Even after disasters of such scope as Hurricane Katrina and Sandy, many people do not seriously consider the possibility of a natural disaster affecting them, which can leave them unprepared for the eventuality. In order to keep your family safe and minimize the damage to your belongings, choose to be proactive. Make changes in your home before disaster strikes, create a family communication plan, and prepare an emergency kit.
Facts and Statistics
Worldwide natural disasters annually cost an estimated 371 billion dollars. The most widespread type of natural disasters, and the ones creating the biggest economic losses, aside from wildfires, are floods. Ninety percent of natural disasters declared in the United States involve some sort of flooding.
According to a study provided by the Population Reference Bureau, University of Carolina researchers found that the deadliest natural disasters are heat, thunderstorms, winter weather, and flooding. These results might look surprising considering what type of events are given most attention in the media. However, incidents such as tornados and earthquakes are relatively rare events that generally affect specific territories. On the other hand, heat or floods, which are more common events, result in more death and injuries over a longer period of time.
According to Phys.org, Americans are not prepared for an emergency caused by a natural disaster. Results show that 65 percent of American households do not have adequate plans and supplies for a disaster, 41 percent do not believe that their community has adequate plans in place, and 51 percent do not have confidence in the ability of government to meet their or needs in a disaster.
To learn more, visit:
- DoSomething.org: 11 facts about disasters
- Columbia University: Ready for natural disasters? Not so much.
Do not wait for the storm to strike, make a plan long before severe weather comes.
By being prepared for any kind of natural disaster that can happen in your area, you can not only keep your family and home safe but also help minimize the damage and speed up recovery efforts after the calamity.
- If you have a sump pump, make sure that it is properly working and install a battery-operated backup.
- Waterproof your basement.
- Clean dirt from downspouts and gutters.
- Raise your electrical components at least 12 inches above your home’s projected flood elevation level.
- Place appliances such as heaters, washers, and dryers on cement blocks at least 12 inches above your home’s projected flood elevation.
- CERF+ suggests installing check valves to prevent floodwater from backing up into the drains of your home.
- Consider buying flood insurance, as floods are not included in standard homeowner insurance.
When there is a flash flood watch issued:
- Use sandbags to stop the water.
- Move your valuable belongings to an upper floor.
- Store documents and valuables in waterproof containers on the highest levels in your home.
For more information, visit:
- NOAA: Flood safety
- National Flood Insurance Program: Floods- preparation and recovery
- Strengthen your buildings outer shell – doors, windows, walls, and roof.
- Cover all of your home’s windows with permanent shutters or plywood (low-cost alternative).
- Trim any dead or weak branches on the trees in your yard.
During a hurricane watch:
- Bring in any unsecured objects from outside.
- Remove outside antennas and satellite dishes.
- Make sure all appliances are unplugged.
To get more information, visit:
- FEMA: How to prepare for a hurricane
- Electrical Safety Foundation International: Hurricane safety
- CDEMA: Hurricane preparedness tips for home
- Install latches on all cabinet doors.
- Trim trees to avoid falling branches.
- Secure windows and doors.
- Secure top-heavy furniture such as bookcases and china cabinets that could topple over.
- Secure your large appliances.
- Arrange furniture so that chairs and beds are away from picture frames, windows, and mirrors.
- Mark where the utility switches are so that they can be turned off in an emergency.
- Storm Aware suggests choosing a safe room in your home where household members could gather during a tornado (basement, storm cellar, or an interior room on the lowest floor and no windows).
During a tornado watch:
- Place heavy and bulky items on lower shelves to prevent dangerous items from falling and bookcases and other shelving from falling over.
- Store hazardous materials such as cleaning supplies in locked cabinets and away from emergency food or water supplies.
- Bring in outdoor objects such as lawn furniture, garden tools, kids’ toys
To read more about tornado preparation, visit:
- FloridaDisaster.org: A guide to tornado safety
- Prep4AGThreats.org: Tornadoes and your home (PDF)
- Find any weaknesses in the structure of your home and get them repaired.
- Move bookcases, mirrors, and pictures away from beds, sofas, and other places where people spend a lot of time.
- Hang mirrors and pictures on closed hooks.
- Secure computers and TVs with straps intended for earthquake prone areas.
- Secure top-heavy furniture and appliances to wall studs.
- Make sure that your water heater is properly secured to the wall and floor with studs.
- Move heavy objects to lower shelves.
- Keep heavy or potentially unstable objects away from doors and escape routes.
To learn more about how to stay safe during an earthquake, visit:
- Earthquake Country Alliance: Seven steps to earthquake safety
- New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources: What can I do to prepare for an earthquake?
- Clean gutters, storm drains, and drainage areas of any dirt or debris.
- Remove dead or rotting trees and branches that could fall and cause injury or damage.
During thunderstorm watch:
- Make sure that windows and doors are properly
- Secure outdoor objects that could blow away.
- Unplug your electrical appliances.
For more thunderstorm information, visit:
- RainRead.org: Preparing for heavy rains and storms (PDF)
- Gear up Get Ready: Before a thunderstorm occurs
- Repair roof leaks and have the stability of your roof checked.
- Insulate walls and attic space.
- Install storm windows, or cover windows with plastic from the inside.
- Caulk and install weather strips around doors and windows.
- Make sure you have emergency heating equipment available.
- Check batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
- Inspect and service snow removal equipment.
- If you have a chimney, make sure that it has been recently inspected.
- Insulate water lines that run along outer walls.
For more winter storm advice, visit:
- New York Emergency Management: Winter weather
- SafeElectricity.org: Winter storm preparedness
- Regularly clean your roof and gutters.
- Clear any combustible debris from around the house.
- Keep the lawn watered and mowed short (3 inches or less).
- Use rock and stone landscape decorations next to buildings.
- Maintain a distance from trees to the house.
- Keep a minimum 10-foot space between evergreen tree crowns.
- Keep garden hoses that are long enough to reach any area of the home.
To learn more, visit:
- ReadyForWildfire.org: Hardening your home
- Colorado State Forest Service: How you can protect your home, property, and forest from wildfire
- BurnSafeTN.org: How to protect your home from wildfire
- Change or clean your air conditioning filter every month.
- Install window reflectors to reflect heat back outside.
- To keep cool air in, weather-strip doors and windows.
- Cover windows that receive morning or afternoon sun with drapes, shades, or awnings.
For more information, visit:
- Missouri Department of Public Safety: Plan and prepare for extreme heat
- Energy.gov: Under heat dome staying cool and efficient on the hottest days
- Learn how to shut off utilities such as gas, electricity, and water.
- Keep your car tank full.
- Learn how to administer CPR.
To read more on this topics, visit:
- National Crime Prevention Council: Tips on disaster preparedness
- UNISDR: Let’s learn to prevent disasters! Kids guide
Creating a Plan
Natural disasters can sometimes happen without much warning. In this kind of situation, every second counts but it can be difficult to stay organized in the moment. That is why you should create a plan with your family on what to do when a disaster occurs. It should be simple so that everyone remembers it easily. Familiarize yourself with the types of disasters that represent a threat in your area, create a plan, and practice it with all family members twice a year.
- Agree on a place to meet up with your family members in case you are not together when a disaster happens.
- Choose an out-of-area contact person who everybody from your family should contact after the emergency has passed.
- Find a safe place to evacuate near to where you live (a shelter, hotel, friend’s, or relative’s place).
- Practice evacuating your home and the route to the safe place.
- Plan how to take care of your pets.
- Plan how to cater to special needs of elderly and family members with disabilities.
For more tips and ideas, visit:
- Ready.gov: Make a plan
- Red Cross: Make a plan
Putting Together a Natural Disaster Kit
A natural disaster kit should include these items:
- One gallon of water per person per day (store a supply that will last 3 days)
- Nonperishable food
- Battery-powered radio
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- First aid kit
- Important family documents
- Whistle to signal for help
- Can opener
- Cell phone with charger
- Moist towelettes, garbage bags, and paper towels
- Personal hygiene items
- Sleeping bags or warm blankets
- Dust mask or cotton t-shirt for protection
- A jacket or coat, hat, and gloves
- Pen and paper
You can also prepare a smaller kit to use in case of sudden need for evacuating your home.
For more ideas, visit:
- Be Prepared California: Prepare an emergency supply kit
- National Fire Protection Association: Emergency preparedness
After a disaster, the first thing you might want to do after reuniting with your family and making sure that everyone is fine is to go back to your home. However, you should not return home after a disaster until the area is declared safe by local officials.
Before entering your home, carefully inspect it. If you see any loose power lines, gas leaks, or structural damage such as weakened walls, do not enter. Report it immediately to specialists and wait for help.
If appliances are wet, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. Then, unplug the items and let them dry out. Before turning them back on, have them checked by a professional.
According to the CDC, If pipes are damaged, you should turn off the main water valve. Check if your community water has been declared safe to use. It could be contaminated after a disaster.
Throw out food and medical supplies that may have been contaminated by floodwater.
Use caution and protective equipment when you are cleaning out the debris.
For more information, visit:
- USA.gov: After disaster
- EPA: Dealing with debris and damaged buildings