How to Prepare Your Home for a Natural Disaster
Natural disasters might seem like they’re confined to certain regions of America, but the truth is they can happen anywhere. From hurricanes and wildfires to winter storms and earthquakes, these extreme weather events create hazards and challenges for human lives and property.
The United States has experienced close to $1.6 trillion in damages from natural disasters since 1980, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. On average, the United States experiences 12 natural disasters every year. So what counts as a natural disaster?
- Tropical Storms are hurricanes and cyclones that form in tropical waters and move toward coastal areas. These are often the most notable disasters in any given year, with plenty of news and storm tracking coverage.
- Convective Storms are severe thunderstorms that often produce heavy winds, high levels of rainfall, lightning, hail and even tornadoes.
- Winter Storms combine high levels of precipitation with freezing temperatures, leading to heavy snowfall, sleet and freezing rain. Travel becomes a hazard during winter storms as roads are covered in snow and ice, and visibility is low.
- Floods often occur during or after heavy rainfall and can happen anywhere in the United States. Floods are the deadliest natural disaster — more than tropical and convective storms combined.
- Wildfires are unique among natural disasters since they’re typically caused by human activity. A small fire in a dry area can spread to cover thousands of acres. The California wildfires in 2018 led to over $12 billion in insurance claims.
- Earthquakes happen more frequently along fault lines but have actually been recorded in all U.S. states. They can be followed by tsunamis and fires and can be felt hundreds of miles from their epicenters.
Natural disasters can happen anywhere in the country. Some disasters strike suddenly and without warning, others are tracked for days while cities and counties prepare themselves. Luckily, there are a few ways you can prepare yourself for natural disasters.
Have an Emergency Kit
Perhaps the most important thing you and your family can do to prepare for any disaster is to have a well-stocked emergency kit. This kit will provide you with the basics — food, water, basic utilities and first aid. Here’s a list of some things you should definitely have in your emergency kit:
- Water; roughly one gallon per person in your household
- Five days worth of food
- Flashlights and spare batteries
- Plenty of toiletries
- A first-aid kid
- Maps of your area
- A battery-operated radio
- A basic set of tools
- Emergency cash
Understand Your Insurance Policy
Homeowners’ insurance covers a wide range of natural disasters. But each policy is different, and they’re often written in a legal language that can be tough to decipher. You should take some time once a year to go over your insurance policy and make sure you fully understand everything that is covered and everything that is not.
In most cases, homeowners’ insurance won’t cover damage from floods. If you live in a flood-prone area, it might be a good idea to look into an additional flood insurance policy. Keep a copy of your insurance policy with your emergency kit.
Have a Family Action Plan
Natural disasters bring chaos and disarray. Windows can break, power can go out, and your family might not all be in the same place when disaster strikes. That’s why it’s so important for you and your family to be on the same page in the event of a severe weather event.
Your action plan should have a designated place where your family knows to meet. Choose three different locations – in your home, on your street and a central location in your neighborhood. Have a printed list of emergency contact numbers (don’t rely on your cell phone contact lists).
Finally, if you have any pets, come up with a plan for what to do with them. Some local storm shelters might not allow pets, so having a solid plan in place will allow you to keep your pets safe during disasters.
Shut Off Your Water, Gas and Electricity
Utility lines can become serious safety hazards during natural disasters. To be prepared, find out exactly where your water main shutoff valve, electric shutoff and gas shutoff are. Closing and shutting off these valves as soon as possible when disaster strikes will help avoid gas leaks, water damage and electrical dangers.
Protect Your Water Leak Detection System
Water leak detection systems are futile when there’s a power outage. This leaves your plumbing system in a vulnerable state at a time when it needs protection more than ever. Devices like Flo’s Battery Backup will keep your Flo by Moen device functional for 3 additional days while the power is out.
Preparing Your Home for Specific Weather Events
Hurricanes are giant tropical storms that bring heavy winds and rainfall. In your home, your roof and windows are the most vulnerable in a hurricane. If you live within a few hundred miles of the Atlantic or Gulf Coasts, you should stay prepped and ready for a hurricane.
Have some plywood available in case you need to board up your doors and windows. This should be done from the outside of your home. Have your roof inspected and gutters cleared out before hurricane season starts. Having a roof collapse during a tropical storm could exponentially increase the amount of damage to your home.
Flooding is a concern during hurricanes, so keep your valuables stored as high up as possible. Keeping your vehicles’ gas tanks full is also a priority. In the event of an optional or mandatory evacuation, you want to be able to get out of the area as quickly as possible without stopping at a crowded gas station.
Storms involve lots of snow, wind and extremely cold temperatures. Unlike hurricanes that often involve evacuations, during a winter storm, you’re usually safest when you stay indoors, at home. Roads will be an extreme safety hazard.
If you live in the northern half of the US, keeping your home winterized is one of the best ways to prepare for winter storms. Having proper insulation and a well-maintained roof will help you weather the storm. In addition to your emergency kit, stock up on extra blankets, ice melt, shovels, space heaters and a generator. It’s possible you’ll be without power and heat for multiple days.
While they might seem like a strictly Midwestern phenomenon, tornados can happen anywhere. Tornados can bring winds exceeding 200 MPH and cause extensive structural damage. Since they form and move rapidly, preparing for a tornado means getting to safety as soon as possible.
Go into the basement or an interior, first-floor room with no windows if possible. If you have a sturdy table, huddle underneath it and cover up with a thick blanket to protect yourself from debris.
Natural disasters can happen anywhere, and they can cause massive amounts of property damage. But you can do a lot to minimize the damage and keep your family safe. All it takes is a little preparation and a good plan.