Stay or Evacuate When Flooding Is Likely

Flood Street

Deciding to evacuate or “flee” as some call it or to stay and “weather the storm” may be one of the more difficult decisions you make during a crisis.

Fleeing to some may be akin to surrendering but fleeing is evacuating from a dangerous situation to save your life and it must be planned for otherwise you will not be ready when it is necessary. Not knowing how and when to decide can have dire consequences, because at some point it may be too late to leave.

Convincing yourself, you would never leave your home and possessions during a flood means you probably have not prepared for the possibility. According to a U.S. National Weather Service study using a national 30-year average, more people die yearly in floods, which is 127 on average, than by lightning (73), tornadoes (65), or hurricanes (16) (National Weather Service, n.d.).

Floods are deadly and in many cases, the only way to save your life and those of your family is by evacuation to higher ground. Staying informed of what is happening around you can save your life so monitor radio and television for information so you can stay ahead of the crisis.

Preparing To Leave

First, you have to leave before the flooding begins so it is important to follow any recommended or mandatory evacuation orders. You put yourself in danger if you wait until the water level has risen to where it covers the highways. Vehicles can be swept away by rushing water that is just two feet high, and any one that steps out of a vehicle or otherwise enters the water on foot can be swept away by rushing waters just six inches high (Office of Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner, n. d.).

Know the evacuation routes before you need them and make sure more than one member of the family or group knows the routes. It is recommended that you travel the highway(s) to the evacuation routes as part of your preparedness long before disaster strikes.

Drive the routes during the day and at night to become familiar with the roads. Keep in mind that flooding and high winds can damage or remove roads signs and other navigational landmarks.

Floodwaters can sweep bridges and highways away once you are already on the roads thus trapping you. At this point, you would have to abandon your vehicle and seek higher ground on foot if you cannot drive safely to higher ground, which makes it an even more dangerous situation for you and your family.

Sheltering In Place

Waiting too long to evacuate means you have to shelter in place. To survive you have to be above the level of water however, so you may have to move to the upper story or even on to the roof of your home.

Recommended Emergency Supplies Equipment and Materials For Sheltering In Place

  • Food for seven days that does not require heating or any other type of preparation, along with disposable eating utensils/plates
  • Water for seven days
  • Portable radio
  • Flashlights, propane fueled lanterns, candles, matches and lighters
  • Rain gear for each member
  • Life jackets for each person,
  • Waterproof tarps
  • Knife/multi-tool
  • Communication devices, such as two-way radios, cell phones, portable Citizens Band (CB) radios
  • Thermal (Mylar) blankets for each family member
  • Sheets/rolls of plastic, tarps, plywood sheets and hammers along with fasteners such as nails and screws, use these materials to make emergency repairs to your home
  • Heavy garbage bags, safety glasses, work gloves, shovels and large push brooms for cleanup
  • Several hundred feet of quality nylon rope that can be used for rescue operations, securing gear and so forth
  • Medicines, first aid kit
  • Brightly colored cloth, orange or red garbage bags and/or signal flags for alerting rescuers
  • Diapers and needed items for small children
  • Food, water, medicine, blankets/bedding, potty pads or newspaper and other needed items for pets to include restraining devices/cages
  • Fire escape/emergency ladders that can be attached to window sills for extraction from upper levels into rescue watercraft
  • Clothing appropriate for the season and make sure everyone has a pair of sturdy shoes
  • Portable toilets are also recommended because many sewer systems close the floodgates when the system is flooded, which means you may not be able to use your toilets.

Shut gas off at the meter if possible and if not possible shut it off to all appliances along with the main electrical breaker before the water is inside your home. Once the water is inside your home, do not immerse yourself in it. Flood waters will often times contain toxins, chemicals and raw sewage.

If you are on the upper floors and floodwaters are inside the home it is unlikely that the sewer system is operational and flushing toilets can cause sewage to back up through the drains.

If you do not have a second story then place your emergency supplies as high as possible or in the attic space. If no other recourse is available, secure your supplies as best as possible in heavy garbage bags and place on shelves, counters or even furniture to keep your supplies out of the water.

Use the brightly colored cloth/clothing or signal flags to alert rescue personnel. Attach the signaling devices so they can be seen from aircraft or watercraft. Whether trapped inside or on the roof it is important that rescue personnel know the home is occupied.

If you suspect the water will rise significantly then you must have the means to get to the roof and this may mean you have to cut your way onto the roof from the attic or upper floors.

Gather tools well ahead of time to place in the attic or on the upper floors that can be used to make an egress to the roof. Tools you can use include a battery operated reciprocal saw, battery operated drill with spade bits for starting holes for the reciprocal saw, pry bar, handsaw, sledge hammer and/or axe/pickaxe/firefighter axe.

You can secure yourself and others to the structure to prevent falling into the floodwaters. Once in the water people can be pulled back to safety if attached to a rope. Keep in mind however being attached to a structure that is breaking free can be dangerous as well, so use your best judgment when deciding to secure yourself or others to the building.

National Weather Service. (n.d.). Retrieved 2014, from

Office of Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner. (n. d.). Flooding Safety Tips. Retrieved 2014, from