Are floods too much of a good thing?

Simultaneous loss of water supply, heating and electricity for a short period or a longer period can result in some significant challenges. How can we prepare for and deal with these challenges?

Are floods too much of a good thing?
Photo by Chris Gallagher / Unsplash

Floods are caused by too much water, in a place where we don't want it. We cannot talk about seas flooding. Seas and oceans have plenty of water and the addition of lots more water does not cause a problem (ignoring melting polar ice-caps). Rivers can flood if they overflow their banks. The same is true of lakes. A bathtub can also overflow and cause a flood. The flood caused by a bathtub is on a different scale than that caused by a lake, indeed adding two tubs of water to a lake would be no problem at all, but two tubs in one bathtub will result in one tub of water being deposited onto the bathroom floor and surrounding areas.

Water in the right quantity and in the right place is a great thing. It is necessary for life to exist. Each adult needs about two litres of water every day in order to survive. In the developed world we have clean water on tap, often as much as we want is available at the turn of a knob. We have become so wasteful we even water the garden with drinking water. For large parts of the world, water is a scarce resource that needs to be used sparingly, takes real work to collect and may not be free from bacteria or viruses.

The flooding of Western cities and homes causes us to all too quickly realise what it is like for the rest of the world. If a home is flooded because of a plumbing problem then the water supply can be turned off to prevent further floodingg until a repair is possible, but then the residents have no water to drink, no water for sanitation and no water for showering. If the flooding has affected the electrical services then water damage can be combined with no power for lighting and no possibility for heating. Heating may be possible using a gas or wood fire but these are not always available and modern gas heating systems usually will not work without electricity.

Rescue Plan

Recently both friends and family experienced some significant flooding of their houses. My wife and I helped them get things back in order so below I share roughly the plan we followed and some things we learned. The plan of action should be roughly as follows in responding to a localised flooding event:

  1. Isolate the source of flooding (turn off the main water supply or try to block the main ingress route).
  2. Ensure electricity is turned off.
  3. Contact insurers or directly organise the repair work.
  4. If safe to do so, leave the house to get a supply of water. Having friendly neighbours could be a great help here. Consider also whether an exterior tap can be turned on whilst isolating the internal supply.
  5. Gather buckets and start bailing water. Keep one filled container beside a toilet for flushing purposes.
  6. Inspect the electrics, if you are able to, to determine whether they can be turned back on. Otherwise, arrange for an electrician to perform this step. If lighting will be out for a while then arrange for candles or torches for during the night.
  7. If it's cold then arrange for some heating (gas heaters or electric heaters depending on what makes sense).
  8. Gradually repair tradespeople will start coming and will resolve the lack of water and lack of heat and light issues. Things will still be wet and will need to be disposed of or dried out but some sense of normality gradually returns.

Learning Points

  • Know where and how to isolate water, electricity and gas for your property.
  • If possible have additional isolation points throughout the house like for the ground floor, first floor and garage.
  • Have alternative heating and cooking options available. A gas barbecue or camping stove could double as a gas heater.
  • Have bottled water available at all times. Even tap water can be bottled and will last a month or two. A Berkey filter will be sufficient but filtering dirty water will reduce the life of the filter.
  • Insurance can be both a help and a hindrance. It can delay the work of repair as you wait for appointments and approved contractors but they will usually cover most of the costs. Without insurance, you can get started immediately but with flooding, the costs of repair can be significant.

Regional Floods

In dealing with this isolated home flooding event, I was caused to think back to the flooding across the Cologne region of Germany in 2021.

Bingley Flood River Aire 2015 - Cottingley Bridge , Bradford, West Yorkshire. Example of force of upcoming river in excess of 15 foot up
Photo by Chris Gallagher / Unsplash

This is not a unique event at all. Hurricane season each year brings with it the possibility of destruction to thousands of homes in and around the Gulf of Mexico. Much of the rescue plan would look the same but there will be key differences related to the time it will take and the lack of resources.

Rescue Plan

  1. Ensure your own safety and evacuate without hesitation if the situation appears to be worsening. That means keeping a local radio station on or otherwise monitoring the situation.
  2. Have a bug-out bag ready. That's a bag that is packed with necessary overnight and survival gear for you and your family in the case of needing to evacuate.
  3. Move as many items as possible to higher ground and generally practice not placing things directly on the ground, keep belongings in shelving or cupboards.
  4. Prepare containers with fresh water for drinking.
  5. Fill bags with sand or soil and have them ready for sealing the doors.
  6. Be aware that access to repair personnel and materials could be very limited so have what you need ready in advance.
  7. A generator could be useful as electricity may go down for the entire region and take several days or even weeks to come back. Solar panels on a roof are likely to be destroyed in the event of a hurricane and some will not work if grid electricity is not available.
  8. Fresh water could be unavailable for a long period and so a filtration system may need to be used.
  9. Be prepared to fend for yourself as insurers may not cover such large-scale events and payouts could take a long time to process.

Summary

Flooding is a rare event but it can affect us. It is one of those things that our emergency fund should be ready for. This is a cash savings account with about three to six months of living expenses saved up. It should only be used in an emergency. It could also include actual cash in the house because maybe in events such as these, the local ATM will not work.

A supply of drinking water should be kept at your house or you should have a means of making water drinkable.

A gas generator, or a solar generator, would be very useful along with a gas barbecue and heater. If you are expecting longer-term disruptions to the electrical or gas supplies then you'll need to consider what fuel sources make the most sense. A small slow cooker could be connected to a small or medium solar system. In Winter then the easy options are wood or gas with some alternative options including alcohol where the fuel should be stored in sufficient quantity in advance.

Flooding is one of the more common disasters that could strike our homes but in general, the responses would be the same or similar. An Earthquake, a hurricane, or even a cyberattack can bring down our electrical and water supplies. Ensure you are prepared for such an event to impact you.

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