Posted by: njrigg | January 13, 2011

No Way Out! Flood and River Safety Information

No Way Out!
Flood and River Safety Information

By Nancy J. Rigg
Higgins & Langley Memorial and Education Fund

Turn Around, Don’t Drown: 70% of flood fatalities involve drivers driving through moving water.

Flooding – including rising river floods, flash floods, and hurricane spawned floods – is the leading cause of weather-related death.  Sadly, flash flood and river drowning tragedies often involve more than one family member, as loved ones scramble to help those who have gotten into trouble in the water.  Strangers, who are Good Samaritans, can also pay the ultimate price for attempting to rescue someone who has been swept away.

Fast flowing water can be deceptively dangerous.  Just 6″ of swift water can knock you off your feet.  When flood runoff is compressed in a cement-lined channel, the flow can not only knock you off your feet, but it will likely prevent you from being able to stand up again.  You will be swept downstream, at the mercy of the current.

Vehicles, including heavy trucks, can get swept away in less than 2-feet of swift water.  Never drive through moving water. 70% of all flood-related fatalities are in vehicles.

Please remind everyone, especially children, to stay away from flood control channels, rivers, streams and other flood-swollen waterways when there is heavy rain runoff, including on sunny days immediately following, or in between, big storms.

When it rains, flood control channels, rivers, streams, and arroyos can quickly fill up with fast-moving water, creating a potentially life-threatening danger to anyone who gets caught in the torrent, or swept away.

When the sun comes out, rivers may still be very high, endangering unwary children, pets, and those who try to save them if they fall into the torrent

Even if it’s sunny downstream, it may still be raining heavily upstream, sending flash floods downstream.  Be weather wise!

In addition to very cold water, which can cause hypothermia in minutes, making it very difficult to self-rescue, there are other dangerous hazards in flood control channels and other open waterways, including debris, floodwater contamination from toxic chemicals and waste, slippery slopes along the edges and riverbanks, snakes and other dangerous animals in some areas, and deadly low-head dams.


Low-head dams look like fun water slides, but are called “drowning machines,” because the water can churn victims up and over and down until they drown.  Victims are tossed around like laundry in a washing machine.  It is extremely difficult to get yourself out of this unique hydraulic.  Rescue is required, often at great risk to rescue personnel.

Flood control channels, rivers and streams are not a good place to play.

If you fall into the water, there may be NO WAY OUT! Swiftwater rescue is likely the only lifesaving option.

Ideally, everyone will heed the warnings to avoid flood control channels, fast-flowing rivers and streams in flooding conditions.  But if someone gets swept away, basic safety knowledge is vital in terms of helping swiftwater rescuers make a rescue.

What Should You Do?

  • Never get into this situation! Stay away from flood control channels and fast moving floodwaters in streams and rivers.

If you get swept away, swiftwater rescue may be your only hope.

What if You Fall In?

  • Remain calm.  Don’t waste energy yelling for help after you have been spotted by someone.
  • Get ready to be rescued.
  • Try to float on your back with your legs straight and your feet pointed downstream.
  • Use your legs to shove yourself away from obstructions.
  • Keep your head up so that you can see where you are going.
  • Watch for obstacles and debris!  If a tree or other stationary object is blocking the channel, forcing water over it, try to flip over on your stomach and approach the obstacle head-on, crawling over the top of it.  Most free-floating victims, who are being swept downstream in swift water, die when they get pinned against obstacles, or get trapped in submerged debris and vegetation.

What if You See Someone Fall into the Water, or Drive into Swift Water?

  • Immediately call 9-1-1 (USA), or your local emergency response number! Tell the operator that someone who drove or fell into the channel is being swept downstream and that swiftwater rescue teams need to respond.
  • Give accurate information about where you saw the victim go in, what the victim was wearing, etc.
  • Do not try to pull the victim out with your hands, a rope, or similar device.
  • Do not attach anything to yourself and toss it to a victim in the water.  You will be pulled in by the force of the current.
  • If possible, throw an unattached flotation device to the victim, such as a boogie board, Styrofoam ice chest, or basketball.
  • If a dog or other animal has been swept away, do not try to perform a rescue yourself.  Call swiftwater rescue teams immediately.  Animals can be clever and survive, but many people have lost their lives trying to rescue their pets.  Never allow your dog to run off leash near a fast-flowing river or stream.  For their safety and yours, please keep all animals away from flood control channels, rivers and streams!

Austin-Travis County EMS Swiftwater Rescue team – in swift water, rescue may be your only hope for survival

Swiftwater rescue is one of the most dangerous of all technical rescue operations performed by fire-rescue teams.  Nearly half of all deaths in swift water are would-be rescuers, including Good Samaritans. By endangering your life, you are also endangering the lives of others.

Stay away! Stay alive!


Sponsored by the Higgins & Langley Memorial and Education Fund
A 501(c)3 non-profit organization



  1. Thanks for this post Nancy. Such vital, life saving information.

    • Thank you, Beverly. Thanks, too, for helping us spread the word.

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