During floods and severe stormy weather essential services at home can be cut off - including water, electricity and gas. You might rely on these utilities for your disability aids, or you might regularly need help at home from support workers who won’t be able to get to your house in the event of flooding and severe weather.
Floods and severe weather can affect anyone in Australia and can be dangerous
Planning what you will do if your local area floods can help to make sure you stay safe
Consider your disability needs and supports as part of your planning so that you can stay as safe as possible
Moving around your property or town can also be dangerous when the area is flooded or experiencing severe weather, as there can be damage to infrastructure like roads and objects can be floating in water which you can’t see, posing an injury risk.
That’s why it is important to know what you will do if severe weather and floods affect your local area, so you are prepared to safely leave home when necessary.
Flood warnings and ratings
The Government-run Bureau of Meteorology puts out a range of different warnings for different dangerous weather patterns.
The Bureau will issue a Flood Watch when the amount of rain expected in your area could lead to flooding, as early advice so that you can prepare. The Flood Watch includes information about how much rain is forecast and the risk of flooding and is updated daily.
A Flood Warning will be issued when the Bureau is sure there will be flooding in your area and will include how severe the flooding is expected to be - how high the river is expected to rise.
Flooding can be considered minor, moderate or major, so you should look into how these levels of flooding will affect your house in particular before starting to plan what to do when each flood warning is announced.
Have a resource you check regularly for the level of water or expected storm damage in your area. Make sure it is in the most accessible format for you, so that you can best understand when to enact your plan. You might like to listen to the local or ABC radio, check a mobile phone app, check the social media accounts of your State’s emergency services, check a website or watch a live news station on TV.
There are several activities you can do all year round, or ask someone to help you to do, so that your home is more prepared for severe weather.
Keep your gutters and drains clear, so that as much water as possible can drain away, rather than inundate your home.
Trim trees and branches so that they won’t land on your house in windy conditions and make sure your roof is watertight by replacing damaged shingles, tiles or sheets.
If you plan to leave before severe weather, or will not be home when severe weather is expected, you might like to turn off your electricity, water and gas to protect your home and secure any loose objects outside the house.
Don’t try to get home via flooded roads until authorities tell you it is safe, as floodwaters can be moving a lot faster and be a lot deeper than they look.
Having an emergency evacuation plan gives you a set of steps you will take to stay safe and to keep your family safe if you need to leave your home due to extreme weather.
Floods don’t only affect people living in the countryside and anyone living in a town with a river, or close to a river in a city, should have an evacuation plan.
A plan can ensure you know where a good place is to go to when you need to evacuate and also that you have everything you need, including disability aids, communication devices, medication and items for comfort.
Your plan might also include sandbagging parts of your home or property to reduce the chance of water flooding in as much as possible, depending on what level of flooding or whether flash floods are expected. Before you leave you can move objects from the floor onto shelves and benchtops in case some water covers the floor, and empty fridges, leaving the door open to prevent them floating and causing damage inside the house.
Any natural disaster which forces you to evacuate can cause a lot of stress and emotion, and you may not be able to return home safely for a few days, so planning ahead will give you the most safety and comfort during that time.
Record your plan in an accessible format for everyone in your family - this could include writing it down, using pictures and easy read language or making audio recordings.
As creating your plan can be a big task, you don’t have to do it all at once or all by yourself. Involve carers, support workers, occupational therapists or other family friends in helping you plan and break planning up into smaller tasks and conversations with other people that you can have over time.
Practice the actions in your evacuation plan until you and other members of your family, household and support network and pets are comfortable with it.
Make sure you refresh your plan and practice regularly so that they reflect your current needs and circumstances.
What should my plan include?
Your abilities and supports needed:
For example, if you or a member of your household has sensory difficulties, it may not be the best idea to plan to go to a refuge centre where many others in your community will gather during a flood, as this could become overwhelming. It might be better to plan to stay with family or friends who live on higher ground, if possible.
This is so that you can achieve everything you need to before you are placed in any danger. For example, if it takes you longer to pack your belongings because of your mobility then you need to factor that into your plan.
Where you will go:
If you need accessible facilities, consider this in your plan. Does a city nearby have a refuge you can get to which is in an accessible building with toilets you can use? Does the safe place you’ve chosen have quiet spaces or rooms where you can be alone if you need it? Is it close to shops and medical facilities in case you need emergency supplies?
You could have several safe places included in your plan to give you different options depending on what situation you find yourself in. It is common for floods to block off more than one road, so make sure you consider all the possible routes you can take to evacuate and which towns they lead to.
If you have young children it might be helpful to think about a place where your children could be entertained for the day. For example, if you are leaving home because extreme weather has been forecast, where can you go to do activities to keep your children occupied until the dangerous weather has passed? Some regular summer holiday activities which are accessible for children with disability could be a good start.
When you will go:
The safest idea is to leave early. This means if any flooding is forecast, you may need to leave early in the morning or even the night before, to travel to your safe place. It’s best not to wait until you can see the flood water as your escape routes might be flooded.
An emergency kit:
This should be kept in waterproof storage containers and include both essentials and items which will help to manage your level of stress in an emergency, such as:
Medication, prescriptions, and other essential items
Fresh change of clothing, toiletries and hygiene products, including toilet paper and hand sanitiser
Glasses, hearing, communication and mobility aids
Chargers – phone, mobility scooters and any other critical devices
Batteries as back ups for any battery-powered devices you have, including for wheelchairs, radios and torches
First aid kit
Passports, birth certificates, insurance papers and other significant documents
Waterproof bag for valuables and documents
Water and snack food
Pet food (for three to seven days) and other supplies such as a leash, collar and pet carrier, service animal identification, blankets and bedding, pet toys
Mobile phone and list of critical contacts, including doctors and family members
Small treasured items and keepsakes
Items which help you to manage your feelings, such as noise cancelling headphones
For people who use a wheelchair, pack a patch kit to repair tyres and heavy gloves in case you need to wheel over debris or broken glass
Mode of transport:
Will you be able to drive yourself? Will you need a member of your household to drive you and what happens if they are not at home?
If you normally use public transport, consider an alternative if public transport is not running or you need to escape with pets and belongings which will not be able to be brought on public transport.
If you need a taxi or accessible taxi, think about whether it’s possible to use these in an emergency and without booking ahead.
Some other transport related tips for your emergency planning include:
Make sure that you have easy access to funds for taxi services
Ensure that you have the phone number for the taxi service in your area written in your plan if that is one of your options
Make sure any friends and family know they have been included in your emergency planning and that they are able to help
If you are leaving by car make sure the car is packed early, you have enough fuel, and keep the car keys handy. If the car isn’t used often, check that it starts easily
Always have a backup plan and have a backup travel route, in case your regular route is blocked off by flood waters
Ask your local council and State Emergency Services (SES) about what support they can provide to you during an emergency or to help you plan for an emergency.
You can also find emergency planning resources on a number of websites, including your local SES site, but below are some flood and storm weather specific resources:
StormSafe for people with vision impairment (which includes audio messages)
The ‘Get Ready To Go’ emergency kit
To learn more about the risk of flooding in your area you can visit these sites:
Western Australia - contact your local government
For sandbagging resources and tips on how to protect your home from low level flooding visit these resources:
Do you have a plan for what to do if flooding happens around your home? What does your plan include? Tell us in the comments below.