Floods are a fact of life. Anywhere that water flows can potentially flood. Every river will at some time overflow its banks and flood surrounding low-lying areas. During heavy rains localized street flooding will occur if the rain falls faster than the drainage system can remove it. While we cannot control the weather events that lead to flooding, there are steps that property owners can take to reduce the risk and deal with the aftermath.
What You Can Do: You can implement one or more flood protection measures, prepare yourself for floods, purchase flood insurance and help the City in its flood protection activities. Read on and keep this information available to learn more about what you can do to protect yourself, your family and your property from floods.
Stream Maintenance: Do not dump or throw anything into streams, channels or catch basins that convey stormwater. Dumping any material in a waterway or catch basin is illegal and may be a violation of the City of Worcester's Wetlands Protection Ordinance. A blocked channel or catch basin cannot carry water and when it rains, the water has to go somewhere. Every piece of trash can contribute to flooding! Even grass clippings and branches can accumulate and block channels. If your property is next to a channel or stream, please do your part and keep the banks clear of brush and debris and remember to keep nearby catch basins clear of leaves and snow.
Construction Requirements: Always check with the Department of Inspectional Services before you build on, alter, regrade, or fill your property. A permit may be needed to ensure that projects do not cause problems on other properties.
Protecting Yourself: Rather than wait for a code requirement, you can act now to protect your property from flood damage. The first thing is to know your flood hazard. Check with DPW&P Engineering Division at (508) 929-1300 and find out the following:
- How high would the 100-year flood be on your building?
- Will the flood go only in your basement or will it be over your first floor?
- How much warning time can you expect?
- How will you get the flood warning?
- Will your access or evacuation route be blocked by flooded streets?
There are several good references on retrofitting published by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers available in the Worcester Public Library or online at
www.cwmars.org. Start with Step 8 in Repairing Your Flooded Home to get an idea about retrofitting and flood proofing. Once you have an idea about what would be appropriate to your situation, check Design Manual for Retrofitting Flood-prone Residential Structures, FEMA-114, for more details. There are good illustrations of retrofitting measures in Flood Proofing Systems & Techniques. Flood Proofing: How to Evaluate Your Options can help you decide what is best for your flooding, building, and financial situation.
Flood Preparedness: There are many things that can be done to prepare for the next potential flood. Consider the following:
- Read the safety instructions towards the end of this page.
- Talk to your insurance agent about your coverage. Check out flood and sewer backup insurance.
- Prepare a list of emergency telephone numbers, including your insurance agent. Make copies and keep them in your car, at work and at a friend's house.
- Assemble the supplies you will need for cleanup and recovery. Keep them in a safe place. A list of such supplies is on pages 4-5 of Repairing Your Flooded Home.
- Make a record of all of your personal property. Go through your house room by room and record household inventories. Take photographs or videotapes. Inventory forms are available free from most insurance companies or you can make your own.
- Put photocopies of inventory records, insurance policies, deeds, automobile titles, wills, telephone numbers, bank and credit card account numbers and other valuable papers at a location away from your house, such as a safe deposit box.
- Prepare a flood response plan that will help you think through all the details that demand attention after a flood watch or warning is issued. Writing it down will help you remember everything, which is especially important when everyone is in a hurry and anxious because a flood is coming.
- Identify two places where family members can meet if you are split up - one place in the neighborhood and another place that is sure to be high and dry and out of the flood area.
- If you know a flood is coming, you should shut off the gas and electricity and move valuable contents upstairs.
Flood Insurance: Flood insurance is highly recommended, especially if you don't retrofit. If you did retrofit, it is still recommended in case the flood exceeds your flood protection design. An advantage of insurance is that your property is covered as long as the policy is in force, even when you're not home to implement your flood response plan. Most standard property insurance policies do not cover a property for flood damage.
The City of Worcester participates in the National Flood Insurance Program. Local insurance agents can sell a separate flood insurance policy under rules and rates set by the Federal Government. Any agent can sell a policy and all agents must charge the same rates. Your rates will not change just because you file a damage claim; they are set on a national basis.
Any walled and roofed structure can be covered by a flood insurance policy. Detached garages and accessory buildings are covered under the policy for the lot's main building. Separate coverage can be obtained for the building's structure and for its contents (except for money, valuable papers, and the like). The structure generally includes everything that stays with a house when it is sold, including the furnace, cabinets, built-in appliances and wall-to-wall carpeting. There is no coverage for things outside the house, such as the driveway and landscaping. Note: Renters can buy contents coverage, even if the owner does not buy structural coverage on the building.
Some people have purchased flood insurance because it was required by the bank when they obtained a property mortgage or home improvement loan. Usually these policies just cover the building's structure and not the contents. Historically, during the kind of flooding that happens in Worcester, there is usually more damage to the furniture and contents than there is to the structure.
If you own property in the City of Worcester and are subject to flooding, the following information and suggested activities are important to you:
- Do not walk through flowing water. Drowning is the number one cause of flood deaths. Currents can be deceptive; six inches of moving water can knock you off your feet. Manhole covers may be displaced and a wrong step may plunge you into a deep hole where you could become trapped. Use a pole or stick to ensure that the ground is still there before you go through an area covered by water.
- Do not drive through a flooded area. More people drown in their cars than anywhere else. Do not drive around road barriers; the road or bridge may be washed out.
- Stay away from power lines and electrical wires. The number two flood killer after drowning is electrocution. Electrical current can travel through water. Report downed power lines to National Grid or the City's Department of Public Works & Parks at (508) 929-1300.
- Have your electricity turned off by the Power Company. Some appliances, such as television sets, keep electrical charges even after they have been unplugged. Don't use appliances or motors that have gotten wet unless they have been taken apart, cleaned and dried.
- Look out for animals. Small animals that have been flooded out of their homes may seek shelter in yours. Use a pole or a stick to poke and turn things over to scare away small animals.
- Look before you step. After a flood, the ground and floors are covered with debris including broken bottles and nails. Floors and stairs that have been covered with mud can be very slippery.
- Be alert for gas leaks. Use a flashlight to inspect for damage. Don't smoke or use candles, lanterns or open flames unless you know the gas has been turned off and the area has been ventilated.
- Carbon monoxide exhaust kills. Use a generator or other gasoline-powered machine outdoors. The same goes for camping stoves. Charcoal fumes are especially deadly - cook with charcoal outdoors.
- Clean everything that got wet. Flood waters may have picked up sewage and chemicals from roads, farms, factories and storage buildings. Try to avoid contact with flood waters both inside and outside your home. Spoiled food, flooded cosmetics and medicines can be health hazards. When in doubt, throw them out. All surfaces will need to be disinfected.
- Take good care of yourself! Recovering from a flood is a big job. It is tough on both the body and the spirit and the effects a disaster has on you and your family may last a long time. Read Step 1 in Repairing Your Flooded Home on how to recognize and care for anxiety, stress and fatigue.