Home Opinion Preparing Communities for Recurring and Frequent Floods

Preparing Communities for Recurring and Frequent Floods

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By Randall Hanifen
Contributor, EDM Digest

In recent months, many hurricanes and other storms have produced widespread floods and flash flooding. In fact, flooding is the most frequent type of disaster.

However, many communities are not ready for this type of event. Why does that happen?

Communities Often Fail to Focus on Preparing for Recurring and Frequent Events

When a terrorist event occurs, emergency managers spend millions to billions of dollars on chemical, radiological, biological, nuclear and explosive (CBRNE) response equipment. Initially, first responders may not be able to maintain that equipment. Instead, they throw out non-functioning equipment and replaced it with newer models.

Fortunately, petitions resulted in grant monies that paid for the maintenance of this first responder equipment.  However, grant funds are nearly non-existent for investing in boats that are destined for rescue and recovery purposes, rather than patrolling navigable waterways.

Many communities do not have water retention and detention systems in their area, which would create a need for at least one watercraft. While the use of first responder watercraft may be minimal, how much has CBRNE equipment been used at a real event?

Working with Communities for Flood Mitigation and Preparation

Communities must work with their local emergency management organization to ensure they have a flood mitigation plan. While communities may not be able to mitigate all of their flooding hazards, a comprehensive plan provides opportunities as the community changes, either through building construction or demolition.

Previous flood events should be carefully analyzed. If you have an area that regularly floods, for example, it is likely to flood again.

Regardless of opinions on global warming, weather events are becoming more extreme. Community interaction with the weather continues to worsen as we allow developers to build where and what they desire and ignore the overall effect of adding properties to communities.

Collaboration Vital to Ensure Thorough Flood Hazard Planning

Preparation for flooding is often a fire department problem. Firefighters will be the first responders to deal with flooding problems, but they cannot conduct the preparation alone. Collaboration with many agencies is key.

At the local EMA level, there should be a topography and a flood map. This is a good start towards predicting community flooding.

However, some flood maps may not be accurate and have come under fire for their inaccuracy. Some areas vulnerable to flash floods and regular flooding may not appear on the map.

Through these maps, areas prone to flash floods can be recognized. Flash floods are more dynamic incidents and it becomes easier to calculate the number of persons affected by regular flooding.

Getting Grant Money for Flood Preparation Expenses

Once flood information is gathered, two paths can occur to close the gap from predicted hazard to flood preparedness.  The first route is to work through the EMA for potential grants. However, these funds are often not plentiful.

The second route is to gather information and take it to government officials to show flood hazards and the lack of community preparedness. You will need to calculate both residential loss and economic losses to the community if proper disaster responses do not occur.

Timing is essential. Because elected officials have many competing interests, it is important to present your information at a time when a flood is occurring elsewhere. Government officials will have a relevant and recent example as a frame of reference.

Specialized Training Vital for Preventing First Responder Injuries or Death in Floods

Flooding creates life-threatening hazards for first responders. While many fire departments and police agencies believe they understand how to respond to an event, catastrophic first responder deaths can occur without proper training and equipment.

Two types of flooding commonly occur. The first type is the typical rise of floodwaters in creeks and other areas.

The second type of flooding -- flash floods -- is far more dangerous. Flash floods require very specialized training and equipment.

The training for either type of flooding is specified in NFPA 1006 Standard for Technical Rescue Personnel Professional Qualifications. This standard addresses many areas of rescues.

A water rescue has many facets to be considered, such as swift water or diving. Swift water requires many prerequisites related to both water and rope rescues.

Also, the equipment related to a swift water rescue requires a special type of flotation vest and certain types of boats.  These requirements are based on past disasters, so there is no single standard.

Hazards of Swift Water versus Flood Water

For a swift water rescue, first responders must be aware of several factors. For instance, first responders must know the location of the victim, the direction of the water, water speed and upstream/downstream entry locations.

The basic series of rescue attempts should follow the sequence of "Reach, Throw, Row and Go." For "Reach," an object such as a long pole or ladder should be utilized to reach the victim. Most first responders have these items available at the scene.

The next method, "Throw," is to throw a rope bag or ring buoy to the victim. These product are carried by many first responders, but require practice to use successfully. Otherwise, their accuracy and success are limited.

"Row" involves a boat-based rescue. Attempts to reach a victim are made from a boat that is downstream and utilizes the current to stabilize the rescue. For this type of rescue, first responders must know the water speed and flow (cubic feet per second) and the ability of the boat motor to overcome the water's speed.

The last option, "Go," is to send a rescuer into the water and have that rescuer swim to the victim. But crews need to stand by in case a rescue goes wrong. Special vests and cold-water suits are needed for this type of operation.

Start an Emergency & Disaster Management Degree at American Military University.

Randall Hanifen Dr. Hanifen serves as a shift commander at a medium-sized suburban fire department in the northern part of the Cincinnati area. Randall is the CEO/principal consultant of an emergency services consulting firm, providing analysis and solutions related to organizational structuring of fire and EMS organizations. He is the chairperson and operations manager for a county technical rescue team. from a state and national perspective, he serves as a taskforce leader for one of FEMA's urban search and rescue teams, which responds to presidential declared disasters. From an academic standpoint, Randall has a bachelor’s degree in fire administration, a master’s degree in executive fire service leadership, and a doctoral degree in business administration with a specialization in homeland security. He is the associate author of “Disaster Planning and Control” (Penwell, 2009), which provides first responders with guidance through all types of disasters.