How to prepare for flooding: flood warnings, cleanups and insurance requirements

In a recent nationwide survey, we found that almost three quarters of British homeowners and renters were unsure of how to deal with potential flooding of their property. Most people were also uncertain about the differences between the three types of flood warnings, and how they should react to each of them.

This was particularly worrying for us to see. Not only does the Environment Agency expect people to know this information, but flooding is expected to occur more frequently and more severely in the coming decades.

If you’re concerned about the risk of flooding, or you simply want to make sure you’re prepared for any eventuality, we’ve put together this guide on how to protect your family and home.

3 flood warnings

There are three types of flood warning that the Environmental Agency can issue to warn the public about potential flooding in their area.

It’s important to understand what they mean and what you need to do to ensure you remain safe.

1.  Flood Alertflood-codes-003

A flood alert is issued usually between two – 48 hours in advance of any potential flooding and in any area where flooding is possible, so you should have some time to prepare for the worst with these simple steps:

  • Be prepared to act on your flood plan (click here for an explanation of what a flood plan is, and why you should have one)
  • Assemble a ‘flood kit’ of essential items. This should include:
    • any important documents you might need
    • your insurance policy number
    • mobile phones and chargers
    • children’s essentials such as baby food, nappies or medication
    • emergency cash and credit cards
    • bottled water
    • a torch
    • Batteries
    • wellington boots
    • important medical prescriptions
  • Avoid walking, cycling or driving through any flood water you encounter. There could be hidden dangers underwater, such as sharp objects or raised manhole covers. The water may also be polluted. If you drive along a flooded road you risk getting stuck, adding to the burden of the emergency services, which may put other lives at risk
  • If you want updates on flooding information, you can call Floodline on 0845 988 1188

2. Flood Warningflood

A flood warning is issued in an area where flooding is not just possible, but expected.

Flood warnings are issued between half an hour to one day in advance of flooding, so you’ll need to act as soon as possible if you see this warning.

Homes and businesses are in danger of becoming flooded, as are rail and road networks, which can lead to major disruptions in the area. Here’s what to do:

  • Move your family, pets and valuables upstairs
  • Put all flood protection equipment you own in place, such as sandbags, hydrosacks or flood barriers in front of all your windows, doors and airbricks
  • If you don’t own any flood protection equipment, you might be able to improvise with household items. Tape bin bags to the bottom of any outside doors and weigh them down with carrier bags filled with soil or any other weights you have to hand. Towels placed along the inside of the door will also help reduce the amount of water entering your home
  • Turn off your gas, electricity and water supplies, if it’s safe to do so. Make sure you know how to turn each supply off in advance. Never touch any electrical appliances, cables or equipment while standing in flood water, or any appliances that have been immersed in flood water – you risk electrocution if you do
  • If you are caught in a flash flood, get to higher ground immediately
  • Call Floodline on 0845 988 1188 for any updates

3. Severe Flood Warningsevere-flood-warning

Severe flood warnings are issued when an area experiences flooding that is extensive enough to put lives at risk.

This usually means flood water that is deep and fast flowing, resulting in potential structural collapses.

As you would expect, severe flood warnings are very serious, and you need to react immediately to avoid harm:

  • Move your family, pets and valuables upstairs immediately, preferably into a room with an exit such as a window
  • Check in with other people in your household – if they are not at home make sure they are somewhere safe
  • Be ready should you need to evacuate from your home
  • If water rises significantly in your home before you are able to evacuate, go up to the top floor, attic, or roof if necessary
  • If you are able to, turn off your gas, electricity and water supplies before any flood water enters your home
  • Call 999 if you are in immediate danger
  • Co-operate with the emergency services. Refusing to leave your home if they advise you to will put both you and those trying to help you at risk
  • Call Floodline on 0845 988 1188 for up-to-date flooding information

After the flood

Even if you know what to do before or during a flood, it can be very difficult to deal with the aftermath, especially when it comes to any damage caused to your home. Here are some things you should keep in mind if your property has been flooded:

  • If you suspect the flooding was serious enough to have caused structural damage to your property, don’t risk re-entering it until you have sought a professional opinion
  • Take care when re-entering your home – there may be hidden dangers under the flood water, such as sharp objects and debris
  • Be aware that flood water may contain sewage, harmful chemicals or animal waste. As a result of this, you should always wear waterproof outerwear, including gloves, wellington boots and a face mask if you are going to come into contact with flood water
  • If your electricity supply is not already switched off at the mains, get a qualified tradesperson to do this for you. Never touch sources of electricity when standing in flood water
  • You can get flood water out of your property using a water pump and generator, but always ensure you position the generator outside in the open air – generators produce carbon monoxide fumes which can kill
  • Only pump out water when flood levels outside your property are lower than inside. This reduces the risk of structural damage
  • You should be able to clean and disinfect your property using ordinary household cleaning products. A garden hose is useful for washing down walls, but avoid using high pressure hoses as they blast contaminated matter into the air
  • If you are drying your home naturally, keep doors and windows open as much as possible, to let air circulate throughout your property. If using dehumidifiers, close external doors and windows
  • If you have gas or oil central heating and it has been checked by an engineer, turn it on to help dry your home more quickly. Keep the thermostat between 20-22 degrees centigrade for steady drying


One of the most important issues you’ll want to consider if your home has been damaged by a flood is your insurance. Here are some tips when dealing with insurance claims after a flood:


  • If you rent your property, you should contact your landlord and your contents insurance company as soon as possible
  • Usually your insurance company will send a loss adjuster to look at your property, who will assess what repairs or replacements are needed, and which are covered by your policy. If flooding has been severe and caused damage to large parts of the area, there may be a waiting period before a loss adjuster is available
  • It’s important to record the extent of the flood damage in your home. Take photographs of all damaged property and belongings, as well as keeping a written list. If significant amounts of flood water entered your home, mark the height the flood water reached on your walls
  • Keep copies of all correspondence between you and your insurers, as well as noting down any phone conversations. Don’t throw away any items you want to claim for until the insurance company has advised you to
  • Local councils often provide skips and extra rubbish collections for furniture or household items that have become irreparably damaged
  • If you do not have insurance, your local council should be able to provide advice on any available hardship grants or charities that may be able to help you
  • Last year the Association of British Insurers (ABI) launched a new scheme called Flood Re, a non-profit initiative to help people who live in flood risk areas get affordable home insurance. To find out more about the scheme and whether or not you qualify for it, visit the Flood Re website

Staying informed

Although you might assume your property is safe from flooding, over the past decade it’s become a much more commonplace hazard for homeowners in the UK, with over 2 million homes now considered at risk.

Climate change has resulted in increasingly unpredictable rainfall levels and more instances of extreme weather – for example, 2012 was the one of the wettest years Britain has had in over a century, with floods causing over £400 million worth of damage to property.

It’s always better to be safe than sorry, so make sure to check the latest UK flood warnings on this online map provided by the Environmental Agency. You can also sign up to receive flood warnings on your mobile device on the same website, as well as viewing your property’s long term risk of flooding.