According to The Chapman University Survey of American Fears, more than 63 percent of Americans believe natural disasters are capable of harming them and their loved ones, yet 74 percent haven’t prepared for one. If you want to make disaster preparation a priority, but aren’t sure where to start, these tips will help equip you for five common disaster scenarios.
To prepare for a potential fire, it’s critical to create an evacuation plan and have two ways out of every room.
If a fire is underway, you should feel door handles, as confirmed by Peter Duncanson, Director of Disaster Restoration Operations at ServiceMaster Restore. And if they’re warm, find a different way out. But, “if that means using a window,” he says, “have the necessary tools to evacuate. Also, take simple steps like changing batteries in every smoke detector and testing them to make sure they work, and ensuring electrical outlets are not overloaded with plugs.”
It’s just as important to have a charged fire extinguisher on hand at all times, but keep in mind you shouldn’t try to extinguish a fire alone unless it’s in a contained area.
According to contractor Peter Di Natale of Peter Di Natale & Associates, many property owners fail to take protective action until storms hit. He suggests starting with the roof.
You’re asking for trouble if gutters are cracked or clogged with leaves at the onset of a storm. Di Natale suggests checking and replacing them before bad-weather season. If you need new gutters installed, hire during the off-season — not the late summer or early fall, when contractors are swamped with work and jacking up their prices. “Another danger is ice forming on tree branches,” says Di Natale, “and the leaves themselves can create heavy pressure on limbs. Trees should be routinely inspected by an arborist and pruned as needed.”
Prepare on the ground, too. Flooding from storms or water main breaks can hit homes on downhill slopes the hardest. Have the dirt and grass re-graded so that it slopes gently away from the house and into the yard.
Most blackouts are caused by trees falling on power lines or transformers being struck by lightning. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends stocking enough supplies to last at least three days in the event of an outage.
Survival expert Malcolm Lawson of Survival Know How recommends choosing foods with a long shelf life, like canned goods and freeze-dried meals. These might be more expensive, but also much more nutritious than ramen. Another top priority is drinking water.
“If your water comes from a well, then most likely your well pump can’t run without power,” Lawson explains. “Remember, the average home has at least 50 gallons of water stored in the hot water heater as well as a few gallons stored in the upper reservoir of each toilet. In case water becomes contaminated during a natural disaster, have at least one way to purify it, such as boiling or using water purification tablets or filters. Also fill your bathtub before any storms hit so you have access to several gallons of clean drinking water.”
Don’t forget to fill up your gas tank, as fuel becomes expensive after storms. CNBC saw Florida gas prices rise nearly 5 cents in one week prior to Hurricane Matthew. Charge your electronics as well, and have a generator on hand with gas that’s fresher than three months — it starts to deteriorate afterward.
Joe Alton, M.D., bestselling author of The Survival Medicine Handbook, notes that millions of incidents are reported to poison control centers every year.
“If the chemical or poison came in a container, read the label; it will often give instructions for accidental poisonings,” Alton advises. “The best way to deal with poisoning is to prevent it. Identify toxic substances in your home and workplace and store chemicals and drugs away from those who may misuse it or be accidentally exposed.”
Call 9-1-1 if symptoms are significant, or head to the hospital while calling the Poison Help Line. Be sure to bring the bottles of any drugs taken, and follow this guide when a medical center isn’t available:
Burning embers can blow far from wildfires and ignite dry vegetation and combustible materials near your home. To protect yourself, Dr. Steve Quarles, Chief Wildlife Scientist at the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, recommends using noncombustible landscaping materials.
“Rock mulch near your home and under your deck are good,” he says. “Also trim trees to remove dead material and remove dead vegetation and debris from your yard, roof and gutters. Pay particular attention to debris that may accumulate under your roof-mounted solar panels.”
Also use Class A fire-rated roof coverings, noncombustible or ignition-resistant siding and decks and a noncombustible fence section where it connects to your home. Make sure your vents are covered with a 1/8-inch metal mesh screen to minimize the size and number of embers that can enter your attic and crawl space.
Follow these tips, and you’re likely to be the most prepared household on the block next time a disaster threatens your neighborhood.