Safety Tips from the Heart of America Metro Fire Chiefs Council
Flash flooding can occur anytime there are thunderstorms in the area. Nearly 90 percent of presidential disaster declarations are for flood related events. Since 1986, more than 100 flash floods have been recorded in the Kansas City area. Most were localized and resulted in flooded roads that made travel difficult. But flash floods on Sept. 12, 1977, and Oct. 4, 1998, resulted in a total of 37 fatalities and combined damage in excess of $100 million.
It is a virtual certainty that we will experience flash flooding again, so residents and businesses in flood-prone or flood-threatened areas and the general public who may drive or walk near flash flood threatened areas, should be prepared.
- Flood waters can be extremely dangerous. As little as six inches of moving water can knock people off their feet.
- The best protection during a flood is to leave the area before flooding occurs and go to shelter on higher ground.
- Flash floods move rapidly and can roll boulders, tear out trees, destroy buildings and obliterate bridges.
- Cars can easily be swept away in just two feet of moving water.
- Flash floods can occur with little or no warning and can reach full peak in only a few minutes.
Before the flood
- Find out if you live in a flood-prone or threatened area and learn the history of flooding in the area.
- Homeowner, renter and business insurance policies do not cover flood damage. If you live or operate a business in a flood threatened area, purchase flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program. Coverage exists whether there is a Federal Disaster Declaration or not. NOTE: There is a 30-day waiting period before a policy becomes effective.
- Learn the terminology used by the National Weather Service
- An Urban and Small Stream Flood Advisory is issued to alert you to heavy rainfall which could result in flooding that is a problem to motorists, but is not expected to cause significant problems.
- A Flash Flood Watch is issued to alert you to the potential for thunderstorms with very heavy rainfall.
- A Flash Flood Warning is an urgent message that flash flooding is imminent or occurring.
- Obtain information on preparing for floods and flash floods (see following contact information).
- Have check valves installed in building sewer traps to prevent flood waters from backing up in sewer drains.
- Plan and practice an evacuation route. Have alternate routes to high ground.
- If you routinely drive through flood threatened areas, plan to use alternate routes whenever a flood warning is issued.
- If there is a possibility of you being stranded for a few days, have disaster supplies on hand.
- In case family members are separated (a real possibility during the day when adults are at work and children are at school), have a plan for getting back together.
- Teach family members how and when to turn off gas, electricity and water.
- Teach children how and when to call 911 and which radio station to tune in for emergency information.
During a flash flood watch
- Listen to local radio and television for the latest storm information.
- Fill bathtubs, sinks and jugs with clean water in case water becomes contaminated.
- Bring outdoor belongings, such as patio furniture, indoors.
- Move valuable household possessions to the upper floors or to safe ground if time permits.
- If instructed to do so by local authorities, and if you have time and it is safe to do so, turn off the main power switch and close the main gas valve to your residence or business.
- Review your evacuation plan and be prepared to evacuate on short notice.
During a flash flood warning or flood event
- Listen to local radio and television for the latest emergency and storm information.
- If you hear a warning for the river or creek near your residence or work, be particularly alert.
- If a public official advises evacuation, do so immediately. Shelter information will be announced over local media outlets.
- If you feel threatened, evacuate immediately.
- Move to high ground and stay there.
- Avoid walking through floodwaters. If it is moving swiftly, water six inches deep can sweep you off your feet.
If in a car:
- Listen to local radio for the latest emergency and storm information; avoid closed streets and bridges.
- If you come to a flooded area, turn around and go another way. Never drive around barricades
- If your car stalls, abandon it immediately and seek higher ground. Many deaths have resulted from attempts to move stalled vehicles.
If advised to evacuate:
- Evacuate immediately.
- Evacuate to higher ground using routes that DO NOT cross a river, creek or stream.
- Evacuation is much simpler and safer before flood waters become too deep for ordinary vehicles to drive through.
- Leave early enough to avoid being marooned by flooded roads.
The warning system
The National Weather Service (NWS) is the nation's only flood warning agency. NWS advisories, watches and warnings are broadcast on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio and by regional and local media as they are issued, often before emergency officials are notified. The NWS may issue generic advisories, watches and warnings for "all rivers and streams in the Kansas City Metropolitan Area" or for specific rivers and streams if there is a forecast model. Local waterways with specific forecast models include the Missouri, Kansas and Blue rivers, and Brush and Turkey creeks. Be advised that actual conditions can be significantly different from those forecasted due to the variability of rainfall patterns, increases in impervious surfaces due to new development, and the amount of debris in the stream basin.
Local Emergency Management officials will also be monitoring local streams and will issue media advisories to amplify NWS warnings based on observed trends.
Residents are encouraged to share emergency information with neighbors and other flood plain residents, particularly those with special needs. If you know of a special needs resident requiring assistance, call 911.
One of the most effective warning systems during flash floods is National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio. Operated by the National Weather Service, weather radios provide important weather information 24 hours a day. Routine weather information is immediately interrupted whenever watches or warnings are issued. Certain radios can be programmed to alert you if a flash flood watch or warning is issued within the region. Some weather radios can be programmed to sound an alarm when a watch or warning is issued for a specific county. Weather radios can be purchased at most electronic outlets.
Floyd Peoples, Chief Fire Marshal, Kansas City, Mo., Fire Department, 816-784-9100
Heart of America Metro Fire Chiefs Council, 9550 W. 95th St., Overland Park, Kan. 66212