November 23, 2015
By Peter B. Mathiesen
As we see in the news seemingly every week, floods happen. The real question comes when the water is rising and you're stuck in your car or home: Just how ready will you be?
With this fall and winter predicted to see one of the strongest El Ninos in years, even drought-stricken parts of the country may find themselves under water. Many urban flood victims often say they didn't even know they lived in a flood area.
If something were to happen today, do you know what to do if you were driving? Could you keep your family warm if the power fails? Would you be able to make it on your own for three or four days, or even a week?
This article will help you plan and deal with the basics that often surprise homeowners who never expected to face a dangerous weather event.
On The Road
Before we address the basics at home, think about driving safety when you encounter severe weather, especially if flood conditions are forecast. You don't have to be in a full-blown hurricane to encounter life-threatening road conditions.
There's a simple, commonsense rule of the road when it comes to driving in severe down pours: If you can't see the road, do not go forward.
If torrential rains strike, stop under an overpass or pull into a parking lot and wait it out. Far more deceiving are flooded roadways, whether it's a cross street or creek bridge. If you can't see or can't feel the pavement under your wheels, do not drive forward.
Every year drivers proceed down roads they perceive to to have only a light covering of water only to have the frightening experience of losing control. Even a four-wheel-drive SUV or large pickup truck is no match for a foot or more of flowing water.
In 24 inches of water, the current will sweep a 6,000-pound vehicle away as if it's a bathtub toy. Make sure all drivers in your family memorize this easy phrase: "Turn Around and Don't Drown."
Survival Basics For Your Home
Water, food, shelter, and the abilities to communicate and get around are essential, of course. Then consider the surprising amount of documents and data that you don't want to try replacing; important papers from insurance companies, real estate, taxes, and personal identity documents all need to be on hand in a waterproof container.
Make sure you either have your computer backed up on a spare hard drive you can take with you or use a cloud to back up your data.
Be practical, too: If anyone in your family has a special medical issue, you must have a sufficient supply of medication on hand. Always consider the needs of the youngest and oldest members of your family. If any of these events happen in cold climates, the stakes rise dramatically.
An adequate amount of cash is another precaution many people won't think about until it's too late. ATM or bankcards may not work in an area that has been severely hit by a flood or other disaster.
Your mobile phone can be the most efficient (and life-saving) tool you have. Keeping your phone fully charged is critical. Whether you go for a solar charger or use the 12-volt adapter in your vehicle, do not let your cell phone battery run down.
Facebook and other community social media sites have emerged as valuable sources of far more timely weather and disaster-recovery information than local news media. And in extreme situations, a CB or ham radio may be the only option for at least awhile.
Leaving your home in an emergency will be one of the most stressful times of your life. It may be tempting to stay behind and protect your property; however, countless people who have stayed said in hindsight that it was a dangerous mistake and they would never risk it again.
Before evacuating, you must make critical decisions about what to bring. Force family members to stick to the basics and leave emotional heirlooms behind.
When the time comes to leave, shut off the gas, electricity and water. Unplug electrical appliances and, if the weather is below freezing, drain your pipes.
Grab Your Go Bag
If you must leave your home, your go bag should be ready 24/7. The go bag should include everything you need in the event of an emergency; medication, first-aid kit, basic tools, extra batteries and flashlights.
Don't forget water, food, clothing, plastic bags and, of course, duct tape. Ideally you already have a small ER bag in your family vehicle with many of these items. Be thoughtful, creative and realistic.
For instance, a case of Ramen Noodles could be more practical (and lighter) than a case of ammo.
Weathering the Storm
If you're marooned by flooding, or you simply happen to be at home when disaster strikes, in most cases your house will provide excellent protection. Many items you'll need, such as tools, clothing, food and water, are already there.
Keep in mind it's very likely your refrigerator will not work, and water probably will stop running.
As a result, having bottled or canned water and emergency food supplies should be part of your household survival mix. (FEMA recommends one gallon of water per person, per day, for at least three days.)
Finally, there is one tool every home should have but often doesn't: a backup generator. Although you can opt for some amazingly convenient systems that fire up automatically with fuel sources such as diesel or propane, a simple 6,000-watt generator (costing less than $800) is a great place to start.
It will save the meat in your freezer and provide other critical needs. By providing light and power for the furnace, generators also provide emotional comfort quickly to your family during a stressful time.
The Rules of Portable Power
First and foremost, do not operate your generator in the garage or any other enclosed structure. Generators produce carbon monoxide and are extremely dangerous if operated improperly.
Fuel is another consideration, both from the standpoint of being prepared and staying safe.
If you choose a gasoline-powered unit, clearly you need to have fuel on hand, in a safe place, and in sufficient quantity to meet your needs for several days.
Store gasoline in approved containers outside your home or garage. Treat the fuel with an additive to keep it fresh; if the gas gets much older than six months, use up the fuel in your family vehicle and refill the containers.
Remember, gasoline is dangerous stuff. Use it with care and common sense.
Generators don't require much maintenance, but periodic attention goes a long way toward being ready when needed. Make an effort to run it for a half hour every month.
This will help you get familiar with starting it and understanding how to hook it into your home electrical system.
Read the owner's manual, as there will be a limit to what your generator can do based on its wattage, and consider unplugging computers and other sensitive electronic devices that may be harmed by power fluctuations during startup.
After A Flood
If you're returning to a home that has been flooded, caution is a must before you start the cleanup process. Even a partially flooded basement may be extremely hazardous.
Make sure you know the status of your electrical service and do not turn it on yourself - get professional assistance from your power company. Accidental electrocution is the second-leading cause of deaths during floods following drownings.
Natural gas is another hazard. Avoid using candles, lanterns or other open flames until a professional has assessed the situation for you.
Be especially cautious of small animals and snakes that may have taken shelter in your home. Remember that they are as upset to be in your home as you are to have them there.
Protect Your Biggest Investment
When you are loading up a pickup truck with your family's most precious possessions, that's the worst time to wonder whether your insurance company is going to make the grade. Just like a go bag, plan now.
Consider this: Most homeowners are not covered for flood or earthquake insurance. If you're not sure, then you're probably not. And although fire is an event that is covered by most homeowners insurance, how the fire started can come into play.
It is critical that you as the homeowner know the basic answers to these questions.
One other safeguard is a simple walk-through of your entire home and garage with a video camera, describing the contents as you move around.
Take it slow, mention the big stuff but show the little items. In a major loss, the video could be the difference of hundreds of receiving, to thousands of dollars in a settlement.
Have a Plan
Once you've made a few calls to your insurance agent, pulled a go bag together and become skilled at running a generator, talk to your family.
Make sure everyone in the family knows where to go if they're separated, and what to do. Teenagers will roll their eyes, of course, but if there's a day when all this preparation and gear is needed, they will be far more confident and able to do their part in staying out of harm's way.
10 Emergency Items and Skills That Every Homeowner Must Have
* Purchase a generator and know how to use it.
* Keep at least 25 gallons of gasoline, safely stored.
* Know how to shut off your water, gas and electricity.
* Have two sources of heat for winter weather.
* Keep a minimum of three gallons of potable water on hand for each person in your home. You pets need water, too.
* Keep a three-meal-a-day, two-week supply of canned and other non-perishable edibles for each member of your family, including pets.
* Maintain a portable computer hard drive and back up your important documents and personal data regularly.
* Store extra medication in a sealed, dry container.
* Keep duct tape and rolled plastic on hand.
* Have a refrigerator thermometer and know where to buy dry ice.
10 Driving Safety Tips
* If you can't see the road, turn around or pull off to a safe area and wait for torrential rains to subside.
* Don't ever drive across flowing water.
* Never touch or drive over downed power wires.
* If you run off the road and conditions allow it, stay with the vehicle.
* When weather is threatening, keep the gas tank above half full.
* Slow down by at least 10 miles an hour.
* Use your emergency flashers if parked or driving slowly.
* If you think conditions are bad, they are! Get off the road and wait.
* Avoid unnecessary lane changes.
* Take your vehicle maintenance seriously. In addition, every vehicle should carry the following items in a bag that is never removed.
10 Items Everyone Must Have in Their Vehicle
* Roadside emergency kit with tools and battery cables.
* Tire repair kit with an air pump.
* Snacks like power bars or dried food like Ramen Noodles.
* One gallon of potable water.
* Extra engine oil.
* Tow strap.
* Plastic bags or rolled plastic sheeting, and a sleeping bag
* Roadside flares that can double as a fire starter.
* Make sure a fire extinguisher and glass-breaking tool is accessible inside the vehicle.
* Duct tape.