This post originally ran on NACCHO’s Healthy People, Healthy Places blog. For more environmental health news and information, visit http://essentialelements.naccho.org/.
Though the official start of spring is still a week away, the season’s hallmark rainstorms have already begun to fall and raise the threat of severe flooding across the country. Flooding is a risk any time of the year but it is particularly heightened when snow begins to melt and warm weather instability whips up frequent storms. As such, many states acknowledge flood safety awareness during the month of March. Local heath departments should take advantage of the heightened awareness opportunity and educate their communities on the importance of developing preparedness plans to keep safe during severe flood events.
Floods are among the most frequent and costly natural disasters, according to the American Red Cross.Any event that thoroughly saturates the ground, such as heavy or steady rain or melting snow, can trigger a flood. Flash floods, which can be particularly dangerous, occur suddenly when water rises rapidly along a stream, river, or low-rising area and rushes into an area. Additionally, homes are often built in flood plains, which are low-lying, river-adjacent areas subject to frequent flooding—compounding the risk people already face from this type of severe weather.
Flood safety is particularly poignant as several Gulf states suffer record flooding due to a storm that dumped up to two feet of rain on the region last week. Swollen streams and rivers have swamped thousands of homes, left 3,000 people in need of National Guard rescue, and at least four people dead. Louisiana in particular has been hard hit, closing schools, issuing flash flood warnings, and declaring a state of emergency.
Local health departments should encourage their community members to develop flood readiness plans that include: planning an evacuation route; securing any home hazards and turning off utilities prior to evacuation; informing local authorities to any friends or family who might need assistance to evacuate (such as elderly individuals or those with disabilities); and staying tuned to local radio or television for updates. Community members should also take care to cache emergency supplies including five gallons of drinking water per person; a 3-5 day of non-perishable food; a first aid kit; a battery powered radio and flashlight; personal hygiene supplies; and insect repellent.
Attribution of Extreme Weather Events in the Context of Climate Change, a new report by the National Academy of Sciences poses that extreme weather events such as the flooding in the southern United States are increasingly, clearly being linked to climate change. The report concludes that it’s now often possible to pinpoint how human-induced climate change has interacted with a specific extreme weather event. A Washington Post analysis states that this moves scientists closer to being able to answer the question, “Is climate change responsible for this event?” Climate change has already been linked to a number of human health threats—food shortages, poor air and water quality, and vector-borne diseases such as Chikungunya and Zika virus—against which local health departments work tirelessly to protect their communities. As specific weather events become easier to trace back to the damaging effects of climate change, local health departments will be better able to to educate community members on the dangers of a warming planet and the ways people can mitigate some of its hazardous effects. Climate change should be a part of the discussion as locals work to raise awareness of the dangers severe flooding poses and the need for preparedness planning.
As the month winds on, local health departments should host awareness events, provide educational material, and engage the communities in activities that promote flood safety and preparedness. A number of resources are available to help support locals in their awareness efforts, including: