Returning Home After A Flood

Reading Time: 5 minutes

When returning to a home that’s been flooded after a natural disaster, be aware that your house may be contaminated by floodwaters, mold, or sewage, all of which can cause health risks for your family. Below are some tips for Skagitonians who may be returning home after flooding.

When you first reenter your home.

Before returning home, make sure that it is safe to do so. Always pay attention to authorities for information and instructions. 

When it is safe, try to return to your home during the daytime so that you do not have to use any lights. Use battery-powered flashlights and lanterns, rather than candles or gas lanterns. Please keep the following in mind:

  • If you have standing water in your home and can turn off the main power from a dry location, then go ahead and turn off the power, even if it delays cleaning. If you must enter standing water to access the main power switch, then call an electrician to turn it off. NEVER turn power on or off yourself or use an electric tool or appliance while standing in water.
  • If you smell gas or suspect a leak, turn off the main gas valve, open all windows, and leave your house immediately. Notify the gas company or the police or fire departments or State Fire Marshal’s office, and do not turn on the lights or do anything that could cause a spark. Do not return until you are told it is safe to do so.
  • If the house has been closed for several days, enter briefly to open doors and windows to let the house air out for a while (at least 30 minutes) before you stay for any length of time.
  • If your home has been flooded and has been closed for several days, assume your home has been contaminated by floodwater, sewage, and/or mold. See Floodwater After a Disaster or Emergency.

Stay out of floodwater.

Floodwaters contain many things that may harm health. It is important to protect yourself from exposure to floodwater regardless of the source of contamination. The best way to protect yourself is to stay out of the water.

If you come in contact with floodwater:

  • Wash with soap and clean water as soon as possible. If you don’t have soap or water, use alcohol-based wipes or sanitizer.
  • Take care of wounds and seek medical attention if necessary.
  • Wash clothes contaminated with flood or sewage water in hot water and detergent before reusing them.

If you must enter floodwater, wear rubber boots, rubber gloves, and goggles.

Throw away unsafe food.

Throw away food that may have come in contact with flood or storm water; perishable foods that have not been refrigerated properly due to power outages; and those with an unusual odor, color, or texture. Unsafe food can make you sick even if it looks, smells, and tastes normal. When in doubt, throw it out. For more information, visit Keep Food Safe After a Disaster or Emergency.

Use safe water.

Floodwater can contaminate your drinking water. Some contaminants from surface water get into the groundwater and affect private drinking water wells and municipal water systems that use groundwater.

Do not use water you suspect or have been told is contaminated to wash dishes, brush your teeth, wash and prepare food, wash your hands, make ice, or make baby formula. Safe water for drinking, cooking, and personal hygiene includes bottled, boiled, or treated water.

For tips on how to properly disinfect contaminated water, go to Public Health’s Safe Water webpage or give us a call at (360) 416-1500.

For well water:

Wells that have been flooded may be contaminated with pathogenic organisms that can cause disease (bacteria, viruses). To have well water tested, contact one of the labs below:

  • Edge Analytical, Burlington: 360-757-1400
  • Everett Environmental Laboratory, Everett: 425-257-8230
  • Monroe Water Quality Laboratory, Monroe: 360-794-6558
  • Exact Scientific Services, Ferndale: 360-733-1205
  • Lynden Water Treatment Plant, Lynden: 360-255-5470

For septic systems.

For information about what to do with your septic system after a flooding event, go to: https://www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/septic-systems-what-do-after-flood.

Clean up your home safely.

Before you begin to clean, be sure to check in with your insurance company. You may need to document any damage to your property.

Take steps to protect yourself and your loved ones during the cleanup process. For more information, visit Clean Up Safely After a Disaster. Some quick tips?

  • Using personal protective equipment (or “PPE”), like gloves, eye protection, and a dust mask to avoid breathing in fine silts and sands.
  • Be sure to wear long sleeve shirts and pants while cleaning and wash hands frequently with soap and water.

Use generators and other electrical equipment safely.

Talk to your utility company about using electrical equipment, including power generators. Be aware that it is against the law and a violation of electrical codes to connect generators to your home’s electrical circuits without the approved, automatic-interrupt devices. If a generator is online when electrical service is restored, it can become a major fire hazard. In addition, the improper connection of a generator to your home’s electrical circuits may endanger line workers helping to restore power in your area.

All electrical equipment and appliances must be completely dry before returning them to service. Have a certified electrician check these items if there is any question. For more information, see Protect Yourself and Others From Electrical Hazards After a Disaster.

Never use a generator, pressure washer, any gasoline-powered engine, or charcoal grills inside your home, basement, or garage or less than 20 feet from any window, door, or vent. Visit Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning After an Emergency for more information.

Dry out your home to prevent mold.

If flood or storm water has entered your home, dry it out as soon as possible to prevent mold. Here’s some helpful guidance:

People with asthma and other lung conditions and/or immune suppression should not enter buildings with indoor water leaks or mold growth that can be seen or smelled. Children should not take part in disaster cleanup work.

If you have electricity and an electrician has determined that it’s safe to turn it on, use a “wet-dry” shop vacuum (or the vacuum function of a carpet steam cleaner), an electric-powered water transfer pump, or sump pump to remove standing water. If you are operating equipment in wet areas, be sure to wear rubber boots to avoid electrocution.

If you do not have electricity, or it is not safe to turn it on, you can use a portable generator to power equipment to remove standing water. Note: If you must use a gasoline-powered pump, generator, pressure washer, or any other gasoline-powered tools to clean your home, never operate the gasoline engine inside a home, basement, garage, carport, porch, or other enclosed or partially enclosed structures, or less than 20 feet from any door, window, or vent, even if the windows and doors are open. Such improper use can create dangerously high levels of carbon monoxide and cause carbon monoxide poisoning.

If weather permits, open windows and doors of the house to aid in the drying-out process.

Use fans and dehumidifiers to remove excess moisture. Fans should be placed at a window or door to blow the air outwards rather than inwards, so not to spread the mold.

Have your home heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) system checked and cleaned by a maintenance or service professional who is experienced in mold cleanup before you turn it on. If the HVAC system was flooded with water, turning on the mold-contaminated HVAC will spread mold throughout the house. Professional cleaning will kill the mold and prevent later mold growth. When the service determines that your system is clean and if it is safe to do so, you can turn it on and use it to help remove excess moisture from your home.

Prevent water outdoors from reentering your home. For example, rainwater from gutters or the roof should drain away from the house; the ground around the house should slope away from the house to keep basements and crawl spaces dry.

Ensure that crawl spaces in basements have proper drainage to limit water seepage. Ventilate to allow the area to dry out.

For more information on mold cleanup, visit Homeowner’s and Renter’s Guide to Mold Cleanup After Disasters.


If you have questions or concerns about re-entering your home, please contact Skagit County Public Health at (360) 416-1500 or email EH@co.skagit.wa.us.


Prepare to Protect – September is National Preparedness Month

Reading Time: 3 minutes

As if the current pandemic wasn’t enough, the wildfires and extreme heat this summer definitely helped to remind us of the importance of preparing for disasters. Now that we’re in September, it is time to celebrate National Preparedness Month (NPM), an awareness campaign which promotes family and community disaster and emergency planning. It’s an opportunity to remind folks that we all must prepare ourselves and our families for when emergencies happen.

The goal of NPM is to increase the overall number of individuals, families, and communities that engage in preparedness actions at home, work, school…wherever! This year’s theme is “Prepare to Protect. Preparing for disasters is protecting everyone you love.” Each week in September, a different aspect of preparedness is highlighted. The weekly highlights this year include:

September 1-4: MAKE A PLAN

What this means…

It may help to ask yourself a few questions as you create your emergency plan and discuss them with the other members of your household. They include:

  1. How will I receive emergency alerts and warnings?
  2. What is my shelter plan?
  3. What is my evacuation route?
  4. What is my family/household communication plan?
  5. Check with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and update my emergency plans due to COVID-19.
  6. Talk to your friends and family about how you will communicate before, during, and after a disaster. Make sure to update your plan based on the Centers for Disease Control recommendations due to the coronavirus.

Talk to your friends and family about how you will communicate before, during, and after a disaster. Make sure to update your plan based on the Centers for Disease Control recommendations due to the coronavirus.

Once you’ve made your emergency plan, practice it! Try testing your communications plan and meeting at your agreed-upon shelter if you get separated. For guidance on making an emergency plan, go visit Ready.gov here.

September 5-11: BUILD A KIT

What this means…

Gather supplies that will last for several days after a disaster for everyone living in your home. Don’t forget to consider the unique needs each person or pet may have in case you have to evacuate quickly. To assemble your kit, store items in airtight plastic bags and put your entire disaster supplies kit in one or two easy-to-carry containers such as plastic bins or a duffel bag.

A basic emergency supply kit could include the following recommended items:

  • Water (one gallon per person per day for several days, for drinking and sanitation)
  • Food (at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food)
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert
  • Flashlight
  • First aid kit
  • Extra batteries
  • Whistle (to signal for help)
  • Dust mask (to help filter contaminated air)
  • Plastic sheeting and duct tape (to shelter in place)
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties (for personal sanitation)
  • Wrench or pliers (to turn off utilities)
  • Manual can opener (for food)
  • Local maps
  • Cell phone with chargers and a backup battery

Note: Since Spring of 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended people include additional items in their kits to help prevent the spread of coronavirus or other viruses and the flu. Some additional items include face masks, soap, hand sanitizer, and disinfecting wipes to disinfect surfaces.

For more guidance on building an emergency kit, go to Ready.gov here.

September 12-18: LOW-COST, NO-COST PREPAREDNESS

What this means…

Limit the impacts that disasters have on you and your family. Know the risk of disasters in your area. Learn how to make your home stronger in the face of storms and other common hazards.  Check your insurance coverage to make sure it is up-to-date. For information on ensuring your property, go here.

September 19-25: TEACH YOUTH ABOUT PREPAREDNESS

What this means…

Talk to your kids about preparing for emergencies and what to do in case you are separated. Reassure them by providing information about how they can get involved.

Establish a family meeting place that’s familiar and easy to find, and don’t forget to think about specific needs in your family. Your family’s needs change over time, so update your plan regularly. For guidance on emergency plans for families with children, go here.


For more preparedness information, including how to make a disaster or emergency plan and how to make your own emergency kit, go to www.ready.gov.

Skagit County also has local disaster information on our emergency preparedness website. Here, you can register to receive emergency alerts and notifications in your area through the CodeRed Emergency Notification System.  This system is a great way to receive local, timely and critical information when it matters most.


Know Your Family Health Hazards

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Guest post by Skagit County Emergency Management

Emergency Management is mostly about risk management. The theory is that if you know what your risks are, you can plan for a better response when an emergency hits and be able to recover more easily. Risk management works alongside prevention, protection and mitigation, which reduce risks before an emergency; all are vital to emergency management. We have a variety of major hazards in Skagit County — flood, volcano, fire, storms, tsunami, and hazardous materials to name a few. Do you know what your personal and family hazards are? Including any health hazards you know of in your family plan is an important component of risk management.

Current events have shown how important it is to be prepared for health hazards. Along with the facemasks and hand sanitizer, what can you do to protect your family’s health during an emergency?

First, know what your family’s health hazards are are. They could include allergies, diabetes, respiratory illness or necessary medications. Any medical condition that requires specific medication or medical equipment or that gets worse from stress can be a health hazard.

Second, include your family’s health hazards in your emergency planning. Know what can trigger the condition or make it worse, what the reactions look like, and what’s needed to make it better. If possible, have back-up medicine or equipment in your evacuation kit. I know it’s not always possible, especially for equipment. At a minimum, include the following in your kit:

  • A list of all medications with dosage requirements and prescription information
  • A list of equipment, including where it came from and any required settings
  • Non-medical emergency provisions
  • A copy of your medical insurance information and doctor contact information with your important documents
  • Some medical conditions can decrease your immune response, so you may want to increase your supplies of facemasks and hand sanitizer

What does that look like in practice? If you have allergies that have an anaphylactic response, keep an epinephrine injection (commonly called an EpiPen) in your kit and be extra cautious of triggers. If it’s a reaction that can be triggered by skin absorption, have gloves in your kit. If you have diabetes, have a list of medications, what kind of insulin and needles you use, the location of your glucose meter, and some appropriate emergency food for when your blood sugar gets low. Let your family know what it feels like when your sugar is low and what they can watch out for.

Preparing for health hazards doesn’t end once the emergency is over — it includes being aware of potential triggers afterwards. Medical equipment may need to be replaced; having a list of where the equipment came from and any special settings needed can speed up replacing it. Cleaning products, mold, and other contaminants can trigger medical conditions, so be alert for medical reactions. Long-term stress can also aggravate some conditions.

Health hazards come in all shapes and sizes. Planning for an emergency should include health hazards to help you respond and recover from the emergency. Knowing what the triggers are, what reactions to look out for, and what’s needed to combat that reaction can help save a family member. It’s always a good idea to take First Aid and CPR training, too!


Be Prepared If You Have To Go

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Guest post by Skagit County Emergency Management

Right now, we’re all reminded of the power of nature. The West Coast is experiencing historic wildfires, and the Gulf Coast is reeling from an unusually active hurricane season. Even though the thought of needing to evacuate your home might be stressful, it’s important to prepare for that possibility now. Planning ahead can reduce anxiety. Being prepared and knowing what to do will help you when a major disaster strikes.

In recent months, we’ve been reminded of how important it is to have items stocked and ready, from food and water to face masks. It’s good to have supplies if you can’t leave your house, but what happens if you can’t stay there? There are steps you can take now to prepare, such as having a Go Bag ready in case you need to leave your home, and establishing a game plan for when it’s time to go. What do you take if you have 5, 10 or 30 minutes to evacuate? Have some bare necessities ready to go, and know what you’ll grab if you have time.

What can you do now?

Know when it’s time to go—sign up for alerts and warnings. Skagit County uses CodeRED for local emergencies and alerts. NOAA weather alerts are available, and many weather apps can be set to notify you of new alerts. If you travel to an area outside the county on a regular basis, check with the emergency management for the local area and sign up for alerts there as well.

Document your property with pictures or create a video with details about special items. Send the files to your email or an internet cloud location like Dropbox so you can access it from anywhere, and consider sending it to your emergency contact person to store.

Build a Go Bag for each person. Use a backpack or plastic tote that is small enough to be easily handled by one person. Everyone has a different set of priorities for items to include, so cover your high priorities first. If you have kids, let them help build their Go Bag, and let them choose some of the things that go in it so they have ownership of it. First things first, though—ALWAYS know where your wallet and cell phone are!

Priority items to have in Go Bags:

  • Face masks and hand sanitizer for everyone
  • Nonperishable food and manual can opener—replace food every 6 months
  • 1 gallon of water per person per day and/or a way to sanitize water to be drinkable
  • Essential medications
  • First aid kit
  • Flashlight and batteries
  • Personal hygiene items, including toilet paper
  • Important documents stored in a waterproof container: think identification, medical and financial essentials, such as an emergency contact list, insurance papers, birth certificates, driver’s license, marriage license, list of important numbers like social security, credit cards, bank accounts, vehicle and property paperwork
  • Consider special needs in your household, such as elderly, infant, access and functional needs, pets—each may have special medical needs, specific food needs, supplies, and records
  • Radio and extra batteries
  • Small comfort item, like a copy of your favorite family photo or a small stuffed animal
  • Other items to consider:
    • Money, checks, credit card
    • Sturdy shoes
    • Change of clothes
    • Sleeping bag/blanket
    • Cell phone charger
    • Whistle
    • Garbage and zip-top bags
    • Bleach
    • Matches
    • Picnic items or camp mess kits to eat from

What do you do when it’s time to go?

If there is no time, remember People, Pets, and Packs. Grab your people, your pets and your Go Bag and GO! In some emergencies, there is no time to get more. You need to get to a safe area as quickly as possible. Your life can not be replaced.

If you have 5 minutes: Add essential medical equipment, non-vital medications, glasses, laptop and charger, and any items from the list above that aren’t already in your Go Bag.

If you have 30 minutes and room in your vehicle: Add treasured family items, individual emotional comfort items, changes of clothes, and computer backups. Prepare your home as much as you can in the time you have: turn off utilities, move furniture depending on the reason for evacuation (fire: away from walls, flood: off the floor), move things that can catch fire or explode under heat away from your house, such as vehicles, grills, and firewood.

Every step you take today helps to mitigate the effects of large scale events on our families and communities. Make a game of drilling your family on what to take during an emergency—have them run around and put a sticker on what they consider the most important items while you time them. Make a list of those items and put the list in a zip-top bag attached to the front of your Go Bag. Knowing when to leave and what you will take during an emergency can give you one less thing to worry about in today’s world.

Resources:

Redcross.org

Ready.gov