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How to Prepare for a Flood: Tips, Essentials and More

Learn everything you need to do to prepare for a flood, from building an emergency kit to buying a generator to creating an evacuation plan.
How to Prepare for a Flood: Tips, Essentials, and more.

Getting Started

While the spring and summer are full of blue skies and lazy afternoons on the porch, they are also the seasons of big rainstorms in the United States—and that means more flooding. Whether you live in a high-risk area or only experience moderate rain, given the recent increase in severe weather events, it makes sense to be prepared for a flood. In the ultimate guide below, our experts explain how to prepare for a flood. From waterproofing your basement to making an evacuation plan, here are our top tips for flood season.

Before a Flood

Preparing for a flood begins before there's a cloud in the sky. Here are some general steps you should take to make sure that you and your home are always prepared for a flood, no matter the weather:

Invest in flood insurance.

Double-check your current insurance policy to see if it covers flooding and damage. Standard homeowner insurance policies usually do not cover floods. If your plan does not, consider upgrading your policy or getting a separate flood insurance policy. Your best bet for flood insurance will likely be the federally run National Flood Insurance Program, which is available in 22,000 participating communities. Be aware that flood insurance won't cover everything. It does cover damage to the home's structure and belongings, but it does not cover damage to outside property or vehicles, belongings stored in the basement, or additional living expenses (such as living out of a hotel while your house is repaired). You can upgrade to excess flood insurance if the federal policy doesn't provide enough coverage.

Invest in backup power.

It's very common to lose power during floods, so you should purchase a generator to help you through a blackout. Generators are especially crucial if you have critical equipment that can't go offline, such as medical devices or farm equipment. If your home has a basement, you'll also need to keep power to your sump pump to prevent flooding. Before purchasing a generator, you need to decide on a type (portable vs. stationary), consider its features and where you will put it. Generators should be placed outside as they will fill enclosed spaces with carbon monoxide. To learn more about choosing the right generator for your needs and budget, check out our power generator buying guide.
Man Pactching Exterior of Building in Preperation for a Flood

Waterproof your basement.

If you have a basement, you might want to consider waterproofing it. Not only will this protect your belongings, but also your home itself. Federal flood insurance doesn't cover belongings stored in the basement or any improvements made to the basement, such as carpeting. Make sure that any water will be redirected away from your home via gutters or the slope of the ground. You can also waterproof both your concrete floors and the walls of your basement, as well as damp-proof the outside walls of your foundation if the house didn't already come with it. We recommend hiring a professional to waterproof your basement correctly.

Prepare the rest of your home.

Even if you don't have a basement, you should still prepare the rest of your home for a flood. Place documents and other valuables in a waterproof safe. You should also create digital backup copies of documents and encrypt them with a password. Elevate important objects on shelves, or move them to the second floor if you have one. Appliances such as fuel tanks, AC units, generators, washers and dryers, water heaters, and power units should all be elevated and anchored in case of flooding. You should also install check valves in your plumbing to prevent floodwater from backing up into the drains of your home. Conduct an inspection of your home and patch any cracks and seal up the windows.

Create an evacuation plan.

The worst time to come up with an evacuation plan is when a flood is already approaching. Discuss things with your family so you can put a plan in place before you have to potentially evacuate. Create two plans–one for evacuation and one for staying in your home during a potential flood. Decide where you will go, what you will bring, and who you will notify. Divide up the responsibilities and consider doing a practice run if you have children, pets, or livestock that you need to take care of.

Pack an emergency kit.

If a flood is coming, you'll have plenty to worry about without fretting about whether or not you packed clean clothes. If you live in a flood-prone area, keep a go-bag packed with clothes, toiletries, medications, important documents, and other essentials that you will need to bring with you during an evacuation. If you have kids or pets, create emergency kits for them as well so you can just grab and go. You might also want to consider adding some potable water and nonperishable food to your emergency stash. Make sure to go through it for expired food periodically.
Check the weather on a phone

When a Flood Is Coming

You'll likely have some warning before a flood hits. If you know that a flood might be headed your way, here's what you should do to stay safe:

Monitor the forecast.

Tune in to your local radio, NOAA radio, or TV stations for the latest information. The Twitter accounts of local weather stations can also be a good way to get breaking news updates if you can't get a signal for radio or TV. You should also know the difference between a flood advisory, a flood watch, and a flood warning. A flood advisory means that minor flooding is expected to occur, but not enough to pose serious danger or damage. A flood watch is issued when conditions for flooding are more prominent and it's possible a flood may occur. A flood warning is given when a flood is imminent or already occurring. Knowing what these terms mean will help you gauge the threat and prepare accordingly.

Prepare to evacuate.

If instructed to do so, you should evacuate the area. Secure your house, grab your bags, and pack up your car. Double-check that your evacuation routes are still open before heading out. Pay attention to the weather and follow along on the radio while you're in transit. Do not walk or drive through areas with moving water and avoid any places with downed power lines, as this is an electrocution risk. If your car becomes surrounded by rising water, get out quickly and move to higher ground. Look for areas where water is not moving and walk through those to avoid being knocked over.

Bring your pets.

When evacuating, you should also bring your pets if possible. If it's not safe for you to stay in your home, then it's not safe for your pets either. Bring plenty of food and water for them, as well as any medications they might take. You should also have some method to keep them secure while traveling, such as a leash, harness, or a carrier. Take some toys and their bed if you can because these items can help keep your pet calm and distract them from a stressful situation. Make sure to have copies of their medical records with you, as well as current photos in case they get lost.

Get your home ready.

If you have the time, here are the steps you should take to prepare your home in roughly chronological order:
  • Fill plastic bottles with drinking water
  • Fill bathtubs and sinks with water for flushing the toilet or washing clothes
  • Fill your car's gas tank in case you have to evacuate
  • Bring in outdoor belongings like patio furniture
  • Turn off propane tanks to reduce the risk of fire
  • Move furniture and belongings to higher levels of the home
  • Turn off the utilities if instructed to do so by your local authorities
  • Unplug small appliances to prevent damage from a power surge
Please note that you should never stay behind to do this if a flood is imminent and you have been instructed to evacuate immediately.
Car Driving Through Flooded Street

During and After a Flood

No matter how much you've prepared, you still need to stay vigilant during a flood to keep everyone safe. Here's what you should do during and after a flood:

Avoid contact with floodwater.

Even when the rain stops, there will likely be standing water around. You should avoid this water, as it can be filled with contaminants such as oil, gasoline, or raw sewage. If there are downed power lines in the area, the water might also be electrified. Stay away from it and keep children and animals away from it as well. Do not drink the water or let it come in contact with your skin, and dispose of any food that comes into contact with it.

Keep listening to the weather.

Even when it seems like the worst has passed, there might still be additional flooding (especially flash flooding). Keep listening to the weather reports and pay attention to what local authorities are saying. They will let you know when it is safe to return home and if they need volunteers to help with cleanup. Do not show up to help with cleanup unless specifically asked to do so by authorities; otherwise, you could block the real disaster relief experts from getting to areas and people that need help. Do not go around barricades, as they likely indicate a flooded roadway. Find an alternate route instead.

Stay away from damaged areas.

Once the flooding stops, it's tempting to investigate the damage in your home or neighborhood immediately. However, you should proceed with caution and avoid damaged areas. Even getting back to your home can be risky, as floodwaters can weaken roads and walkways to the point where they will collapse if a car drives over them. Water may cover up debris or leave it behind as it recedes. Damaged septic systems are an especially significant risk and should be serviced immediately by professionals to keep them from leaking more waste into the water.

Follow best practices for repairing your home.

If a flood has damaged your home, you need to be careful about reentering it. If you didn't do it before you left, turn off the electricity at the main breaker or fuse box. Use a generator for power in the meantime if you need to. Wear heavy boots and pants when you enter the house and look out for debris as well as animals like snakes that might have moved into the house during your absence. Clean and disinfect as you go, and make sure to follow your insurance company's guidelines for documenting damage. The Red Cross offers a guide that will walk through cleaning up your home and other areas after a natural disaster such as a flood.
Floods are a scary proposition to consider, but preparing ahead of time will help give you peace of mind and reduce damage if a flood does occur. Follow this guide to prepare your family and home for a flood.

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