How to plan and prepare for a flood

heavy rain against a house

Danny Baggs

Posted July 22, 2022


Did you know that almost one in 10 Australian homes has some level of flood risk? Here’s how to plan and prepare for a flood to better protect your home.

La Niña - a widespread wet weather event – may have officially ended after two years, but the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) has still forecast a 50 per cent chance that La Niña will be back this spring: double the usual likelihood.

BOM has also predicted above average winter-spring rainfall for much of Australia, thanks to warmer than average sea temperatures and an Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) that’s likely to swing negative. The IOD measures the difference in sea surface temperature between the western and eastern Indian Ocean, which directly affects the climate in surrounding countries such as Australia.

As a result, Australian households might want to brush up on their flood knowledge, prepare for possible future flood events to help keep themselves and their homes safe, and understand when and how to start the clean-up. Here are some suggestions to help you plan for the flood season.

 

flooded houses

Australian households should prepare for possible future flood events. Image: Getty


Prepping and planning for flood season

Understand whether your home is at risk

Whether your home is at risk of flooding depends on several factors.

If your house in located on a floodplain (an area of low-lying ground near to a river), you are automatically at risk of flooding. Your local area’s average rainfall and the proximity of your home to the waterway can also affect your flood risks.

The highest risk local government areas (LGAs) in Victoria are Melbourne, Mornington Peninsula, Maribyrnong, Greater Shepparton, Greater Geelong, Greater Bendigo, Frankston, Benalla, Wyndham and Campaspe.

Since water follows the lowest possible path across a landscape, the lower your house is placed on your land, the more likely it is to be at risk of flooding. When building a new home, it’s generally better to situate your house at the top of any slopes than at its bottom. Properties with lower floor heights will be affected first and most severely by rising floodwaters. On the other hand, elevated properties may escape with little or no damage from flood events.

You can check with your local floodplain management authority to help determine whether your property is a high flood risk. Depending on where you live, this could be the local council, catchment management authority, water authority, or territory government.

Retrofit or build your house to code

If you’re building a new house, chat to your local council about your property’s flood risk. If you are on a floodplain, you could consider building above the minimum standards required for all new builds as these standards are focused on keeping you safe rather than keeping your property intact. To improve your home’s flood risk, you could build your flood level higher than the minimum standard and use water-resistant materials and fixtures.

If you are a homeowner living in a flood-prone area, you could consider retrofitting your property to make it more flood-resistant. Speak to your local floodplain management authority or a certified builder to find out whether improvements are possible.

 

flooded road

Flooding is the second most deadly natural disaster after heatwaves in Australia. Image: Getty


Make an emergency flood plan

An emergency flood plan can help keep you from panicking in a flood-related evacuation.

Where will you go in a flood?

Plan where you will evacuate to if you need to leave your home. The safest place to relocate is outside the floodplain on high ground.

How will you get there?

If you need to drive during an evacuation, tune in to an emergency broadcaster station like ABC local radio to hear any urgent news relating to your route. Be very careful of driving hazards like mud, debris, fallen trees, damaged powerlines or damaged roads. Most importantly, make sure never to drive through floodwaters.

Driving through floodwaters is one of the biggest causes of fatalities during flood events. Floodwaters that reach the bottom of your car door can be enough to carry your vehicle away. According to a float tank experiment using real vehicles at the University of NSW Water Research Laboratory, these are the water depths that can move your car:

  • Small car (1 tonne) – 15cm of water

  • Medium car (1.5 tonne) – 30cm of water

  • Large 4WD (2.5 tonne) – 45cm of water

So, if a road is flooded, seek an alternative route instead. If driving conditions are too dangerous, safely pull over to higher ground away from trees and powerlines.

Prepare your emergency kit

Finally, pre-pack an emergency kit to take with you. Your kit should include bottled water, non-perishable food, a first aid kit, a mobile phone and charger, any regular medications, torches, and a battery-operated radio with spare batteries.

Take note of where your important documents are stored so that you can quickly add them to your kit in an emergency. These documents may include prescriptions, identification (such as driver’s licences, passports, birth certificates, Medicare cards, tax file number), proof of car/home ownership (such as land titles, mortgage documents and car registration) and insurance cover details. If you have pets, include their food and medication in your kit too.

Purchase a sturdy, waterproof container to house your emergency kit. A watertight box with wheels or handles is ideal. Label your kit in large, legible writing, and put some reflective tape over it so that you or another person can easily locate it.

 

flooded road with closure signs

SES reports that a well-prepared community can reduce the impact of flooding by up to 80 per cent. Image: Getty


Monitor weather warnings

During severe weather events, keep an eye on BOM and VicEmergency for relevant forecasts and warnings that cover your local area.

Here is how to read flood warnings from BOM:

  • Flood Watch – a Flood Watch only suggests that flooding is possible due to forecast rainfall. It is not a warning of imminent flooding and does not mean that a flood will definitely occur. A Flood Watch can be issued up to four days in advance of expected flooding.

  • Flood Warning – a Flood Warning is issued six or more hours before a flood occurs. It advises the specific locations that flooding is set to occur if the weather follows predictions. A Flood Warning will typically predict the level that the river is expected to rise to, but may sometimes be more generalised if there is insufficient data.

  • Severe Weather Warning – flash flooding occurs so quickly that there isn’t time to issue a Flood Warning. Instead, BOM will issue a Severe Weather Warning for heavy rainfall and other conditions that could cause flash flooding.

Once a flood occurs, BOM and emergency services will classify the flood as minor, moderate, or major as defined by the State Emergency Service (SES).

  • Minor flooding – a mostly inconvenient flood that only inundates low-lying areas next to water courses. Minor roads and low-level bridges may be closed. In urban areas, flooding may affect bicycle and pedestrian paths, some backyards, and some buildings below floor level. In rural areas, livestock and equipment may need to be removed.

  • Moderate flooding – a substantial flood that may affect main traffic routes and some buildings above floor level. A moderate flood may require evacuation; in rural areas, livestock must be removed.

  • Major flooding – an extensive flood that inundates large areas and may affect many buildings above floor level. Major traffic and rail routes are likely to close, utility services may be affected, and properties and towns are likely to be isolated. Evacuation may be required.

In the event of a flood, listen to the advice of your local emergency services, including whether you should stay put or evacuate.

BOM reports that flooding is the second most deadly natural disaster after heatwaves in Australia. If you are ever in a life-threatening situation, immediately call Triple Zero (000) and follow their instructions. Alternatively, you can call the Victorian SES on 132 500 for emergency assistance, such as rescuing people from floodwater, helping to protect properties, protecting essential services, or advice on floods and evacuations.

 

gloved man rolling up wet, dirty carpet

Floods can cause significant damage to your home. Image: Getty


Secure your home against floods

According to BOM, flooding costs the Australian economy an average of $400–500 million per year; however, SES reports that a well-prepared community can reduce the impact of flooding by up to 80 per cent.

You can help prepare for the flood season by getting a professional to look for any damaged tiles that could cause leaks, having your gutters professionally cleaned to keep water routes clear and sweeping debris away from drains to help water runoff escape. Always take safety precautions when working at height on a ladder.

In addition, you can help protect your home from accidental flooding by keeping your pipes well maintained. “In the 2022 financial year, 74% of RACV Home Emergency Assist callouts were related to plumbing emergencies,” said Nathan Tayeh, Senior Product Manager of RACV Trades. “A third of these callouts were due to burst or blocked pipes.”

If you know from emergency service advice that your home is likely to be flooded, you can take additional measures to help protect your house. Turn off your gas and electricity, secure external doors and windows, and store or secure outdoor furniture. You can also lift any furniture and valuables up high, and get some sandbags to block your drains, toilet and doorways. If you can’t evacuate in your car, move it to higher ground.

Review your home and contents insurance

Floods can cause significant damage to your home, costing you tens of thousands of dollars to repair, especially if you're underinsured. IAG’s claims data reveals that the average claims cost to repair homes in the 2019 Townsville floods was $80,000, with many claims above $100,000 and some claims reaching as high as $800,000. That's why it pays to check that your home and contents insurance covers flood damage and is up to date.

Home and contents insurance that covers flood events will help give you peace of mind that your home will be repaired or rebuilt following a flood incident, without you having to bear the full brunt of the costs.

You can also check that your motor insurance policy covers you for storm and flood damage.

 


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The information provided is general advice only. Before making any decisions please consider your own circumstances and the Product Disclosure Statement and Target Market Determinations. For copies, visit racv.com.au. As distributor, RACV Insurance Services Pty Ltd AFS Licence No. 230039 receives commission for each policy sold or renewed. Products issued by Insurance Manufacturers of Australia Pty Ltd ABN 93 004 208 084 AFS Licence No. 227678.