General Safety Tips
  • Learn the safest route from your home or business to high, safe ground in case you have to leave in a hurry.
  • Develop and practice a 'family escape' plan and identify a meeting place if family members become separated.
  • Make an itemized list of all valuables including furnishings, clothing and other personal property. Keep the list in a safe place.
  • Stockpile emergency supplies of canned food, medicine and first aid supplies and drinking water. Store drinking water in clean, closed containers.
  • Plan what to do with your pets.
  • Have a portable radio, flashlights, extra batteries and emergency cooking equipment available.
  • Keep your automobile fueled. If electric power is cut off, gasoline stations may not be able to pump fuel for several days. 
  • Have a small disaster supply kit in the trunk of your car.
  • Find out how many feet your property is above and below possible flood levels. When predicted flood levels are broadcast, you can determine if you may be flooded.
  • Keep materials like sandbags, plywood, plastic sheeting and lumber handy for emergency water-proofing.
Protect Your Home from Flooding

You have many flood mitigation options as a homeowner. As you begin to think about which might be the best for you and your home, consider these low-cost projects you can do yourself from FEMA.

For the exterior areas of your property, consider taking the following actions:

  • Maintain proper water runoff and drainage. Routinely clean and maintain gutters, downspouts, and splashpads so that rainwater from your roof flows easily away from your home. Also, make sure that any nearby drainage ditches or storm drains are clear of debris and functioning properly.
  • Improve lot grading. Determine how water flows or accumulates around your home to identify potential trouble spots (often easy to see during an average rainstorm).
  • Elevate utilities and service equipment. Raise and anchor air conditioning condensers, heat pumps, water meters and other service equipment onto pedestals or platforms that are at least 1 foot above the potential flood elevation.
  • Anchor outdoor fuel tanks. Attach outdoor fuel tanks to a large concrete slab that weighs enough to resist the force of floodwaters, or install inexpensive ground anchors that are connected across the top of the tank with metal straps. 

For interior areas below the potential flood elevation, consider making the following alterations:

  • Protect your valuable possessions. Move important documents and other valuable or sentimental items to a safer location, well above the potential flood elevation and/or inside watertight containers.
  • Seal your foundation and basement walls. Close any foundation cracks with mortar and masonry caulk or hydraulic cement, which expands and fills gaps completely.
  • Install flood vents. Flood vents are small permanent openings that allow floodwater to flow freely through an enclosure such as a crawlspace or garage.
  • Install a sump pump. Sump pumps, which pump groundwater away from your home, can be an excellent defense against basement seepage and flooding. T
  • Prevent sewer backups. Install drain plugs for all basement floor drains to prevent sewer backups.
  • Use flood-resistant building materials.
  • Raise electrical system components. 
  •  Protect utilities and service equipment. Move the main parts of your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems to a higher floor or the attic.
  • Anchor indoor fuel tanks. Anchor fuel tanks by attaching them to  a large concrete slab that weighs enough to resist the force  of floodwaters.
  • Install a flood alert system.
  • Safeguard important paperwork and move furniture, rugs, electronics, and other valuable belongings to upper floors, or at least off the floor of the ground level.

Act (During a Flood)

General Safety Tips
  • Monitor the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Weather Radio or your local radio and TV station broadcasts for information.
  • If local officials advise evacuation, do so promptly.
  • If directed to a specific location, go there.
  • Know where the shelters are located.
  • Bring outside possessions inside the house or tie them down securely. This includes lawn furniture, garbage cans, and other movable objects.
  • If there is time, move essential items and furniture to upper floors in the house. Disconnect electrical appliances that cannot be moved. DO NOT touch them if you are wet or standing in water.
  • If you are told to shut off water, gas, or electrical services before leaving, do so.
  • Secure your home: lock all doors and windows.
  • Leave early to avoid being marooned on flooded roads.
  • Make sure you have enough fuel for your car.
  • Follow recommended routes. DO NOT sightsee.
  • As you travel, monitor NOAA Weather Radio and local radio broadcasts for the latest information.
  • Watch for washed-out roads, earth-slides, broken water or sewer mains, loose or downed electrical wires, and falling or fallen objects.
  • Watch for areas where rivers or streams may suddenly rise and flood, such as highway dips, bridges, and low areas.
  • DO NOT attempt to drive over a flooded road. Turn around and go another way.
  • DO NOT underestimate the destructive power of fast-moving water. Two feet of fast-moving flood water will float your car. Water moving at two miles per hour can sweep cars off a road or bridge.
  • If you are in your car and water begins to rise rapidly around you, abandon the vehicle immediately.
Hidden Dangers
  • Nearly half of all flash flood fatalities are vehicle related!  When driving your automobile during flood conditions, look out for flooding at highway dips, bridges and low areas.
  • Even the largest and heaviest of vehicles will float.  Two feet of water will carry most cars away.
  • As little as six inches of water may cause you to lose control of your vehicle. Do not drive through flowing water!
  • A hidden danger awaits motorists where a road without a bridge dips across a creek bed.
  • Motorists develop false confidence when they normally or frequently pass through a dry low-water crossing.
  • Road beds may have been scoured or even washed away during flooding creating unsafe driving conditions.
  • Those who repeatedly drive through flooded low-water crossings may not recognize the dangers of a small increase in the water level.
  • Driving too fast through low water will cause the vehicle to hydroplane and lose contact with the road surface.
  • Visibility is limited at night increasing the vulnerability of the driver to any hidden dangers.

After the Flood

  • Listen to the radio or TV for instructions from local officials.
  • Wait until an area has been declared safe before entering it.  Be careful driving, since roads may be damaged and power lines may be down.
  • Before entering a building, check for structural damage.  Turn off any outside gas lines at the meter or tank.  Allow the building to air out and exhaust foul odors or escaping gas.
  • Upon entering the building, use a battery-powered flashlight.  DO NOT use an open flame as a source of light.  Gas may be trapped inside.
  • When inspecting the building, wear rubber boots and gloves.
  • Watch for electrical shorts and live wires before making certain the main power switch is off.
  • DO NOT turn on electrical appliances until an electrician has checked the system and appliances.
  • Throw out any medicine or food that may have had contact with flood waters.
  • Test drinking water for portability.  Wells should be pumped out and water tested for drinking.
  • If the public water system is declared 'unsafe' by health officials, water for drinking and cooking should be boiled vigorously for 10 minutes.
  • Shovel out mud with special attention to cleaning heating and plumbing systems.
  • Flooded basements should be drained and cleaned as soon as possible.  Structural damage can occur if drained too quickly. When surrounding waters have subsided, begin draining the basement in stages, about 1/3 of the water volume each day.

Additional Tips

Routine Stream Maintenance 

Millions of dollars in damages result from flooding each year. Local governments have long recognized that routine work to clear and maintain streams is important to reduce flooding. Such mitigation efforts alone may not always prevent major flooding, but they can significantly reduce flood impacts. In addition to clearing and maintaining the stream, a comprehensive stream maintenance program should consider maintenance needed on the adjacent flood plain. All such corridor management measures must be accomplished in a manner that protects the aquatic resources of the stream from unnecessary damage.

The cost associated with stream clearance work along with the need to obtain permits and address environmental concerns are often viewed as barriers to flood management efforts. However, stream maintenance can be a cost-effective means to reduce flood hazards, and the regulatory process can actually aid in the management of your projects.

Flood hazard reduction, such as regular stream maintenance, serves to protect life, health, property and public services. These efforts will benefit the community, its residents and their homes by easing the threat and damages of flooding. Stream clearance can further limit damages to public utilities such as water, sewer and gas systems. It can also minimize damage to existing flood control structures such as dams, levees, break walls, riprap and other channel improvements. Roads, bridges and culverts are better protected from flooding, while the costs and liability associated with rescue and relief efforts during a flood are reduced.

In most situations, stream maintenance is considered a local government or private landowner responsibility, although the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) has regulatory jurisdiction over all waters in the United States including wetlands and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has regulatory authority over protected and navigable waters as well as freshwater and tidal wetlands in New York.


Proper Sandbag Techniques

Sandbagging can be an effective flood-fighting tool and is a simple, effective way to prevent or reduce flood water damage. Although sandbags do not guarantee a watertight seal, they are a proven deterrent to costly water damage. Proper sandbag filling and placement methods increase productivity of sandbagging operations. Below are safety tips and proper procedures that are designed to minimize work-related injuries and maximize essential time.

Safety First!

  • Use proper lifting techniques to avoid injury and fatigue. Lift with your legs and bend at the knees to avoid injury to your back.
  • Sandbags are treated to prevent deterioration when stored. Use work gloves and avoid contact with your eyes and mouth. Always wear safety goggles or glasses.
  • Stay in eye contact with heavy equipment operators and keep alert for truck backup alarms.
  • Flood waters can be polluted. Use rubber gloves and appropriate clothing if contact with water is unavoidable.

General Guidelines

  • The most commonly used bags are treated burlap or woven polypropylene about 24 inches by 14 inches. Unused empty bags can be stockpiled for emergency use and will be serviceable for years, if kept dry and properly stored out of the sun and weather. Filled bags of earth material will deteriorate quickly. In an emergency any kind of bags can be used.
  • Untied sandbags are recommended for most situations.  Tied sandbags should be used only for special situations when pre-filling and stockpiling may be required, or for specific purposes such as filling holes, holding objects in position, or to form barriers backed by supportive planks.
  • Untied bags should be filled approximately 2/3rds full.  Tied bags can be filled more, but leave enough neck so that it can be tied properly.
  • A sandy soil is most desirable for filling sandbags but any other available material such as silt, clay, gravels or a mixture of these may be used.  Sand is a pervious material and additional weight is obtained when the soil in the sack gets saturated, and sand filled sacks shape really well.  Clay materials are difficult to fill bags with and are difficult to shape.  Gravels are too pervious and are very difficult to shape.  In emergencies, when vehicle access is cut off, use the back side of the levee or adjacent dry field to obtain the sandbag material.  Sandbag levees can be constructed by two people.  Teams are better.  A filled sandbag weighs 40-50 pounds.
  • Sandbag filling operations can be accomplished at or near the placement site, or at centrally located filling sites such as fire stations, or other public works, or at sand borrow pits.  If the bags are to be prefilled at a distant location, due consideration must be given to transportation vehicles and placement site access.  In many cases, access may be only by boat, tractor or helicopter.

Sandbag Placement: General Guidelines

  • Remove any debris from areas where bags are to be placed.
  • Place bags lengthwise and parallel to the direction of flow with the untied open ends of the bags facing upstream.
  • Fill low spots first before placing bags the full length of the area to be raised.
  • Start at the downstream end of the sandbag operation about one foot landward from the river or levee's edge and continue upstream.
  • Fold the open end of the bag under the filled portion. Place succeeding bags with the bottom of the bag tightly and partially overlapping the previous bag.
  • Offset adjacent rows or layers by one-half bag length to avoid continuous joints.
  • Compact and flatten the top of each bag by walking on it – continue this process as each layer is placed to eliminate voids, to prevent slippage between succeeding layers, and to form a tight seal.

Single Stack Placement

  • Sandbags stacked in a single row work well in areas where there is no stream flow velocity or danger from floating debris, such as logs and tree stumps, or from wave action which could topple the bags.
  • Higher single stack placement can be effectively used as a barricade to protect structures from impending water damage.
  • Do not stack sandbags above three courses or layers in height (approximately one foot).

Pyramid Placement

  • Use pyramid placement to increase the height of sandbag protection but use caution when raising the levee height.
  • Determine the height of the sandbag raise by using the best available forecasts of flood conditions. For example, if the water level is one foot below the top of the levee and is predicted to rise three more feet, construct a 2½-foot sandbag operation, including one-half foot of height as a safety factor.
  • Compact each bag in place by walking on it, butting the ends of the sacks together, maintaining a staggered joint placement, and folding under all loose ends.
  • Watch for flooding elsewhere and watch for boils on the landward side of the levee due to increased water elevation.

Ringing Sand Boil Placement

  • A “sand boil” is created by water seepage through the levee foundation or embankment. When seepage transports dirty water, the levee's integrity is threatened. It is generally not necessary to build a ring dike around a boil that is not transporting soils but monitor the boil for any change in condition.
  • Do not attempt to place sandbags directly on the boil – pressure applied to plug the boil will cause water seeping through the levee to seek other avenues to follow and could cause levee failure.
  • There should be a minimum of two- to three-foot radius from the center of the boil to the inside edge of the ring dike.
  • Contain the entire area experiencing boils within the ring dike.
  • Build a spillway section in the dike so water runs out in a controlled manner – this diverts overflow water away from the dike and reduces erosion on the levee slope.
  • Once the spillway water runs clear and is not transporting soils, then the ring dike is completed.

Sandbag Collection, Storage and Disposal

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation encourages reuse of sandbags to the extent it can be reasonably accomplished given limitations of location, health of homeowners, availability of labor, etc.

  • Sandbags that have not come into contact with contaminated floodwater can either be stored for reuse or debagged.
  • Sandbags which have come into contact with floodwater and/or contaminated with raw sewage, industrial chemicals, petroleum products, etc. must be disposed of at a municipal solid waste landfill.
  • Uncontaminated sand can be used as fill or aggregate in upland areas.

ACCEPTABLE: Placement of uncontaminated sand on the lake shoreline.

PROHIBITED: Placement of uncontaminated sand in or alongside streams, tributaries, wetlands, or environmentally sensitive areas.