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How to prepare for major flooding

coach floating in a flood emergency preparedness flooding

Did you know that major flooding can happen at any time of the year? The leading causes of flooding are the rapid melting of glaciers, heavy rainfall, jammed up ice or the failure of a dam. If you’re thinking, ‘I know how to swim! How bad can a flood really be?’ — think again. Sure, you’ll occasionally deal with a small household flood that requires a quick clean up with towels, but when it comes to major overland flooding, the situation — and damage — can be quite severe.

If you live in a flood-prone area, take all of the necessary precautions and steps to ensure you can protect your home and your family. Here are four simple steps that can help you through any type of major flooding disaster.

Your guide to emergency preparedness

Step 1: How can you prevent a flood?

family emergency preparedness

The best prevention against major flooding is to make sure your home’s sewage and water systems are functioning correctly. You should also do your best to protect the places and property prone to flooding and water damage. Typically, that means verifying that all windows, doors and walls in your basement (or home’s foundation) are sealed and tight with no cracks. Also verify that all systems designed to move water away from your home — your roof, gutters and downspouts — aren’t blocked with debris.

Another key preventative tool is to talk to your insurance provider about coverage for flooding and sewer back-up. Most homes across Canada are insurable for both overland flooding and sewer back-up (you need to add both sewer back-up and flood coverage to get full coverage); however, homes located in flood-prone zones may not be insurable or the coverage premiums may be quite high. In America, homeowners will want to consider FEMA coverage — the National Flood Insurance program.

You should also become familiar with the policies and initiatives in place by various levels of government. In Canada, check out the Government’s Hazards and Emergencies information on major flooding.  In America, review the government’s nation site and from there you can find specific information that pertains to you.

Step 2: How can you prepare for flooding?

Due to the nature of flooding, it’s hard to prevent this type of disaster. However, you can create emergency preparedness plans that can help reduce the impact and damage from water and keep your family safe.

To reduce water damage from flooding, consider weatherizing your windows and doors, mainly on lower levels of your home. If you own a home and have drainage downspouts, make sure they are facing away from your property to move the water away from your home.

If you live in a city that’s prone to heavy rainfall or major flooding, or if your home is located in an area with a high water table, consider installing a back-up valve and/or a sump pump. Back-up valves prevent sewage water and overflow water in the city’s main water lines from overflowing through your pipes and into your home. Sump pumps help to remove accumulating water in basements.

Another critical tip when it comes to preparing for flooding is to always keep relevant documents and files in the upper level of your property or in a fire and waterproof lockbox. One of the most important documents is your emergency plan that will help your family know what to do, step by step, during a flood. Your plan should include an out-of-town contact that you can reach out to in case of evacuation.

Also, to make sure everyone knows what to do, make sure you and your family practice run-throughs of the emergency plan with your family on a regular basis.

Step 3: What should you do during a flood or flood evacuation?

To survive a flood, here’s what to do:

When you hear a flood warning:

  • Turn off gas valves and heating and cooling systems;
  • Ready your emergency kit and evacuation supplies;
  • Stay up to date with emergency alerts.

During a flood:

  • If possible, move all of your furniture, belongings and appliances to the top level of your home
  • Remove any chemicals or toxic materials stored in your garage or basement (you don’t want these chemicals mixing with water, creating toxic stew);
  • Plug all of your toilets and drains;
  • If your home is still free from water, turn off electricity;
  • Gather your emergency kit and enough clothing and supplies for at least one week;
  • Evacuate as soon as officials send out a notice and follow appropriate routes as laid out by the authorities.

If you are evacuating your home, be sure never to cross a flooded area. Water is powerful and can easily sweep people and even cars downstream. Once you are in your vehicle, be sure to avoid underpasses and not to drive through water, as it’s difficult to tell how deep it may be. If your car becomes caught, leave the vehicle as quickly as possible.

Step 4: How to recover from major flooding or water damage

The recovery after flooding can be particularly tricky. Before you can re-enter your property, you need to have approval from authorities. If you were unable to turn off your electricity before you left, have an electrician determine whether or not the home is safe. Electricians can also check all of your appliances to confirm they are dry and do not pose a fire risk if turned on and used.

Once you confirm the property is safe, only then can you start to assess the damage. Keep in mind that floodwaters are often polluted with contaminants such as sewage or chemicals. To stay healthy and avoid infection, wear proper safety equipment, such as gloves, masks and steel-toed boots. Water damage to items like mattresses or furniture coverings needs to be disposed of. Things you can save with thorough cleaning would be clothing or high-quality furniture.

Take pictures and contact your insurance provider. Also, do not move back into your home until the water supply is safe, essential appliances are working, and you are in a position to thoroughly disinfect all areas of your home.

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Alyssa Davies

Alyssa is an award-winning personal finance blogger and founder of She writes about being a mom, overcoming personal debts, and how to get away with affording your ridiculously expensive latte habit. A new homeowner, Alyssa brings her real-life knowledge of the Canadian real estate market and smart money matters to this growing brand.