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If The Floods Gates Are Opened…

By: Jorge Palafox

August 05, 2011

With severe storms, you should be aware of the environment, especially the area your property occupies.  In this case if built on a hill or near a hill, landslides become the issue.  Along the coast on our scenic cliffs, you are literally living on the edge which can definitely make you extremely vulnerable.

Know if you live in an inundation area.  City and County authorities should have maps for you to verify whether you should be taking extra flood precautions for your place of residence.  For example, Cayuga Terrace in San Francisco once upon a time was a river that fed a lake that is now where Balboa High is located.

Many rivers and bodies of water have gone dry in the Bay Area due to our urban growth.  San Francisco was filled with many lakes, rivers and streams.  Major storms can cause a resurgence of these one time water sources, hence overflowing.  The result is a major flood. 

If not landslides or flooding, uprooted trees and downed utility lines can cause major property damage and injuries.  Severe storms can also cause high winds/tornadoes, hail and lightening.  You can call 311 or get information from your local emergency officials regarding free sandbags to provide some protection to your property.

Be aware that water can also come up through your drainage system when the sewers get flooded usually located on the ground floor or in garages, especially if the areas was once on or near a water source, e.g., rivers, streams , lakes, etc.  If water has entered your garage or basement, don’t walk through it.  It may contain hazardous materials, e.g., sewage, toxic chemicals.

Critical Emergency Supplies

As an extra precaution, place your disaster supplies above ground level if you know that you live in a flood zone area.  Higher floors are better for storage of critical emergency supplies.  Bottled water storage, or means to purify water, is critical.  Purchase purification tabs or use bleach to make available water drinkable. The recommended mix for bleach is one ounce of bleach per 55 gallons of water.

The quick and dirty on what to store for a water emergency, basically applies for any emergency.  To make sure supplies remain dry and accessible, place in a clean (preferably new) large plastic container (a new garbage can is an awesome choice) that can snap shut or easily be sealed.

Water

• Store water in plastic containers such as soft drink bottles. Avoid using containers that will decompose or break, such as milk cartons or glass bottles.
• A normally active person needs to drink at least two quarts of water each day. Hot environments and intense physical activity can double that amount.
• Children, nursing mothers and ill people will need more.
• Store two gallons of water per person, per day. Two quarts are for drinking, and two quarts are for food preparation/sanitation.
• Keep at least a 1-2 week supply of water for each person in your household.

Food

• Store at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food; seven days is now recommended but may not be practical.
• Select foods that require no refrigeration, preparation or cooking and little or no water.  (Remember eat food from fridge first, freezer second, and dry/canned last.  Fridge can keep food fresh for a least a few days or a bit longer if opening the doors is kept at a minimum).  If you must heat food, pack a can of sterno.
• Select food items that are compact or lightweight.
• Include a selection of the following foods in your Disaster Supplies Kit:

o Ready-to-eat meats, fruits and vegetables
o Canned juices, milk, soup (If powdered, store extra water)
o Staples, such as sugar, salt, pepper
o High energy foods such as peanut butter, jelly, crackers, granola bars, trail mix
o Vitamins
o Foods for infants, elderly persons or persons on special diets
o Comfort/stress foods such as cookies, hard candy, sweetened cereals, lollipops, instant coffee, tea bags

Cooking Supplies

• Mess kits, or paper cups, plates and plastic utensils
• Non-electric can opener, utility knife
• Matches in a waterproof container
• Plastic storage containers
• Aluminum foil
• Mini burner or camp stove
• Pots and pans

Other Things to Consider

• Notification of emergency advisories and instructions are obtained in the same way as for tsunamis.  Tune to KCBS 740 AM or your local TV channels, once the Emergency Alert System is activated.
• Do not drive over a flooded road, even a monster SUV is no match for moving water.  If the vehicle stalls, it’s best to abandon it.  Attempting to move a stalled vehicle in flood conditions has proven to be fatal.
• If you are asked to leave, disconnect all electrical appliances.
• Do not walk through moving water.  Even as little as six inches of moving water is known to be dangerous.  If you have to go through, check the firmness of the ground in front of you with a stick before you proceed.
• Stay clear of water that is in contact with downed power lines.
• Do not allow children to play around high water, storm drains or any flooded areas.  This especially applies to those teens who think it might be fun to raft in raging waters.
• If you are asked to evacuate, shut off electric circuits. 
• Your local utility company will advise you if you need to shut off gas service in case of evacuation.

When asked to evacuate, what do you bring.  First and foremost, you have a “GoBag” with all the essentials.  Each person should have their own GoBag (think backpack/fanny pack).  Again as a reminder what should it contain, as a minimum:

• Energy bars
• Your meds
• Extra pair of glasses (If you can, leave your contact lenses out.)
• Change of clothing, especially underwear/socks.  With water emergencies, the goal is to remain as dry as possible.  Being wet makes you feel uncomfortable and can affect your morale in a bad way.  Feet must remain dry.  Best to have waterproof shoes (gortex highly recommended; pricey but essential), long term water exposure can cause feet diseases (Trench Foot).  Also body can experience extreme cold and heat to exposure.
• Basic toiletries (tissue paper/toilet paper a must)
• Small notepad and pen

Also if you have treasured pictures and important papers (insurance, deeds, social security cards, etc.), you should have pre-packed a sturdy brief case that you could take on the run.  For the “Tech Savy” crowd, putting all your important stuff on a flash drive is not a bad idea. 

Reunification

Everyone in your family unit should know where to meet, even if it involves evacuating to just outside of the house (such as a fire).  Every member in your household should know a common location near the house where you will all check in with each other.

If your family happens to be at different, separate locations, e.g., at work, the mall, school, etc., then the reunification plan should include first calling each other on the phone.

If all the phone lines are busy, as probably will be the case in a major emergency, have a contact phone number in a location far away from where you live.  (Tidbit, even when private landlines and cells aren’t working, public phones do, if you can find one…..calling 911 is free).  For example, disaster guru has all his loved ones contact Aunt Martha in Colorado as a check in point to make sure everyone is ok.

Parents should check with the schools on their school plans, so they know what to expect following an emergency and plan accordingly.

Clean-up safety

Clean-up activities following floods often pose hazards involved in the effort.  Potential dangers to look out for include:  water polluted by mixing with and causing overflows from sanitary sewers; electrical hazards; carbon monoxide exposure; physical injuries resulting from hazards; heat or cold stress; motor vehicle-related dangers; fire; drowning; exposure to hazardous materials.

Because flooded disaster sites are unstable, your clean-up efforts might encounter sharp jagged debris, biological hazards in the flood water, exposed electrical lines, blood or other body fluids, and animal and human remains.

In planning for and reacting to flood disasters, you should consider items such as hard hats, goggles, heavy work gloves, life jackets, and watertight boots with steel toes and insoles.

Good website to check out regarding further safety information:  http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/emres/flood.html

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