Use this guide to keep your family, pets, and important documents safe when waters rise.

By Linley Sanders
Updated May 11, 2021
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Natural disasters can strike with little warning time. Floods are the most common natural disaster in the United States, and they occur throughout the year as snow melts or rain accumulates. As water overwhelms natural drainage systems and dams, people can quickly find themselves in dangerously flooded areas, which is why it's essential to keep a level head and have a flood safety plan in place to protect yourself and loved ones. Here's a guide to help you prepare a to-go kit, safeguard important documents, invest in the appropriate crisis equipment, and evacuate safely if necessary.

rain boots in water
Credit: Dirk Hoffmann / EyeEm/ Getty Images

1. Watch for Flood Emergency Alerts

One easy way to be aware and ensure your family doesn't miss a flash flood warning is to enable emergency alerts on your phone. Watch for Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), a U.S. government program that sends a free automatic notification to your cell phone if you are in harm’s way). Only government officials can send the WEA push alerts, and they range from evacuation orders to shelter-in-place plans. The National Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also publish detailed flood news, and you can bookmark your county to proactively check whether there are any active flood watches, warnings, or advisories in your area. Remember: A flood watch means that a flood is possible, while a flood warning means the natural disaster is already occurring or is imminent.

2. Purchase an Emergency Weather Radio

Particularly bad natural disasters can disrupt normal communication channels and knock out the power. In those instances, it is helpful to have an emergency weather radio on hand, such as the Midland ER210 E+Ready Compact Emergency Crank Weather Radio ($40, Walmart.) Most emergency weather radios can be charged using a hand-crank, plus they offer durability and provide access to NOAA weather news channels. We like the Midland because it provides up to 25 hours of radio operation, and it comes with a built-in emergency flashlight.

3. Secure Documents for Your Emergency Bag

The last thing you want to do during a flood is waste time trying to remember where you put the passports and birth certificates. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends organizing vital papers in a fireproof lockbox or safety deposit box that can survive severe weather or travel with you. If you do not have time to gather all of the documents in one spot, at least take inventory, so you know where the most important files are. The vital documents to remember during a natural disaster:

  • Driver’s license and/or military ID
  • Birth certificates or citizenship documents
  • Passports
  • Marriage documents
  • Adoption papers
  • Family vaccine records
  • Insurance policy numbers
  • Living wills
  • Property records
  • Financial records, like prior tax returns

You can also proactively digitize important documents and upload them to a cloud-based storage system like Dropbox to ensure they're archived and accounted for.

4. Vital Supplies for Your Emergency Flood Kit

Build a custom to-go kit filled with your family’s essentials: medicine, asthma inhalers, nonperishable food, a multipurpose knife, a flashlight with extra batteries, bottled water, a first aid kit, and a whistle or noisemaker. Consider investing in an emergency portable cell phone power bank, like the DXPOWER Armor Outdoor Emergency Portable Power Bank ($18, Amazon) for your go kit. Keep the power bank in your car or emergency kit with a power cord to ensure you’re always able to connect to 911 services and the latest weather updates.

5. Use Landscaping to Improve Drainage

Protect your home against flooding wherever possible by implementing design techniques that promote effective drainage. Ideally, the ground around your home will slope away from your house in all directions, but you can also counter bad drainage areas with a DIY dry creek bed or rain garden to filter rainwater runoff. Although some of the DIY solutions won’t stand against hurricane-level flood, they will improve your chances of redirecting water that would normally cause damage to your home. This is particularly important for homes that have basements prone to flooding or excessive moisture. 

Also worth noting: sump pumps sometimes fail during heavy rain. If your home's sump pump stops working due to flooding, a standby generator can be used to keep it running and prevent flooding. If your home is without a sump pump, consider investing in a submersible pump to quickly remove water from a basement should the need arise. Try the WAYNE WWB WaterBUG Submersible Pump ($99, Amazon).

6. Prepare an Emergency Plan for Pets

If you have a pet, add extra food, warm bedding, veterinary records, a harness, and a leash to the grab-and-go bag. Some emergency shelters may not allow pets, so it’s important to check which shelter locations are closest to you on the Department of Homeland Security’s Ready website and to know their protocols. With a little preparation, you may be able to find a place that can help your dog or cat stay safe in the storm. Certain hotel chains are pet-friendly, including the Red Roof Inn, Motel 6, and Holiday Inn.

7. Consider a Flood Insurance Policy

According to FEMA, floods are the most common and expensive natural disaster in the U.S. and cause millions of dollars in damage every year. Most flood insurance policies take 30 days to go into effect, which means at the latest, you should get insurance a month before hurricane and flooding season begins on June 1.  If you live in a high-risk flood zone, FEMA recommends purchasing a flood insurance policy because homeowners insurance and renters insurance do not typically cover flood damage.

8. Create an Evacuation Route

You have your go bag and key documents—so what now? If flooding is particularly dangerous, you may need to evacuate your home. If that's the case, you’ll need a safe route to get to your shelter. Avoid travel on bridges, which can be dangerous during heavy rains, and stay on main roads that are designed to drain water during an emergency.

9. Set Up a Support Network for Seniors and Disabled Neighbors

During flood disasters, elderly members of the community may need extra assistance. Form a support network of family, friends, and neighbors who will help check on older individuals and help them with creating a custom emergency plan. Some specialty items that older Americans might need to consider:

  • An emergency plan for dialysis or other vital treatments
  • Medical alert tags sharing specific needs, like known drug allergies or a list of current prescriptions
  • Back-up assistive technology devices, like hearing aids
  • Medicine and transportation devices

With these flood preparation steps, you will be able to rest assured that your family has a plan should a flood strike and a home evacuation is necessary.


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