Amid record floods, emergency managers must prepare residents for both physical and economic damage. Preparing your community for flooding season starts with preparing your residents and planning ahead for vulnerable residents who are unable to evacuate.
In Grafton, Mississippi, an unprecedented period of flooding is taking a toll on the community. On May 6, the flood crest reached 32.1 feet, the fourth highest mark recorded in Grafton since the 1800s, according to the New York Times. 9 of 20 of Grafton’s highest flood crests have occurred since 2008, and the latest was high enough to submerge street signs, cover parking lots, and fill buildings on the river. In addition to physical damage and risk, the flooding has endangered the town’s tourism industry, which is the main source of income for many residents. Local officials must prepare the community for flooding season, especially given unprecedented periods of rain and rising flood tables.
In early 2019, farmers across the Midwest were devastated by floods, as the agriculture industry already faced years of economic uncertainty before the disaster. In addition to mitigating damage and preventing residents from getting hurt, leaders in the community should also provide resources to help families amid periods of economic turbulence.
There is no true flood season, but most flooding in the United States occurs between the early spring and fall. Floods are most common in areas with seasonal rainstorms, topography below sea-level, and locations on the coast or along rivers. Areas with heavy snowfall can also be susceptible to flooding in early spring, since snow melt combined with periods of prolonged rain overwhelm bodies of water. Cities must also be aware of flood risk from urban development ,since water absorbing soil and plants are often removed to build housing or other infrastructure. During Hurricane Harvey, the removal of floodplains for urban development purposes was largely responsible for the unprecedented floods.
Floods are among the most destructive natural forces. According to the American Red Cross, 90% of damage caused by natural disasters is due to flooding and the debris it carries. Floods cause an average of 100 deaths per year in the United States alone. Climate change has exacerbated flooding challenges, resulting in unprecedented periods of flooding across the United States. For communities whose economies rely on the tourism or agricultural industries, floods are particularly taxing.
How to Manage A Flood Crisis
In the Midwest, massive flooding has come amid a period of economic downturn. For this reason, local leaders have a responsibility to ensure residents working in agriculture have the crisis resources needed. Floods have increased concerns about the mental health and well-being of farmers during a time where their livelihood are already precarious. Farmers face new stressors when loss of land is at stake, and many compensate by working overtime and doubling down on their work ethic. This, combined with a potential loss of sleep, can prevent workers from making sound safety decisions.
Making sure that counseling resources are readily available to farmworkers can help manage behavior and farm operations. Of course, stigma is still a factor which prevents individuals from seeking help, especially because a large portion of the farming sector are men, who are statistically less likely to seek care. According to PBS, increasing awareness of mental health and emotional well-being in farm magazines and newspapers has helped. Community meetings which bring together businesspeople and farmers to strategize is another way to combat social isolation and guide farmers toward smart decisions during flood season are also an effective strategy.
Keeping the community informed about flood insurance is another way to look out for the economic livelihood of communities during unprecedented flooding. Federal flood insurance maps are largely outdated or don’t factor in climate changes, which prevents people from investing in the flood insurance needed. This can also take an economic toll on a community, which may already be struggling due to the decrease in tourist revenue. Many states hit hardest by floods in the Midwest do not currently have flood insurance plans, as per Curbed. For example, Nebraska’s 49,100 farms and ranches cover more than 45 million acres, but only 8,500 flood insurance policies across 800,000 housing units. The most recent period of flooding will cost the state approximately 1.3 billion in flood losses.
Managing communications and investing in preparedness is also essential during a period of flooding. States will be tasked with managing floods in areas previously unaffected by disasters of this size, and the rapidly changing environment requires a comprehensive safety plan which can accommodate for the worst case scenario. Leaders must effectively communicate the risk to local residents, especially in situations where evacuation will be necessary. It is critical for to residents to be given adequate warning when it comes to evacuation orders, especially those belonging to vulnerable populations such as individuals who are disabled or the elderly.
Leveraging Technology To Improve Emergency Communications During Flood Season
The flooding that has plagued the mid-western and southern United States throughout the Spring months is largely characterized by unpredictable and record-breaking flood tables. During prolonged periods of flooding, keeping residents safe must be a priority. As with any severe weather emergency, a comprehensive emergency communication system is essential for keeping residents informed as the situation develops.
A mass notification system can help local safety managers reach their communities quickly, espcially during situations where. The system gives officials the option of reaching out via e-mail, SMS text message, or via voicemail, as well as posting on social media platforms, providing multiple ways to reach residents. The faster a message can reach the community, the more time people will have to prepare for potential property damage or to leave the floodplain area and seek higher ground.
A polling feature can also be valuable during a flood situation, allowing safety managers check in on residents in communities which are spread out, as with the rural Midwest. A geo-poll feature helps solicit responses via poll questions, and can reach residents via text, voice message, or e-mail. Once the data is collected, emergency managers can make informed decisions about dispatching help or assistance.This enables faster response, and allows local leaders to look out for resident or communities who might be overlooked during flood season, such as farmers or agriculture workers struggling to keep up with water damage.