Flooding Safety and Response

Updated November 13, 2023

What's the Situation?

Floods are the most common and widespread types of natural disasters. Seattle is surrounded by bodies of water on all sides so preparing for a flood and knowing what to do in the event of one is important. Be aware, it is possible to be swept off your feet in as little as 6 inches of water and for cars to be swept away in as little as 2 feet of water. Learn more about how floods can affect Seattle.

The main types of flooding that affect the Seattle area include:

  • Coastal flooding: When high tides and wind push water into coastal areas during storms, this type of flooding can erode the toes of bluffs and cause landslides.
  • Riverine flooding: Occurs when heavy rain/precipitation causes rivers and streams to overflow.
  • Urban flooding: Occurs when sudden rain overwhelms the capacity of the drainage system. Certain low-lying areas are more likely to experience this kind of flood.

What We Do During Floods

  • The City will activate the Emergency Operation Center during severe storms or other disasters to help coordinate the response efforts. Safety and emergency information will be shared with residents via AM/FM radio, TV broadcast, AlertSeattle, and social media.
  • Seattle Police Department and Seattle Fire Department respond to any life-threatening emergencies.
  • Seattle Public Utilities monitors and responds to minor flooding issues such as ponding, drainage or sewer backups, sewer overflows, or a blocked culvert or creek.
  • Seattle Public Utilities also maintains the sewer system and manages storm water that enters it.
  • The Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections is responsible for endorsing the restoration of all electrical services in homes and buildings after any type of flooding.

How to Stay Safe

Preparing for a major flood

  • Sign up for local natural disaster notifications.
  • Know the flood risk in your area and retrofit your house to improve its ability to withstand water. See FEMA's Homeowner's Guide to Retrofitting.
  • Assemble an emergency kit, make an evacuation plan, and learn about community emergency plans, evacuation routes, and shelters.
  • Consider documenting and securing valuables and purchasing flood insurance.

During a flood, be careful around power lines and electrical appliances

  • Stay away from downed power lines and electrical wires.
  • Disconnect any electrical appliances. Additionally, do not touch electrical equipment if you are wet or standing in water.
  • Turn off utilities at the main switches if instructed to do so by authorities and leave them shut off until emergency authorities confirm that it is safe to turn them back on.

Avoid contact with floodwater

  • Assume that floodwater may have contaminants. Avoid contact with floodwater whenever possible.
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and clean water if you have come in contact with floodwater.

Do not approach moving water, instead seek higher ground

  • Turn around, don't drown. Even shallow water can be dangerous as you can be swept off your feet in as little as 6 inches of water and cars can be swept away in as little as 2 feet of water. Follow the official warnings about flooded areas.
  • If your home is flooded, move to higher ground including higher (non-flooded) floors of your home and do not enter basements until flooding has subsided.

Returning Home and Cleanup After a Flood

Before returning home

  • Wait for the "All Clear" from authorities before entering areas that experienced flooding.
  • Once the water has receded, check with electricity, gas, and water authorities to determine whether supplies to area have been interrupted and are safe to turn on by homeowners and businesses.
  • Be extremely cautious with all electrical items. Every source of electricity can be extremely dangerous under flood conditions.
  • If the utility was intentionally disconnected due to a flood, fire or other known hazards, power will not be reconnected until an endorsement from Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections is provided.

Inspect for damage

  • Check for gas leaks and ventilate your house to prevent mold.
  • Inspect structures for damage. Watch for loose floorboards, holes in the floor, protruding nails, and sagging ceiling areas that may be at risk of falling.
  • Document any damages. Take photos of any water in the house and save damaged personal property for insurance purposes.

Cleaning up your home

  • Throw away, or at least move outside, anything that was wet with flood water and can’t be cleaned and dried completely within 24 to 48 hours. Drying your home and removing water-damaged items is the most important step to prevent mold damage.
  • Avoid using the toilets and water faucets until you have checked for sewage and water line damage. If you suspect damage, call a plumber.
  • Wear gloves and boots when cleaning and disinfecting walls, floors, closets, shelf contents and other flooded parts of your home. Clean and sanitize according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for emergency cleanup.
  • Pump out flooded basements gradually. Pump out about one-third of the water per day to avoid structural damage.
  • Discard contaminated items that cannot be cleaned such as stuffed furniture (mattresses and couches).
  • Discard all foods and water exposed to flood water except those in sealed (air-tight) containers.

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