HARRISBURG, Pa. -- As cleanup continues in the aftermath of flooding, state and federal officials urge disaster victims to take protective measures to prevent the damage from happening again.
"It's safer, cheaper, and ultimately much easier to limit future destruction than repair or replace your possessions after disaster strikes," said Jack Schuback, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) official coordinating the disaster-recovery effort in Pennsylvania. FEMA calls such actions "hazard mitigation."
Some mitigation measures, such as acquisition of structures or elevation of buildings are costly, long-term projects. However, residents of flood-prone areas can make many simple home improvements themselves.
"The rebuilding phase of a disaster is the ideal time to consider ways to limit future damage," said Bob Churchman, acting director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency. Churchman is the state coordinating officer for the disaster recovery.
Schuback and Churchman suggested the following measures:
- Relocate or elevate water heaters, furnaces and major appliances. Water heaters, furnaces and appliances such as washers and dryers in the basement can be put on a masonry or pressure-treated wood base at least 12 inches above the previous high-water mark or above the base flood elevation. To be even safer, consider moving them to the first or second floor. Some heating systems can be suspended from the basement ceiling.
- Raise or move electrical systems. Electrical panel boxes, circuit breakers, wall switches and wall outlets should be relocated at least 12 inches above flood level or moved to a higher floor. A licensed electrician, familiar with local codes, should do this work. An uninterrupted electrical supply will allow you to move back to the home more quickly.
- Install a septic backflow valve. Flooded septic systems can force sewage back into the home. Backflow valves can be installed inside or outside the structure but must conform to local building codes.
- Build interior and exterior floodwalls. A watertight masonry floodwall can be constructed to enclose furnaces, utilities and appliances on the lowest floor of the building. On the outside, a similar wall could be constructed around the perimeter of the basement opening to keep water from entering. Walls should be engineered to withstand hydrostatic pressure.
- Anchor your fuel tank. Fuel tanks, whether inside or outside the home, should be anchored to prevent them from overturning or breaking loose in a flood. Metal straps and bolts should be non-corrosive; wood structural supports should be pressure treated.
Funding for hazard mitigation projects may be available to victims of the recent floods who qualify for U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) low-interest loans. SBA may increase the approved loan amount by up to 20 percent if the funds are used for mitigation projects to protect the house from future flood damages.
For more information on hazard mitigation call FEMA's toll-free Helpline at 1-800-525-0321. The number for hearing- or speech-impaired individuals is 1-800-462-7585 (TTY). Lines are operating 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.