How to Stay Safe During a Flood

By Suzanne Wiley

Flooding is the United States’ most destructive and most common natural disaster. According to The American Red Cross, 90% of natural disaster damage is due to flooding, costing Americans $8 billion a year.

You’d think with these numbers that we’d be a nation ready to deal with flooding, yet 75% of Americans aren’t actively preparing for inevitable events like floods. What is even more alarming is the frequency flooding is occurring. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on March 21, 2019, predicted that 25 states will experience above-average rainfall this year. Record flooding has already occurred in Nebraska, Minnesota and Iowa. NOAA reports, “The upper Mississippi and Red River of the North basins have received rain and snow this spring up to 200 percent above normal.” What’s even more alarming is the risk of flooding will increase by 45% by the year 2100. Sadly, an average of 100 people a year die due to floods. In fact, flooding kills more people a year than any other thunderstorm-related event.

This map depicts the locations where there is a greater than 50-percent chance of major, moderate or minor flooding during March through May, 2019. (NOAA)
This map depicts the locations where there is a greater than 50-percent chance of major, moderate or minor flooding during March through May, 2019. (NOAA)

The good news is, these deaths are preventable. All you have to do is Be Ready!

What is a Flood?

A flood is when water covers a normally dry area of land and can occur slowly or incredibly quick
Photo by Senior Airman Jesse Lopez

Even if you live far away from any body of water or your state is usually dry and sunny, you can still be the victim of a flood. Flooding can occur any time of the year but there is a higher probability during spring and fall due to the frequency of heavy rains, storms and snowmelt.

A flood is when water covers a normally dry area of land and can occur slowly or incredibly quick—called a flash flood. Slow floods, called “slow onset,” occur over time due to continuous rainfall. These floods can take up to a week to fully form and the water might not recede for months. “Rapid onset” or flash floods can happen very quickly, within minutes. Some are slower, happening in hours or days. Flash floods often happen without any warning.

The effects of floods depend on how much water there is, the water’s speed, the terrain and the infrastructure surrounding the flood.

What Causes a Flood?

Floods are caused by heavy rainfall, thunderstorms, storm surges, snow melt and the overflow of dams and other water containment structures, like the failures of the levees and flood walls in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

What do Floods do?

Floods can be very dangerous. Flood waters hold potentially very hazardous materials and can make you very sick. They also cause erosion, permanent damage to roads and buildings, pollute drinking water and cause land and mudslides. It only takes 6 inches of rushing water to knock you down and only 1 foot of water to carry off a vehicle—even an SUV.

Flood Safety Tips

The safest place you can be during a flood is evacuated.
The safest place to be during a flood is far away from it.

Even if you know you don’t live in a flood plain, flood-prone area or anywhere close to a body of water, it is always smart to be prepared for all natural disasters. Doing something now can prevent injury and even death.

Are you at a high risk to be a victim of a flood? Click here to check out FEMA’s flood map.

The first thing you must do when preparing for any natural disaster or emergency is to develop a response plan. This includes how you will communicate with your family, where you will meet up, where you will go and how you will get there. Establish a point of contact that lives away from you who can help keep track of everyone. In this case, it should be a friend or family member within driving distance, yet far enough away out of the flood zone.

Communicating via text message or social media is faster than calling during a natural disaster.

What Should you do During a Flood?


The safest place you can be during a flood is far away from it. If you can evacuate, you should. Map out several alternative escape routes beside the one your city or state has designated. Drive these routes to feel comfortable knowing you have options.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) suggests remembering the “Five Ps of Evacuation.” These are:

  • People
  • Prescriptions
  • Paper
  • Personal needs
  • Priceless items

12 Survivors adds pets to this list.

Floods can be very dangerous. Do not attempt to drive through high water. It takes only one foot of water to sweep away an SUV-sized vehicle.
Turn Around Don’t Drown isn’t just a cute slogan, it’s serious. It takes only one foot of water to carry away a vehicle.

Do not forget essential medications, important documents like social security cards, passports and insurance information. Scan your important paperwork, put it on a flash drive and keep the flash drive in a waterproof bag.

It might not be possible to evacuate. In that case, go to the highest level of the building or home you are in but do not go in the attic. You could get stuck and trapped by rising water. If you must, seek safety on the roof of your house where you can signal for help but use the roof as a last resort.

What to do Before Flood?

Be Prepared!

Before doing anything, contact your homeowner’s insurance and inquire about flood insurance—rarely does your homeowners’ insurance policy include coverage for flood. Even before there is a flood warning or watch issued, make sure you have practiced your flood safety plan and prepare a “go-bag” or emergency survival kit.

This kit needs to include:

  • Flashlight
  • Batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Bottled or drinking water
  • Non-perishable food
  • Cash
  • Blankets
  • Sturdy shoes
  • Sanitation items—toilet paper, moist towelettes, soap, etc.
  • Weatherproof jacket
  • Wrench or pliers
  • Cell phone charger
  • Manual can opener
  • Knife or multi-tool
  • Fire starter
  • Utensils, mess kit
  • Cooking stove

12 Survivors carries many of the emergency equipment you need during a natural disaster. Click here to browse survival gear.

  • Water filters and carriers
  • Battery-powered flashlights
  • First aid kits
  • Compact, transportable solar panels

If there is time and you have the resources:

  1. Fill all clean food-grade containers with water
  2. Fill your car and an additional gas can with gas
  3. Elevate and unplug your appliances
  4. Turn off the utilities
  5. Move furniture to the upper level of your house
  6. Bring outdoor furniture and grills inside
  7. Place sandbags around the perimeter of your house
  8. Monitor the situation with an NOAA-approved weather alert radio, Red Cross app, and activate the emergency alerts on your phone

What Can You Do After a Flood?

Clean up after a flood in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 2008. FEMA file photo.
Clean up after a flood in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 2008. FEMA file photo.

As stated before, flood water is potentially very hazardous. Only return home when your local authorities have said it is safe to do so. Do not wade-through, swim or drink flood water. Throw away any food or water that had contact with flood waters. There are many household items that cannot be cleaned if flood water has saturated it—insulation, drywall, mattresses and carpet will need to be thrown out. Reach out to your local first responders, the Red Cross and your insurance company to provide guidance on how to clean up.

Have you been the victim of a flood? Tell us your story in the comment section.