The Flood Law We Need AND Deserve

A week back or so, there was a story on Gawker's "The Vane" subblog about an Arizona law that holds drivers who ignore barricades and drive into flood waters liable for the cost of their rescue. Here is why this law should be adopted by the rest of the nation.


In that story, I made a comment about my experiences as a young firefighter 20 years ago (DAMN I'm old!). To summarize, I had multiple motorists drive around myself, a fire engine, and barricades, only to get stuck in the rising flood water that I was warning them about. It's all true, by the way. People ignore barricades, police officers, firefighters, and warning signs because... Well, I don't know why.

Yesterday, at the SAME EXACT low water crossing in West Austin that I drew my experiences from, history repeated itself. A Volvo drove around a police car (and the officer who was installing the flood barricades across the road) and into the rising water running across the road. The Volvo got stuck, of course. The police officer jumped into the water to save the driver, but was himself carried away into the raging creek.

The driver was lucky (REALLY lucky): she managed to pull herself out of the water about 300 yards down the creek. The Rollingwood PD officer wasn't as lucky. He was clinging to a tree branch for 20 minutes until rescuers arrived to help. Currently, the officer, Josh Odom, is in ICU at Austin's Seton South Hospital in critical but stable condition. All because a driver, one of many, thought they could make it across a swift low water crossing that was flooded out.


If this was an isolated incident, I would happily throw up my hands and blame this horrible event on this one driver. But it's not an isolated incident. Not by a long shot. There are approximately 200 flood-related deaths per year in the United States, with over half of those deaths being vehicle-related. Those numbers do not count the many rescues that put first responders like Officer Odom in danger. So how do we put a dent in these numbers?

If the fear of death doesn't scare people into steering clear of flooded roads, perhaps the fear of losing money would. A rescue operation can literally cost taxpayers thousands of dollars at minimum. By making people that purposely ignore physical barriers and become in need of rescue in a flood personally liable for the costs of these operations, it might cut down on those deaths. Every state needs this law because every state experiences these events.


I am hopeful that Officer Odom recovers and is not included in those statistics.

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