Tomorrow is Flood Safety Day in Georgia, and as the Emergency Management Director for Douglas County, I can’t state strongly enough how important being prepared for a flood is for you and your family’s safety. During the record floods that struck Georgia in September 2009, Douglas County was one of the hardest hit counties in the state and my experiences during that time underscored the fact that being prepared and informed is a matter of serious consequence.
On Sept. 20, in less than 24 hours, a storm dumped 21 inches of rain on my community, causing flash floods that made water rise to dangerous levels within hours. Sweetwater Creek, which is considered to be flooding when its levels reaches 10 feet, swelled past record levels to 31 feet.
Many residents found themselves unprepared by how quickly the floods rose, and we had to answer calls for help from every part of the county. Tragically, in spite of the heroic efforts of our emergency personnel and numerous civilians throughout the county, seven people lost their lives as a result of the floods, with the final toll at 10 throughout the state.
Prepare for flood emergencies with these simple—but essential—steps.
Avoid driving – The majority of people who lost their lives in Douglas County were trapped in their cars and had been swept off the road. Driving is usually the most dangerous thing to do during a flood, especially at night. It only takes two feet of water to float a full-size automobile, and nearly half of all flash-flood fatalities are vehicle-related. In our case, the rain was coming down so heavily that people couldn’t see the water on the road. If there’s a flood watch or warning in your area, ask yourself whether driving to your location is worth the risk to your life.
Assemble an emergency or “Ready” kit – During our emergency, flooding compromised the water system, making tap water unsuitable for drinking. Many residents found themselves with little drinkable water and no way to get to a store. Our team devoted resources and time to deliver water across the county, but rescue efforts and emergency services can take up to three days, so plan to be your own first responder.
Know what to expect – Most people have not planned where to go in an emergency. It’s important to know which areas are at risk for floods and plan for a safe place for you and your family to go. Make sure all the family members know the plan, in case you are separated when disaster strikes. Due to the water sanitation issue in our county, we transported residents staying in our shelters to Cobb County, which had clean water and graciously offered to help us. But residents who had planned to go to a family or friend’s house in a safe area didn’t have to go through this ordeal.
Consider flood insurance – In Douglas County more than 100 homes were affected by the flooding, and the majority of them didn’t have flood insurance to help with the damages. Currently, only one percent of those in high risk areas are covered by a flood insurance policy.
Flooding can occur anywhere, regardless of whether you live in a high risk area or not. In our county, plenty of low risk areas were underwater. Also, just because your home has survived one flood unscathed, don’t assume it means you will be safe for the next time. It all depends on where the rain falls. If you are considering flood insurance, visit www.floodsmart.gov for resources about the National Flood Insurance Program.
The best way to start preparing for floods and other emergencies in Georgia is to create a Ready profile that will generate a custom checklist and plan to ensure the safety of your family.