Streets and cars submerged in water

It’s raining, it’s pouring: 5 precautions to take in flood conditions

May 28, 2015

While summer usually signals an onslaught of hot weather and plenty of sun for months on end, it can also churn out weeks upon weeks of rain. Although extremely hot and dry weather can result in serious health hazards, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke, flood and hurricane conditions can prove to be just as dangerous.

“Floods are the most common natural disaster and they can occur anywhere and cause extensive personal and property damage,” said Jennifer Horney, Ph.D., associate professor with the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health. “No matter where someone lives, they should be aware of their area’s flood risk and know what actions to take in the event of flood conditions.”

We sat down with Horney to learn what basic actions people can take, if they find themselves caught in a flood:

1. Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink

While it’s a little ironic to think that there can be a shortage of water in flood conditions, one of the first precautions Horney suggests people take is to make sure they have enough clean, drinkable water.

“Bottled water is the best option in flood conditions, because it’s already been treated and is hard to contaminate,” Horney said. “They key is making sure you have enough, though. It’s necessary to have one gallon of clean water for every person or pet per day, and even more for children and nursing mothers.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Preparedness (CDC) recommends having three to five days’ worth of clean water in the event of a flood. This translates into three to five gallons per individual.

Be aware that if you receive a boiled water requirement alert, this means that your local water treatment plants may be offline and tap water will not be a safe source. If this occurs and you still have access to your stovetop, you can boil water for one minute to decontaminate it. Store all boiled water in clean, covered containers after it has cooled.

2. Scrub-a-dub-dub those pots and pans

Safe food and water containment is just as important as the food and water itself. Before you store any purified water or food in a container, be sure to sanitize them. To do so, Horney recommends cleaning all pots, pans, dishes and silverware in a solution of one tablespoon of bleach to every one gallon of water.

“Bacteria can spread easily in water, so it is important that everything is sanitized appropriately before storage,” Horney said.

3. If lights are out, refrigerated food is out

It may seem like a waste, but if you lose electricity, do not eat any refrigerated or frozen foods, as they may have spoiled. Instead, have a supply of nonperishable foods such as canned foods and crackers available for such instances. For canned foods, make sure a non-electrical can opener is on hand.

Similar to water, the CDC recommends having a three to five day supply of nonperishable food per person.

4. A (tetanus) shot for a cut

If a wound becomes exposed to flood water, it is important to receive a tetanus shot afterwards. In flood conditions, it is easy to get cuts from stepping on debris while wading through floodwater.

Since tetanus leads to one death in every ten cases, it is important to protect yourself and others from this potentially fatal infection.

The most common symptoms of tetanus are:

  • Painful muscle stiffness all over the body
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Seizures
  • Fever and sweating
  • High blood pressure and increased heart rate
  • Lockjaw (inability to open or close mouth)


5. Spray down and cover up for mosquito protection

Nobody likes itchy mosquito bites, and it’s common knowledge that mosquitos thrive in flooded and swampy conditions. Since the West Nile virus (WNV) is commonly spread to humans through mosquitos, it is especially important to protect yourself against those pesky insects.

“For the best protection against mosquitos and WNV, people should use insect repellant with DEET and wear long sleeves and pants whenever they have to go outside,” Horney recommended.

Horney also suggests limiting time spent outside during dawn and dusk, as those are the times when mosquitos can be most active.

For more information about flood preparation and safety, visit the CDC’s site on Emergency Preparedness and Response.

— Elizabeth Grimm