Many public and private schools have adjusted to the challenges of COVID and are back in session after many long months. Returning to class is not without risk, though, as natural hazards pose threats to our learning institutions. We will look at the common issue of flooding and its impact on schools. There are ways to protect before, during, and after a flood.
What is a Flood's Definition?
Although the question may seem elementary, both staff and students should have an understanding of a flood event. According to FEMA, “Flooding is a temporary overflow of water onto land that is normally dry. It is the most common natural disaster in the United States,” (www.ready.gov/flood). Some characteristics of flooding include it origins, which can include accumulating rain or snow; storms and storm surges; and overflow from dams or water systems. Flooding can result from a slow-forming event or can occur quickly with flash flooding. Any of these scenarios can result in power outages, transportation and housing issues, as well as safety dangers to life and/or property. (www.ready.gov/flood).
Because flooding is unpredictable in scope and severity, the best course of preliminary preparedness is to implement a safety plan before a flooding event. Benjamin Franklin’s adage that, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” (learningenglish.voanews.com) could not be more true when dealing with natural disasters. As a school administrator, be sure you are diligent in preparation.
How to Prepare for a Flood
Regular Assessment – Locating and correcting drainage issues, sump pump performance, and sewer line backup is vital to protecting your school’s structures.
Offsite Record Retention – Install or purchase an off-site storage facility for all school electronic records. This is important for records retention as well as communications with parents and students after a flooding catastrophe.
Equipment – Address electrical concerns by making sure any power equipment is appropriately elevated from flooding.
Emergency Protocols – Regularly provide evacuation plans and communication protocols with students and parents. For many students, fear of a catastrophic event may be diminished simply by talking about it (https://www.savethechildren.org/content/dam/usa/reports/emergency-prep/GRGS-FLOOD-SAFETY.PDF)
Flood Insurance – Most property or business package policies specifically exclude flooding as a covered peril on your policy. With 6,444 public schools nationwide that serve close to 4 million students in 100 counties with flood risk, the percentage of schools that purchase a flood insurance policy is relatively small, especially given that the flood risk is widespread across the U.S. (www.iii.org/insuranceindustry.blog/back-to-school-flood-safety/). Flood insurance is often considered a costly investment for school boards but when measured against the time, materials, labor, and restoration costs of just one flooding incident, a policy could very well mean the difference in closing a school for an indefinite period rather than having a responsive plan for getting students back in the classroom. The key is to secure coverage before a loss.
What to Do During a Flood
Be Alert to Weather Conditions – Designate members of the school staff to stay current with weather events shaping up in your school’s area. Many news organizations have weather apps that may be installed on your cell phone with alerts for severe weather. You may also want to consider purchasing a NOAA – approved Weather Radio to be housed in a central location for easy access.
Understanding Weather Alerts – Develop an understanding with all school personnel of the different levels of weather threat related to flooding. The National Weather Service may issue one or all of the following alerts for your area as an event unfolds.
Flood Watch and Flash Flood Watch – Flooding or flash flooding is possible
Flood Warning – Flooding is imminent or may be occurring. Immediate evacuation may be advised and the school should follow instructions.
Flash Flood Warning – Flash Flooding is imminent or occurring. Seek higher ground on foot – DO NOT DRIVE THROUGH FLOOD WATERS. Remember, ‘TURN AROUND, DON’T DROWN,” (www.weather.gov) (https://www.nibs.org/)
Transportation and Sheltering In Place Issues – Develop protocols for sheltering in place if transportation is not viable in severe weather. When my children were students at a rural school, they were taken to a local restaurant used as a drop-off location because many of our local roads became impassable during flash flooding events. This was a plan developed by the School Board and the local businesses. It was a comfort to me as a parent to know that my children were not on rural roads in a School Bus and being put at risk of becoming stuck in a flooding situation. This is just one example of how important the response plan is for administrators, teachers, students, and parents.
Dealing with Flood Clean Up
Safe Return – First and foremost, after a flood you will want to determine if there are any personal safety hazards that may make returning too risky for the staff and faculty. Do not enter a building with standing flood waters as there is a risk of electrocution with charged water from electrical lines; do not enter if you hear a hissing sound as this may indicate an issue with natural gas lines; and do not enter if there is visible structural damage to the building making it unsafe.
Immediate Actions – Once the building is safe to return for cleanup, you should take some precautions that may include:
Turning off Gas Lines
Pumping Out Flooded Basements – This should be a gradual process to assess for structural instability
Turning off Power to Office Equipment – Once the power has been turned off, the equipment should be removed from the premises for damage inspection.
Water/Sewer Safety – Inquire from local authorities if the water and sewer systems are safe for usage.
Cleaning – Disinfecting - All remaining mud from flooding should be cleaned and disinfected as there may be sewage and chemicals particles left behind on all surfaces.(www.nibs.org)
Student Safety – Because of safety concerns, children should not be involved in the cleanup process (https://www.savethechildren.org/content/dam/usa/reports/emergency-prep/GRGS-FLOOD-SAFETY-PDF)
As you can see, flood-related catastrophes are major concerns in our country with billions of dollars spent on costly cleanup and repairs after a major flood event. Please take a moment to consider your school’s preparation plan and to implement any necessary changes for safety. We hope that as you make this assessment you will reach out and visit with an agent about what flood insurance protection can mean for you. Our agency staff is waiting to be of service.