Regardless of where you live, disasters can happen. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), every state in the country has been hit by flooding, wildfires or destructive high winds, and 41 states have a significant earthquake hazard.
Half the battle with Mother Nature is knowing what to expect. Preparation varies by the type of disaster as well as by geographic area, so start by learning your climatology and other data from your local Red Cross chapter, emergency management office and noaa.gov.
The next step is planning for disaster scenarios. What would you do if you lost phone service: land lines and cell phones? How long can you go without your water, gas or electricity? Are you ready right now to leave your home on a moment’s notice? Here are tips from FEMA and the American Red Cross that can help with your planning:
1. Develop disaster plans: Find out about disaster plans where you work, at your children’s school and other places where your family spends time. Then hold a family meeting to create your own at-home plan. This should include evacuation routes from your house and two meeting places: one right outside of your home in case of a sudden emergency like a fire, and the other in another town. Make sure your family knows the phone number and address.
2. Make contact: Determine the number and address of a friend or family contact outside your state, since it’s sometime easier to make long-distance calls during an emergency. Family members should call the designated out-of-stater who makes sure everyone is present and accounted for, even if you can’t get physically together in a crisis.
3. Special needs: Consider how to care for pets, elderly relatives and other special needs.
4. Know what to pack: In the event of evacuation, take the following items in a bag or large container: flashlight and battery-powered radio with extra batteries, first aid kit, prescriptions, eyeglasses, at least a gallon of water and a change of clothes for each person, nonperishable foods, sleeping bags, area maps, checkbook, cash, credit cards, driver’s license and ID, insurance policies, wills, deeds and other important papers.
5. Practice: Make sure each family member knows how to turn off water, gas and electricity at the main valves/switches, and how to operate fire extinguishers stationed in the kitchen, garage and other areas of the home. Stock up on emergency supplies, including at least a gallon of clean water per person, and change them every six months.
6. Check insurance: Homeowners insurance is meant to protect you when disaster strikes, but the kind of natural phenomena covered can vary depending on the policy you have. The most common policy type is homeowners-3 (a.k.a. form HO-3), and it usually covers damage to both structures and personal property from a wide variety of causes. Take time now to confirm your coverage, making sure you have enough to rebuild your home at today’s prices, and get reacquainted with its inclusions and exclusions so that you’re in the know before the next storm arrives.
7. Consider flood insurance: Floods, the most common form of natural disaster, are not covered by homeowners’ insurance policies. However, flood insurance is available through the government-backed National Flood Insurance Program and typically includes Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) coverage which pays homeowners in high-risk areas up to $30,000 for improvements to make homes less susceptible to flooding. Make sure the limits for the coverage are enough to rebuild the house.
8. Document contents: Maintaining an accurate inventory of your home’s contents is a critical first step in getting back on your feet, so make both a visual and written record of all your household possessions, including any model and serial numbers. An easy way to do this is by videotaping each room in your home, making sure to open every drawer and closet as you go. This will remind you just what your home had in it if you need to file a claim. Several computer software programs are available that can help you record your home’s contents quickly and easily, and even allow you to prepare formatted claim reports for submission to your insurance carrier.
9. Safe storage: Store records such as this inventory and all other critical documents in a safe zone, either off-site in a safe deposit box, or at least in a fireproof box. Video tape or computer discs require a special type of fireproof box called a media safe, made to protect the film, tape and discs that can melt at a lower temperature than paper burns.