What Is A Flood?

Floods are the most common and widespread of all natural disasters--except fire. Most communities in the United States have experienced some kind of flooding, after spring rains, heavy thunderstorms, or winter snow thaws.

A flood, as defined by the National Flood Insurance Program is:

"A general and temporary condition of partial or complete inundation of two or more acres of normally dry land area or of two or more properties (at least one of which is your property) from:

  • Overflow of inland or tidal waters,
  • Unusual and rapid accumulation or runoff of surface waters from any source, or
  • A mudflow.

[The] collapse or subsidence of land along the shore of a lake or similar body of water as a result of erosion or undermining caused by waves or currents of water exceeding anticipated cyclical levels that result in a flood."

Floods can be slow, or fast rising but generally develop over a period of days. Mitigation includes any activities that prevent an emergency, reduce the chance of an emergency happening, or lessen the damaging effects of unavoidable emergencies. Investing in mitigation steps now, such as, engaging in floodplain management activities, constructing barriers, such as levees, and purchasing flood insurance will help reduce the amount of structural damage to your home and financial loss from building and crop damage should a flood or flash flood occur.

What Should I Do Before A Flood?

Purchase Flood insurance. The FloodSmart.Gov website has information on how you can secure a flood policy. The law can require it. But the laws of nature demand it. Flooding can happen anytime, anywhere. There are many different flood zones throughout the United States with different levels of risk. Everyone lives in a flood zone!

Knowing and understanding your flood zone helps you understand your risk of financial loss. It's also important information to consider when purchasing flood insurance. View the level of flood risk to your property and community at the FEMA Map Store where viewing flood risk identification maps is free (Note: Use Internet Explorer Only!).

Besides insuring your property, there are other things you can do before a flood to minimize potential loss to your home and ensure your family's safety.

  • Have disaster supplies on hand: 
    • Flashlights and extra batteries
    • Portable, battery-operated radio and extra batteries tuned to a local station, and follow emergency instructions.
    • First aid kit and manual
    • Emergency food and bottled water
    • Non-electric can opener
    • Essential medicines
    • Cash and credit cards
    • Sturdy shoes
  • If you live in a frequently flooded area, take preventative measures and stockpile emergency building materials:
    • Plywood, plastic sheeting, lumber, nails, hammer and saw, pry bar, shovels, and sandbags.
    • Have check valves installed in building sewer traps to prevent flood waters from backing up in sewer drains.
    • As a last resort, use large corks or stoppers to plug showers, tubs, or basins.
  • Take photos or videos of all of your important possessions. If your home is damaged in a flood, these documents will help you file a full flood insurance claim.
  • Store important documents and irreplaceable personal objects (such as photographs) where they won't get damaged. If major flooding is expected, consider putting them in a storage facility.
  • Post emergency telephone numbers by the phone. Teach children to dial 911.
  • Plan and practice a flood evacuation route with your family.
    • Learn flood-warning signs and your community's alert signals
    • Contact your local emergency management office or local American Red Cross chapter for a copy of the community flood evacuation plan.
    • This plan should include information on the safest routes to shelters. Individuals living in flash flood areas should have several alternative routes. Request information on preparing for floods and flash floods.
    • Develop an emergency communication plan.
    • In case family members are separated from one another during floods or flashfloods (a real possibility during the day when adults are at work and children are at school), have a plan for getting back together.
    • Ask an out-of-state relative or friend to serve as the "family contact." After a disaster, it's often easier to call long distance. Make sure everyone in the family knows the name, address, and phone number of the contact person.
    • Make sure that all family members know how to respond after a flood or flash flood. Teach all family members how and when to turn off gas, electricity, and water.
    • Teach children how and when to call 9-1-1, police, fire department, and which radio station to tune to for emergency information.
    • Be prepared to evacuate.
  • Ask an out-of-state relative or friend to be the "family contact" in case your family is separated during a flood.
  • Make sure everyone in your family knows the name, address, and phone number of this contact person.
  • Buy and install sump pumps with back-up power.
  • Have a licensed electrician raise electric components (switches, sockets, circuit breakers and wiring) at least 12" above your home's projected flood elevation.
  • For drains, toilets, and other sewer connections, install backflow valves or plugs to prevent floodwaters from entering.
  • Anchor fuel tanks. An unanchored tank in your basement can be torn free by flood waters, and the broken supply line can contaminate your basement. An unanchored tank outside can be swept downstream, where it can damage other houses.
  • If your washer and dryer are in the basement, elevate them on masonry or pressure-treated lumber at least 12" above the projected flood elevation.
  • Place the furnace and water heater on masonry blocks or concrete at least 12" above the projected flood elevation.

Buy Flood Insurance!

  • One of the most important things that you can do to protect your home and family before a flood is to purchase a flood insurance policy
  • You can obtain one through your insurance company or agent. Flood insurance is guaranteed through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Your homeowner's insurance does not cover flood damage.
  • Don't wait until a flood is coming to purchase your policy. It normally takes 30 days after purchase for a flood insurance policy to go into effect
  • For more information about the NFIP and flood insurance, read the information on the FloodSmart.gov web site, contact your insurance company or agent, or call the NFIP at 1-888-FLOOD29 or TDD# 1-800-427-5593.

What Should I Do During a Flood?

Now, the floodwaters are rising, and there's nothing you can do to stop them. But there are things you can do to make sure your family stays safe until the water levels drop again.

  • Fill bathtubs, sinks, and jugs with clean water in case water becomes contaminated. Sanitize the sinks and tubs first by using bleach. Rinse, then fill with clean water.
  • Listen to a battery-operated radio for the latest storm information.
  • If local authorities instruct you to do so, turn off all utilities at the main power switch and close the main gas valve.
  • If told to evacuate your home, do so immediately.
  • If the waters start to rise inside your house before you have evacuated, retreat to the second floor, the attic, and if necessary, the roof.
  • Floodwaters may carry raw sewage, chemical waste and other disease-spreading substances. If you've come in contact with floodwaters, wash your hands with soap and disinfected water.
  • Avoid walking through floodwaters. As little as six inches of moving water can knock you off your feet.
  • Don't drive through a flooded area. If you come upon a flooded road, turn around and go another way. A car can be carried away by just 2 feet of flood water.
  • Electric current passes easily through water, so stay away from downed power lines and electrical wires.
  • Look out for animals -- especially snakes. Animals lose their homes in floods, too.

What Should I Do After A Flood?

Your community has been flooded, and your property has suffered flood damage. Stay calm and stay safe in the days ahead by following these instructions.

  • FIRST STEP: If your home has suffered damage, call the agent who handles your flood insurance to file a claim. If you are unable to stay in your home, make sure to say where you can be reached.
  • To make filing your claim easier, take photos of any water in the house and save damaged personal property. If necessary, place these items outside the home. An insurance adjuster will need to see what's been damaged in order to process your claim.
  • Check for structural damage before re-entering your home. Don't go in if there is a chance of the building collapsing.
  • Upon re-entering your property, do not use matches, cigarette lighters or other open flames since gas may be trapped inside. If you smell gas or hear hissing, open a window, leave quickly, and call the gas company from a neighbor's home.
  • Keep power off until an electrician has inspected your system for safety.
  • Check for sewage and water line damage. If you suspect damage, avoid using the toilets and the tap and call a plumber.
  • Throw away any food -- including canned goods -- that has come in contact with floodwaters.
  • Until local authorities declare your water supply to be safe, boil water for drinking and food preparation.
  • Make sure to follow local building codes and ordinances when rebuilding. Use flood-resistant materials and techniques to protect your property from future flood damage.
  • Salvage water-damaged books, heirlooms and photographs with restoration tips from the NFIP.

Check For Hazards When Returning Home

Going back into your home can be dangerous because flooding can cause structural, electrical and other hazards. Physical dangers are not necessarily over after the water goes down. Hazards are not always obvious. They can be potentially life-threatening if precautions are not taken.

Please be mindful of the following safety tips when returning home after a flood, hurricane or severe storm:

  • Turn off the electricity. Even if the power company has turned off electricity to the area, make certain your house's power supply is disconnected.
  • If you suspect a gas leak or smell gas, leave your home immediately and call the gas company from a neighbor's house.
  • Enter carefully. If the door sticks at the top, it could mean your ceiling is ready to fall. If you force the door open, wait outside the doorway in case debris falls.
  • Check the ceiling for signs of sagging. Wind, rain, or deep flooding may wet plaster or wallboard. It is very heavy and dangerous if it falls.
  • Make sure the electricity is off and hose down the house to remove health hazards left behind by floodwater mud. Shovel out as much mud as possible. Remove water quickly using a mop or squeegee.

    Filing a Flood Insurance Claim

    If your community has been flooded, and your property or home has suffered flood damage, please follow these instructions to file your flood insurance claim.


    • Call your agent or insurance company. Have the following information with you when you place your call: (1) the name of your insurance company (your agent may write policies for more than one company); (2) your policy number; and (3) a telephone number/e-mail address where you can be reached.
    • When you file your claim, ask for an approximate time frame during which an adjustor can be expected to visit your home so you can plan accordingly.

    Once You Have Reported Your Loss

    • An adjustor will work with you to calculate the value of the damage and prepare a repair estimate.

    Please keep your agent advised if your contact information changes. If you are still in a shelter or cannot be easily reached, please provide the name of a designated relative or point-of-contact who can reach you.

    Before The Adjustor Arrives

    • Local officials may require the disposal of damaged items. If you dispose of items, please keep a swatch or other sample of damaged item(s) for the adjustor.
    • Separate damaged items from undamaged items. If necessary, place items outside the home.
    • Take photos. Take photos of any water in the house and damaged personal property. Your adjustor will need evidence of the damage and damaged items (i.e.: cut swatches from carpeting, curtains, chairs) to prepare your repair estimate.
    • Make a list of damaged or lost items and include their age and value where possible. If possible, have receipts for those items available for the adjustor.
    • If you have damage estimates prepared by a contractor(s), provide them to the adjustor since they will be considered in the preparation of your repair estimate.
    • Contact your insurance company if an adjustor has not been assigned to you within several days.

    Further Resources