How to stay safe before, during and after a flood, according to experts

If you’ve been following the news lately, you’ve likely seen at least some coverage of floods affecting different parts of the world. During the summer, devastating floods in Pakistan – which killed more than 1,500 people in the region, including more than 500 children – highlighted the severity of this type of natural disaster.

The United States is grappling with its warnings of rising waters. In July, eastern Kentucky faced historic flooding: At least 38 people died, and the state is seeking additional federal aid as residents do their best to recover. Last weekend, Hurricane Fiona hit Puerto Rico, leaving most of the area without power amid warnings of flash floods. Flood risks are also increasing in California due to heavy rainfall. People in Alaska are beginning to assess the damage following the major flooding associated with the hurricane.

These disasters are worrisome for understandable reasons. They also serve as important reminders to get a plan if you find yourself in a potential flood area, Jacqueline Rothenberg, director of public affairs for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), told SELF. “Floods can affect anyone, anywhere,” she says.

This is especially true during hurricane season, which usually begins on June 1 and lasts through November 30, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The administration expects the United States to see “above average” hurricane activity this year, and estimates three to six “major hurricanes.”

Desert folks, don’t stop reading now: It may seem counterintuitive, but people who live in dry climates aren’t always safe from flooding, Sheryl Nelson, certified radio meteorologist and FEMA-certified natural disaster preparedness coach, tells SELF. In drought conditions, Nelson explains, “dry land can act like pavement and not allow rainwater to seep into the soil very easily.” “If the rainfall is too much, rainwater can flow in, causing flooding.” She adds that flash floods and floods that begin within six hours of heavy rainfall are “particularly dangerous”.

While all of this can be exhausting to think about, having a clear plan in place can help calm your mind because you’ll be ready to take action if you need to. Here’s what you should know about staying as safe as possible before, during and after a flood.

Before a flood is expected

There are a number of things you can do early on to keep you and your family safe. The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recommends the following steps:

  • Subscribe to a local warning system. If you’re not sure where to start, check your local health department’s website to see if they have a system to alert residents about flood warnings and other weather-related hazards. FEMA’s Emergency Alert System (EAS) and NOAA weather radio also provide alerts.
  • Invest in flood insurance if you can. This is required for some homeowners in high-risk areas – because just an inch of flood water in your home can cause tens of thousands of dollars in damage. The Department of Homeland Security recommends signing up for coverage through the National Flood Insurance Program, administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
  • Get the right technology at your finger tips. “On your phone, you have a local news app, a weather app, and consider downloading the FEMA app that can give you disaster alerts,” Nicholas Koman, MD, an emergency medicine physician at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center tells SELF.

During flood monitoring or warning

There is indeed a difference between flood monitoring and flood warning. Not every alert means it’s time to evacuate your area.

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