ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Although the threat of dangerous flash flooding will always exist in the Ohio Valley, a lot has changed since the deadly 1990 Shadyside area floods that can help local emergency management personnel and members of the general public stay one step ahead of another tragedy.
According to Dave Ivan, director of the Belmont County Emergency Management Agency, a great deal of modern technology has been developed and implemented into local systems over the past 30 years that not only helps predict potential flash flooding, but also helps alert the public and streamline responses from multiple agencies.
“The new communication systems allow us to coordinate everything very efficiently,” Ivan said. “Whether its EMA personnel and other local authorities or Swift Water Teams, we can all communicate and coordinate our response to any emergency situation.”
Ivan said that since the Flood of Tears took place in 1990 when Pipe and Wegee creeks near Shadyside quickly rose over their banks, Belmont County has made improvements to monitoring systems in communities across the county and in the major creeks.
“We now have five different rain gauges throughout the county that give us an idea of where significantly high rainfall events are happening at any given moment,” Ivan said. “If 2 inches of rain falls in a short period of time, it gives us a heads-up as to where we are likely to have problems in certain areas. There are creek gauges on Captina and Wheeling creeks as well.”
Belmont County has a default bank of home phone numbers in its CodeRED reverse 911 system.
Ivan stressed that it is important for local residents to register their cell phone numbers and email addresses with the CodeRED system as well so alerts can be sent via telephone, text message and email in case of an emergency in any particular area.
That way residents can receive important alerts regarding flash flooding or any other emergency in their area even when they are not at home.
“The National Weather Service trips those alerts to our local system automatically, or the Belmont County 911 or EMA can send them out directly,” he said. “These alerts are very helpful in any emergency. They can be targeted to specific areas, and we can let the public know about emergency shelter locations being set up in their area or any other important information that needs to be broadcast to the public.”
Belmont County residents can visit the county’s 911 website and register their phone numbers and email addresses with the Code RED system.
Citizens can be prepared for flash flooding events by staying in tune with today’s alerts systems, but they can also play their part in helping prevent future tragedies.
“Don’t treat the creeks like a trash can.” Ivan said. “It does contribute to flooding. Debris builds up, gets lodged under bridges, causes a wall of water to back up, and there we go.”
FLOOD WATER CAN BE DEADLY AND DAMAGING
While the 1990 Shadyside flood is remembered most because of the heartbreaking number of lives it claimed, major flash flooding can leave a devastating toll for even those who survive.
Homeowners and motorists are urged to use caution with dealing with rising waters in the Ohio Valley. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, just one inch of water can cause more than $20,000 worth of damage to personal property. Floods can bring waves of water many feet higher.
Federal law requires flood insurance for federally financed loans for those who live in high-risk flood zones.
Lenders may also require flood insurance for moderate-risk zones, according to AAA Ohio Auto Club. Unless it is insurance on a newly purchased home, there is a 30-day waiting period for flood insurance to provide coverage, so affected homeowners are urged to plan ahead. If homeowners wait until a storm is on the way, they have likely waited too long.
Flooding can also occur as a result of clogged drains or pipes, sewer backup or sump pump failure, which in many cases flood insurance does not cover but homeowners insurance can often cover these costs.
For vehicles, a comprehensive automobile insurance policy is needed to cover the costs of flood damage.
The National Flood Insurance program helps homeowners determine their flood risk and learn about safeguarding their property.
An up-to-date home inventory can help flood victims get their insurance claim settled faster. It also helps people purchase the right amount of insurance so they are protected from loss. The most effective way to take inventory of a home is to shoot video of the entire home.
DRIVING IN WET WEATHER
Crash risk increases in wet weather, and heavy rain can reduce visibility and decrease vehicle traction. Conditions are most dangerous during the first 10 minutes of a heavy downpour, as oil and debris first rise up and wash away, AAA Ohio Auto Club advises.
The following tips can keep drivers safe in wet conditions:
∫ Maintain tires: Tires are the main point of contact with the road. Adequate tire pressure and tread depth help the vehicle grip wet roads and prevent hydroplaning. Check tire pressure and tread depth regularly before driving.
∫ Improve visibility: Keep the windshield and headlights clean, and replace windshield wipers that leave streaks. Experts recommend replacing wipers every six months.
∫ Recognize a crisis: If rain is so heavy that you can’t see the edges of the road or other vehicles at a safe distance, it’s time to pull off and wait for the rain to ease up. It’s best to stop at a rest area or exit the freeway and go to a protected area. If that’s not an option, get as far off the road as possible and turn on vehicle hazards.
∫ Avoid cruise control: Cruise control is designed for dry road conditions and doesn’t know when the pavement is wet. You’re more likely to hydroplane when using cruise control, because you’re not really in complete control of your vehicle. With some cars the wheels actually spin faster when cruise control is engaged and the vehicle hits a slick spot.
∫ Never drive through high water: A car can lose control in just a few inches of water. Six inches of water will reach the undercarriage of most vehicles and can damage vehicle components or even stall a car’s engine. Just a couple feet of water can carry away most vehicles.