How to survive a flood anywhere

Do you live in a place that is prone to flooding? What would you do if your car got stuck in a flood? Flooding is a very common natural disaster that is usually caused by sudden, heavy rainfall. Floods can be dangerous and unpredictable. This is why it’s important to have a plan in place to ensure your safety. Your chances of survival will be greatly increased if you know what to do before, during, and after a flood. In this article we will learn how to survive a flood anywhere.

What causes a flood?

Flooding happens when water overflows or saturates land that is usually dry. The truth is that there are few places on Earth where people don’t need to be concerned about flooding. Some floods can escalate within a few hours or even days while other floods develop with very little warning.

There are many different scenarios that can cause flooding. Here are a few:

  • Heavy, prolonged rainfall
  • Riverine floods: streams or rivers overflow their banks
  • Coastal (Estuarine) flooding: a large storm or tsunami causes the sea to rush inland
  • Broken dam or levee
  • Melting ice and snow

Unfortunately, all 50 states in the United States are vulnerable to flooding.

90% of natural disasters within the United States involve flooding.

Department of Homeland Security

What makes a flood so dangerous?

In order to survive a disaster, it’s important to understand why it is dangerous. Every year, flooding causes more deaths than any other thunderstorm-related hazard.

Flooding can cause physical damage.

Drowning is a top risk. Floods can catch people off guard and cause them to lose their balance in as little as 6 inches (or even less)of water. Once you’re down, it’s easy to drown. Drowning is the lead cause of accidental death for children ages 1 to 4 (according to the CDC.) Young children can drown in just 1-2 inches of water and it can happen swiftly and silently. While, it’s true that you’re not a child and probably wouldn’t drown in so little water; imagine if you slipped, fell, and hit your head. At that point, 2 inches of water could be an issue.

Additionally, there may be dangerous, hidden obstacles under the rising tide. Broken glass, open manholes, and other debris could cause slipping, tripping, and impaling injuries. Another person could even grab you for balance and push you under the water.

Downed powerlines are also a big risk that can lead to electrical or fire hazards. If you get stuck in the same water as that powerline, it could be a death wish.

how to survive a flood anywhere

A flood can spread harmful pathogens.

A flood can transport the types of pathogens that sweep through towns and infect whole populations. A busted sewer line or leaking septic system can release massive quantities of viruses and deadly bacteria. Flood water often has infectious organisms, including intestinal bacteria like E. Coli, shigella, and salmonella; hepatitis A virus, cholera, and agents of tetanus, typhoid, and paratyphoid. Also, flood water notoriously contaminates drinking water supplies in even the most prepared cities.

Don’t depend on the man for your survival when you can prepare on your own!

Flood survival basics:

When a flood happens, the water doesn’t always rise slowly. Floods often happen so quickly and catch people off guard. This leaves them little time to rescue their pets, belongings, and safely get to higher ground. While you may not be able to avoid all floods, you can still create an escape plan that will keep you and your loved ones alive.

how to survive a flood anywhere

Familiarize yourself with the flood risk in your area.

The first step of flood survival is to familiarize yourself with the flood risk in your area. Assess the risk of the places that you frequently visit. This includes your route to school, work, the grocery store, gas stations, and anywhere else. Be observant and take note of what happens to the roadways and land when it rains. In my home town, a significant amount of the main drag would get submerged under water. I had to plan accordingly and this often meant leaving early to give myself more traveling time.

Learn about the flood history in your region and find out if your local government and community have a protocol and plan in place to deal with flooding.

Take the time to visit the FEMA Flood Map Service Center. You can enter your address or latitude/longitude coordinates and learn about the risk of flooding in your area. I have gotten into the habit of visiting this site even when I’m traveling.

Research, learn, and plan out several evacuation routes to higher ground. This is especially important because one of your routes may become impassable.

Receive flood alerts.

Now that you have assessed your risk level, it is time to prepare an early warning / alert system. Television, internet, applications, and cellphones can provide warnings, but they are flawed and susceptible to interference and flood damage.

A radio is an ideal way to get flood alerts. It is wise to have a battery-powered radio on hand just in case there is a power outage. Government agencies use the alert system, Nixle to communicate warnings during a major disaster. It is especially used during floods.

Flood Warning Vs. Watch

What is the difference between a flood warning and a flood watch?

Be alert and listen for the following terms. They will help you decide when it is time to bug out:

  • Flash flood warning: Take Action! A flash flood warning is issued when a flash flood is imminent or taking place. If you are in a flood prone zone, it is important for you to immediately move to higher ground. A flash flood is a sudden, violent flood that can develop in minutes to hours. It is even possible to experience flash flooding in areas don’t have immediate rain.
  • Flood warning: Take Action! At this point, hazardous weather is imminent or taking place. This type of warning means that flooding will start soon or has already begun and you need to act quickly.
  • Flood Advisory: Be aware. A flood advisory is issued when a specific weather event may occur. You will get a flood advisory when flooding is not bad enough to issue a warning. However, this type of weather condition could still be inconvenient and escalate. Be sure to exercise caution.
  • Flood Watch: Be prepared. A flood watch is issued when conditions are favorable for flooding. This doesn’t mean that a flood will occur, but it is possible.
how to survive a flood anywhere

Listen for the evacuation announcements, but don’t wait around for an explicit order. If you feel like you are in danger, grab your bug out bag / flood survival gear and get to higher ground! The contents and size will depend on your specific needs, but it should be light enough for you to carry (ideally within your BOB) and in a waterproof container.

How to create a flood survival kit:

You should take the time to assemble a comprehensive flood survival kit in addition to your bug out bag (BOB.)

Your waterproof flood survival kit should contain (at a minimum):

  • Clean drinking water in sealed containers.
  • Non-perishable food in waterproof, sealed pouches.
  • Lighter / matches in a zippered plastic bag.
  • Hand sanitizer or waterless soap, sealed.
  • Bug spray in a sealed bag.
  • A flashlight with extra batteries in a sealed plastic bag.
  • Wet wipes for sanitary hygiene purposes, sealed.
  • Prescription medications in sealed plastic bags (they should already be in your BOB.)
  • First Aid kit in a waterproof, sealed bag.
  • Small, inflatable raft, life preserver, or other flotation device.
  • Signal flares, sealed in plastic.
  • Neon spray paint, sealed in plastic. This will allow you to mark a rooftop or spot where rescuers can find you.

It is imperative for all of your items to be sealed and waterproof. During a flood, contagions in the flood water may be lapping against you for days or weeks before the water recedes.

That would provide a lot of unwanted exposure and opportunities to get sick. You can prevent your flood prep items from getting contaminated as long as possible by sealing them in waterproof containers.

Let’s talk about flood survival scenarios.

While you may not be able to predict your exact situation, we can discuss a variety of likely flood scenarios and survival strategies.

If I haven’t covered your specific scenario, or if you have more questions, please comment below with your story and we shall strategize together!

how to survive a flood anywhere

How to survive a flood at home.

Preparation is key when it comes to your home base. While, you will want to fortify what you can, it’s important to be flexible and ready to make swift adjustments when the flood arrives.

  • Prepare your home before a flood hits. Acquire flood insurance. Store your supplies and important documents off the floor. Remember that higher is better.
  • Secure your home when a flood is imminent. It’s time to quickly tie up the loose ends and keep things from floating away. Take down the giant umbrella and bring in the patio furniture. Take down all of your awnings, tents, and things that can catch wind. Collect your delicate and most important items and secure them in the highest part of your home. This may be an attic or upper floor. Get it off the ground!
  • Turn off your power and utilities. Take the time now to learn where your main shutoff switches and valves are. If the water is already inside, skip this step because a wet body is an excellent conductor for electricity.
  • Unplug your computers, appliances, and electronics. If the water is already inside, skip this step. It’s too late for your devices and not worth risking your life.
  • Never walk in moving water. Remember from our earlier conversation, that there are dangers lurking below the surface of the water. Also, moving water can easily knock you off of your feet. Instead, find areas of still water and move slowly and carefully through it.
  • If you have no other choice and need to move through standing flood water, use an umbrella or stick to test the waters ahead of you. This will allow you to check for debris, obstacles, and water depth. Even though it’s your home, the landscape has changed now that your home is submerged in water. Items might have floated and there could be more debris and obstacles than you anticipate.

If water has traveled to your home, evacuate. Remember to lock up your home when you leave to deter looters, but don’t stick around!

How to survive a flood in your car.

If you are driving when a flood hits, know that you will be in a very risky and challenging situation. Just 1 foot of water depth can easily sweep a car away. If the flood water rises quickly, your car may stall before you can get out of it. I personally think that you should completely avoid driving in flood water.

  • If you see a flooded area ahead, stop, and turn around.
  • If you are in your car and already in flood water, open a window (all the way) and turn off your engine.
  • Now get out of your car. This is the reason why I told you to open your window. High waters or obstruction may prevent you from opening your car door.
  • Carefully climb on the roof of your car and search for higher ground. Know that this will not be a safe viewpoint for long, but if the water hasn’t reached the bottom of your car yet, you can quickly search for a safer route.
  • If you cannot safely evacuate the flooded area (remember the tips about not walking through moving water), stay on your car roof.
  • If your car floats and moves, hang on tightly.

More safety tips:

Do not get off of the roof of your car under ANY circumstances. You will always be much safer above the water rather than in it. Your car will eventually fill up with water, most likely sink, and stop moving. If you can stay above the water you’ll be safe while you wait to be rescued.

What if your car is hit too fast and you feel yourself sinking before you can respond? You’re still alive so take a deep breath, move quickly, and pray along the way!

Open the side window. If it won’t open, break it open. You can kick it with your foot or pull the headrest off of the drivers seat and use the metal prongs to bust the window open. Another idea, is to use a car escape tool. I have a utility tool on my keychain that has this feature.

How To Escape A Flooding Vehicle

How to survive a flood in the city.

People in urban areas may have more options during a flood than people in rural areas, but there will be more traffic and people scrambling for the same resources. Plan your escape ahead of time and avoid the masses when this type of disaster strikes.

  • Be alert and pay attention to the flood warnings on local radio stations.
  • Know your city’s flood evacuation plan.
  • Create your own evacuation plan because the city’s evacuation plan may be insufficient. Also the “safe zones” may get too crowded.
  • If you have time and a safe route, get out of the city.
  • If you’re stuck in the city, make it a point to get to higher ground as soon as possible.
  • If you are on public transportation and the waters aren’t too high, get off of it. If they are, follow the driver’s instructions.
  • High rise buildings may potentially be safe in floods, but they won’t have power. Always have your flood kit with you.

Did you know that cities have a high chance of flooding in the first place? Rural areas have trees, soil, and grass that can absorb rain and flooding waters. Whereas, cities have a lot of hard surfaces that allow the water to keep flowing. Sidewalks, roads, and even rooftops are not absorbent so the water has to go somewhere.

How to survive a flood in a rural area.

In a rural area, you may not have high-rises, but you will have more room to move away from the water’s path. Additionally, there will be less traffic and people blocking your escape routes. Always have contingency plans!

Here are specific dangers to be aware of especially if you are hunting, camping, or live in a wooded, rural area:

  • The moment you suspect a flood, get out of your camp and move to higher ground. You may need to abandon your gear. Just get out of there.
  • Pay attention to floating tree limbs and forest debris. They can have a lot of momentum and be hazardous.
  • Watch out for animals. Small animals often get swept away in flash floods and will be scared and ready to scratch, grab, or bite anything they float past.
  • Know that there may be debris under the water that you cannot see. A large sweeping branch under water, can easily knock a grown person off of their feet.
  • Sometimes boulders can be safe, but even boulders can get dislodged by moving water.

Something that I really appreciate about rural living, is that the land itself offers many hints and clues. Water pools in the lowest points and shrubs and tress often grow in these areas.

I don’t want to insult your intelligence, but I’m going to say it anyways. Don’t camp or hunt in dried out ponds, lakes, or river beds. All dried up bodies of water are susceptible to flooding. They held water before and could easily do it again. Avoid this danger altogether.

While you’re at it, don’t hang out in canyons or too close to mountain streams. Flash floods happen in a flash and you don’t want to be caught off guard.

How to survive coastal flooding.

This one may sound silly, but it’s important to know how to survive coastal flooding. If there is a hurricane, tsunami or flash flood, the coast can become extremely dangerous.

If this ever happens, there will be pouring down rain, rising waters, and panicked humans everywhere. This can make it very difficult to dodge dangers on your way to safety. Be smart about your beach adventures and always plan ahead.

  • Before you even go, familiarize yourself with a lay of the land. Understand the possible flood dangers and map out multiple evacuation routes.
  • Always bring your flood survival kit.
  • When the flood begins, take a breath and observe what people are doing. Don’t do what everyone is doing because they will be in a crowd panic and it’s good to avoid that.
  • Head to your evacuation route that has the least amount of people.
  • Avoid the roads because people will be driving dangerously and the lanes will be invisible.
  • Also, don’t get into your car. Instead, move to higher ground and as far from the beach as you can.
  • Water from higher ground will start to run down towards the beach. Watch out of rivulets before they transform into rivers.
  • If you can’t get to higher ground fast enough, get on top of a parked car and hang on tightly. Avoid vehicles that may have big fat tires before those vehicles may actually float away sooner than the smaller cars. Yikes!

Also, if you happen to see ocean water recede for you obvious reason, it could be a sign that a tsunami is about to hit. Don’t gawk and dawdle at the pretty shells! Get to higher ground as soon as possible!

In summary, here are a few tips for survival during a flood:

  1. Stay informed: Stay up to date on the latest weather forecast and flood warnings in your area.
  2. Create an emergency plan: Develop an emergency plan that includes a safe place to go, a way to communicate with family members, and a plan for evacuation if necessary.
  3. Evacuate if instructed: Follow the instructions of local authorities and evacuate if instructed to do so. You may even need to evacuate ahead of time, if your immediate surroundings are in danger.
  4. Elevate important items: Elevate important items such as furniture, appliances, and valuables to prevent damage from floodwaters.
  5. Turn off utilities: Turn off utilities such as gas, electricity, and water to prevent damage and fire hazards.
  6. Pack a “go-bag”: Pack a “go-bag” with essentials such as water, food, medication, and a change of clothes in case you need to leave your home quickly.
  7. Keep a low profile: Avoid driving or walking through floodwaters, as even shallow water can be dangerous and can conceal hidden hazards.
  8. In your home: If you are at home, go to the highest point in the house, such as the attic or rooftop.
  9. Always seek higher ground: If you are caught in a flood, seek higher ground as quickly as possible.

Remember to always follow the instructions of local authorities and stay informed about the latest weather forecast. Floods can be dangerous and unpredictable, so it’s important to be prepared.

Additional questions

Can you swim through a flood? Even highly trained competitive swimmers can be easily overpowered by rising flood water. The water is also riddled with the dangers we discussed like contamination, sharp objects, and unseen obstacles. Swimming during a flood should always be your last resort.

Why is standing water dangerous? The standing water that is present during a flood can be very dangerous. It can spread bacteria, mold, and pathogens. Additionally, it can contaminate water supplies and be very dangerous to move through on account of hidden obstructions.

How to Survive a Flood, According to Science


I hope that you now feel equipped and ready to prepare for any flood that may come your way. Preparation is key! Make sure that your flood kit is waterproof and full of the items you need to survive a flood. Also, plan ahead and prepare multiple evacuation routes.

I love the way that preparing for survival is so empowering and gives me a higher purpose. I pray that none of us will have to deal with such a dangerous disaster, but I hope that this will help you prepare for it just in case.

Do you have tips and tricks to add? Please comment below to share!

See you soon!