Preparing Your Home for Disaster
When it's hurricane season in the Gulf states and Hawaii, it's also wildfire season throughout the west. Earthquakes are always in season, and flooding never goes out of style. Are you ready for the next disaster, whether natural or man-made? A few inexpensive preparations you can do in just a few hours can pay big dividends when disaster strikes.
Designate a Rally Point. Disaster may strike while your family is separated. Cell phones may not work. Work out a plan to meet somewhere safe in the event of a disaster. Explain it to your children. You can even practice it with them. Designate a back-up rally point, other than home or school, in case these obvious locations are inaccessible or dangerous.
Pack Go-Bags. These are bags pre-packed with three days' change of clothing, non-perishable food and water, hygiene supplies, and key insurance documents. You can keep them in the trunk of your car or in an easily-accessible place in your home or garage. The idea is to be able to grab them in seconds and get away.
Get a Hazard Assessment. Many homeowners' insurance companies will help you with a free or very inexpensive on-site inspection to assess your home's vulnerability to common hazards, including water damage from flooding, wind damage, theft, or fires. Contact your agent and take advantage of these programs.
Get a generator. Don't count on being able to get one when there's already a hurricane warning afoot or the disaster has already struck. Buy your generator ahead of time. Read the manual and understand how to use it, and to properly plan the voltage loads so as not to overload the generator. And never operate the generator indoors. Also, don't attempt to plug your generator's output into a wall socket to power your house. This can be extremely hazardous.
Conduct an insurance audit. Sit down with your agent and go over your existing coverage, deductibles and exclusions. Your home may have appreciated in value since you last reviewed your coverage. Ensure your coverage reflects the actual replacement value of your home and other valuables.
Inventory your belongings. If your home is destroyed by a tornado, fire or flood, many of your valuables will likely be damaged beyond repair, and perhaps beyond recognition. To ensure prompt reimbursement for your lost or destroyed property, it's important to inventory and photograph each valuable item. Tip: Don't store the data at home - you don't want your data destroyed by the same disaster that destroyed your home and property.
Get a battery-powered radio. Don't count on having electrical power for some time after a severe disaster. In some instances, you could be without power for weeks. Don't forget batteries.
Fill water bottles. Keep a store of fresh bottled water on hand - at least three days' supply is optimal. That's typically how long it takes the Federal Emergency Management Administration to move bulk supplies into a disaster-affected area. You may also consider filling your bathtub and water jugs with tap water. Be prepared to boil drinking water, even if you don't have gas or electric power. You may need Sterno or propane stoves to do this.
Visit Ready.gov. This is the portal for the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA). The site contains a number of useful tips, checklists and resources for disaster preparation. FEMA also provides a number of tools to help you prepare and educate your children as well. Different states also have their own websites that contain state contact numbers and resources. The state government resources usually contain additional information that pertains more specifically to hazards common in these states. That is, California residents will find more information on earthquake preparedness and not so much on hurricanes, while Florida residents will find a great deal on hurricane preparation and not much on earthquakes. Midwesterners and Southerners will find additional information on tornados, and northern states will devote more information to snow and ice-related events.
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