trees into the leaf litter and dirt floor of the watershed and slowly percolate into the streams and down to the rivers.
    By 1977, much of that wooded hillside had been populated by housing, which brought with it paved roads, storm drains and storm sewers, that could take all of that water and move it quickly down the hills and into the rivers, using nothing more than pipes and gravity.
    I missed all of those floods; but, my parents went through the 1936 flood as children (ages 16 & 8) and the rest of my family went through the 1977 flood, with water in the basement of the family home, level to the first step down into the basemen. I had cousins who lived 1 block down the street, who had water, level with the piano keys on the first floor.

    The 1977 flood should be a cautionary tale, since a once “Flood Free Area” came under assault after a 40 year hiatus, simply due to “improvements” that no one had really considered in their planning. So while you may be in a flood free area, it is worth noting what goes on around you, perhaps miles away.

    What Am I Facing?

    Moving flood waters have immense force behind them, and it takes 6 inches of moving water or less to bowl an adult off their feet. 10 to 12 inches will carry off a car.

    As a trained weather watcher and someone who has worked with emergency management for 20 years, I not only concur with this; but, need to emphasize that one should not drive even into shallow water, unless you are sure of what’s underneath, since even a solid road, can have the supporting soil under it washed away, just waiting for the added weight of your vehicle to collapse under you.
    So don’t take a chance, and always remember: “Turn Around, Don’t Drown.”

    Even after the waters have receded the threat remains: mold and other biohazard threats will pop-up quickly in water-logged and sewage contaminated buildings, creating secondary and tertiary risk or disease and death.

    In many cases this may be the worst part of flooding, along with migration of those in the flood area into your locations. During hurricane Irma, my kid sister, who lives in Key West had to evacuate; but, upon returning after leaving freezers & refrigerators sitting without power for a week ore more, I guess you all get the picture. That migration, BTW may not be people; but, rats, insectes and other noxious critters.

    Pre-Event

    Know the specific flood threat in your area.
    I know that at least where I live, the county auditor & county engineer have GIS systems, and can provide you with flood maps for your location. Additionally most banks will not loan money for a housing purchase, without this information and the requisite insurance, so along with neighbors, there are usually other resources to help determine the threat of flooding at your location.

    Take Protective Measures

    Keep drains and gutters clear on your house. Make sure that grading favors moving water away from your foundation. Install a sump pump in your basement if you have one that is power-grid independent.

    While my entire home can be power-grid independent, a sump pump that is not power-grid independent can still be a good idea, since flooding, at least in a low area or basement can easily happen without a catastrophe or loss of power.
    All of the other suggestions are good, and should just be part of proper home maintenance. If however, you rent your property, you should still be aware of these items, and tell your landlord of any problems.

    Tune In. Listen to NOAA weather radio, the Emergency Alert System or local weather alerts via radio or other communications device for updates and ongoing instructions.

    I have numerous ways of doing this; but, for those in need, make sure you get a NOAA weather radio with SAME Alerts (Specific Area Message Encoding), and set it up for your area. I have and recommend the Midland WR-120. It has an extensive menu system allowing easy setup for all counties in the country, plus an external antenna connector for use in weak signal or high noise areas

    Listen to instructions from authorities. That means no bucking travel restrictions and roadblocks. Go home only when given the ok from supervising agencies and organizations.

    And remember again: “Turn Around, Don’t Drown.”

  4. TOP,

    Sometimes I really wonder where FEMA dreams up some of their flood plain data. I house I lived in in Crescent City, FL (where my Ex lives now) is only, maybe, 4-feet above sea level and about 125-yards away from a large lake that has some tidal influence through connections to the St. Johns River.

    For most of my residency there, FEMA designated our area as a flood zone and we were required by our mortgage company to carry flood insurance. Magically, FEMA decided we were no longer in a flood danger zone and our mortgage company refused to handle our flood insurance premium through our escrow account any more.

    We still carry flood insurance anyway. We just have to pay for it every January. I’m still a part owner of the house, so I keep track of that stuff.

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