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How to stay safe during floods

Unexpected heavy rain can result in flooding or flash flooding in rural, regional and even metropolitan areas. Floods can be scary and very dangerous, especially if you aren't prepared for it.

Last updated: March 4th 2022
Older couple talking outside their house that has been affected by the floods
You should avoid crossing floodwater, as you can never know how deep the water is or if something is hidden under the surface. [Source: Shutterstock]

Key points:

  • Floods and flash floods can happen anywhere and can develop within a few hours
  • Have a flood plan and emergency kit that are ready for when a flood warning or evacuation is announced
  • Do not enter water if you don't know how deep it is, no matter if you are in a car, on a bike, or walking

Floods can be dangerous for all Australians, however, older people can be very at risk due to their health, physical abilities and mobility.

You should make sure to be extra prepared prior to a flood warning and ensure that you and your home are ready with your emergency plan.



What are floods?

While it can be easy to understand what a flood is, many people may not understand how they happen.

Floods can be caused in a couple of ways:

  • Heavy rainfall that cannot be carried away through the natural waterways such as rivers and creeks or through gutter/drainage systems, resulting in the water spilling over and flooding the nearby area
  • Areas near the coast may have had water rise inland due to a storm surge, such as a cyclone, tsunami, or La Niña weather event

The term flash flooding is for any flooding that occurs due to severe rainfall but generally only happens in smaller areas and doesn't last too long - however, it can be just as dangerous.

Because a lot of areas in Australia are flat, floods can stretch across huge areas and last anywhere from a couple of days to a few weeks.

It is important to remember that just because you aren't in a flood zone or your area hasn't had a flood before, doesn't mean it can't happen where you live.

The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) will announce Flood Watch for areas that may flood due to rain as well as how severe the flooding may be. You should check the BOM regularly for flood warning and advice.

Know your area

If you are already in a flood zone or an area that can flood often, like parts of Queensland, New South Wales, the Northern Territory and Western Australia, you should always be prepared for the possibility of a flood. However, this should also be the same for anyone if there is a natural disaster warning.

Flooding can happen really quickly, within several hours, and you may need to act quickly to protect yourself and your home.

Having some knowledge around the history of your home, whether your location has flooded before and if your house is equipped to handle a flood, can make all the difference.

If your area does have a history of flooding, do you know where you should go if it does flood? Do you have a safe location to go to? Or any routes that will definitely get you out of your area safely?

Have a clear set-out plan if you need to evacuate your house.

If you don't know if you are in a flood-prone area, go to your State or Territory Government website to view flood maps of your area, or contact your local Council.

Preparation for flooding

If there is a flood warning or severe weather warning, it is a sign that you should prepare your home for the worst.

There are a number of important things that should be done to make sure you're ready in case of a flood, including implementing your emergency plan, and having your emergency kit ready.

With your emergency plan it should include:

  • What you intend to do if there is a flood (do you plan to leave before a potential flood or stay at home)
  • If you are staying, do you know how to turn off all the dangerous things at your house, like electricity or gas?
  • Do you have flood insurance? Some insurance companies may not always include it in your policy unless you elect it yourself. Flood damage will cover any water damage to your home and other damage to your home.
  • What is the safest route to take out of the area in case you aren't staying for the flood?
  • Will your health make it unsafe to stay at home? (For instance, if you have poor mobility, it may be unsafe if floodwaters rise)
  • Do you require specific regular medical assistance that could be stopped by a flood? (think about medications you may need, enteral feeding requirements or important doctors appointments or medication etc)
  • How will you look after any animals during a flood?
  • Do you have somewhere you can go if there is a flood?
  • Who do you contact in an emergency? (Family members, friends or emergency services)
  • Is your house set up to stay at your home for a long period of time without leaving?
  • Will you need sandbags to protect your home?

And make sure you and your partner, as well as family and friends, know what your flood plan is.

You should also have an emergency supplies kit prepared, you can learn more about what to have packed in our article, 'Planning for an emergency'.

Make sure to make copies of important documents and put them, and the originals, in a safe spot.

When it comes to implementing an emergency plan for a flood, you will need to make a decision before a heavy storm starts about whether you will stay or go. If you wait too long, the dangers of a flood may make the decision for you, and you might no longer be able to leave.

Older people should give themselves extra time to vacate an area before a flood hits because of the added obstacles a flood brings, as well as if they are in danger because of their health, like vision impairment, mobility and access to necessary services.

If you are vulnerable, it can be a good idea to check in with your local police station about how you are going or for information. Generally, most police will have a list of vulnerable people in the community that they will be checking on during an emergency like a flood.

Important safety tips

The most important rule of floods is to NEVER cross floodwater if you don't know how deep it is - no matter if you are in a car, on a bike or walking. You can never know how deep floodwater is and by the time you drive or walk through it may be too late.

Floodwater can move incredibly fast and take you away easily in the current, even if you are in your car. If you cannot gauge the depth of water, then don't enter it and hope for the best - find another route around.

If you are staying at your home, take time moving valuables on top of tables, benches, or bookcases to keep them out of the way in case your house floods. Any electrical devices should be put away as high as possible in your home. Ask for assistance from neighbours, family or friends if it is too dangerous for you to place things high up.

It can be a good idea to keep in regular contact with your neighbours, who will likely be experiencing the same disaster as you are and may be able to help if things get concerning.

Any items around your home that may be dangerous during a flood or could float away should be secured. If you have any dangerous chemicals in your home, like bleach or garden poison, try to store them as high up as possible.

If you need to activate your flood plan, do so as soon as possible into the weather event. In some cases, emergency services will go around suggesting you evacuate, so it can be ideal to have your emergency kit ready to go.

Keep in mind, if you have been given an evacuation warning, this is likely because it is too dangerous to stay at your home.

You can check your State Emergency Service (SES) websites to find out more information about road blocks, closed roads or dangerous areas, as well as keep up to date with what is happening.

SES websites and emergency contacts

If you have had damage from flooding or a storm or require a flood boat rescue, contact your local State or Territory SES for assistance; or if have become stuck or stranded due to flood water or are in immediate danger contact emergency services on Triple 000.

Contact 132 500 for flood and storm assistance, which we redirect to the relevant State or Territory SES member.

Australian Capital Territory SES

New South Wales SES

Northern Territory SES

Queensland SES

South Australia SES

Tasmania SES

Victoria SES

Western Australia SES

Remember: The SES is a volunteer service and provides non-life threatening assistance for severe weather events, like floods or storms.

What important safety tips do you have for floods? Tell us in the comments below.

Related content:

Planning for an emergency while in aged care
Preparing for hot Australian weather
Staying safe during long heatwaves
Hydration for elderly people and the dangers of dehydration

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