There are parts of the country where natural disasters are just part of life. The West Coast has earthquakes, the East and Gulf coasts have hurricanes, and then, right in the heartland, there’s Tornado Alley!
But these and other severe weather events (think floods, hail, winter storms) can happen anywhere. Given how unpredictable nature can be, it’s a good idea to take measures to reduce your risks, protect your home and keep your family safe. Here are specific steps to get started:
Identify your risks
Knowing the most common hazards in your area — particularly if you’re new to the region — can help you focus your preparation plans. Take action against the event that has the highest odds of occurring and work your way down from there. The nonprofit Federal Alliance for Safe Homes has a natural-disaster risk map that can help you identify the perils in your region. This is also a good time to check your insurance policies and confirm your coverage against various events.
Address your home’s vulnerabilities
Homeowners often feel helpless against destructive weather. But there are storm-specific home improvement strategies that can lower the risk of your home being damaged. In the case of hurricanes, for instance, you can mount storm shutters, build a safe room or install hurricane straps to help keep your roof in place when fierce winds blow. In many instances, preparing against one threat can protect you from others as well.
Create an emergency kit
Don’t wait until the last minute to make sure you have emergency supplies. According to Ready.gov, a basic emergency kit could include:
- Water — one gallon per person per day, for at least three days.
- Food — a three-day supply of non-perishables (and a can opener).
- Battery-powered (or hand-crank) radio, with extra batteries.
- Flashlight, with extra batteries.
- First aid kit.
- Whistle, to signal for help.
- Cellphone, with chargers (or a solar charger).
- Cash, or traveler’s checks, and change.
Once this basic kit is in place, you should supplement your supplies with items that address any special needs, such as children, pets or any medical concerns. You should also consider stocking an emergency “go bag” that you can quickly grab in the event of an evacuation.
Cataloging your personal property with a home inventory might sound tedious, but how easy would it be for you to recall all the contents of your home if you lost everything to a disaster? Taking a home inventory can help ensure fair insurance reimbursement, simplify the recovery process and even make it easier to apply for federal disaster aid.
Create — and practice — an emergency plan
Your emergency plan should be robust, addressing things like family communications (Where will you meet? How will you communicate?); escape route planning (an alternate way out from each room in your home); and guidance on shutting off utilities such as water, electricity and natural gas (which is frequently responsible for fires following a disaster). You should also practice the plan, so that you can identify any weak spots
Devastating natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, the Asian tsunami and last year’s earthquake in Japan have awakened many to our vulnerabilities. And while preparedness doesn’t happen overnight, taking concrete steps now can lessen your risk and offer you some peace of mind.