Technically, a flood is when a body of water (river, lake, etc) enters your dwelling, as opposed to when your sump pump fails and your basement takes on a few inches of water that would otherwise have been pumped right out. This is an important distinction, because most insurance companies do not offer what would technically be flood insurance - the kind you probably would have needed to be covered by Katrina or Sandy, for example. That is available from the federal government, and you can find out more about it here.
What I'm doing here is a multi-part series on handling a flooded basement courtesy of water entering your dwelling through a sump, sump pump, floor drain, or (heaven help you) sewer pipe. This type of thing is generally not covered by insurance unless you purchase a rider specifically for this reason. If you have a basement, don't assume you're covered.
Here are some steps to take before your basement floods:1. Find out if your basement is likely to flood. When you buy the home, the inspector should point out things like previous water damage or whether your backyard is graded towards the house or away from it. We knew that our basement was likely to flood, and in fact has flooded in the past, frequently enough that a sump pump system was added well after the house was built. If you're on top of a hill with your land grading away from the house and the house has been standing for 60 years with no recorded water in the basement, well, you are probably safe.
4. Consider the way you use your basement. Our basement was half-finished with carpet and drywall and furniture and stuff. One thing that we'll be doing from now on is making better choices about how we use the storage spaces - cardboard boxes or anything that could be damaged by water will go on higher shelves, and water-proof stuff will go on the floor. This will save us some work if the basement floods again. We'll also keep things nearby so that we can get the furniture up off the ground in a hurry again.
5. Take pictures. It's important to be able to show your insurance company the condition of your basement before any damage occurs.
Part II: What to do as your basement floods coming up!