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Be Prepared for Natural Disasters
Simple steps to keep you and your home safe
If a disaster strikes, will you be ready? Here’s how to prepare and respond to most natural emergencies.
"Emergencies can happen anytime, anywhere. Families may not be together and you may not have access to cell phones, gas stations, grocery stores or some of the other things that you are used to having every day,” says Darryl Madden, Director of the Ready Campaign of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA ). “By taking a few simple steps now, each of us can make sure we are better prepared for the next emergency or disaster.” FEMA, along with other government agencies and nonprofit associations such as the Federal Alliance of Safe Homes (FLASH) and Firewise offer a wealth of tips. The Ready Campaign has suggestions for basic emergency preparations. The new FLASH Web site provides videos, “Pick-a-Peril” by state information and a consumer forum.
While each household is unique — young children, disabilities, pets, high-rises, isolated rural homes — proper preparations can help bring potentially bad situations to better conclusions. We’ve rounded up the essentials here, as well as tips for specific emergencies: flooding, fires, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes and severe winter storms.
What to Do Before the Storm
No matter which type of natural disaster your area is prone to having, each household should have some type of emergency prep. As soon as possible, you’ll want to do the following — before disaster strikes:
1. Gather Information
• Take pictures. To help recoup any insured losses, create a room-by-room inventory now. Take photos or videos to better document items. Record serial or model numbers. Write down purchase dates and prices (best if kept on a computer and emailed to yourself for safe-keeping). For valuables like jewelry, have copies of expert appraisals. Put one inventory in your safety deposit box and keep a copy at home in a waterproof container.
With any disasters, you will need to provide information about your losses for an insurance claim. According to Leslie Chapman-Henderson, CEO of FLASH, one of the best ways to reduce confusion and to accurately account for belongings is a photo or video inventory after a disaster. With items documented, you then can remove property that could pose a health risk, like wet, moldy furniture or items with sharp, damaged edges.
• Make appointments. Schedule phone time or a visit with your insurance agent each year. Discuss updates that might be needed. If you live in an area with specific natural disaster risks, learn about any extra policies needed.
• Stay informed. Check local radio and TV stations. Visit the Web site of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ( NOAA ) (or become a fan on Facebook). Its Storm Prediction Center and National Weather Hazards pages can help you learn what’s shaping up, from blizzards to flash floods, fire to high winds. NOAA Weather Radio provides weather and emergency information 24 hours a day.
• Safeguard documents. Prepare a vital records kit with copies of important documents to store in a waterproof and fireproof container in a safe place in your home. Include copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records, proof of vaccinations for pets, mortgages, passports, and birth/marriage certificates, as well as irreplaceable keepsakes and family photos.
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