Flood! How to prepare for, respond to and recover from a flood.

Experience is sometimes an unforgiving instructor. At Online Insurance, we learned about devastation caused by flood waters firsthand when Cedar Rapids, IA was hit by a massive flood June 13, 2008. Online Insurance is parented by enlighten technologies, inc.™ , which includes many other businesses such as LAWCHEK®, LawyersListings, and HouseList. Our headquarters in downtown Cedar Rapids was inundated with water after the Cedar River crested at 31.1 feet (19.1 feet over flood stage) to overtake 1,300 blocks of the city.* The first floor was completely lost and when the water reached 4 feet on the upper level, it was destroyed, as well. After a slow road to recovery, and upon reflection, we've written an article about what to do if a flood hits your home or business. We hope our readers never have to use the practical advice in this article.

Before the Flood

It is not always possible to know when a flood will happen. It may be caused by an inundation of rain fall. Cities in Iowa were affected in this way when the Cedar and Iowa Rivers swelled with over 10 inches of rain in only one week.** This can then be compounded when man-made structures give way. This was seen in New Orleans when 50 levees broke during Hurricane Katrina.* So what can you do to protect your business or home before a flood happens?

  • Find out about the land your structure is on. Does it sit on a flood plain? What is the threat level? Geologists or your county planning department will list these areas by the probability of a flood. For instance, Cedar Rapids has areas designated as 100 or 500 year flood plains. The flood in June was a 500 year flood.
    FEMA Offers flood maps detailing current flood risk. Simply type in your address and you can look at it online. You also have the option to buy a map, but as long as you are looking online, the service is free. http://msc.fema.gov/
  • Now that you know where your home or business stands, what kind of insurance is available? Talk to your insurance agent first. If you want to now more about insurance options, especially in higher risk areas, also check out the National Flood Insurance Program at www.floodsmart.gov/floodsmart/.
  • Whether a household or a business, you should have an evacuation plan in place. Let family members and employees know what evacuation route to take if water is rising swiftly and an evacuation is ordered. For households you should include a place for everyone to meet whether it is a local shelter or a relative's/friend's house. Also, families should have an out of state contact that everyone may call to locate each other in case they are separated.
  • Create an emergency kit to be ready at any time. Depending on the needs (home or business) some items to consider are:
    • Clean water (enough for at least 3 days for every person and animal - generally 5 gallons per person)
    • Nonperishable food for 3 days (don't forget a can opener!)
    • Suitcase with an extra pair of clothes and extra blankets or sleeping bags
    • Baby Kit - Baby food, diapers and other supplies
    • Pet food, leashes, vaccination info for your pet - you may have to leave your pet at a local pet shelter if you are evacuated as emergency shelters do not allow pets
    • First Aid Kit - try to include some extra prescription medications (not expired!) or details about any prescriptions so you can refill them if lost in the flood
    • Personal Hygiene Kit - sanitary wipes or gel, soap, toothpaste, feminine supplies, deodorant, etc.
    • Flashlights, radio or small TV, and batteries - you may also consider crank flashlights and radios
    • Some items to have on hand particular to a flood threat: insect repellent, rubber boots and gloves, and thick shoes
  • Back up your documents! If you are evacuated due to a flood there are certain documents you will need for claims and getting back on your feet. Keep a copy of these documents with your emergency kit, at a safe location other than your home or both. At the very least these documents should include: insurance information, social security number, and medical records including any active prescriptions. It would also be a good idea to make a list of emergency contact information including family and friends as well as local and state numbers you may need.
  • Prepare your business or home to resist flood damage. Suggestions include: install sump pumps with a back-up source of power, install backflow valves or plugs to prevent sewage entering the home, and make sure any fuel or propane tanks are securely and properly installed.

During the Flood

  • Once a flood watch or warning is given call local authorities and let them know of anyone who may have special needs and cannot leave the flood area easily. It is extremely helpful for authorities to know who needs help evacuating if an evacuation becomes necessary. Ideally, have a friend or family member who will try to get this person out first if it is still safe to do so. This way there is less chance of separation.
  • Get your emergency kit and keep it at hand in case of an evacuation. If you have some prep time before, fill up the gas tank to make sure you can go at a moments notice. If an evacuation is ordered there may be heavy traffic and you may need to go some distance to a shelter.
  • Secure any items outside that might become hazards in water such as garbage cans, lawn furniture, grills, etc.
  • If an evacuation is imminent: turn off the power and gas.
  • If an evacuation is ordered, evacuate immediately. Use the route the authorities have given and make certain not to drive through flooded roads.
  • If you are not ordered to evacuate, stay home and listen to any future announcements. Unless helping a family member or friend for a specific purpose, stay off the roads and out of the way of emergency crews. Going to watch is not helpful and can be potentially very dangerous.

After the Flood

  • First you will want to contact your insurance company. Even if you are not covered for a flood, you will need to contact your agent. This is why it is important to keep documentation with your emergency kit. You need to know your company, agent (if applicable) and your policy number. In the case of evacuation, make certain to specify the address and phone of where you can be reached now. This may also be a friend or relative who can act as a point of contact if you are not immediately near a dedicated phone. They will set up an appointment to meet with you and discuss your losses. If they do not get back in a few days be persistent and call again, just keep in mind they may be overwhelmed with claims.
  • Work with authorities about your return. Although this part can be extremely frustrating, in the case of major floods they will want to assess the safety of your return before you may enter any neighborhood or structure. Choose representatives, as in the case of Cedar Rapids the first look at the property was restricted to 1-3 people depending on location. The authorities may have also set up a grade system for the status of your structure. In Cedar Rapids there were green, yellow and red signs letting owners know whether a structure was safe to enter, enter only with caution or too dangerous and deemed a total loss.
  • Once it has been deemed safe by the authorities for you to return, start the process of sorting your property. Do not throw out all items as you will need your insurance agent to see these. However, if the items are considered too toxic to keep around, get pictures and samples of the items before disposing of them. Make sure to take all precautions necessary before entering a flood damaged building!
  • Take many pictures of the inside and outside of your structure before cleanup. Photograph any standing water, items that have to be disposed of immediately and general survey pictures of each room. Also, take pictures of the items that will have to torn out such as the walls, floors, etc.
  • Make a list of all damaged and lost items. This will help when you work with your insurance agent to process your claim. With your agent you will make a Proof of Loss. This statement is your testimony to the damages suffered. It should be filed within 60 days unless circumstances have allotted more time. Once this is filed with your insurance company your claim will be processed, however, it may take some time if the area was hit especially hard.


After the Flood: Home and Family Recovery - Working with FEMA

  • FEMA stands for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. As they state on their website they define their type of disaster assistance as "money or direct assistance to individuals, families and businesses in an area whose property has been damaged or destroyed and whose losses are not covered by insurance. It is meant to help you with critical expenses that cannot be covered in other ways. This assistance is not intended to restore your damaged property to its condition before the disaster." In essence they are there to help those who could not or did not get flood insurance.
  • Items FEMA will cover are: temporary housing in the instance of evacuation or unlivable conditions, repair for what the insurance company will not cover (this is just until the home is safe, not necessarily with the same materials as before), and permanent housing construction. This last is only available to those who cannot get flood insurance at all due to location.
  • FEMA can help with recovery costs that are not directly related to the home. These additional expenses can only be claimed if you live in a disaster area as designated by the President, you have already filed with your insurance company and find you are not covered, and you have serious needs directly related to the disaster. Some of these costs listed on the FEMA website include:
    • Disaster-related medical and dental costs.
    • Disaster-related funeral and burial cost.
    • Clothing; household items (room furnishings, appliances); tools (specialized or protective clothing and equipment) required for your job; necessary educational materials (computers, school books, supplies).
    • Fuels for primary heat source (heating oil, gas).
    • Clean-up items (wet/dry vacuum, dehumidifier).
    • Disaster damaged vehicle.
    • Moving and storage expenses related to the disaster (moving and storing property to avoid additional disaster damage while disaster-related repairs are being made to the home).
    • Other necessary expenses or serious needs as determined by FEMA.
    • Other expenses that are authorized by law. www.fema.gov
  • You can reach FEMA by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or TTY 1-800-462-7585
  • When making any claim, you should have the following at hand: your social security number, current and damaged address, current phone contact, insurance information, household annual income, routing number to your bank to receive funds, and a detailed description of the losses.
  • You may be referred by FEMA to SBA which offers low-interest disaster loans. "Homeowners may borrow up to $200,000 for disaster related home repairs. Homeowners and renters may borrow up to $40,000 to replace disaster-damaged personal property including vehicles." However, you can not receive duplicated aid already received from FEMA.
  • To find currently approved disaster areas you can go online: www.fema.gov

After the Flood: Business Recovery - Working with SBA

  • SBA stands for the Small Business Administration which has a specific branch for disasters the Office of Disaster Assistance (ODA) that offers federal low-interest, long term loans for "homeowners, renters and non-farm businesses." An Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) is available to small businesses specifically geared towards helping with day to day expenses so a business may continue to operate.
  • SBA can release disaster loans if one or more of the following conditions are met: Presidential Disaster Declaration, Agency Physical Disaster Declaration (based on a minimum amount lost), Governor Certification Declaration, Secretary of Agriculture Declaration, Secretary of Commerce Declaration, or Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan (for businesses that lose key personnel who are called to active duty).
  • For Physical Disaster Loans which help replace an uninsured or under-insured property, an inspection team from SBA's ODA will review the site and claims.
  • Applicants do have to show some reasonable ability to pay back the loans. However, since they are low-interest and can be as long as 30 years, they are easier to qualify for than standard loans.
  • Especially with real estate, the SBA's ODA will continue contact with the borrower to make certain construction is on schedule and funds are being used appropriately.
  • You can reach SBA by calling 1-800-659-2955 8am-9pm EDT. Or email them at disastercustomerservice@sba.gov.

Cleaning Up after a Flood

  1. The Return: Again, do not enter until the authorities have given the go-ahead. You may be instantly charged if you do not comply with their precautions. Remember, they are trying to help by checking structures for integrity and other hazards such as possible gas leaks. Also check to see how the authorities want you to return to the site. They may limit the number of people you take in, have check in/out points, or other rules in place.
  2. Tetanus: Make sure you have a current tetanus vaccination. Although the CDC has stated on their website that it is now not required to work in a flood disaster area, they do mention that it is beneficial in case an accident does occur. Tetanus should be boosted every 10 years. You should have a good idea if you have this beforehand. In Cedar Rapids, tetanus vaccinations were offered to those who had need. However, with the new information on government websites like the CDC, these programs may not happen at future floods. Therefore, know if you have one so if you do get injured treatment can be simplified.
  3. Gear: Protect yourself with goggles, masks, watertight boots, shoes with thick soles, thick rubber gloves, and a hard hat if necessary. Depending on equipment used you may also need earplugs. Bring in a first aid kit and bug repellent. Wear long sleeves and pants. Remember that water may possibly have dead fish, sewage and chemical residue. It is not pleasant and the less it touches your skin the better!
  4. Water: Bring in a lot of clean water for while you work. Some agencies may offer water, however, due to need it may not be enough. When working at the office we were not able to get more then one 8oz bottle per person and this only if they came in person. If working with a crew or team, bring in your own. Also bring in jugs of water for washing hands as well as sanitation wipes and/or gel cleaners. The cleaner you can get your hands at breaks the better. Also, keep fire extinguishers at the recovery site as there will not be running water if a fire does break out.
  5. Lighting: Bring a lot of flashlights. Only go during the day when you have the daylight to assist you in recovery. However, even with sunlight, without electricity there will be many rooms and areas that will need the extra lighting. Do not use matches or smoke when working in the structure. If you use a generator, make certain it is outside and only run according to manufacture directions.
  6. Camera: Remember your camera or video recorder and make certain to document the losses before removing items. You will need this for your records when working with your insurance company and relief agencies.
  7. Work Safely: Do not overdo the work. Take breaks often. You will be in an environment with poor lighting, terrible air quality and slick obstacles at every turn. Keeping your energy up and your body healthy should be the first priority. Wash your hands. Drink clean water. Get healthy snacks. Get outside and try to get fresh air. Keep in mind that in an area hard hit, even the outdoors will be filled with repugnant odors. You may need to leave the site to get some fresh air! Really keep an eye on your breathing and body's reaction to the environment. At our office it took only a day for black mold to begin to grow along the walls after the water receded - it is nasty to look at and terrible on your health - be safe!
  8. Keep Organized: It is overwhelming all the items that have to be discarded from the flooring to pictures on the wall. Try not to get overwhelmed and organize items for disposal and recovery. Put all lost building and general waste in one area, all computers, chemicals and other special items in another area and finally anything deemed possibly salvageable in another location. Check with local authorities for any special preferences as they may set up a process for waste disposal.
  9. Drying: Open all windows and doors possible. If you are working with a generator, you may bring in fans and dehumidifiers to get out moisture. The fans should be at windows pointing outside, this way they will be taking moist air out of the structure and not kicking up mold inside. Use caution when using anything electrical with the generator. Keep extension cords up from the water and removed from the work path to avoid tripping.
  10. Don't bring along any children or pets!

Battling Mold after a Flood

  1. According to the CDC, anything that has been wet for two days has mold whether you can see it or not. Get these items out to dry as quickly as possible.
  2. If it cannot be washed in hot water it will need to go.
  3. Wear a mask, rubber gloves and long sleeves and pants. Limit direct skin contact with damaged items.
  4. Hard surfaces that do not adsorb water can be cleaned using a mixture of bleach and water. Ratio suggested by the CDC as 1 cup of bleach to every gallon of water.
  5. Make sure doors and windows are open when cleaning with bleach. When possible try to do some recovery outside.
  6. Once washed leave items out to dry - the sun can be your friend if it is out. Especially if working with paper documents this can help destroy some of the mold. We were able to salvage many documents by pealing them apart when wet and laying them in the sun to dry. Not perfect, but important information can then be retrieved. However, for businesses, most documents can be salvaged by professional cleaners. Only immediate documents or household documents could be pealed apart as it is a daunting and time consuming task!

Some Ways to Help Our Neighbors

Aidmatrix Network - Iowa
The Safeguard Iowa Partnership and the Iowa Disaster Human Resource Council have partnered to provide the Aidmatrix Network, an easy way to make monetary and product donations to the nonprofit organizations that are assisting in the response and recovery efforts following recent disaster events in Iowa.

Cedar Rapids Czech & Slovak Museum
The National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library staff and board continue to work through the challenges of flood recovery. Our five museum buildings are cleaned out and secure. Visitors from across the country have been calling to plan summer visits. Some have already made their way here and are shocked and dismayed to find a sight they never expected - boarded up buildings, sandbars in the garden, and piles of debris. We are assuring them we will survive and be back in business, but it will take time. To us it's surprising there's still a world out there that doesn't know about the flood!

Cedar Rapids Public Library
Our public library lost all of the first floor which included books and magazines for adults. The children's book section was mostly recovered. They are currently looking for temporary space: "07 July 2008 - Librarians are compiling a list of books and other materials that the CRPL's book distributor will hold until the library has a place to put them. The books will arrive pre-processed, which means that staff will be able to shelve them immediately, saving an enormous amount of time.
Once the list is compiled, individuals will have an opportunity to select a book from the list to donate. "Many of our patrons and supporters have been asking what they can do. This will be a way to help rebuild our library," says Glise. "By fall, we hope to have a wish list available." For future information on donating books or cash please visit: http://crlibrary.org/index.php/foundation

Corridor Recovery
Corridor Recovery is a not-for-profit partnership between government, civic, business and faith-based organizations, created to respond to the Flood of 2008. As the flood waters peaked, Corridor Recovery quickly became the primary resource for materials and information for Linn County and Cedar Rapids. We provide resources for local governments and agencies to distribute flood-recovery information to the public in a critical time of need, and to coordinate volunteer efforts in the clean-up and recovery process.

Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation
The Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation opened the Flood 2008 Fund on June 15. The Flood 2008 Fund is for flood relief and recovery donations. One-hundred percent of financial donations to the fund will support response, recovery and rebuilding efforts throughout the Cedar Rapids-metro and surrounding communities. The first priority will be to work with local nonprofit organizations to support individuals and families affected by the floods. The GCRCF is committed to helping individuals, families and the nonprofit community recover and rebuild from the catastrophic flood.

Embrace Iowa 2008 Disaster Fund
Embrace Iowa is a program of statewide outreach by the Des Moines Register. Since it already has an established logo, identity, and donation tracking mechanism, the Iowa Disaster Collaborative is using the Embrace Iowa website as one way for donors to make a donation and learn more about the 2008 Iowa Disaster Fund.

Iowa Commission on Volunteer Service
If you are interested in helping in a particular area of the state, please use this section of our Web site to get in touch with local officials, who are collecting a list of where and when volunteers are most needed.

University of Iowa Foundation
For those wishing to support the University as it struggles to recover from flood-related damage not covered by insurance or other resources, we encourage contributions to the UI Flood Relief Fund.

Sources for this article which include even more detailed information:

Center for Disease Control
CDC.gov (www.cdc.gov) is your online source for credible health information and is the official Web site of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). CDC is committed to achieving true improvements in people's health. CDC applies research and findings to improve people's daily lives and responds to health emergencies—something that distinguishes CDC from its peer agencies. Working with states and other partners, CDC provides a system of health surveillance to monitor and prevent disease outbreaks (including bioterrorism), implement disease prevention strategies, and maintain national health statistics. CDC also guards against international disease transmission, with personnel stationed in more than 25 foreign countries

FEMA - Federal Emergency Management Agency
FEMA has more than 2,600 full time employees. They work at FEMA headquarters in Washington D.C., at regional and area offices across the country, the Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center, and the National Emergency Training Center in Emmitsburg, Maryland. FEMA also has nearly 4,000 standby disaster assistance employees who are available for deployment after disasters. Often FEMA works in partnership with other organizations that are part of the nation's emergency management system. These partners include state and local emergency management agencies, 27 federal agencies and the American Red Cross.

National Flood Insurance Program
Congress established the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to address both the need for flood insurance and the need to lessen the devastating consequences of flooding. The goals of the program are twofold: to protect communities from potential flood damage through floodplain management, and to provide people with flood insurance.

SBA - Small Business Administration
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) was created in 1953 as an independent agency of the federal government to aid, counsel, assist and protect the interests of small business concerns, to preserve free competitive enterprise and to maintain and strengthen the overall economy of our nation. We recognize that small business is critical to our economic recovery and strength, to building America's future, and to helping the United States compete in today's global marketplace.

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