On Friday, September 1, Mayor Bowser declared September as “DC Preparedness Month.” Nationwide in September, governments launch efforts to remind residents and businesses to be prepared for disasters or emergencies because in an emergency, every second counts.
DC is at particular risk of flooding because so much of its land is at a low elevation. It is also bounded by two rivers, the Potomac and the Anacostia, which flow to the Chesapeake and make DC subject to riverine, coastal and interior flooding.
More Flooding in DC’s Future
Flooding is the most common natural disaster and incidents are only expected to increase in the District. According to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the District experienced three flooding days in 2020, more than doubling to seven in 2022. For 2023, NOAA forecasts a total of between 10 and 15 flood days.
The District’s Department of Energy and the Environment (DOEE)says that climate change modeling suggests that by 2050, DC tidal waterways will rise at least one foot and maybe more than three feet. In 80 years, they could exceed nine feet. According to the District’s plan to adapt to climate change, Climate Ready DC, storm intensity is also likely to increase, potentially causing interior flooding with greater frequency. That means flooding events are more likely to happen–and they could be more devastating when they do.
“The potential for future severe weather events in the District requires all of us to be more climate resilient and take action to save lives, prevent damage to property, preserve assets and protect us from harm,” wrote DOEE in 2020.
What actions can you take to protect your community and your property against flooding?
Understand the Risk
Find out if your property is on a flood plain. You can use the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Flood Map Service Center (https://msc.fema.gov/portal/home) or the DOEE Flood Risk Map Tool (http://dcfloodrisk.org/) to identify potential flood impacts, past events and future predictions. Tools include FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs), projections for storm surge and sea level rise. They also automatically identify the FEMA flood zone based on the latest FEMA mapping.
Prepare Your Property
Electricity and water don’t mix, so District of Columbia Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency (HSEMA) recommends you make sure machinery and electrical equipment like water heaters, furnaces and electrical panels are located above the flood line of your home. A professional can raise these to locations less likely to be flooded.
Do pools or minor floods appear in your yard? DOEE suggests you consider re-grading so water flows away from buildings. Remove damaged trees and limbs, secure and reinforce the roof, and remove debris from drains and gutters to prevent water damage. Consider installing a backwater valve, which prevents sewage overflow from filling your home.
Permeable surfaces around buildings, such as grass rather than concrete, can help absorb or treat stormwater runoff. Qualifying properties could be eligible for a rebate for modifications through the DOEE Permeable Surface Rebate Program (https://doee.dc.gov/service/permeablesurfacerebate).
Floods are the most common and expensive natural disaster. Statistics offered by FEMA show that one inch of water inside a structure can cause $25,000 in damage.
But homeowners and rental insurance don’t usually cover flood damage, so you might want to purchase flood insurance. The cost will vary depending on whether you live in a high-risk or low-risk area, the value of your home, and the amount of your deductible, among other factors. Most flood policies have a 30-day waiting period before coverage starts so don’t wait for an approaching storm before deciding to buy coverage.
Federal law requires property owners in high-risk flood zones to purchase flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP, https://www.fema.gov/flood-insurance) as a condition of federally insured financing. It can be purchased through an insurance agent or by contacting www.floodsmart.gov.
The District’s Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking (DISB) cautions that standard policies and water backup or sump pump overflow coverage don’t protect against flood loss. When it rains a lot, sewers and drains can overflow into buildings or cause back up in basement areas. This is not a flood and so is not covered by flood insurance. Additional coverage is required.
You should also collect and secure personal financial, insurance, and other records. Photograph valuable property. If an item cannot be replaced, ensure that it is kept at a level well above the flood line or in a secondary location.
Get in the know before a disaster. Sign up for alerts from AlertDC (alertdc.dc.gov). Find other ways to stay informed by visiting https://hsema.dc.gov/page/stay-informed.
Make a family communication plan – if members are scattered at work and school, they should have a plan for getting back together. You could select an out-of-state resident who can serve as a family contact. Family members should memorize that person’s phone, email and home address. Know local evacuation routes; a map is available at hsema.dc.gov.
Create a storm “go-bag” filled with essential disaster supplies, such as medication, key documents, flashlight, candles, food and pet supplies. You can also have emergency supplies in your car or at work. Keep your car’s gas tank full, if possible; gas stations require electric power.
In the case of a flood, you should stay informed through local radio, television or DC HSEMA on social media. Place sandbags in front of exterior doors to prevent water from entering your home. Store drinking water in containers in case water service is interrupted.
During a Flood
You should avoid all flood waters. Never walk, drive or bike through the water. Even just six inches can knock you down or cause your car to float away. If water rises around your car, get out right away. Don’t touch any item powered by electricity and report downed wires to Pepco at 1-877-737-2662. Stay away from standing water since it may be electrically charged. Wait until officials indicate it is safe to return home or to flooded locations.
Take Part in Prevention and Protection Programs
DOEE has established several programs to help prevent flooding. The FloodSmart Homes Program (https://doee.dc.gov/service/floodsmart-homes) funds upgrades to individual buildings to reduce the risk of flood damage and increase resident safety. The RiverSmart program (https://doee.dc.gov/service/get-riversmart) funds projects that reduce stormwater runoff on properties. DC Silver Jackets Team (http://silverjackets.nfrmp.us/State-Teams/Washington-DC) is an interagency group with members from District, regional and federal agencies that identifies solutions to flood risk in the area.
For more information, visit ready.dc.gov and dcfloodrisk.org. Learn more about DC HSEMA and programs by visiting hsema.dc.gov.