Flood & Thunderstorm Preparedness Guide: What To Do Before, During and After

Flooding is a very real threat across many parts of the United States. Slowing moving flood waters can rise relentlessly, forcing their way into homes to destroy furniture, books, electronics and family keepsakes. Flash floods race forward with debris loads that pummel and demolish steel reinforced concrete bridges, and pulverize wooden homes. Floods drown over one hundred people every year in the United States. Awareness and preparation make a difference and can reduce the likelihood of being a statistic.

You can act now to protect your family and minimize your property losses. This guide provides lists and instructions and resources to help you lessen the damaging effects from flooding. Continue reading below to learn the important steps you can take to prepare for a flood.

Before a Flood

Do you know your flood risk? Ask your community officials or contact your local emergency management office - they are your best resources to learn about the history of flooding for your region. Ask whether your property is in the floodplain, and whether it is above or below the flood stage water level. Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) are used to determine your flood risk. Find the relevant FIRMs by:

  • Visiting your local community map repository - usually the building and planning departments;
  • Visiting the FEMA website for definitions, requirements, and regulations; or
  • Calling a Map Specialist for specific questions about your flood zone at 1.877.336.2627

Participate in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), and confirm that your community enforces sound floodplain management techniques. Reduce the amount of damage to your home and crops by constructing barriers and levees, and purchase flood insurance to reduce your financial burden in case of flooding.

Have disaster supplies on hand:

Disaster Supply Kit

  • 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.

Plan and practice an evacuation route:

  • 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.
  • Flood Evacuation Route
  • 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.

If time permits, here are other steps that you can take before the flood waters come:

  • Turn off all utilities at the main power switch and close the main gas valve if evacuation appears necessary.
  • Move valuables, such as papers, furs, jewelry, and clothing to upper floors or higher elevations.
  • Fill bathtubs, sinks and plastic soda bottles with clean water. Sanitize the sinks and tubs first by using bleach. Rinse, then fill with clean water.
  • Bring outdoor possessions, such as lawn furniture, grills and trash cans inside, or tie them down securely.

  • Check off the suggestions above one by one to prepare for flooding, and you will be safer and more secure if the flood does come.

Once The Flood Arrives

Flooded Road

  • Don't drive through a flooded area. If you come upon a flooded road, turn around and go another way. More people drown in their cars than anywhere else.
  • If your car stalls, abandon it immediately and climb to higher ground. Many deaths have resulted from attempts to move stalled vehicles.
  • Don't walk through flooded areas. As little as six inches of moving water can knock you off your feet.
  • Stay away from downed power fines and electrical wires. Electrocution is another major source of deaths in floods. Electric current passes easily through water.
  • Look out for animals - especially snakes. Animals lose their homes in floods, too. They may seek shelter in yours.
  • 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.
  • Take dry clothing, a flashlight and a portable radio with you. Then, wait for help.
  • Don't try to swim to safety; wait for rescuers to come to you.
  • If outdoors, climb to high ground and stay there.

  • Follow the recommendations above to preserve your life, and pay attention to your intuition, that fleeting thought that warns of danger and is all too easy to ignore. Your life is more important than your things.

After The Flood

Flood dangers do not end when the water begins to recede. Listen to a radio or television and don't return home until authorities indicate it is safe to do so.

Remember to help your neighbors who may require special assistance--infants, elderly people, and people with disabilities.

  • If your home, apartment or business has suffered damage, call the insurance company or agent who handles your flood insurance policy right away to file a claim.
  • Before entering a building, inspect foundations for cracks or other damage. Don't go in if there is any chance of the building collapsing.
  • Upon entering the building, Don't use matches, cigarette lighters or any other open flames, since gas may be trapped inside. Instead, use a flashlight to light your way.
  • Keep power off until an electrician has inspected your system for safety.
  • Floodwaters pick up sewage and chemicals from roads, farms and factories. If your home has been flooded, protect your family's health by cleaning up your house right away. Throw out foods and medicines that may have met floodwater. Read more about keeping your food safe during an emergency.
  • Until local authorities proclaim your water supply to be safe, boil water for drinking and food preparation vigorously for five minutes before using.
  • Be careful walking around. After a flood, steps and floors are often slippery with mud and covered with debris, including nails and broken glass.
  • Take steps to reduce your risk of future floods. Make sure to follow local building codes and ordinances when rebuilding, and use flood-resistant materials and techniques to protect yourself and your property from future flood damage.

Purchase a flood insurance policy - it's one of the most important things you can do to protect your home and family before a flood. Your homeowners insurance does not cover flood damage. Obtain an additional flood insurance policy through your insurance company or agent. Keep in mind that food insurance is guaranteed through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

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.

Inspecting Utilities In A Damaged Home

  • Electrocution HazardCheck for gas leaks--If you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, open a window and quickly leave the building. Turn off the gas at the outside main valve if you can, and call the gas company from a neighbor's home. If you turn off the gas for any reason, it must be turned back on by a professional.
  • Look for electrical system damage--If you see sparks or broken or frayed wires, or if you smell hot insulation, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. If you have to step in water to get to the fuse box or circuit breaker, call an electrician for advice.
  • Check for sewage and water line damage--If you suspect sewage lines are damaged avoid using the toilets and call a plumber. If water pipes are damaged, contact the water company and avoid the water from the tap. You can obtain safe water by melting ice cubes.

  • The desire to get back home and put the whole flooding experience behind you as quickly as possible makes perfect sense. However, don't allow any impatience to get the best of you. Dangers remain even after the flood waters have receeded. Stay alert to post-flood hazards and evacuate if any remain.

Are You Ready for a Thunderstorm?

Thunderstorms are dangerous. Every thunderstorm produces lightning. In the United States, an average of 300 people are injured and 80 people are killed each year by lightning. Although most lightning victims survive, people struck by lightning often report a variety of long-term, debilitating symptoms.

Other associated dangers of thunderstorms include tornadoes, strong winds, hail, and flash flooding. Flash flooding is responsible for more fatalities—more than 140 annually—than any other thunderstorm-associated hazard.

Dry thunderstorms that do not produce rain that reaches the ground are most prevalent in the western United States. Falling raindrops evaporate, but lightning can still reach the ground and can start wildfires.

Lightning Casualties by State

Facts About Thunderstorms:

  • They may occur singly, in clusters, or in lines.
  • Some of the most severe occur when a single thunderstorm affects one location for an extended time.
  • Thunderstorms typically produce heavy rain for a brief period, anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.
  • Warm, humid conditions are highly favorable for thunderstorm development.
  • About 10 percent of thunderstorms are classified as severe—one that produces hail at least three-quarters of an inch in diameter, has winds of 58 miles per hour or higher, or produces a tornado.

Facts About Lightning:

  • Lightning’s unpredictability increases the risk to individuals and property.
  • Lightning often strikes outside of heavy rain and may occur as far as 10 miles away from any rainfall.
  • “Heat lightning” is actually lightning from a thunderstorm too far away for thunder to be heard. However, the storm may be moving in your direction!
  • Most lightning deaths and injuries occur when people are caught outdoors in the summer months during the afternoon and evening.
  • Your chances of being struck by lightning are estimated to be 1 in 600,000, but could be reduced even further by following safety precautions.
  • Lightning strike victims carry no electrical charge and should be attended to immediately.

Some thunderstorms can be seen approaching, while others hit without warning. It is important to learn and recognize the danger signs and to plan ahead.

What to Do Before a Thunderstorm:

Thunderstorm CloudsLearn the thunderstorm danger signs.

  • Dark, towering, or threatening clouds.
  • Distant lightning and thunder.

Have disaster supplies on hand.

  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Portable, battery-operated radio and extra batteries
  • First aid kit and manual
  • Emergency food and water
  • Nonelectric can opener
  • Essential medicines
  • Cash and credit cards
  • Sturdy shoes

Check for hazards in the yard.

  • Dead or rotting trees and branches can fall during a severe thunderstorm and cause injury and damage.
  • Strong winds can accompany thunderstorms. Safely store any items which may become airborne and cause damage.

Make sure that all family members know how to respond after a thunderstorm.

  • Teach 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 for emergency information.

The following are guidelines for what you should do if a thunderstorm is likely in your area:

  • Postpone outdoor activities.
  • Get inside a home, building, or hard top automobile (not a convertible). Although you may be injured if lightning strikes your car, you are much safer inside a vehicle than outside.
  • Remember, rubber-soled shoes and rubber tires provide NO protection from lightning. However, the steel frame of a hard-topped vehicle provides increased protection if you are not touching metal.
  • Secure outdoor objects that could blow away or cause damage.
  • Shutter windows and secure outside doors. If shutters are not available, close window blinds, shades, or curtains.
  • Avoid showering or bathing. Plumbing and bathroom fixtures can conduct electricity.
  • Use a corded telephone only for emergencies. Cordless and cellular telephones are safe to use.
  • Unplug appliances and other electrical items such as computers and turn off air conditioners. Power surges from lightning can cause serious damage.
  • Use your battery-operated NOAA Weather Radio for updates from local officials.

Know the Terms:

  • A severe thunderstorm WATCH is issued by the National Weather Service when a severe thunderstorm (damaging winds 58 miles per hour or more, or hail three-fourths of an inch in diameter or greater) is likely to develop.
    • Locate a safe place in the home.
    • Watch the sky.
    • Stay tuned to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for information.
  • A severe thunderstorm WARNING is issued when a severe thunderstorm has been sighted or indicated by weather radar.
    • Warnings indicate imminent danger to life and property to those in the path of the storm.
    • At this point, the danger is very serious and everyone should go to a safe place, turn on a battery-operated radio or television, and wait for the "all clear" by the authorities.

Know the associated dangers and how to respond.

  • Tornadoes are spawned by thunderstorms and extreme winds can occur with thunderstorms.
  • Floods - When a "severe thunderstorm warning" is issued, review what actions to take under a "tornado warning" or a "flash flood warning."
  • Hail is produced by many strong thunderstorms. Hail can be smaller than a pea or as large as a softball and can be very destructive to plants and crops. In a hailstorm, take cover immediately. Pets and livestock are particularly vulnerable to hail, so bring animals into a shelter.
  • Lightning - You are in danger from lightning if you can hear thunder. Light travels much faster than sound, so lightning flashes can be seen long before the resulting thunder is heard. Estimate the number of miles you are from a thunderstorm by counting the number of seconds between a flash of lightning and the next clap of thunder. Divide this number by five. (i.e. 15 seconds from seeing lightning to hearing thunder divided by 5 equals 3 miles.) Important: Knowing how far away a storm is does not mean that you're in danger only when the storm is overhead.

Develop an emergency communication plan.

  • In case family members are separated from one another during a thunderstorm (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 knows the name, address, and phone number of the contact person.
  • Contact your local emergency management office or American Red Cross chapter for more information on thunderstorms and lightning.

What to Do During a Thunderstorm:

If Indoors:

  • Secure outdoor objects such as lawn furniture that could blow away or cause damage or injury. Take light objects inside.
  • Shutter windows securely and brace outside doors.
  • Listen to a battery operated radio or television for the latest storm information.
  • Do not handle any electrical equipment or telephones because lightning could follow the wire. Television sets are particularly dangerous at this time.
  • Avoid bathtubs, water faucets, and sinks because metal pipes can transmit electricity.

Thunderstorm SafetyIf Outdoors:

  • Attempt to get into a building or car.
  • If no structure is available, get to a low place such as a ravine or valley. (Be alert for flash floods.) Squat low to the ground on the balls of your feet. Place your hands over your ears and your head between your knees. Make yourself the smallest target possible and minimize your contact it the ground. ) Be aware of the potential for flooding in low-lying areas.
  • If in the woods, find an area protected by low clump of trees--never stand underneath a single large tree in the open.
  • Avoid tall structures such as towers, tall trees, fences, telephone lines, or power lines.
  • Stay away from natural lightning rods such as golf clubs, tractors, fishing rods, bicycles, or camping equipment.
  • Stay from rivers, lakes, or other bodies of water.
  • If you are isolated in a level field or prairie and you feel your hair stand on end (which indicates that lightning is about to strike), bend forward, putting your hands on your knees. A position with feet together and crouching while removing all metal objects is recommended. Do NOT lie flat on the ground.

If in a Car:

  • Pull safely onto the shoulder of the road away from any trees that could fall on the vehicle.
  • Stay in the car and turn on the emergency flashers until the heavy rains subside.
  • Avoid flooded roadways.

What to Do After a Thunderstorm:

  • Report downed utility wires.Downed Power Lines
  • Drive only if necessary. Debris and washed-out roads may make driving dangerous.
  • Check for injuries. A person who has been struck by lightning will not shock other people. They do not carry an electrical charge. Call 9-1-1 for emergency medical assistance immediately.

The following are things you should check when you attempt to give aid to a victim of lightning:

  • Breathing - if breathing has stopped, begin mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
  • Heartbeat - if the heart has stopped, administer CPR until medical professionals arrive and take over.
  • Pulse - if the victim has a pulse and is breathing, look for other possible injuries. Check for burns where the lightning entered and left the body. Also be alert for nervous system damage, broken bones, and loss of hearing and eyesight.

Remember to help your neighbors who may require special assistance--infants, elderly people, and people with disabilities.

Knowledge Check:

Decide whether the following statements are true or false. When you have finished, verify your answers using the answer key.

True or False Statements

1. Every thunderstorm produces lightning.
2. Never touch a person struck by lightning.
3. Dry, cold conditions favor development of a thunderstorm.
4. If you can count to 25 after seeing lightning and before hearing thunder, it is safe to stay outdoors.
5. It is safe to use a cordless telephone during a thunderstorm.
6. Rubber-soled shoes and rubber tires provide protection from lightning.

Additional Resources

If you require more information about any of these topics, the following are resources that may be helpful.


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 preventive mitigation steps now, such as installing lightning rods to carry the electrical charge of lightning bolts safely to the ground or purchasing flood insurance, will help reduce the impact of severe thunderstorms in the future. For more information on mitigation, contact your local emergency management office.


Knowledge Check Answer Key:

1. True
2. False
3. False
4. False
5. True
6. False