STATE—With April arriving next week, and with it its proverbial showers to bring May flowers, now is a good time to brush up on safety protocol as part of Flood Safety Awareness Week, recognized March 26-30.
According to Pennsylvania Emergency Management Association (PEMA) Acting Director Randy Padfield, “There are a number of very specific things you can do right now to make sure you’re ready with a plan if flooding affects your home or business. Start with one step, and then chose one or two more to broaden your plan’s value so that it can be used in any type of emergency.”
Steps include signing up for weather alerts, acquiring a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radio to stay abreast of severe weather situations, planning an evacuation route if need be, having an established meeting spot for family members in case of separation during an evacuation, and purchasing flood insurance.
Padfield noted in a PEMA release that it is also important to know the meteorological definitions of “watch” and “warning.”
A flood watch, “means that flooding may occur. Residents should stay alert, closely monitor rivers and streams, and be prepared to move to high ground quickly,” states the release.
A flood warning, “means that there is actual flooding. Residents should act at once and move to high ground,” according to the PEMA release.
In preparing for an emergency evacuation, PEMA recommends keeping at least half a tank of gas in one's car, planning several evacuation routes in case roads are impassable, keep important records in a waterproof/fireproof safe, and have an emergency kit handy.
Kits should include water, non-perishable food, battery- or crank-powered radios and light sources, extra batteries, a first-aid kit, matches in a waterproof container, and any important medications/supplies family members may need.
PEMA recommends practicing emergency plans regularly.
Those with pets and/or livestock should include animal food and necessary medications/paperwork in their emergency kits, as well as a portable carrier/crate for small pets, leashes for large ones, and necessary trucks, trailers and pastures for livestock.
PEMA recommends pet owners make note of what hotels allow pets and plan accordingly. “For public health reasons, many emergency shelters cannot accept pets,” states the PEMA website. “As you prepare your emergency plan, identify an emergency animal shelter location in your area (kennels, adjoining farms, state and local fairgrounds, Pennsylvania State Animal Response Team (PASART), County Animal Response Team (CART), etc).”
If pets must be left behind, homeowners are advised to leave plenty of food and water for the animals, and a clearly visible sign for rescue workers indicating the number and types of animals which remain.
More information about planning emergencies is available from the PEMA website at www.ready.pa.gov.
The PEMA release encouraged residents to consider purchasing flood insurance even if they live outside a federally-designated flood zone, noting that National Weather Service (NWS) data shows 90 percent of flood reports since 1993 happened outside those flood zones.
Noting flood waters are hazardous to one's health, Pennsylvania Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine cautioned in the release “Floodwater can be toxic and dangerous, so we encourage people to avoid coming in contact with it.
“Sewage and hazardous materials are often found in floodwater, which contaminates water sources and can lead to gastrointestinal illness. Sharp objects, such as glass and other damaged objects can also be found in the water, these can cause injuries and infections such as tetanus.”
Keeping flood safety awareness in mind, residents are reminded that municipalities recently updated and adopted Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) compliant floodplain ordinances to remain in compliance with the National Flood Insurance Program.
It is advised residents check with their municipalities for what effect the ordinances may have on their local operations.
According to the Wayne County Planning Commission 2018 Annual Report, the ordinances were a requirement for access to digitized Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs).
The report states “The maps for Wayne County are currently in preliminary format, and once the maps are finalized an official Letter of Final Determination (LFD) will be issued, notifying the local communities that the new maps will become effective six month following the issuance of the LFD.”
The report notes the LFD was sent August 1, 2018, meaning ordinances needed to be adopted by February 1, 2019.
According to the report, municipalities not in compliance with the National Flood Insurance Program are met with the following penalties:
• A lapse of flood insurance coverage for policy holders
• New policies can't be filed, meaning properties in non-compliant community can't be bought or sold using a federally backed mortgage
• No access to federal grants or loans for structures in those areas
• No federal disaster assistance
• Possible liability issues due to denying local citizens the ability to purchase flood insurance in those areas.
—Information from a release was used in this story.