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How to prepare for and protect against flood, hurricane or storm damage to or in buildings. We describe How to Prepare a Storm, Earthquake or Flood Response Plan, and How to Develop a Flood Response Checklist. We also discuss use of sandbagging to protect against flooding. This article includes a discussion of flood damage insurance and the NFIP. We include extra depth of detail about safe building entry, returning mechanical systems to operation, and special information about avoiding or minimizing mold damage.
Our page top photo shows a fire hose being used to drain water from a flat-roofed flooded building in Poughkeepsie, NY. Adapted and expanded from Repairing your Flooded Home, American Red Cross & FEMA & from additional expert sources. NOTICE: neither the ARC nor FEMA have yet approved the additions & expansions we have made to the original document.
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Be prepared is more than just a Scout motto. Your home will very likely be flooded again someday. Preparing for the next flood will protect you and your family, your property, your finances, and your peace of mind. In addition to the floodproofing measures discussed in the previous step, you should buy flood insurance, develop a flood response plan, and help your community implement a flood protection program.
Even if you have floodproofed your home, you still need insurance to protect you from the unexpected events such as a flood that rises higher than your flood protection level. If you have insurance, find out whether you have the right kinds of coverage, and whether you have adequate coverage. Homeowners’ policies do not cover damage caused by floods, so you will probably need to purchase a separate policy under the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).
What Types of Damage are Covered by an NFIP Policy
What Types of Damage are Not Covered by an NFIP Policy?
What Kinds of Buildings Can be Insured under the NFIP?
The NFIP provides federally- backed insurance coverage for any building in a community that is participating in the program. Almost every type of walled and roofed building can be insured. It does not matter whether the building is in or out of the floodplain. A mobile (manufactured) home affixed to a permanent site and properly anchored can also be insured. You can get coverage on the building as well as for contents. Building coverage. Insurance can be purchased for the walls, floors, insulation, wall to wall carpeting, furnace, and other items permanently attached to the structure. (Permanent items include anything that would not fall out if you turned the building upside down; i.e., items that stay with the building when it is sold.) Up to 10% of the policy value for building coverage may apply to a detached garage or carport on the same lot.
If you buy insurance for 80 percent or more of the replacement value of your home, you will be reimbursed for the replacement value of damage to your home— no depreciation will apply. If your coverage is for less than 80%, you will be reimbursed for the actual cash value of the damage—replacement value minus depreciation. Contents coverage. Contents coverage insures your personal property. Renters as well as owners may purchase contents coverage. Although you can get contents coverage without having a building coverage policy, those contents must be located in a building that can be insured under the NFIP. Contents coverage will pay some costs to move and store contents in a safe place when a flood threatens.
Building coverage is recommended to cover the walls, floor, furnace, and other structural components of a basement. However, the NFIP does not cover finished portions of a basement (carpets, wallboard) or its contents. Damage to the basement foundation is a major problem during floods, so this coverage can be very important even though it does not cover the finished portions (carpets, wallpaper) of basements.
Some private companies sell coverage for water damage caused by sewer backup or sump pump failure—items that are not covered by the NFIP.
How to Buy NFIP Flood Insurance
NFIP flood insurance is sold through private insurance agents and companies. All companies offer identical coverage and rates. Newer or substantially improved houses are charged according to their elevation in relation to the expected flood level.
Older homes, which are “grandfathered” in, qualify for a flat, subsidized rate. Houses outside floodplains that are identified on Flood Insurance Rate Maps pay lower rates. You can check your property’s location on a Flood Insurance Rate Map at your building department or an insurance agent.
Private Insurance Company Flood Damage Policies
A few private insurance companies sell their own flood insurance policies, although the coverage and rates are different from the NFIP’s. Some mobile home insurance covers flood losses. Unlike the NFIP, private insurance will vary from company to company so check several for their coverage and rates.
If you are located in a floodplain shown on a Flood Insurance Rate Map, you must buy flood insurance coverage as a condition of having a mortgage or home improvement loan from a federally regulated lender or as a condition for getting federal disaster assistance. In some cases, private insurance will suffice for this requirement, but generally the lender or disaster assistance agency will ask to see an NFIP policy.
Don’t wait. Buy flood insurance protection before the next flood is threatening. There is a thirty-day waiting period before NFIP flood coverage takes effect. Contact your insurance agent for information on rates and coverage.
Flood Watch, Flood Warning Floods can take several hours to days to develop
What's the difference between a flood watch and a flood warning?
How to Prepare a Storm, Earthquake or Flood Response Plan
Preparing a flood response plan will help you think through all the details that demand attention as the floodwaters approach. This is a project for the whole family. As you write down the plan, you can make sure everyone understands it. And having the plan in writing will help you remember what to do when everyone is in a hurry and excited because a flood is coming.
The next flood might be worse than the last one. Talk to your building official or city or county engineer about that possibility. See Step 8 for information on the flood protection level in your area to use as you prepare your flood response plan.
Check with your local emergency manager or Red Cross chapter for the official warning and evacuation procedures. Find out how much warning time you will have to leave your home before the flood reaches you. Identify a friend, relative, or motel where you can go when you asked to evacuate. Test drive your evacuation route to be certain it will be passable when flooding is likely. Be prepared to evacuate when told to do so or if you see floodwaters rising. You may hear flood warning and evacuation information on your local TV and radio stations.
Make a record of all your personal property. Go through your home room by room recording household inventories and taking photographs or videotapes.
Inventory forms are available from most insurance companies, or you can use the format shown in Step 3.
Keep photocopies of inventory records, insurance policies, deeds, and other valuable papers at a different location, someplace outside of the flood-prone area.
If flooding in your area is from sewer backup or basement, your own water alarm can give you precious lead time before your belongings are damaged by floodwaters. a water alarm is similar to a smoke alarm; it beeps when water touches it. Water alarms cost $10 to $20 and are available at hardware stores.
Develop a flood response plan based on the flood protection level, local warning procedures, and the time you will have to respond. In flash flood areas, you may only have enough time to evacuate. But if you live in areas in the path of a hurricane or on large rivers, you may have 12-24 hours of warning time.
If you live in a mountainous area, or if your flooding comes from a small stream or ditch, your home may be subject to flash flooding. Flash floods can occur before the local emergency managers have time to issue a warning. In these cases, the National Weather Service may issue a flash flood watch advising people that conditions are favorable for a flash flood. You may not be notified of a flash flood warning before flooding actually begins.
If you live near the coast, you will be asked to evacuate when a hurricane threatens your community. It is important to evacuate when you are asked to. Prepare your flood response plan to take into account all of the time that you will need to protect your home before you evacuate. You will need time to board your windows and to clear your yard so that your belongings will not blow or float away. You may also want to take time to move your belongings above the flood protection level. (See Step 8.)
How to Develop a Flood Response Checklist
Your flood response plan should be a checklist of steps to take before floodwaters reach your home. The following are examples of things to include:
Community activities to Reduce Flood Losses
Your neighborhood or community can take steps to reduce flood losses in the future. Recent flooding may prompt local governments to
Flash Flood Watch If it is raining a lot, or if you are in mountainous areas, it’s a good idea to keep listening to local radio stations (not stations in locations away from where you are). If you hear a flash flood watch for your area, it’s a good idea to stay on high ground.
If you hear a flash flood warning, climb to higher ground immediately. Leave your car, camping gear, or other belongings where they are. You may have only minutes to escape.
Flash floods can happen without warning. If you hear a rumbling sound, if animals are running away from where you are, or if you feel the ground shaking, climb to higher ground immediately.
Prepare for the Next Flood
Start a flood planning effort that encourages citizens to participate. If no effort is underway, encourage your community leaders to get a flood protection program started.
There are many ways to reduce flood damage. a community flood protection program should consider a variety of activities. The obvious solution often seems to be “fixing” the shoreline or river using flood control projects such as dredging or seawalls. Unfortunately, these activities may not be effective, feasible, or affordable without state or federal aid. Because flood control projects require so much planning, time, and money, communities should also consider and implement other approaches.
Keeping the ditches and drainageways open is very important. Trash, construction materials, shopping carts, and even grass clippings dumped in a ditch can clog bridges and culverts, and add to water pollution.
Neighborhood efforts to keep the ditches clean and to report dumpers can make a big difference in the amount of flooding, especially during smaller storms. Report illegal floodplain construction activities (i.e., those without a permit posted) to the building department.
You can work with your neighbors to monitor stream levels or rain gages to give the community advance warning. It may also be possible to monitor common debris catching sites, such as bridges, and keep the openings clear.
How to Use Sandbagging to Protect Buildings from Flooding
Sandbagging can be very expensive. If your community wants to establish a plan for sandbagging, you will have to buy sandbags before a flood to be sure you have them on hand. Get burlap or plastic sandbags. Other kinds of bags simply won’t hold up. Burlap or plastic bags cost 25¢ to 50¢ each. Sand and plastic sheeting must also be stockpiled.
Sandbagging can also be very time consuming. It takes two people approximately one hour to fill and place 100 sandbags, giving you a wall one foot high and 20 feet long. If you skimp on the bags, you risk putting up a wall that will be knocked over.
When a flood is imminent, everyone wants to sandbag, usually because they don’t know what else to do. While it does have a therapeutic effect, sandbagging should be considered only as part of an overall flood response plan, or as a last resort for individuals.
A good plan will help use your limited time and resources most efficiently. For example, a food response plan might call for sandbags to fill in gaps in a floodwall.
Sandbagging is supposed to keep water away from vulnerable flood-prone property. Floodproofing measures and moving contents out of the way are much more secure methods to accomplish the same thing. Therefore, before you consider sandbagging for your personal property, consider the flood protection alternatives discussed in Step 8. They are more effective and more dependable ways to protect a home from flooding.
Sources of information on Flood Preparedness, Safety, & Flood-Damage-Resistant Construction
The following people can provide advice or assistance on flood recovery. Some of these people may be able to speak to neighborhood groups or help in developing a community flood protection program.
Flood Preparedness and Safety
The American Red Cross and local emergency managers conduct sessions to increase public awareness and to educate the community in ways to prevent, prepare for, and cope with emergencies. Local emergency managers also sponsor public meetings on damage reduction, safety, response planning, how to handle stress, and other flood-related topics.
See these references & articles
The original form of this book was prepared for the Federal Emergency Management Agency under Contract Number EMW-89-C-3024 and EMW-91K-3738.
InspectApedia has added annotations, comments, and links to online articles giving corrections or greater depth to the original EPA/ARC document.
FEMA and the American Red Cross gratefully acknowledge the thoughtful assistance provided by the many individuals who reviewed this book. Reviewers included repair and reconstruction contractors, mental health professionals, sociologists, researchers, disaster assistance specialists, insurance experts, underwriters, structural engineers, public health agents, floodplain managers, emergency managers, education specialists, editorial experts, and graphic designers.
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