Natural Disasters

By Chelle Cordero

June 25, 2010 5 min read

It is almost impossible to find a corner of the world that is not at risk from some type of natural disaster, be it tornado, earthquake, flooding, volcano or hurricane. Natural disasters cannot be prevented, but your knowledge and actions can determine how well your family fares against them and increase your odds of survival.

Having a plan is the best way to protect yourself. "The ability of communities and states to effectively respond to and recover from disasters depends largely on actions taken before the disaster," according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Learn now, before a disaster strikes, what threats are most common. Southern Californians, for example, know that there is a huge potential for earthquakes. Floridians know that they often live in the paths of hurricanes. Other communities may experience flooding, long-term power outages, high winds, tornadoes, forest fires, etc.

It is a common misconception to think that insurance will cover all calamities. Speak to your insurance agent now to learn what conditions are included in your policy and whether there are special provisions for things like flood insurance. Make sure that you have "actual replacement value" so that if your home is destroyed, you will be able to afford to replace it at today's market prices. Owning the proper insurance is your first step toward recovery in the event that your home is damaged or destroyed.

Lowe's home improvement stores and the Home Safety Council stress the importance of personal safety. Listen to your local radio or television station for instructions about sheltering, evacuations and anticipated timelines. If your area is to be evacuated, make sure that your family has a specific plan for meeting afterward. Schoolchildren and parents may find that they are separated during an evacuation. Now is the time to agree on two meeting places or contacts. One meeting spot should be clear of your house but near the property (a good place to go if there is a fire), and the other may only need to be a phone contact; choose an out-of-town relative whom family members can contact with their locations.

Laurie Buckelew of Lowe's public relations says that every family should maintain a stock of supplies that includes batteries, bottled water, an emergency radio, a first-aid kit, flashlights, tie-downs, a generator, a hammer, nails and plywood. Take a photo or video inventory of your house and possessions to help with insurance if needed. It is also advisable for every family to prepare both a "stay kit" and a "to-go kit"; depending on the emergency, local authorities may advise that you shelter at home or that you evacuate. Buckelew says the website at has resources and information, including guides for hurricane preparation and video presentations to teach you how to safeguard your home.

If you already have suffered devastation from harsh conditions, such as high winds, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate says the best way to protect yourself from future disasters is to incorporate proven techniques in your rebuilding now. "Many of these are small changes that can make a big difference the next time storms strike," he says.

Some techniques include anchoring critical building components in three areas and attaching roof rafters to the walls with a metal connector to help the structure resist wind uplift. Secure the structure to the foundation with connectors nailed to the studs and bolted into the concrete. Fortify gable roofs by bracing the end wall of the gable to resist high winds. Take outside measures to minimize flying debris. Reinforce glass windows and doors by installing impact-resistant laminated glass window or door systems and applying high-strength window security films to standard window and patio door glass. Fortify garage doors. Build a "safe room" inside your home to provide shelter.

In flood-prone areas or to protect yourself during flooding caused by the heavy rains after a hurricane or tornadoes, Fugate offers the following advice: Build with flood damage-resistant materials; dry floodproof your building; add waterproof veneer to exterior walls; raise electrical system components; anchor fuel tanks; raise or floodproof heating, ventilating and air conditioning equipment; install sewer backflow valves; and protect wells from contamination by flooding.

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