What is a flood plain? A flood plain, or floodplain, is flat or almost flat area near a body of water that is likely to flood. A flood zone is a geographic area marked on a type of map that is used to label the risk of flooding in that area. The labels range from moderate/low Risk areas, to high-risk areas, to coastal high-risk areas. Some areas are undefined. Communities use the data on a Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) or Flood Hazard Boundary Map when considering whether or not a homeowner needs flood insurance (a federally funded program in the United States), how to plan for a disaster, and even where evacuation routes belong. While people along the coastline may think of themselves as those susceptible to flooding, anyone in the United States could become a victim of a flood.
Scenarios that could bring on flooding include:
Weather-related disasters: Tropical storms, hurricanes and heavy rains
New development: Changes to natural drainage due to new buildings, parking lots, or roads, leaving nowhere for excess water to go
Flash floods: The rapid flowing of water in low-lying area over six hours or less
Levees and dams: While levees can protect against flooding, they can be overtopped or decay over time
Spring Thaw: Melting snow or rainfall that seeps into ground not ready to absorb the fluid due to soil density, frozen ground, or landscaping
West Coast Threats: Rainy season, paired with environmental damage from forest fires put areas of the west coast at risk
Explain to students that by using geographic data about the history of flooding in the area, weather patterns, and other risk factors, an area is assigned a letter, which correlates to the risk of flooding. Moderate to low-risk areas are labeled as B, C or X. High-risk areas are labeled as A or V. Even an area far from a shoreline or rarely subject to rains can flood, but there are things every citizen can do to prepare, and minimize the impact of a flood on their lives. (There is more on preparedness in “Extending the Lesson”).
A computer with Internet connection and audio to view Flash files and videos online
Printouts for each student of article New Orleans Five Years After Hurricane Katrina
Step 1: Students will view scenarios online that outline reasons for flooding not commonly considered, such as melting snow. View the scenarios here.
Step 2: After viewing the videos (allow 1 minute per scenario, for a total of 5 minutes) ask students which type of flooding is most likely to impact the region in which you live or go to school. Based on their knowledge of the community and their experience with floods, ask students to guess whether they are in a low-risk area, or a high-risk area for flooding. On the worksheet provided, ask them to list the damage that might occur during a flood in their home or school. They should respond to the first 3 questions on the worksheet.
Step 3: Students will research the flood risk for their area, enter either their home address or their school’s address, and see their risk profile using this site.
Calculate the cost of flood insurance, based on the profile, and assume your mortgage payment and taxes came to $1000 a month for 30 years. Use the lowest number, but include building and contents. Record this on the worksheet.
Prompt students: If you had a home that was 2000 square feet, and experienced a flood of 4 inches of water, use the cost of flooding application to access how much damage there would be, and subtract the cost of the flood insurance payments, monthly, from that amount using this site.
Try the same calculations with a smaller home, (1000 square feet) in the same amount of water. Is there half as much damage? Why do you think that is? Anticipate responses related to damage to electrical systems, replacing drywall, and refinishing flooring. Encourage students to manipulate the variables on the interactive tool. They can be assigned this task for homework, if they have access to the Internet at home, or they can respond to the narrative questions only, as homework.
Step 4: (This part of the project can begin on the second day of class)
Since the cost of the flood insurance is low or high based on the flood zones described on the map, remind students that whether the risk to their home or school is low or high, the damage from a flood can be very expensive. There are also long-term health risks associated with mold in homes where there was flooding, and even trauma due to the stress of dealing with a flood. Discuss with students whether or not they would move from an area that was at high risk for flooding. Would their opinion change if many generations of their family had lived in that area? Would they move if they had to change schools, as late as senior year of high school? Would they move if they had a good job, or prospects for one soon? If their job were related to fishing or tourism, would they change careers? Encourage students to discuss why people choose to live near water or in areas that flood often, even if they have pay more for insurance. What would the student do if their insurance rates were higher than their mortgage payment?
People can also adapt their homes, by landscaping with certain strategies, called regarding, to help the soil absorb water, and some homeowners have gone so far as to build their homes on stilts in areas where water is likely to rise. What would they be willing to do to avoid a flood?
Show students the following pieces from the PBS Newshour about the emotional toll of flooding:
Photos and article: New Orleans Five Years After Hurricane Katrina
Video: Nashville Looks to Stage Comeback After Floods
Video: Aid Needed for Victims of Pakistan Floods
After viewing the videos, ask students to reconsider their choices. Have students either participate in the discussion, or record their thoughts in a journal, based on the following prompt (see attached):
List three things, in order of importance to you, that would be damaged or destroyed in 6 inches of water.
These items could be material, replaceable objects, like a gaming system or MP3 player, or sentimental objects, like an heirloom piano or photo album. The main idea is have students think about their belongings and what they might do to protect them.
Make a disaster plan and assemble an emergency kit, to prepare for floods and other disasters. Preparation for floods, safety during a flood, and recovering after floods are not discussed as often as issues such as fire safety. Encourage students to research these topics on sites such as
Once students have considered the best way to plan for a disaster, and what they would need in a kit, have them write out a plan for how to reconnect with family, if they were separated during an emergency. Ask students to bring in the kit they prepared, or a photograph of the kid they assembled, and justify why they included the items they selected.