Be flood smart before waters rise

By Lee Roberts

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Feb. 7, 2014) – Flooding is America’s most frequent and costly natural disaster, which is why it’s important to know what to do before waters rise.

Although Flood Awareness Week is March 17-21, 2014, citizens don’t have to wait until then to take action that could save lives and property.  According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, it’s important for individuals to identify potential hazards in an area and plan ahead for each unique hazard.

“When it comes to reducing the vulnerability to natural disasters, the whole community has a role to plan, and that includes individual citizens,” said David Miller, associate administrator for FEMA’s Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration.  “One of the most critical ways residents can protect their homes and businesses from the severe weather that may cause flooding is to obtain flood insurance.”

Flood waters during the May 2010 Flood reached this house in Cheatham County, Tennessee. (Courtesy Photo)
Flood waters during the May 2010 Flood reached this house in Cheatham County, Tennessee. (Courtesy Photo)

FEMA stresses that flash floods, mudflows, snow melt and heavy rain can cause flooding and devastate communities.  The fact is one in five flood claims occur outside of mapped high-risk areas, and just a few inches of water can be costly to homeowners.

The National Flood Insurance Program recommends that people take important steps to be prepared for the potential risk of flooding in local communities that could destroy and damage public and private property, and also pose a risk to the health and safety of citizens.

Know safety tips and build an emergency supply kit

According to FEMA, homes, work locations and vehicles should include an emergency supply kit with items such as non-perishable food, water, a flashlight with batteries. 

Ready.gov indicates that an emergency supply kit should have enough quantities to last for at least 72 hours.  “Local officials and relief workers will be on the scene after a disaster but they cannot reach everyone immediately.  You could get help in hours or it might take days,” the site noted.

A basic disaster supply kit includes water, food, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio and a NOAA weather radio with tone alert, a flashlight, first aid kit, whistle to signal for help, dust masks to filter contaminated air, wrench or pliers to turn off utilities, manual can opener, local maps and cell phone with chargers.  Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties are also recommended for personal sanitation.

Other considerations include prescription medications, infant formula and diapers, and pet food and water for pets.  Homeowners should also safeguard possessions by creating a personal flood file with written and visual records, both video and photographic, of all major household items and valuables.

Kits should be assembled well in advance of an emergency because most people won’t have time to search for needed supplies after a disaster, Ready.gov recommends.

Have a family emergency plan

When a natural disaster happens, it is likely family members may not be in the same location.  Ready.gov stresses the need for a family emergency plan so everyone knows where to go and how to contact each other.

A “Family Communication Plan for Parents and Kids” is available online that makes it simple for families to make a plan.

The plan includes contact information, meeting locations, maps and exit information.  The plan also recommends texting during an emergency, which has a greater chance of getting through when communication circuits are overloaded.

FEMA encourages families to plan and practice flood evacuation routes from home, work and school to locations on higher ground.  Be sure to build a kit that includes food, water and supplies with enough for 72 hours.  It could take hours or days before relief workers reach your location. Refer to the Recommended Supplies List provided on Ready.gov.

Be sure to consider dietary and medical needs for infants and the elderly along with cultural and religious considerations, and basic needs of pets and service animals. Be prepared for the loss of utilities and know what to do if you evacuate in a car and encounter flash flooding and roads that are covered with water.

Move important objects and papers to a safe place

FloodSmart recommends that people should maintain copies of critical documents such as finance records, mortgage papers, deed, passport, bank information, and receipts of major purchases.  Also have jewelry and artwork appraised for filing insurance claims. 

Waters reach this home in Cheatham County, Tennessee during the May 2010 Flood. (Courtesy Photo)
Waters reach this home in Cheatham County, Tennessee during the May 2010 Flood. (Courtesy Photo)

The nonprofit organization Know Your Stuff provides free online software that makes it possible for consumers to create and store a home inventory that can be accessed when a flood strikes.Insurance adjusters typically require evidence of the damage to the home and possessions to prepare estimates.  It is helpful to have dates of purchase, values and receipts for damaged and lost property when filing a claim.Be sure to document the name and contact information of your insurance company.  Also know your policy number and keep it with important papers or electronically store it in order to file a claim immediately when property is damaged by flood waters.Refer to the Fact Sheet titled “Filing your Flood Insurance Claim,” which is a ready reference provided by the National Flood Insurance Program.

Protect your property

Floods are not seasonal and can occur at any time and homeowner insurance policies usually do not cover flooding. That’s why flood insurance is a vital source of protection for homeowners.

FEMA reports that the average premium for federally backed flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program is about $500 a year.  In areas with the greatest risk of flooding, known as Special Flood Hazard Areas, a building has a 26 percent chance of being flooded during a 30-year mortgage.

According to the NFIP, from 2003 to 2012 the nation’s total flood insurance claims averaged more than $3 billion each year.  NFIP paid between $6,000 and $33,000 on average for each flood insurance claim in Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama in fiscal year 2012. As of Sept. 30, 2012, there were 33,335 NFIP policies in force in Tennessee. 

Obtaining flood insurance is the most critical step that can be taken by residents to provide a financial safety net in case of flooding. FEMA said in a 2011 news release that flood insurance is available to homeowners and business owners nationwide for structures in and outside of high-risk areas. Individuals are encouraged to contact their insurance carriers to inquire about available insurance plans and rates.

FEMA also has Map Store available to assist people with obtaining evaluating flood risk for their properties.  Ready.gov also has emergency preparedness publications available to the public at no cost.

Ready Nashville

Nashville Office of Emergency Management is the primary local agency in Nashville, Tenn., for disaster mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery efforts. 

This church sign includes a positive message despite the fact that flood waters surround it during the May 2010 Flood in Cheatham County, Tennessee. (Courtesy Photo)
This church sign includes a positive message despite the fact that flood waters surround it during the May 2010 Flood in Cheatham County, Tennessee. (Courtesy Photo)

This office has resources available to the public for disaster preparedness.  It includes information about Preparedness and the Nashville Emergency Response Viewing Engine known as NERVE, which provides information about road closures, evacuation areas or routes, shelters and relief centers.According to the OEM webpage, “NERVE is an interactive mapping site designed to provide timely information relating to natural or man-made emergencies.” The site is activated and populated with data whenever the Nashville Emergency Operations Center is activated.The total risk scores for Davidson County in August 2012 indicate that flooding is at the top of the list of community hazards.

For more information about being prepared for disasters in Nashville, use the 24-hour business line at 615-862-8534 or e-mail oem@nashville.gov. Citizens can also register storm shelters using the online Storm Shelter Registry.

A great informational resource titled “Ready Nashville, A Household Preparedness Guide” is available for download.  It helps citizens plan for emergencies and covers important topics such as preparedness, sheltering, utilities disruption, weather disasters, fire, earthquakes, carbon monoxide, disease outbreak, radiation exposure, building collapses, hazardous materials, terrorism, family considerations, tips for pets, disaster planning, and emergency numbers.

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