Edited Version August 2, 2000
EIIP Classroom Online Presentation

"Driving Through Floodwaters:
How Can We Prevent the Risk to Motorists and Responders?"

Amy Sebring
EIIP Technical Projects Coordinator

The original unedited transcript of the August 2, 2000 online Classroom presentation is available in the EIIP Virtual Library Archives (http://www.emforum.org/vlibrary/livechat.htm). The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. Typos were corrected, date/time/names attributed by the software to each input were deleted.


[Note: due to an unidentified software error, a transcript was not made at the chat server. The following is the moderator's remarks, with notes regarding responses.]

Amy Sebring: Welcome to the Virtual Classroom! We are having a group discussion today on the theme "Driving Through Floodwaters: How Can We Prevent the Risk to Motorists and Responders?"

This is not an area in which I have any particular expertise, so we are relying on your participation today to help make this worthwhile. My interest in this topic was spurred by the Center for Disease Control Morbidity study of Hurricane Floyd that came out this past May. It is linked on the background page and is found at <http://www.cdc.gov/epo/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm4917a3.htm>.

The first paragraph states that it "identifies leading cause of death as drowning involving occupants of motor vehicles trapped in flood waters," with 36 total drowning deaths, 24 while in vehicles. See especially the table at <http://www.cdc.gov/epo/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm4917a3.htm#tab1>

"Seven deaths occurred during transport by boat; flotation devices were not worn by any of the decedents. Five (10%) of the 52 decedents were rescue workers." I found this latter statistic regarding rescue workers particularly disturbing. If you will scroll up from the Table to the concluding paragraph (right before the References section) a number of recommendations are made, including "Surveillance data also suggest that deaths from floods may be prevented by identifying flood-prone areas and advising persons at risk to take appropriate actions. For example, motorists should be warned not to drive through areas in imminent danger of flash floods or onto roads and bridges covered by rapidly moving water." "The deaths of five rescue workers suggest the need for occupational risk prevention training." My personal reaction was that these recommendations were obvious, and at least on the first, that considerable effort has been made to get the message out regarding not driving through floods, and yet this problem persists, needlessly.

We are interested in your reactions and experience however, so now we will get into our discussion. If you have not done this before, how we handle it is thusly. Please look ahead on the background page to the next question. If you have a response, go ahead and prepare it, that is, type it in, but do not hit send until we are ready for it. For example, please start preparing any response you may have for Question 1. We will not be using the question marks today.

If you have some particular expertise or experience, either from an emergency management or emergency response perspective, please let us know about it. However, we are interested in the perceptions from the wider community, so please do not hesitate to share your thoughts with us, even if you have no direct experience. So starting with our first question.

[Group Discussion]

Question #1: What resources are available for public education on the hazards of driving through floodwaters?

Amy Sebring: I have identified some that I have found on the background page. Please see especially the National Weather Service announcement of 5/26/00. This is a new Public Service Announcement that I had the opportunity to view at the recent Hazards Workshop in Boulder, and I am pleased that this special effort is being undertaken. We have Robert Chartuk from NWS with us today, and I would like to give him this opportunity to say a few words about this campaign before we open it up. Robert, if you would please.

[Robert Chartuk offered to provide copies of the PSA upon request to him at [email protected]. The PSA had been made available to the media for satellite download in conjunction with the roll out event at Lowe's Speedway. NWS is seeking funding to make copies for all news outlets and will make a streaming format available on its Website.]

Amy Sebring: Let's open it up to our audience now. Are there any other resources that you are aware of?

[The links to FEMA "Be Flood Aware" logos were pointed out, as well as the National Disaster Education Coalition materials. The American Red Cross was mentioned by a participant as including this issue in preparedness outreach. A new law in California requiring motorists to pay for their own rescue was also mentioned.]

Question #2: Why does the danger go unrecognized?

Amy Sebring: A few factors are suggested in the article linked on the background page entitled "Low-Water Crossings: The Hidden Danger" at <http://lifesaving.com/articles/crossing.htm>. In the section, "The Human Element," it cites that "Few people, including Public Safety and Rescue personnel, appreciate the power of flowing water," and that more than half of the related deaths occur at night when "under conditions of low-visibility the vulnerability of the driver and passengers to the hidden danger is greatly magnified." What are your thoughts regarding those who may know that they should not attempt to cross, but try it anyway?

[Several participants suggested human factors, including underestimating the forces involved, and a "macho" attitude or mindset. The special needs of mobility impaired persons was emphasized.]

Amy Sebring: If you will scroll down in that same article, there is a section entitled "Dangerous Advertising," in which the author is appalled at advertising that "promotes the idea that their vehicles can handle just about anything mother nature throws at them," which leads me to Question 3.

Question # 3: Are conflicting messages being sent to the public? To emergency responders?

Amy Sebring: Just last night, I saw footage on cars driving through flooded roads in Salamanca, NY, however, immediately following it, both the anchor and the meteorologist made a point to say how foolish and dangerous this was. While I appreciated the remarks, I wondered if the visual message would have more of an impact than the verbal one.

I am also concerned about the glorification given to response personal who die in the line of duty. For example, the fact that the President attended the funeral of the 6 fireman in Worcester, Mass. What does this say to emergency workers about being heroes? Leslie also referred to this, I believe.

[Participants also suggested programs or news footage showing driving through floods. Robert Chartuk mentioned NWS outreach to the media and advertisers.]

Question # 4: What research, if any, is needed on this topic?

Amy Sebring: The answer may be "none," however, I am wondering if a more specific understanding of who takes these risks might not help us tailor our outreach better.

[Some participants suggested that while some particular research may be needed, it was more important to use what is already available. One participant commented there may be a body of research on the topic already but was not aware of such. However, research is good only if it translates to training and good practices on the part of responders/rescuers to change the current mindset of rescue attempts at any cost.]

Question # 5: What do emergency responders need to know?

Amy Sebring: I have included a link to a course outline for Basic Water Rescue Preparedness from the National Association for Search and Rescue, found at <>

This strikes me as similar to an "Awareness Level" HazMat course. It is not aimed at the member of a professional Swift Water Rescue Team, but rather, the responder who may be a police officer, member of a Sheriff's Dept., or volunteer, to give them at least a basic understanding.

If you will scroll down to the bottom of the page, it lists a number of items that the student will learn, but in this question, I am also wondering about what kind of expectations of rescue workers should be understood.

[One participant pointed out that this course content maybe too advanced for the typical responder, not a member of a professional team, but agreed that some education on awareness of the dangers and what responders were NOT qualified to do may be useful. Education of the public and public officials on the risk to responders was discussed.]

Question # 6: What kind of planning, if any, is needed in this area?

Amy Sebring: As an example, I have included a link to the County of Los Angeles Swift Water Rescue page. It appears that they have put a considerable amount of effort into planning, and we assume they have more resources than most communities. However, I thought that the document "Operational Standards & Guidelines" might be useful in terms of some of the elements covered and the number of coordinating agencies involved. In another course listing I found, it did specifically list "Disaster Planning" but I found no details. What would happen in your community under current plans? Do you have any equipment? Skilled manpower? Mutual Aid agreements?

[A comment was made that there is little time in situations such as these to bring in outside resources. It was also suggested that communities assess their vulnerability to flash flooding, and although it can happen anywhere, some areas are especially vulnerable, and should give this more attention.]

Amy Sebring: The next question is an opportunity to brainstorm basically.

Question # 7: What are some ideas for creative outreach in this area? Are there any key audiences? What about Driver's Ed programs perhaps? Do they cover this?

[Participants thought that Driver's Ed may not include this type of hazard and would be a good audience for this message. Was also noted that schools would be a good place for emphasis since children take the messages home to mom and dad. Comment was made that adding NOAA weather radios to cars would be extremely helpful.]

Question #8: What opportunities for partnerships may exist to deliver this message in your community?

I am convinced that in Emergency Management programs, we cannot do it all, but we can identify issues, and see if there is anyone who can collaborate in delivering a message. Can you think of any key partners on this topic?

[Robert Chartuk emphasized working with your local Warning Coordinator Meteorologist. Other suggestions included Red Cross, Departments of Transportation, Law Enforcement agencies, special needs groups such as AARP.]


Amy Sebring: Any final thoughts from anyone before we wrap up? Thank you very much for your participation and good comments today. A special thank you for Robert Chartuk for joining us! Avagene, next week please?

Upcoming Events:

Avagene Moore: Thanks, Amy. Good ideas conveyed today on this topic! Thanks to everyone for your active participation.

I am happy to announce that we are approaching a milestone - the EIIP Virtual Forum has offered subject matter experts and timely topics for three years! Next week you are invited to the "Third Anniversary/Birthday Celebration of the EIIP Virtual Forum." We honor our EIIP Pledgers, 300+ speakers over the last 3 years, and you, our audience participants.

Join us and let us thank you -- we will have a little fun in addition to a special presentation on the "Global Disaster Information Network (GDIN)." Our featured speaker will be Joseph (J. D.) Szwarckop, Staff Leader, GDIN Working Group. If you aren't aware of GDIN, this is a great opportunity to learn about this effort, both domestically and internationally.

Please be with us next Weds August 9, 12:00 EDT and help us celebrate. That's all for now, Amy.

Amy Sebring: Thank you, Ava. We have a new pledge this week, Monica Zaccarelli Davoli with PAHO, the Pan American Health Organization. Thanks Monica!

As usual, I will get a text transcript late this afternoon most likely, and the reformatted version will be available early next week. This concludes our regular session, but you are welcome to chat further.