Flooding is a temporary overflow of water onto land that is normally dry. Floods are the most common natural disaster in the United States. A flood can develop slowly, over a period of several days, or within minutes during flash floods. When there's a flood risk, the National Weather Service issues alerts in several different categories:
Flash Flood Watch: flash flooding is possible
Flash Flood Warning: flash flooding is happening or is about to happen
Coastal Flood Watch: moderate to major coastal flooding is possible
Coastal Flood Warning: moderate to major coastal flooding is happening or is about to happen
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Prepare Your Neighborhood and Home for Family
Where it rains, it can flood! The climate and topography of the District make flooding more likely to happen. In addition, certain parts of the city are more likely to flood due to their elevation and proximity to streams, rivers, and other permanent water elements. If you are in a flood prone area, making adjustments to your property is an essential action to reduce risk of damage. Use the following to prepare your home and neighborhood before a flood.
Understand Your Flood Risk
Learn about your flood risk with our interactive tool: What’s your risk? Additional information on flood risk in the District of Columbia can be found at FEMA Flood Map Service Center and DOEE Flood Risk Map Tool.
Prepare Your Home
- Protect eletrical equipment from flooding: Locate electrical equipment and other machinery above the base flood elevation of your home to prevent costly repairs. If you have a crawlspace that floods, keep at least two openings with one (1) square inch of opening per square foot of enclosed area with the bottom of those openings no higher than one (1) foot above the exterior finished grade.
- Check with a professional to: raise your furnace, water heater, and/or electric panel to floors that are less likely to be flooded. An undamaged water heater may be your best source of fresh water after a flood. For more information, visit the American Red Cross' Flood Safety page.
- Reduce non-absorbent surfaces around your home: Even if you do not live near water, you may be at risk of flooding if surfaces around your home do not absorb stormwater effectively. The Permeable Surface Rebate Program encourages residents to mitigate stormwater runoff and pollution by removing non-absorbent surfaces and replace them with permeable pavement or re-vegetating them to reduce and/or treat stormwater runoff on their property for a rebate.
- Store important document safely: Save copies of important documents in a safe, dry place. Consider keeping original documents in a watertight safety deposit box on a higer floor in your home and/or keep copies of your documents electronically in a cloud so you do not lose access to them.
- Deflect water from your home: If your property experiences minor flooding, consider re-grading the yard so that water flows away from your property. Additionally, consider storing sandbags at your residence because if there is enough advance notice of a storm/flood, you can place them in vulnerable areas (such as doors and basement windows) to deflect water.
Insure and Clean Your Property and Street
Floods are the most common and costly natural disaster, so it’s important to have the right coverage. Homeowners and renter’s insurance usually don’t cover flood damage, so it may be smart to purchase flood insurance. It can take up to 30 days to take effect, so now’s the time to buy.
- Protect your home or business with flood insurance. Call 1-800-427-4661 to find an agent.
- Are you a renter? Protect your belongings with contents coverage.
- Remove debris from gutters and downspouts.
- Clear debris from catch basins. Report clogged catch basins to 311. Help us keep leaves out of catch basins!
- Prune trees and shrubs.
- Photograph your property for insurance purposes.
Build to Avoid Flood Damage
- If building a new home or renovating your current property, consider elevating your home.
- Install green infrastructure, like a rain garden, to slow down and absorb rainwater. Check out the RiverSmart program to receive a rebate.
- Elevate air conditioning units and utilities.
- Dry-proof commercial building to the base flood elevation with wall coatings. Contact the District’s Hazard Mitigation Office to learn more about mitigation options.
- Consider whether or not significant modifications to your home may be worthwhile to make your property more flood resilient. Consider the possibility of raising your home's structure in place so the lowest floor is above the flood elevation level. FEMA offers a free guide to retrofitting.
Before a Flood
- Stay Informed through local radio, television or official social media accounts. Download the free HSEMA app or AlertDC to receive updates wherever you are.
- Bring in outdoor furniture and move important indoor items to the highest possible floor.
- Be aware of creeks and other low-lying areas around your neighborhood prone to sudden flooding.
- If needed, place sandbags in front of your exteriors doors to prevent water from entering your home.
- If instructed, turn off your gas and electricity at the main switch or valve. This helps prevent fires and explosions.
- Store drinking water in various containers and clean bathtubs as water service may be interrupted.
- Be prepared to evacuate if necessary. Be familiar with your evacuation routes around your neighborhood.
- Fill up your car with gas. If electric power is cut off, gas stations may not be able to operate pumps for several days.
- Please refer to the District Department of Energy & Environment guidance for flooding/flood zone information.
- Consider joining SKYWARN, a national network of volunteer severe weather spotters. Spotters are trained by local National Weather Service (NWS) Forecast offices on how to spot severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, hail, etc. For more information, visit weather.gov/lwx/skywarn.
During a Flood
Learn how you and your family can stay safe during a flood.
Avoid flood waters
- Move to higher ground.
- NEVER walk, drive, or bike through flood waters. Just six inches of flowing water can be enough to knock you off your feet or carry your car away.
- If water rises around your car, abandon the car immediately.
- TURN AROUND, DON’T DROWN!
Avoid Contact with Electricity
- Don’t touch electrical equipment. Every source of electricity can be dangerous during or after a flood.
- Treat all downed wires as if they are live and report them to Pepco at 1-877-737-2662
- For life-threatening emergencies, please call 911.
- For government assistance for flood recovery, please call 311.
After a Flood
Learn how you and your family can be safe after a flood.
- Don't return home until District officials indicate it is safe to do so.
- Communicate with family members and friends. Access the Red Cross online registry website, Safe and Well, to give your family members and friends a way to check on your status.
- Be aware of areas where floodwaters have receded and watch out for debris. Floodwaters can erode roads and walkways.
- Stay away from standing water. It might be electrically charged from underground or downed power lines.
- Photograph damage to your property for insurance purposes.
- Check in on your neighbors and see if they need assistance.
Protect the floodplain
- Learn more about new building codes.
- Take part in programs to promote resilience and protect the District.
- Single-Family Residential Rehabilitation Program
- Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) Inspections
- Blackwater Valve Rebate Program
- Flood Proofing Rebate Program
- RiverSmart Homes Program
- Flooding in the District - History and Future Risks (video)