We may not like to think about natural disasters or perhaps we think they'll never happen to us. However, when a disaster like a flood strikes, you may not have enough time to prepare. You may also feel panicked and unable to think clearly to take the necessary actions to protect yourself. Understanding the dangers of flooding and preparing a flood safety plan may help protect your life and the lives of those around you and minimise damage and loss to your property. It may also aid in recovery from a flood more quickly.
How to create a flood safety plan for you and your family
What you can do before a flood
NSW SES offers the below steps you can take before a flood:
- Contact your local council to check your area's flood history, the flood risk, and how your property could be affected.
- Be aware of how you will be warned about a possible flood.
- Plan a route of how and where you will travel to evacuate.
- Find locations of evacuation centres around you where you could go.
- Know who to call for help during a flood emergency. Your state's SES is an important number to have in addition to 000.
- Check your insurance, ensuring coverage is current and adequate.
- Back up important files and documents.
- Check media outlets such as radio and social media for updates. You can usually sign up to receive notifications so you are alerted in the event of an emergency.
Create an emergency plan
Each state emergency service website has resources, plans, and templates to assist you with creating a safety plan for emergencies such as floods and storms. For example, the NSW SES has the Home Emergency Plan. Ideally, you should review it on an annual basis. While you're at it, consider how you will evacuate your pets safely.
Put together an emergency kit
Having an emergency kit ready to go can help you save time and have things ready should you need to evacuate in a hurry. Keep your emergency kit in a waterproof container and ensure everyone in the household knows where it is. Try to review its contents quarterly, checking use-by dates and restocking items.
NSW SES advises that an emergency kit should contain the following:
- Portable, battery-powered radio to listen for updates if you lose access to power.
- Torch with spare batteries
- First aid kit
- Candles and waterproof matches
- Copies of important documents
- Emergency contact numbers
- Copy of your emergency plan
- Waterproof bag for valuables
When leaving or evacuating your property, also place in your emergency kit:
- Special requirements or supplies for babies, people with disabilities or health conditions, and elderly people.
- Appropriate clothing and footwear.
- Food and drinking water.
VIC SES'S website informs that sandbagging can be a great preventative measure during a flood to stop more water from entering your property. You can access sandbags at your local hardware store.
What to do during a flood
SES Victoria recommends that if you are inside, stay there and be aware of rising floodwater. If floodwater enters, move to a higher point, such as a kitchen bench.
If you can, contact family members and neighbours to ensure they are aware of the situation.
Staying safe around water during a flood
Do not enter floodwaters, whether driving, riding, walking, or surfing. Currents can be unpredictable, and it's hard to know what submerged hazards can be very dangerous.
The NSW government website advises that if you must enter floodwaters, wear covered shoes and check the depth and current with a stick. They also warn to stay away from drains and water higher than knee level.
Royal Life Saving's website also advises on their website to:
- Wear a lifejacket where possible.
- If conducting a rescue, avoid entering the water yourself.
- If a river level rises, go to safety as quickly as possible.
Listen out for warnings to evacuate
You may receive notification by text message, someone at your door, or a warning siren. However, you also may not receive information due to networks being down.
You also can immediately evacuate if you feel unsafe and concerned. It's always best to leave early if you can.
When issued with a 'Prepare to evacuate' warning, gather your important valuables and documents and your emergency kit. Keep listening for updates and follow instructions.
Preparing for evacuation
The NSW SES website instructs to stack equipment on tables, with electrical items on top, and to secure things that are likely to float and cause damage. They also advise placing waste containers, chemicals, and poisons above floor level.
SES Victoria's "Bag it, block it, lift it and leave it" campaign recommends getting sandbags ready and blocking drains, toilets, and doorways.
The NSW government website also recommends turning off appliances at the power point if power has been lost, as a power surge may affect them when power resumes.
Keep candles, portable lights, or heating sources away from flammable material, and never use petrol or diesel-powered equipment (such as a generator or pump) in enclosed spaces.
Victoria Emergency's website also recommends the following energy safety tips before evacuating:
- Turn off all switches at the main electrical switchboard.
- Unplug all appliances, and if you can, lift them so they won't get caught in floodwater that enters the property.
- Turn the solar system off at the inverter and switchboard (all switches on the switchboard should be in the OFF position).
- Ensure all LPG cylinders are closed at the valve. Do not disconnect any appliance unless the LPG cylinder is relocated away from danger.
- Don't stay in a house or building inundated by flood water when the power is connected.
- Try to leave as early as possible, as roads may become congested or start to close. Check for road closures when you go and follow instructions from emergency services.
When a warning is issued to 'Evacuate Now,' NSW SES website advises the following steps:
- Check road conditions before you travel.
- Do not drive, walk or ride through floodwaters.
- Turn off the electricity and gas at the mains before you leave, and turn off and secure any gas bottles.
- Take your pets.
- Keep listening for information, updates, and advice.
- Follow your flood safety plan.
- Follow instructions from emergency services.
SES VIC advises that while driving, if conditions are dangerous, safely pull over on higher ground, away from trees.
If possible, travel to the home of family or friends in a safe location, away from flooding.
When to call state emergency services
In a life-threatening situation for yourself or someone else, call 000 immediately.
VIC SES informs you should contact your state's SES for the following conditions:
- A tree has fallen and caused damage to your home or vehicle.
- Your roof is damaged or leaking significantly.
- A tree or branch has fallen, preventing you from entering or leaving your home.
- Your property is flooded or about to flood.
After a flood
Precautions still need to be taken after a flood, as conditions may still be dangerous. After a flood, certain things need to be checked, cleaned or repaired before you can enter or start living in your property again. This is also to ensure your safety and hygiene. Water that enters the property can lead to contamination of items they may have come in contact with.
Only return to your property when you receive the message from SES that it is safe to do so.
If you need help with cleaning up after a flood, you can contact your local council for assistance.
Checking your property after a flood
When returning to your property, Victoria Emergency recommends ensuriing gas and electricity are turned off before entering. Do not either back on until they have been checked by a qualified electrician and licensed gasfitter. Likewise, only turn on appliances or solar systems once a licensed electrician or gasfitter has tested them.
Red Cross's website advises to:
- Wear protective clothing when cleaning up, such as waterproof boots and rubber or leather gloves.
- Use a torch, and only use matches, candles, or lighters once you are sure there is no gas around.
- If you notice any strange smells like gas, immediately leave the building.
- Turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker if you spot any frayed wiring or sparks.
- Check for structural damage to your property before entering. You may use a qualified building inspector to check for these and contaminants, including asbestos.
- Call an electrician first for advice if you have to step in water to get to the fuse box or circuit breaker.
The NSW government warns not to use or handle any electrical appliances which have been affected by flooding. Have them checked by an electrician first.
Ensure you have licensed builders and tradespeople to check, reconnect services and conduct any repair work required to ensure the safety of the building. This can include asbestos contamination, demolishing dangerous structures and electrical wiring, plumbing and gas fitting.
It's essential to take photos and document any damage, whether renting or owning the property, particularly for insurance purposes.
Look out for snakes, spiders, mice, and other wildlife that may have tried to hide from the flood, and contact your local council or wildlife rescue to arrange for their care.
Safety around remaining floodwater
According to the NSW government's website, the primary cause of death during floods is people entering floodwater, including kids playing in floodwater. Even after the flood has passed, do not go into flood waters. There is a risk of electrocution, drowning, injury from objects in the water, illness, and infection from contaminated floodwaters.
This water can contain garbage, chemicals, sewage, and other hazardous contaminants, such as disease-causing bacteria, fungi, and viruses.
Flooding can also lead to an increased presence of animals, such as spiders and snakes.
Be sure to avoid fallen power lines, too, as they may be live and cause electrocution. Contact your emergency services immediately to report these.
Health and hygiene after a flood
The NSW government recommends the below steps to ensure your health and hygiene:
- Don't drink water from the property until you hear from local water authorities that it's safe and uncontaminated.
- Always wash your hands after cleaning up.
- Cover up any cuts well to prevent them from getting infected by contaminated water.
- Throw away any items that you cannot disinfect, if they have been in contact with floodwater, that may contain sewerage containing harmful bacteria and viruses.
Disaster recovery centres may be set up in your state following some disasters. These can provide various welfare services, including financial assistance, personal support, organising temporary accommodation, and providing information and referrals.
You may register at one of these recovery centres or with your local council to get the help you need. State emergency services have recovery kits available on their websites.