Service to the community is often what Scouts are known for, but disaster relief can be hazardous, and it’s best to enlist Scouts only in supportive efforts where attention to safety can be ensured. But for adult Scouters looking to help communities affected by hurricanes and other flooding disasters, here are five important things to consider before entering flooded areas:
Be aware of any downed power lines, wet appliances, or other shock potentials. If the lights are still on in a building and the water is rising, there is an extremely dangerous electrical exposure. Make sure to shut off circuit breakers or power to the building before entry.
The use of generators in a flooded environment also creates electrical exposures. So before working with generators, be sure to read these safety tips from the Red Cross.
Floodwater often contains infectious organisms, including intestinal bacteria such as E. coli, Salmonella, and Shigella; Hepatitis A Virus; and agents of Typhoid, Paratyphoid and Tetanus.
Before going into flooded areas or assisting, make sure your vaccinations are up to date, especially for Tetanus (last 10 years). Also, remember to wash and disinfect your hands frequently with these decontamination tips from OSHA.
Pools of standing or stagnant water become breeding grounds for mosquitoes, increasing the risk of encephalitis, West Nile virus or other mosquito-borne diseases.
Avoid the risk of mosquito bites by using insect repellants and wearing long-sleeved shirts, and pants and review our alert on mosquito born illnesses.
Floodwater may be contaminated by agricultural or industrial chemicals, or by hazardous agents present at flooded hazardous waste sites. Additionally, floods have the strength to move and/or bury hazardous waste and chemical containers far from their original locations.
Always be aware of your surroundings and report any potentially hazardous materials immediately.
Be alert to animals moved or displaced by floods, and use caution around both wild and domestic animals—stressful situations may cause them to behave aggressively.
How You Can Help Now
When emergency resources become stretched in affected areas, the most important way to serve these communities is to respond to what authorities are asking for in terms of support.
While the immediate reaction of the Scouting community may be to provide hands-on support, often, the best way to help is to offer financial support to those whose homes—and lives—have been affected by a disaster.
To contribute to immediate relief efforts, donations can be made to the Red Cross and Salvation Army.
- American Red Cross: Donate online at RedCross.org, or call 1-800-HELP NOW to donate.
- Salvation Army: Donate online at HelpSalvationArmy.org; by phone at 1-800-SAL-ARMY.
For those Scout units looking to reach out and support others involved in Scouting, there is more information on the updated Scouting Disaster Relief site.