By: Aaron Laurich and Drew Pache
America’s fourth-largest city is in peril. Hurricane Harvey has dropped more than 1 trillion gallons of rain on Houston, Texas, and the surrounding area since it made landfall on Aug. 25. It is the first major hurricane to make landfall in the United States since 2005.
Although the winds and rain have subsided, the flooding that the hurricane has caused is just as dangerous and will last well after the skies have cleared. Harvey has created what government officials call a “500-year flood,” though that can be a confusing term – it refers to a flood so severe it has only a 1-in-500 chance of happening in a given year (rather than one that only happens every 500 years). Entire neighborhoods are submerged, and there are new images every day of flat-bottom boats floating down rivers of water that are sitting on top of well-traveled highways.
A flood is one of nature’s truly unstoppable disasters, and yet it’s often underestimated in its power to devastate. Your chances of surviving a flood are dependent on two things: Preparation and ability to react to the new reality around you. Get those two things right, and you should be able to count yourself among the survivors.
Global Rescue security operations personnel Aaron Laurich and Drew Pache study and analyze disasters and disaster response every day. Their combined decades of experience, which includes many years of service in the U.S. Army’s Special Forces, give them unsurpassed expertise when it comes to preparing for disaster and managing the aftermath. Here are some of their recommendations for what to do before and after the floodwaters rise.
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- Seek high ground – The simplest solutions are often the best ones. The farther you get from the water, the better off you are. If an evacuation order is given, heed it and move out quickly. Floodwaters present many dangers; in addition to the possibility of being swept away in an unpredictable swell, the water itself will almost certainly be contaminated. If you live in a highly settled area, household chemicals and sewage will make the water highly hazardous.
- Know how to prepare supplies – Food that is in watertight packaging will be useful. Food that can spoil, will. Canned food is a good bet, and anything well-sealed in plastic should be safe. Find small, packable items like nutrition bars and stash them with unopened bottles of water in a waterproof container.
- If you can’t evacuate, stay where you are – While you may think you can swim your way out, or build a makeshift raft and escape, the reality is your chances are better if you stay put. A seaworthy raft is more complicated than lashing a few boards together, and swimming or wading through the water puts you in all kinds of danger.“Your best bet in a flood is sheltering in place,” Laurich says. “On a second floor or a roof,” Pache says, “that would be Plan B if you can’t evacuate in time. You don’t want to be in the water. Floodwater is often contaminated with sewage, chemicals and other substances that can make you sick or cause infection.”
- Don’t drink untreated water – If there’s water above ground, that means the ground itself is saturated, and that could mean that water coming out of a tap or hose is contaminated from the flood. Bottled water is best, but if you can boil water (and you should plan on doing so even if a boil-water order hasn’t been issued), that will provide a source of clean drinking and bathing water too.
- Shelter smart – While the roof of a building offers high ground and visibility, it also leaves you exposed to the elements, and when drinking water and other supplies are low, the dangers of exposure increase. Also, know the area – If you live in an area where there are rattlesnakes, for instance, remember that those animals need a place to go too, and they might try for the same tree you think will offer you dry shelter.
- If you can’t stay dry – Going into the floodwater is the last thing you want to do, but if the worst-case scenario comes true, remember to:
- Find something sturdy that floats, and hang on to it.
- Don’t swim against the current – it’s stronger than you.
- Trees can be used as last resorts, but remember that wildlife may also seek sanctuary in them – if there are snakes in your area, they very well may make new homes in the trees.
- Don’t try to drive – Driving a car in a flood is a fool’s errand. Your vehicle likely won’t be water-tight, and even if you’re not worried about getting your feet wet, the vehicle won’t be of much use if the tires lose contact with the ground. “Two feet of water will do just about any vehicle in,” Pache says. “There always seems to be people who think they can drive across water that’s two feet deep,” Laurich says. But if you have just a little bit of lift, you lose traction and now you’re driving a very clumsy raft.”
- …But if you must drive, drive smart – While driving, pay extreme attention to road and traffic conditions, with a special emphasis on bodies of water on the roadway. DO NOT drive into any moving or standing body of water that appears deeper than four inches as the force of the water’s movement is strong enough to float and carry away your vehicle. We advise keeping the car radio tuned to a station providing local traffic reports and emergency information and to obey all traffic laws, signs and detours.
Vehicle Flood Checklist
We also advise that you have the following items in your vehicle while you are traveling. Please note this list is extensive, and offers insight into how to create and prepare for the best outcomes in worst case scenarios:
- Automotive standalone GPS unit with automobile accessory port charger – Cell phone service may be unreliable, rendering the maps app in your smartphone useless.
- 5-gallon gasoline can and enough cash for at least 3 gallons of gas at twice the normal price in your area
- Two heavy wool or synthetic fleece blankets for each passenger expected and or (1) non-down fill sleeping bag per passenger expected
- Two rolls of heavy-duty contractor trash bags
- Roll of duct tape
- A multi-tool, i.e. Leatherman or Swiss Army knife
- Set of rain clothing for each passenger expected
- Three mobile phone power bank batteries with USB charger cables
- Satellite phone or satellite texting-enabled device
- 12-Volt automotive accessory port power adaptors for USB devices
- USB charger cables for each mobile phone
- Two changes of clothing for each passenger expected
- Three large waterproof tarps
- Tent large enough for all expected passengers
- Five gallons of water per passenger expected per day for three days (15 gallons per passenger)
- Three meals per day for three days (nine meals) for each expected passenger
- High energy snacks (beef jerky, peanuts, trail mix, candy bars)
- Bottled water, tea, coffee or soda
- Battery powered AM/FM/Weather radio with three sets spare batteries
- One flashlight per expected passenger and three sets spare batteries
- One automotive jump-start battery set
- One set jumper cables
- One spare tire filled with air to OEM requirements
- One set automotive jack and tire wrench
- Six cans of Fix-a-Flat
- Warm jacket for each expected passenger
- At least three color photocopies of each expected passenger’s identification documents, health insurance information and the vehicle’s insurance and registration documents
- Two boxes of 1-gallon zip-lock plastic bags
- At least $500 USD cash in small bills no larger than $20 USD
- At least two major credit cards
- ATM / Debit Card
- Mobile phone
- At least three printed copies of important telephone contact numbers such as insurance providers, automobile service help line, physician and family points of contact
- One backpack for each passenger expected
- At least 100 feet of half inch synthetic rope
Downloadable Checklist (must be logged in)
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About Aaron Laurich and Drew Pache:
“Their combined decades of experience, which includes many years of service in the U.S. Army’s Special Forces, give them unsurpassed expertise when it comes to preparing for disaster and managing the aftermath.”