Historic flooding in eastern Kentucky has claimed 37 lives across five counties, and authorities expect casualties to rise.

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear declared a state of emergency on July 28, 2022 in response to the flooding, which continued into the following week. As of August 4, officials expect more rain and heat waves to affect eastern Kentucky communities, with the heat index reaching over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in some regions.

“Forecasting the impacts of rainfall on a region is complex. Heavy rainfall does not always equal catastrophic flooding. Ground saturation, current levels of rivers and creeks, rainfall rates, topography and the location of the rainfall are all contributing factors to whether a region will flood and how devastating the flooding will be," said Joe Basciani, Director of Operations at StormGeo.

"For the situation in Kentucky, the system produced a localized area of very heavy rainfall, with more than 10 inches of rain over a 24-hour period, in a region with steep topography and low-lying areas that quickly flooded."

Disaster response

Cooling centers have been opened throughout the state to assist residents during the heat wave. With additional rain from Friday night through Sunday morning in the forecast, emergency assistance has been made available in multiple affected counties.

"A sense of whiplash is sweeping a lot of states right now with a seemingly immediate shift from severe droughts to severe flooding," said Peter Steinfeld, SVP of Safety Solutions at AlertMedia. "With the increase in frequency, severity and unpredictability of extreme weather events as a result of climate change, nowhere is immune to catastrophes of this kind."

Emergency preparedness lessons for safety professionals

When impacted by floods or forecasted severe weather, there are many steps organizations can take to safeguard their employees, assets and communities.

"For enterprise organizations, the best way to protect the business and employees is increased awareness of the potential flooding risk and having the ability to monitor and understand the changing conditions during the event," said Basciani. 

"Equally important is knowing the limits of their facilities and the surrounding areas when it comes to rising waters — specifically which streets flood, at what point nearby rivers crest, and at what point the facilities will begin to take on water. This situational awareness allows business leaders to proactively respond to the event and communicate the threat to employees to ensure they are prepared," he continued.

Reviewing organization-wide emergency preparedness plans, establishing a mass communication method, and designating a flood safety team are also critical steps to mitigating damage or harm during a flood, according to Steinfeld.

"When organizations assemble a flood safety team, they should include members from HR and operations, safety and security teams, a leader in each facility or region, and an executive sponsor. This team can regularly review the flood safety plan and, should disaster strike, stay in contact to oversee facility closures, evacuation procedures and resource distribution to employees who need immediate assistance," said Steinfeld.

"For employees that are unable to evacuate, safety teams should reinforce 'Turn Around, Don’t Drown' in their guidance and establish an emergency hotline where they can request immediate assistance. Having dispersed members on the flood safety team ensures that someone is available to assist remotely should a member of that team be affected," Steinfeld continued.

Protecting the safety of employees and communities during flooding events is a critical role for enterprise security teams. For more information on disaster relief efforts in eastern Kentucky, click here.