Floods in the USA are a severe and costly problem affecting millions of people yearly. There are three main types of flooding: fluvial (caused by rivers overflowing), pluvial (caused by heavy rainfall), and coastal (caused by storm surges and sea level rise). Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of floods by altering precipitation patterns, melting land ice, and expanding ocean water. According to a new analysis, the cost of flood damage in the USA is projected to rise 26% by 2050 due to climate change alone, even more if population growth and development in high-risk areas are not controlled.
Floods have devastating impacts on lives, livelihoods, infrastructure, and ecosystems, especially for low-income and marginalized communities that are more exposed and less resilient to flooding. Flooding is the most common natural disaster in the USA, accounting for 7.8% of the costs to repair damages caused by natural disasters from 2019 to 2022, amounting to $26.8 billion. Flood deaths averaged 114 annually from 2011 to 2021, but fatalities increased by 146% from 2020 to 2021. From 2010 to 2019, more than 130 major flood disasters were declared in the USA, averaging 13 yearly disasters.
Swiftwater rescue is a specialized field of technical rescue that involves rescuing people from fast-moving water, such as rivers, rapids, floods, or waterfalls. Swiftwater rescue teams are trained and equipped to perform rescues in various water environments, such as swiftwater, whitewater, or ice. Swiftwater rescue teams may include firefighters, paramedics, law enforcement officers, park rangers, or volunteers. Swiftwater rescue in the USA is governed by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards 1066 and 2500 (1670), which define teh training and operational capabilities for swiftwater rescue teams. Swiftwater rescue teams must be able to assess the hazards and risks of a water incident, perform self-rescue and team-rescue techniques, use specialized equipment and techniques to access and extricate victims, provide medical care and transport for victims, and coordinate with other agencies and resources.
Swiftwater rescue training is a specialized course that teaches emergency responders how to safely and effectively perform rescues in fast-moving water environments. The training covers hydrology, hazard assessment, personal protective equipment, self-rescue techniques, victim stabilization, rope systems, and boat operations. Swiftwater rescue training is essential for anyone who works or recreates near rivers, streams, or floodwaters. These courses are designed to meet the standards of the NFPA and the International Association of Water Rescue Professionals. Swiftwater rescue training can help save lives and prevent injuries in one of the most challenging and dynamic rescue scenarios.
Swiftwater/flood rescues are one of the most dangerous types of emergency operations. They require specialized skills, equipment, and teamwork to perform safely and effectively. We train for swiftwater/flood rescues to protect ourselves, our colleagues, and the public from the hazards of moving water. We can improve our physical fitness, mental preparedness, technical proficiency, and situational awareness by training regularly. We can also learn from each other’s experiences, share best practices, and develop trust and coordination. Training for swiftwater/flood rescues is a professional duty and personal responsibility. It helps us to be ready for any scenario, to reduce risks, and to save lives.
Some of the hazards that swiftwater/flood include are:
- Hypothermia: The water temperature can be very cold, especially in mountainous areas or during winter. Exposure to cold water can quickly lower the body temperature and impair the ability to swim or think clearly.
- Drowning: The water can be deep, fast, or turbulent, making it difficult to stay afloat or breathe. The water can also contain debris, such as rocks, trees, or vehicles that can trap or injure the victim or the rescuer.
- Strainers: These are objects, such as fences, bridges, or logs that allow water to pass through but not solid objects. They can create a strong suction forces that can pull the victim or the rescuer under the water and prevent them from escaping.
- Sweepers: These are branches or trees that hang over the water and can catch the victim or rescuer as they float downstream. They can cause entanglement, injury, or drowning.
- Hydraulic Jumps: These sudden changes in water depth or speed create a powerful downward force that can submerge the victim or rescuer. They are often found at the base of dams, weirs, or waterfalls.
- Eddies: These are areas of water that flow in a circular motion opposite to the main current. They can create a whirlpool effect that can trap the victim or the rescuer and prevent them from reaching the shore.
Urban swiftwater/floods are fast-moving and unpredictable events that pose serious risks to life and property. Some of the hazards of urban swiftwater/floods include:
- Debris and Contaminants: The water may carry objects such as trees, cars, furniture, appliances, and other materials that can strike and injure people or damage buildings and infrastructure. The water may also be contaminated with sewage, chemicals, or biological agents that can cause infections or diseases.
- Submerged Hazards: The water my hide obstacles such as fences, walls, culverts, bridges, or power lines that can trap or electrocute people. The water may also erode the ground and create sinkholes or unstable surfaces that can collapse under people or vehicles.
- Force and Velocity: The water may exert a tremendous force and velocity that can sweep away people, vehicles, or structures. The water may also suddenly change direction or speed due to rainfall, terrain, or obstructions.
Estimating the yearly number of flood rescues in the USA is not straightforward, as there is no single authoritative data source on this topic. Different agencies and organizations may have different criteria and methods for reporting and recording flood rescues. However, some possible sources of information that my provide some insights into the frequency and severity of flooding events, as well as the impacts and responses to flooding, include:
- The USGS, which monitors streamflow and precipitation, collects flood data and conducts flood science and research. The USGS also provides interactive data visualizations, current flooding conditions, and flood event viewer tools on its website. Website Here
- The National Weather Service, which issues flood warning and forecasts, and tracks river observations and conditions. The NWS also provides riverwatch tools for the Mississippi River Basin. Website Here
- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages flood risk and operates dams and levees. The USACE also maintains a Flood Risk Management Program that supports communities in reducing their flood risks. Website Here
- FEMA provides disaster assistance and maintains a historical flood risk and cost data tool. FEMA also produces flood maps based on the National Flood Hazard Layer, which contains current, adequate flood hazard data. Website Here
- The Lightbox supplies property and land use data through a partnership with RiskFactor. The Lightbox also provides geospatial data and analytics for various industries. Lightbox Website Here. RiskFactor Website Here
- The US Census Bureau, which sources road centerline data from its TIGER data. The TIGER data also contains geographic information such as boundaries, addresses, hydrography, transportation, and landmarks. Website Here
- The US Environmental Protection Agency provides infrastructure facility data such as drinking water systems, wastewater treatment plants, hazardous waste sites, and superfund sites. Website Here
These sources may not capture all of the flood rescues performed by local authorities, first responders, volunteers, or individuals. Therefore, a comprehensive analysis of the number of flood rescues in the USA yearly may require further integration and harmonization of multiple data sources.
Trident Rescue is a Swiftwater Rescue Training entity that provides high-quality courses for emergency responders, recreational boaters, and anyone who wants to learn how to stay safe in swiftwater environments. Our instructors are certified and have extensive experience in swiftwater rescue operations. We offer a range of courses, from essential awareness to advanced technician, that cover topics such as hydrology, hazard recognition, self-rescue, team-rescue, rope systems, and more. Our courses are designed to be practical, realistic, and fun with a mix of online courses and hands-on exercises. Whether you are a firefighter, rafter, rafting guide, kayaker, or fisherman, Trident Rescue can help you develop the skills and confidence you need to deal with swiftwater emergencies.
If you are looking for a reliable and experienced team of experts to handle any emergency training situation, you can count on Trident Rescue. We are a certified and licensed company that offers a wide range of services and sales of related equipment such as personal gear, team gear, inflatable boats, boat/trailer combos, and more. We have the equipment, the skills, and the dedication to provide you with the best possible solution for your safety and security in all training aspects of water rescue. Whether you need us for a one-time intervention or a long-term contract, we are ready to assist you 24/7. Contact us today at Trident Rescue and let us know how we can help you.