Thanks to Jessica Merritt for this comprehensive guide to surviving natural disasters. This is Part 1 -part 2 tomorrow.
Natural disasters affect every area of America, and no home is immune to the threat of emergencies. These disasters can threaten your property, even your life. And there are simple steps you can take to protect your home and family in the event of an emergency. We’ll share expert tips for preparing your home to survive tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, and floods. Being prepared for natural disasters and emergencies can protect your property — and it just might save your life. Be ready by following our guide to natural disaster preparedness.
Emergency Preparedness Basics
For any emergency, you’ll need the basics: a plan and an emergency kit. Be ready for natural disasters with these tips that apply for any emergency.
Home emergency plan:
Every emergency calls for a different plan. Tornadoes and hurricanes, for example, require for a safe room. Homes prone to earthquakes might need seismic retrofitting, and families in flood-prone areas should know safe evacuation routes. But no matter the emergency, there are basic emergency plans that every home should have in place:
• Sign up for and become familiar with warning systems in your area so that you’ll be alerted to danger ahead of the threat.
• Choose a safe area ahead of time. For wind storms including tornadoes and hurricanes, you’ll need to identify an interior room on the lowest floor with no windows. During an earthquake, you’re safest under a strong table.
• Plan safe evacuation routes. Know how you’ll get out if you’re forced to evacuate. Make sure everyone in your home is familiar with the best evacuation route.
• Identify a safe place for your family to meet, and designate an out of town contact you can check in with.
• Practice emergency drills with your family. Every member of your family should know what to do during an emergency.
• Learn how to turn off your gas, water, and electricity utilities if necessary.
• Learn CPR and first aid.
Home emergency supplies:
After an emergency or natural disaster, help will be on the way. Still, you may not receive assistance for up to three days. That means your family should be prepared with the supplies necessary to survive independently for at least three days following an emergency. Remember that you may be unable to shop for food or supplies after disaster strikes, and your home may no longer have water, gas, or power. Be prepared at home with these emergency supplies.
• Water (at least one gallon per day per person for three days)
• Nonperishable foods (in emergency, use refrigerated or frozen foods first before they go bad, canned goods later)
• Utensils and a manual can opener
• Grill for outdoor cooking with matches and gas or charcoal
• Portable NOAA weather radio with hand crank or extra batteries
• Flashlight with extra batteries
• Portable lanterns
• Shoes and a working flashlight next to each bed in case of night emergencies
• Tools to turn off utilities
• Fire extinguisher(s)
• Extra clothing and blankets
• Documents, including emergency contact numbers, personal identification, insurance policies, photos of valuable belongings, road maps, medical cards, prescription list, and doctor’s contact information
• Emergency cash
Protect Your Home and Family from a Tornado
Tornadoes have the power to completely flatten homes, while hurling trees, objects, even cars through the air. This deadly force can strike at any time, and with little to no warning.
Dangerous tornadoes can happen anywhere. Although the worst tornadoes are most often seen in the Plains States like Kansas, top tornado states include ones you might not expect, including Florida, Maryland, and Illinois. The American Red Cross reports that tornadoes have been reported in every state. No matter where you are, it’s important that you’re prepared for a tornado.
An estimated 1,000 tornadoes happen in the U.S. every year, and they cause an average of $1.1 billion in property damage and 80 deaths. Preparing with tornado home safety can help you save money on repairs and be safer in your home, avoiding disaster, injury, or death.
Preparing for a Tornado
Know your risk:
You should be prepared for a tornado at any time, as the storms can form year round. But as we learn more about tornadoes, storm prediction becomes more sophisticated, allowing families to use warning resources and storm likelihood for planning.
• View your tornado risk by month and location. This tornado risk tool from tornado experts at The Weather Channel can help you assess your tornado risk. You can also check FEMA maps for tornado activity and wind zones.
• Mobile homes are not an adequate tornado shelter, as they accounted for 44% of all tornado fatalities between 1985 and 2005. Some mobile home parks have designated underground tornado shelter areas.
Prepare your family for a tornado:
Knowing the first signs of a tornado and practicing how you’ll get to a safe place might save your life. Find out how to safely shelter at home.
• Choose a safe room in your home. A safe room is an interior room on the lowest floor with no windows. Ideally, you’ll use a basement or storm cellar as your safe room. If you are in a moderate to high risk tornado area, consider reinforcing your safe room to FEMA specifications.
• Practice tornado drills with your family, gathering everyone, including pets, in your safe room. Be sure that all members of your family know the procedures for tornado safety. Remember, not all family members may be home when disaster strikes.
• Become familiar with your community’s tornado warning system, whether it’s a siren, broadcast, or other method. Everyone in your family should be familiar with tornado warning signals. You can also sign up for mobile alerts from The Weather Channel.
• Know the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning. A tornado watch is issued if tornadoes are possible in the area. During a tornado watch, you should review plans, check supplies, and be ready to move quickly to your safe room. A tornado warning is issued when a tornado has been sighted or identified on radar, and indicates imminent danger. During a tornado warning, you should immediately take shelter in your safe room.
• Remember to listen to your local news or NOAA weather radio during any storm to find out about tornado watches and warnings.
• Know the signs of a tornado: unusual clouds, including dark, greenish clouds, a wall cloud, cloud of debris, or a funnel cloud, as well as large hail and roaring noise like a train or jet engine.
• Learn first aid and CPR. With proper training, you’ll be ready to provide first aid for injuries after a tornado.
• Know where your community shelter is, and identify the route you would take to get there if necessary.
• Designate an emergency meeting spot where your family can gather if separated.
• Choose an out of town contact that everyone in your family can check in with to let others know they’re safe.
• Take photos of your valuables and store them in a fire and waterproof safe along with important documents.
• Know how to shut off utilities, including gas, electricity, and water, in case of an emergency. Have tools ready to turn them off.
• Keep your mobile phone, or a designated emergency phone, charged and ready at all times.
Preparing your home for a tornado:
The most important part of tornado home safety is identifying a secure room where your family will gather in case of a storm. But there are more steps you can take ahead of a storm to minimize your risk of damage, injury, and death.
• Consider investing in a safe room. FEMA-approved residential safe rooms provide better protection than a basement or interior room. In an existing home, building a safe room typically means modifying the walls or foundation to be more secure. Some communities offer incentives, including reduce property taxes and grants, to encourage homeowners to build safe rooms.
• Ask a professional to reinforce masonry walls, secure your chimney, and possibly add anchors, clips, and straps for more strength.
• Update doors to withstand winds. Entry doors should be anchored securely to wall framing and have at least three hinges and a deadbolt security lock at least one inch long. Sliding glass doors should be replaced with impact-resistant door systems. Garage doors may need to be braced with supports or replaced with a stronger system.
• When replacing your roof, work with a contractor to ensure that your new roof and sheathing are prepared to resist high winds. The Weather Channel has an excellent guide to roof removal, replacement, connections, and anchoring that you can use with your roofing contractor.
• Trim your trees, as branches or even entire trees can become flying debris that may damage your home. Look for diseased or damaged limbs and trees for removal.
• Secure outdoor items that may become projectiles, including plants, lawn furniture, trash cans, and outbuildings.
• Replace gravel and rock landscaping materials with softer options, including shredded bark.
During a Tornado
Tornadoes can cause devastating damage within seconds. Some touch down just for a brief moment, while others spread a path of destruction on the ground for an hour or longer. What your family does during a tornado could make the difference between life and death. Remember that you should always seek shelter during a tornado warning.
What to do during a tornado:
• If there is a tornado watch, listen to local news or NOAA weather radio, gather your emergency supplies, and begin to move potential flying debris from your yard.
• During a tornado warning, do not wait until you see the tornado to take action. As soon as you see or hear warning signs, prepare as if a tornado is imminent, heading straight to your tornado shelter without delay.
• Take shelter in the safest part of your home. A specially designed safe room, basement, storm cellar, or interior room on the lowest level with no windows are the best choices for shelter during a tornado.
• Do not take shelter in a mobile home.
• Do not open your windows. It is a myth that this will equalize the pressure in your home, and it may actually make potential damage worse, allowing wind and rain to enter your house. Don’t waste precious time opening windows, simply get to shelter.
• Stay inside until you are certain the storm is over. There may be multiple tornadoes in the same storm.
After a Tornado
Severe tornadoes can damage gas, water, and electrical lines, and distribute debris that is dangerous to walk on or touch. Hazardous chemicals may also be dispersed. After a tornado, you can protect your home and family by looking for damage and warning signs that something is wrong.
What to do after a tornado:
• Be certain that the storm has passed before you go outside.
• Keep your radio tuned to local news or NOAA weather radio for further instructions and warnings.
• Look, listen, and smell for broken utilities. Fallen power lines or broken gas lines should be reported to the utility company right away. If you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, you may have a gas leak. Open a window, evacuate your family, and call 911 or the gas company immediately.
• Use a flashlight to examine buildings rather than a candle, which can ignite undetected gas leaks.
• Avoid damaged buildings, and stay inside your home if it has not been damaged.
• Protect yourself from damaged buildings and debris by wearing long pants, a long sleeved shirt, and closed toe shoes when assessing damage.
• Watch for snakes and other animals that may have entered your home with flooding.
• Clean up hazards in the home, including flammable liquids, chemicals, and medications.
• Photograph damage, if any, for your insurance claims. Remember to photograph both your home’s structure and the contents of your home.
• Avoid using your phone unless it’s an emergency. This will keep the lines clear for emergency calls.
• Provide first aid to injured persons and call 911 if needed. Do not attempt to move seriously injured people unless you need to remove them from immediate danger.
• Let your family know you’re safe by checking in on the American Red Cross Safe and Well website.
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