Flood Safety and Preparedness
by Philip Smith, MD, Professor, Department of Epidemiology, with contributions by Kristin Watkins, MBA, Center for Preparedness Education
The Missouri River has risen to record levels, causing widespread flooding in Nebraska, Iowa, and the Dakotas. Floodwaters are causing damage in many communities and threatening the Nebraska nuclear power plants. There are many public health concerns with flooding, including issues related to drowning, injuries, animals and insects, cleanup, mold, and environmental concerns.
Here are a few tips to think about when it comes to flooding:
Before the Flood
1. Preparation: Have a disaster supplies kit (containing water, flashlights, medications, emergency phone numbers, etc.). http://emergency.cdc.gov/preparedness/kit/disasters/
2. Vaccinations: No special vaccinations are needed, but make sure your basic shots, such as tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis, are up-to-date.
During the Flood
1. Water safety tips: If at all possible, stay away from flood waters. As little as six inches of swiftly flowing water can knock you off your feet, and children can drown even in shallow, standing water. People often drown in cars, which can be swept away by less than two feet of flowing water.
2. Safe water to drink: Flooding can affect the water supply even before an area is completely flooded. If tap water is cloudy or bad smelling, or public health officials issue a water alert, make water safe by boiling it for at least one minute or adding one-fourth teaspoon of household liquid bleach to one gallon of water. Mix well and wait 30 minutes before drinking.
3. Diseases and flooding: To avoid flood-related illnesses, especially diarrheal diseases, do not eat or drink anything contaminated with flood water. Be sure to wash your hands after contact with flood water, especially before eating. Don’t allow children to play in flooded areas, and avoid exposure to flood water if you have an open wound.
4. Mosquitoes and flooding: Mosquitoes increase after a flood, and may transmit diseases such as West Nile encephalitis. Use an insect repellant containing DEET.
After the Flood
1. Cleanup. Use dilute bleach solutions (one cup of bleach in five gallons of water) to clean dirty objects and surfaces, and stronger solutions (one cup of bleach in one gallon of water) to clean mold off of surfaces. Discard contaminated food items.
2. Returning to a flooded home. Use caution when returning home after a flood, looking out for damaged power and gas lines. Do not use electrical tools or appliances while standing in water. Wear protective clothing during cleanup.
3. Ventilation. Ensure good ventilation when returning to flooded buildings, and be aware of the dangers of inhaling gas, carbon monoxide, chemical fumes, and mold.
There are many ways to be prepared for flooding, as well as multiple resources available via the Internet that provide important information to help protect you and your family in this kind of a disaster. The following are a list of websites with useful information on a variety of topics related to flooding:
Nebraska Emergency Management Agency: http://www.nema.ne.gov/newsroom/flooding-information.shtml
Nebraska Department of Transportation: http://www.roads.ne.gov/flood/
Iowa Department of Transportation: http://www.iowadot.gov/floods/index.html
Douglas County Health Department: http://www.douglascountyhealth.com/flood-tips
Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services: http://www.hhs.state.ne.us/flooding/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/floods/
Red Cross Flood Safety Checklist: http://www.redcross.org/www-files/Documents/pdf/Preparedness/checklists/Flood.pdf
EPA Emergency Disinfection of Drinking Water: http://water.epa.gov/drink/emerprep/emergencydisinfection.cfm