City, helping residents to prepare, says it’s ready should flooding hit Sacramento

Francine Pareda showed off the emergency preparedness checklist and emergency contacts she had received from some of the many booths at the city of Sacramento’s flood preparedness event Saturday.

Pareda lives in Meadowview, which isn’t in a flood hazard area, but she works and often shops in areas closer to the levees and says she has recently become more concerned about potential disasters and what to do if there is one.

“There have been so many catastrophic events lately,” Pareda said.

Sacramento isn’t likely to experience disasters that have gripped the news in recent years, Daniel Bowers, director of emergency management for the city of Sacramento, said in an interview.

The Sacramento region doesn’t have any nearby earthquake fault lines and California isn’t known to experience powerful hurricanes that residents living along the east coast or in the Gulf coast states, Bowers said. But he does acknowledge that anytime you choose to live near a river there is always going to be a risk of flooding.

“We have a significant amount of flood preparedness that we’ve undergone over the past several decades,” Bowers said, adding that Sacramento recently increased its community flood readiness rating from a 5 to a 2.

Bowers is referring to the National Flood Insurance Program’s Community Rating System. According to FEMA, the rating system is a voluntary incentive program “that recognizes and encourages community floodplain management activities that exceed the minimum NFIP requirements.”

“There’s only six other cities in the nation who have a Level 2,” Bowers said. “We’re already prepping the work for getting to Level 1.”

A higher CRS rating has been able to help provided Sacramento residents access to $1.4 million in discounts, Bowers said. Roseville is only city in the U.S. that has been rated Level 1, qualifying them for the greatest discounts on flood insurance premiums.

However, if Sacramento were to experience serious flooding, Bowers said they are ready for it.

The key to being prepared is knowing that it’s coming, Bowers said, which is what makes hurricanes much mare dangerous, because they often hit faster and there is less time to prepare. But for the capital region, Bowers says, you can monitor rivers, rainfall the snowpack and levee conditions, which can provide more of a warning farther in advance.

“I’m not waiting until the flood waters are rising. I’m already letting people know that hey we’ve got some significant concerns,” Bowers said. “That’s ultimately my goal, to make sure the public is informed and aware before the incident occurs. That way we can hopefully mitigate any sort of loss of life.”

According to the city of Sacramento website’s flood-ready page, less than 25 percent of the city is in a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) but most properties in the city are at risk of flooding because they are located in areas protected by levees.

Homes in high-risk areas like Natomas are required to have flood insurance if they are purchased with a federally-secured mortgage loan, according to the California Department of Insurance’s website.

Areas protected by levees are not required to have flood insurance, said Connie Perkins, senior engineer for the city. But, she added, that it is recommended and homeowners not living in the high-risk areas can get a policy for only about $500 a year, since flooding isn’t covered by a typical homeowner’s policy.

High-risk areas have different insurance coverage requirements that must be met.

What FEMA sees is “disasters and lots of people suffering because they don’t have the money or insurance to recover,” Eric Simmons, who has been a FEMA engineer for about 13 years, said in an interview. “Unfortunately, we’re seeing that quite often.”

Disasters don’t discriminate, Simmons said, adding that they can devastate both the rich and poor alike, but not having any kind of insurance makes it much harder for people on the lower end of the financial spectrum to recuperate their losses.

“In the city of Sacramento, we tackled that pretty aggressively and a lot of our citizens have signed up for (flood insurance),” Bowers said. “We are not at that 100 percent solution yet. We’d like to be, we’d like to have everybody sign up for it.”

Besides having insurance, Bowers says the best things people can do to prepare for a flood is to have a plan, have an evacuation kit ready and be prepared to leave at a moment’s notice. Anyone who lives in a flood zone should prepare themselves for evacuation just like those who live in fire zones do, he said.

In an evacuation kit, Bowers says you should include anything your family might need, such as medications, as well as things like pet supplies, photo albums and any important family heirlooms.

“Have that ready to go, and be prepared to leave, anything else does not matter. It’s all replaceable,” Bowers said. “Protect the lives of your family and pets so that you get those to safety.”

But the most important thing is to pay attention and heed all evacuation warnings, Bowers said. Get out as soon as possible, don’t wait.