You’ve just moved into your first home.  The walls are freshly painted, the hardwood floors are gleaming, and you even managed to start your first flower garden in the backyard.  Life is perfect.  Until a few weeks later when a massive storm knocks down the neighbors tree onto your front porch, rain is leaking into your bedroom, and the power is going to be out for at least a couple of days. This may sound extreme but it happens more than most people would assume.  Being prepared for natural disasters is the less exciting part of being a homeowner but it is still vital.  Not just to keep your home secure but also to keep you and your family safe.  

Know Your Surroundings

Every area of the country is susceptible to different natural disasters.  It’s important to know and understand the top risks for the area where you live so that you can prepare accordingly.  The Natural Hazard Index for US Counties estimates an overall hazard index and breaks down the risk into different categories which include: wildfire, volcano, tornado, snowfall, landslide, hurricane, heatwave, flood, long-term drought, earthquake and avalanche.   

One way to stay informed is to enable wireless emergency alerts on your smartphone or tablet.  These emit a unique, loud sound and a different pattern of vibration.  Your smartphone should be capable of receiving both “Government Alters” or “Emergency Alert Messages.”  You may need to check with your wireless service provider if you need assistance.  In addition to your smartphone, your television will receive emergency alerts through the national public warning system.  Additional emergency alerts include the NOAA weather radio all hazards, the National Weather Service severe weather alerts, and Reverse 911.  In all emergency situations you can remain the safest by listening to the experts.  

Know the Safest Parts of Your Home

Natural disasters can wreak havoc on the structure of a house, especially if the house is old.  To find structural weak spots you should walk through your home with an inspector who can evaluate all the areas of your house.  He or she will be able to spot warning signs of home instability or damage that you will need to repair.  Just as every area of the country has its own risk of natural disasters, every area of the house has its own risks during a natural disaster.  It is important to know where to go for safety depending upon the type of disaster you are facing.  

Tornado – Stay away from windows, get to ground level or below, avoid heavy objects and protect yourself by sitting beneath a mattress, workbench, or stairs

Hurricane – Stay away from windows, shelter in a closet or bathroom

Flood – Get to the highest level of your house, be prepared to climb out on the roof, keep an inflatable watercraft upstairs 

Fire – Keep an evacuation plan and route up to date for quick access

Earthquake – Get in a doorway, below a table, or other secure area

Keep a Stockpile

You may have heard of these types of stockpiles jokingly referred to as Doomsdays kits or Zombie Apocalypse kits.  They are really a preparation kit in the event of a natural or man-made disaster.  When an emergency strikes the likelihood of you and your family being able to safely get to the grocery store and find a few days supply of food, water, and necessities is slim to none.  This is why the Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends having access to an easy-to-transport emergency supply kit.  You should have at least 72-hours supply of necessary items.  Consider this a supply of everything that is necessary in your life on a daily basis.  Food and water are essential to life which is why you should have one gallon of water, per person, per day.  This water is for drinking and washing. You should also have a three-day supply of non-perishable, easy-to-access food per person.  Anything with a long shelf life that can be sealed and stored away will work.  If you have pets you will need additional supplies for them.  In addition to food and water, you’ll want to have essentials that may not seem important until you are in an emergency situation.  A first aid kit is a must for an emergency in case of injury.  Chargers for cell phones, a flashlight, and a battery powered or hand-crank radio will be beneficial in an emergency.  In addition you’ll want to have extra medication and glasses as well as a complete change of clothes and warm blankets for everyone in the house.  There should be extra items such as paper cups, paper plates, and utensils as well as waterproof matches and personal hygiene items.  Keep these items in a storage area of your home where they will be safe from pests but can be accessed easily if needed.  

Organize Your Documents

In the event that you will need to evacuate quickly from your home, you will want to make sure your personal identification and important documents are ready to go in a waterproof, sealed container.  You should have copies of documents such as your driver’s license and passports, social security cards, birth certificates, marriage certificates, adoption or citizenship papers, military records, medical records, property titles, bank account numbers, wills, and life insurance documents.  If you are like many people, you are keeping more and more of your documents online or on your computer.  Back up these documents on a zip drive or a cloud service like Google Drive or Dropbox. 

Have a Plan for Every Member of Your Home

Part of being prepared for an emergency is having a clear plan that you share with your family, friends, and community.  You should choose three different spots that you will go in the event of an emergency and share them with your family.  Choose one spot close to home, one outside of your neighborhood, and one outside of town.  Create a map with the locations and routes and ensure that everyone understands how to reach the areas in case you are separated.  

Evacuation plans should also be discussed as a family.  Leaving in the event of a fire is much different than leaving in event of an impending terrorist attack.  Have household evacuation routes and a central meeting point for each type of event.  Keep your emergency contacts aware of your evacuation plans and contact them if you are able to during the evacuation.  If you have small children you will need to work with them so that they remember their home address, phone number, and full names.  You will need to help them memorize their evacuation plan as well as make sure they know where to go if they are separated from you or other family members.  Keep your master plans, contact lists, and route maps in an area where every member of the family can find and access it.  

Make Sure You Have Insurance

Keeping your family safe with extra food and water is just part of the emergency readiness process.  Before an emergency occurs you should have a few additional items in place.  First, review your homeowners insurance policy to ensure that you are properly covered in the event of an emergency.  If you are concerned that you are missing out on a few areas of insurance coverage you can discuss and update your plan with your insurance provider.  Generally, you can add catastrophic insurance riders that protect your home against earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, or human-made disaster such as terrorist attacks.  Every insurance provider is different as are their coverage options.  You should also make a list of the contents of your home in the event that you need to file an insurance claim.  You can also take pictures or video of all the rooms of your home as well as your valuable items.  

To Stay or To Go?

If a disaster hits your area you will need to decide if you are going to stay or evacuate.  Ultimately, the decision to stay or evacuate your home should be based upon the guidance of local experts.  If you are planning to stay in your home remember you are not just hanging out for a few relaxing days.  You are sheltering in place for an extended period of time possibly without electricity or running water.  Plan for extended periods of blackouts with extra batteries and a generator or other power backup that will allow you to run some of your appliances.  If you have small children you will need to keep them entertained during the time you are sheltering in place.  

If you evacuate you’ll need to close up your home in the event that you are gone for an extended period of time.  Eat, give away or throw away perishable food from your refrigerator or freezer.  Turn off all appliances and lights.  Disconnect and close all the utility mains and close your windows, exterior doors, and garage doors.  Packing to evacuate is not the same as packing for a vacation.  Bring only the necessary supplies in an easy to carry bag or suitcase.  But be prepared to be gone for an extended period of time especially if you are evacuating due to a wildfire or hurricane.  Both of these can leave lasting damage that will take a while to be cleared by road crews and emergency workers so you could be away from home for quite awhile.  Many people keep extra supplies of soap, shampoo, socks, underwear, clothes, etc. in a go bag so that they can grab it quickly if needed.  

Natural disasters occur in almost every area of the country and they are each unique in the devastation they bring.  As a homeowner you should be aware of your area’s most common natural disasters so you can prepare.  Always communicate and have a plan of action so that you and your family can act quickly if needed.  Staying safe during a natural disaster means listening and staying calm.  With a bit of preparation you can save yourself and your family from serious injury or death.