Our friends at RoSPA have put together the following advice for what to do before, during, and after a flood.
If you are in any immediate danger, please call 999.
If your home has been affected by flooding, please call our emergency team on 01283 528528.
Be aware of your flood risk
As a precaution, make sure you know your family's flood risk. You can do this by checking a flood risk map for rivers and the sea.
You can also be prepared by making a flood plan, in case of an emergency, and also sign up for flood warnings and alerts through the Environment Agency.
When a flood is due, families can prepare their home in advance by fitting flood protection products, such as sandbags and toilet bungs on downstairs toilets to reduce the risk of sewage flowing back into the house. You can also put plugs in sinks and baths, weighing them down with a pillowcase or plastic bag filled with soil. Also, disconnect equipment that uses water, like washing machines and dishwashers.
It is also advisable to switch off water, gas, and electricity at the mains when water is about to enter your property. The gas supply should be turned off at the Emergency Control Valve (which is normally located next to the gas meter). You should contact your gas supplier or the National Gas emergency service provider, to check if measures are being put in place for rising water levels.
If flooding has been forecast where you live, listen to your local radio or check the Environment Agency and Met Office websites for updates, in order to avoid traveling into flooded areas.
When flooding is taking place, it is important to try and stay out of the water. Here is advice on how to cope in the home, while traveling or in the outdoors.
Around the home
It's a difficult decision to leave your home, but you can put yourself at risk by trying to stay there during flooding. Consider the balance between being trapped or moving to a safer place. It's a real help to follow the guidance of the police and other emergency services if they are asking you to leave. They may not be able to get back to you quickly if you stay in your home. If flooding is affecting your home, seek early help from your local authority.
Also check on vulnerable neighbours including the elderly and families with young children. Age UK has specialist advice for older people. Hidden objects and uneven and slippery surfaces will make it difficult to walk both inside and outside of the home. Trips, slips, and foot entrapments are particular concerns. Being immersed in cold water (below 15°c) or sitting in a cold unheated home can quickly lead to hypothermia, overwhelming your ability to move, respond, and help yourself.
Water and electricity don't mix but you also need to be aware of issues with electrical items that could cause a fire. Don't be tempted to plug a portable generator directly into the main electrical panel.
If there is water inside or around a fuse box, contact a professional and do not touch the fuse box to switch off the electricity. Check around the house and remove damaged electrical appliances. Move any portable appliances away from flooded areas.
Electricity and gas supplies should not be turned back on until you have had professional advice that it is safe to do so. Don't strike a match or a lighter or use candles to guide you when entering the property. Also, don't use any mains powered electrical appliances in areas affected by flooding until advised by a registered electrician that it is safe to do so, and never touch any exposed wiring as it may still be live.
Using temporary heaters or generators to pump water out in enclosed spaces increases the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Petrol- or diesel-powered generators, dehumidifiers, and pressure washers should never be used indoors without adequate ventilation as their exhaust gases can build up and kill.
Although cats are independent, most pets are not. Dogs in particular, need regular exercise and they could become aggressive if kept in a confined space for a long time. Do not leave them alone with young children and others who may be vulnerable.
Water pollution and health risks
Due to pollution and contamination, it is important that you do not drink, cook, wash, or clean crockery in floodwater. Polluted water can pose particular health risks to more vulnerable people, such as the young and the elderly. If you have elderly neighbours, check they are not in difficulties.
Also, for hygiene reasons, wash and disinfect your hands and other exposed areas before eating and going to the toilet. If you swallow flood water, contact your local GP.
The stress of the situation can play its part on people of all ages. Public Health England has more advice and information.
Dirty water can hide deep holes and trip hazards. Try to avoid stepping into water when you can't see the bottom.
Driving during times of flooding is a particular concern. RoSPA's advice is to avoid driving into floodwaters wherever possible.
In these conditions, drivers can easily become trapped by rising floodwaters. It only takes six inches of water before a driver can lose control of a small vehicle.
Water in the engine compartment can "short" electrical circuits in cars, blowing fuses, and causing petrol engines to stall. If water gets into either petrol or diesel engines through the air intake, it can cause expensive damage as well as stalling the engine.
A significant amount of emergency rescue resources have been deployed to help flood-stranded drivers; many cases like these could be avoided by drivers following "road closed" signs and taking alternate routes. In many cases, these stranded cars have to be abandoned and subsequently written off due to water damage.
If it is necessary to drive when there is a risk of flooding:
Consider whether your vehicle really is in a good enough condition for these more extreme conditions, and check its tyres, brakes, lights, and fluid levels. If your vehicle is not in tip-top condition, you are more likely to break down and get stranded in these conditions.
When extreme weather is possible, keep an emergency kit in your car, especially if you're going on a long journey. If this seems unnecessary, take a moment to imagine yourself stranded in your car overnight, due to floods. How would you stay warm? What would you eat and drink? If you must drive in these conditions, we recommend that you carry:
- Tow rope
- A shovel
- Wellington boots
- A hazard warning triangle
- De-icing equipment
- First aid kit (in good order)
- A working torch
- A car blanket
- Warm clothes
- Emergency rations (inc hot drink in a flask – non-alcoholic, of course)
- Mobile phone (fully charged)
Plan your route carefully before you set off and listen to weather and travel reports beforehand and during your journey. Make sure someone knows where you are going and when you expect to arrive and ensure you have enough fuel for your journey. It is advisable to take a fully charged mobile phone with you, so you can call for help if necessary, but do not use it while driving.
Leave early to avoid being marooned on flooded roads and follow recommended routes – although tempting, flooding is not the time for sightseeing.
Watch out for washed-out roads, earth-slides, broken water or sewer mains, loose or downed electrical wires, and falling or fallen objects. Be aware where rivers or streams may suddenly rise and flood, especially near highway dips, bridges, and low areas.
If the road ahead is flooded, choose another route, do not attempt to drive through it – it is easy to underestimate the depth or the power of fast-moving water.
If you cannot see the end of the road due to water, treat the road as flooded and avoid it.
If you are inside a vehicle and water is rising rapidly around you, abandon the vehicle immediately. If you have to leave your vehicle be very careful if the water is moving quickly, be wary of strong currents and debris.
Driving advice through partly-flooded roads:
- Avoid the deepest water – which is usually near the kerb
- Don't attempt to cross if the water seems too deep or you are unsure of the water's depth
- Drive slowly in first gear but keep the engine speed high by slipping the clutch – this will reduce the chance of stalling
- Be aware of the bow wave from approaching vehicles – operate an informal 'give way' with approaching vehicles
- Be aware of the bow wave your vehicle may create and show consideration for other people Always remember to test your brakes when you are through the flood.
If you end up in deep water:
- Stay calm and get out of the vehicle as quickly as possible
- If the water is deeper than the car, you may only have a short time (around 30 seconds to 2 minutes) during which your vehicle will float, before the weight of the engine pulls the vehicle under
- The sooner you escape the better: cars are not airtight, and will not form an air bubble for survival underwater, despite what you may see on TV
- Open the window as soon as possible as this will provide you with a way to escape. If the window will not open, try to break it using a heavy object or a "life hammer". Side windows are usually weaker than windscreens; try to break a side window in the corner where it is weakest if it cannot be wound down
- Do not open the door because this will allow water inside and the vehicle will sink faster
- Call the emergency services if you are able as soon as possible after exiting the vehicle.
Other advice links:
Out and about
It is vital to understand the tremendous power of floodwater, even when it is not that deep. RoSPA's advice is to stay out of floodwater as much as you can.
If you do decide to go out walking and come across a flood, do not enter it. The water may be deeper than you expect, there may be strong currents or debris too.
There have been cases where sightseers have gone to look at floods or take photographs from piers, headlands, or harbours and have got into difficulty.
Walking through standing and moving flood water
During longer-term flood events it can be difficult not to walk through standing floodwater.
Moving flood water is extremely dangerous and entering it should be avoided at all costs. We cannot stress enough just how dangerous moving floodwater can be.
This is because a very small/shallow (6"/20cm) volume of moving water can knock you over and take you quickly with the flow. Fast-flowing water near to trees or eroded river banks, weirs, and harbour/estuarial waters are particularly dangerous locations.
There are a number of other key dangers to consider if you have to move around or through flood water:
- Contaminated water particularly via drains/rivers. This can present health risks, particularly to the young or elderly
- Hidden objects and uneven and slippery surfaces will make it difficult to walk. Trips and foot entrapments are particular concerns. Floating debris can also hit you with severe force in the water.
- Temperature – a lot of water around the UK can be as low as 5°c during January to March. Being immersed in cold water (below 15°c) can quickly overwhelm your ability to move, respond, and help yourself.
Wearing sturdy waterproof footwear, gloves and a buoyancy aid can help. Only a drysuit will protect you against the worst effects of cold water shock and offer good protection from pollution. Taking a pole to check the surface/object in your path can be a lifesaver, it can also be used to help reach others if need be.
Fire and other emergency services go through a considerable amount of flood and swift water training, along with using specially designed equipment to stay around moving flood water. Unfortunately, people are regularly swept away and trapped by moving water and have drowned as a result.
If you see someone in danger, follow these steps:
- Always call 999 first
- Keep yourself in a safe but helpful position
- If possible, talk to them throughout the situation – they will be scared/tired and possibly in shock
- If public rescue equipment is not available, throwing out an object, such as a branch, rope, or belt (whatever floats or extends your reach) is the best help you can give.
A "reach" rescue from a safe position is preferable to having two or more people in the water.
First of all, before you enter or start to clean up your home, make sure that it is safe.
Use a torch as you should not light a match or use candles until you are sure it is safe to do so, in case of any gas leaks.
Don't turn electricity and gas supplies back on until a professional has checked whether there is any damage. Contact a Gas Safe registered engineer to advise on gas meters, boilers, and supplies.
Avoid going near any exposed electrical wires and remember that all electrical appliances affected by water will need to be tested before use – and that includes electric cookers and boilers.
When cleaning up, try to wear rubber gloves, rubber boots and, if possible, goggles, due to contaminated water you will be coming into contact with.
All hard surfaces and any item from clothes to furniture that came into contact with floodwater need to be thoroughly sanitised using at least one cap full of bleach to a gallon of water. One of the key issues is mould growth, so anything that has been affected in the floods that you cannot disinfect needs to be thrown away. This could be large items such as carpet, a sofa, or a mattress.
Stress and ill health
It is important to recognise that experiencing a flood, particularity at home, is an extremely stressful event for you and your family, and that this can take a long time to recover from. Help will be available from your GP.
Symptoms of ill health make take a few days to show. So if you have been exposed to contaminated water, and particularly if you have flu-like symptoms, it is important to seek early medical advice.
Take photos of any damage to your home and keep records that you can send on to your insurance company or landlord. Ask them for advice and also seek approval before carrying out repairs.
Gain qualified professional advice on repairing damage and restoration work, and always use a registered electrician to check if electrical wiring in the building has been affected and to do repair work as rewiring may be necessary. A registered electrician will supply a client with a full Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR) that details any damage.
Numbers to call and other sources of information
All information courtesy of RoSPA