Why You Need to Prepare for Floods (Whether You Live in a Flood Zone or Not)

Floods outrank all weather events in terms of fatalities. How to prepare for floods to keep your family, home, and car protected.

how to prepare for floods

Dozens of major flooding events surface across the U.S. each year – and often in regions (even cities!) that aren’t considered flood zones. In 2016 alone there were 17 major flood disasters across the country, including one in Louisiana last August in which at least 13 people were killed and approximately 60,000 buildings destroyed at a cost of $10 billion – the fourth most significant recorded flood event by insurance program payouts. 

And floods happen all over the country, from lowland areas near major rivers to the desert. Heavy rain, hurricanes, snow melt, and dam failures can all cause a flood. So even if your home has never been in a flood before, that doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the future. Here’s how to prepare for floods and keep your family and property protected:

The Real Flooding Danger: Driving

When it comes to weather fatalities, you might think more people die every year from tornadoes or hurricanes than flooding. But according to the National Weather Service, in 2016 floods far outranked every other weather fatality:

  • Floods: 126
  • Heat: 94
  • Winter and cold: 61
  • Rip currents: 58
  • Wind: 46
  • Lightning: 38
  • Tornado: 18
  • Hurricane: 11

And most of these flood-related deaths don’t come from people getting trapped in their homes. The majority result from people driving into flooded roadways. In fact, the Weather Channel reports that in 2015, about 64% of flooding-based fatalities involved vehicles.

So in addition to knowing how to prepare for floods at your home, you should also consider avoiding them altogether.

Water is powerful stuff. According to Dr. Greg Forbes, you only need water flowing at 6 mph to equal the same force as an EF5 tornado. And the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) calculated just how little flood water it takes to float a car:

  • Passenger cars can lose control of steering or stall out in as few as 6 inches of water.
  • It takes just 12 inches of water to float most vehicles.
  • Two feet or fewer of rushing water can carry a heavy vehicle like an SUV or pickup truck downstream.

So always remember: if you encounter water across the road, turn around, don’t drown.

prepare for floods

How to Assess Your Flood Risk

Do you live on or near any waterway, such as a lake, river, creek, or wetland? Even if your home itself doesn’t overlook the water, you may still be in a flood zone.

You can visit FEMA’s interactive flood zone map to determine whether or not your home or business is located within a flood zone. Enter in the address or coordinates, and then click on the “View Map” icon to switch it to a printable map, or “View Interactive Map” for a satellite map that will show the flood zone areas, if any, in color. The recurrence interval, or the probability of a flood in any given year, will be designated by color with the risk indicated by the different colors described in the legend.

The U.S. Geological Survey explains how recurrence intervals (also referred to as “100-year flood zones and the like) are calculated by mapping rainfall patterns and peak streamflow over at least 10 years. Because they are just probabilities, these intervals are more useful for insurance and other considerations. If you live in an area that has any flood potential, you should plan accordingly, since the next flood could happen any time.

Even if you’re nowhere near a creek or river, you should also note how water flows on your property and adjoining streets. If you live in a low-lying area and storm drains get clogged (or are absent) and the ground gets saturated, you could face a flooding situation at your home.

How to Prepare for Floods at Home

  • Discuss an action plan with your family in case a flood warning is issued for your area. What would you do in the event of an evacuation, how would you travel to and from your home safely (avoiding low-water crossings) and where would you meet up if you can’t get home?
  • Make sure everyone has access to NOAA (National Weather Service) updates. You can purchase a weather radio (many are powered by batteries, solar, or hand-cranks so they will work if the power goes out) or get a weather app for your phone.
  • Consider purchasing a flood barrier for your home. There are solid wall versions as well as rings that use water to create an “inflatable” barrier. You can also build a sandbag wall to hold back flood waters or prevent them from entering the home.
  • Be sure you charge all cell phones. You should also invest in portable chargers or car chargers to keep them topped up. This will make it easier to communicate with family members.
  • Pack emergency supplies for yourself and every member of your family, including pets. Include a change of clothing, medications, important documents, blankets, flashlights, and anything else you might need if you can’t return home.
  • Pack everything you need for your pets, including food and water bowls, a supply of their food, bottled water, and medications, and organize carriers and leashes so they’re ready to go. The Red Cross has a pet preparedness website with lots of great tips.

For more tips, the Department of Homeland Security has a flood preparedness website with information for before and after a flood, and the Red Cross offers a number of tips for preparing your home against flooding, including renovations that will help your house better weather the worst storms.

floods bury neighborhood in water so you should prepare for floods

Insurance Considerations for Flood-Prone Zones

Do you need flood insurance?

Flood insurance is not mandatory everywhere, but if you life in specified regions which are high-risk for floods and you have a mortgage on your home, your lender will require you to carry flood insurance in addition to your home insurance policy.

And even if the statistics suggest your risk is slight and your lender doesn’t require you carry flood insurance, you should at least consider it. Over the past few years, several communities across the U.S. have experienced sudden and record flood events from extended rainfall or hurricanes that blew inland and caught everyone off guard.

So who offers flood insurance?

According to The Zebra’s licensed insurance agent Neil Richardson, flood insurance is available through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), a federal program managed and administered by FEMA, and is purchased through insurance companies that participate in the NFIP – likely not your regular homeowners insurance provider.

“Because floods are broadly damaging – that is, they typically affect more than just one or a few homes when they hit – the average homeowners insurance company doesn’t want to take on the risk of paying out enormous claims to hundreds or thousands of policyholders all at once,” Neil said.

So in the event of a claim, the payout comes from the federal government and not directly from the insurance company where the policy was purchased.

Through the NFIP, “Write Your Own (WYO) companies partner with FEMA to administer flood insurance – from educating consumers about flood coverage to claims-handling functions, “ reports the Property Casualty Insurance Association of America. “Companies involved in the WYO program do not underwrite risk or make underwriting profits – they only act as an agent for the federal taxpayers and are subject to strict penalties if they fail to follow FEMA’s settlement guidelines.”

These WYO companies might be recognizable insurance carriers such as MetLife, but are more likely than not to be different from your regular homeowners insurance company. However, there are a handful of homeowners insurance companies that are starting to write flood insurance policies, though mostly in low-risk areas where flood insurance is not mandatory.

Contact your insurance agent for more information, or check FEMA’s NFIP website to help locate a qualified insurance agent who can sell you a policy.

And what car insurance do you need for flooding?

You’ll need comprehensive coverage for any weather-related damages, but make sure you don’t wait until a hurricane or big storm is in the forecast to get it. Insurance companies place “binding restrictions” that prohibit people from buying comprehensive or collision coverage (or amending their existing policies to add this coverage) within certain regions where storms are forecasted to hit. They do this to prevent people from buying the coverage and then immediately filing expensive claims when the weather inevitably does damage their vehicle. So make sure to add full coverage to protect against weather-related damages before you’re SOL.