Preparing Your Home for Natural Disasters
Mother Nature can be breathtakingly beautiful, but she can also be cruel: natural disasters such as floods and tornadoes are regular and widespread occurrences, and they can threaten our crops, our property and possessions, and even our lives. It is estimated that an average of 10,000 people die each year from flooding alone. But how can we protect our loved ones and our homes from such random acts of natural violence? Understanding when and where these cataclysmic events occur, preparing our homes according to the particular disaster risks of the region in which we live, and having a thorough plan of action should such a disaster happen is the best way to safeguard our homes and families. Get the facts below to keep yourself safe from nature’s most prevalent and destructive natural disasters.
Floods are one of the most common disasters in the United States, and they are widespread across the country. They can occur near larger bodies of water, but can also happen near small streams or creeks. Although the most frequent type of flooding develops slowly over a period of hours or days during heavy rainfall, many areas are also plagued by flash floods, which are more dangerous. These sudden floods are often accompanied by roaring water carrying dangerous debris and can cause massive damage, often washing away anything in the water’s path, and causing injury to any person in the way. If you live in a high-risk flooding area, you can help protect your home by sealing the basement with a waterproofing compound and building barriers such as floodwalls to decrease the amount of water that may get into your home. In the event of a flood, disconnect electrical appliances and utilities, and move to the highest level of the home possible. Listen to radio advisories, and if you are advised to evacuate, do so immediately. If you are caught outside in a flood, stay clear of any water, and get to high ground. Never attempt to drive a vehicle through flood water, as it is often difficult to gauge how deep the water is, and even a seemingly harmless level of water can wash away a car or leave you stranded as water levels continue to quickly rise.
Earthquakes can be one of Mother Nature’s most devastating natural disasters. Caused by the sudden shifting, colliding or sliding of tectonic plates at fault lines in the earth’s crust, the sudden and volatile changes in these areas can severely damage the earth’s surface depending on the intensity of the quake. The damage can range from a mild rumbling and shaking to a dangerous shifting and displacement of the ground that can bring buildings crashing to the ground. The effects of an earthquake can be even more horrific: the Indonesian earthquake of 2004 caused the cataclysmic tsunami that killed approximately 250,000 people. In the United States, earthquakes are common along the west coast, especially in California. They also happen in southern Alaska. People living in these areas should take precautions to safeguard their homes against potential quakes by stabilizing their wall foundations, bolting their homes to their foundations, and properly securing water heaters and any heavy appliances to both the floors and walls. You should also keep a well-stocked first aid kit and an emergency three day supply of water and food. In the event of a quake, it is important to stay calm, turn off your electric, gas and water valves if possible, and then retreat to a sturdy doorway (or under a sturdy piece of furniture) that is located away from any windows.
Wildfires can happen anywhere in the United States, but are most typical in forested and grassland areas, especially when these terrains are plagued by droughts during the summer and autumn. Quick to spread, the fires typically occur due to human negligence in highly susceptible areas, but are also caused by lightning strikes, volcanic activity and unusual heat waves. If you live in an area that typically experiences these fires, it’s important to take measures to safeguard your home. Have a disaster kit on hand at all times. Planting trees or shrubs around the home that are fire-resistant and having an extended garden hose that can circle the entire perimeter of the house are also important safety steps. If a wildfire does occur near your home, evacuate if you are advised to do so, keeping an eye on the direction of the fire. Wearing flame-retardant or protective clothing is also a smart safety measure.
Characterized by a counterclockwise circular flow of winds that can exceed more than 75 miles per hour, a hurricane is a cyclone that forms over water in a tropical area. These storms can affect not only the islands in their path, but can wreak havoc on any southern coastal area on the mainland of America as they move further inwards. The aftermath of these tropical storms can even be experienced farther north, although the effects are far less detrimental. They typically occur during a specific season, which officially lasts from June 1st to November 30th. Hurricanes can produce strong surges of water and wind, tornadoes, and inland flooding. All of these destructive phenomenon’s can easily destroy vehicles and non-fortified buildings along the coastline, and the high winds can easily turn smaller objects and debris into potentially life-threatening hazards. If your home is located in a hurricane-prone area it’s vital to have an emergency kit and an all-weather radio with backup batteries in case electricity is down and the populace is called to evacuate the area. If evacuation is not necessary, have a “safe room” in the house that is without windows and away from main doors and walls. You may also want to consider preventatively fortifying your home for added protection, and purchasing flood insurance in case of water damage.
Born from a thunderstorm in which unstable, warm air comes into contact with a cooler air front, a tornado is an aggressively rotating tunnel of air that can touch down on land and cause excessive winds and hail that are capable of uprooting trees, destroying vehicles, and leveling homes. The greatest dangers and the most fatalities come from the flying debris that circulates through the high winds these cyclones generate; winds which can reach more than 250 miles per hour. Tornadoes are reported everywhere in the United States, although some areas are prone to more frequent and fierce “twister” activity than others, such as the Midwest. To help fortify your home against a tornado, fortify garage doors, add outside shutters to windows, and keep all trees on the property well-maintained and healthy. In the event of a tornado, close all windows and go immediately to the lowest point of the home, and stay in the center of the room away from any windows. Experts also recommend keeping a large, heavy piece of furniture there that you can crouch under to protect yourself from falling debris that may blow inside the home. As always, keep a disaster kit in this designated “safe” area of your home. If you are in a car, mobile home, or outside during an impending tornado, immediately seek shelter in the closest, most secure building possible, or go to the lowest ground possible, away from any objects that could be uprooted and tossed in the wind.
Although many wouldn’t consider a hailstorm a natural disaster, hail can be extremely destructive and potentially hazardous. In fact, hail is estimated to cause almost one billion dollars’ worth of damage to homes, cars and crops each year. Hail forms during a thunderstorm or tornado when drops of rain are frozen by cold downdrafts of air that form in the upper parts of the atmosphere, and the onslaught of ice can sometimes be the size of a softball! Hailstorms can take place anywhere that experiences thunderstorms, thought they are most frequent in the middle latitudes, which is where most of the United States is located geographically. Hail can cause intense damage to windows, garage doors, roofing and siding, and can be potentially fatal to pets left outside. To preventatively protect your home, you may want to consider having your roof thoroughly inspected, and reroofing it if necessary, as that is the area of your home most susceptible to a hail assault. During a hailstorm, make sure all pets (and people!) are indoors safely, and cover all windows with curtains, blinds or shutters to protect you and your family from any broken glass that may result from large hailstones on a diagonal trajectory.
A volcano is typically a conical hill with a crater at the top through which molten rock, gas and lava can be expelled during its active period, or an eruption. The danger in a volcanic eruption lies not only with the hot lava that can cause untold damage to land and homes in its path, but also in the gasses and ash, which can travel for hundreds of miles through the air and are hazardous to the lungs and respiratory system. Volcanoes can also cause acid rain and flash floods, as well as extremely hazardous falling volcanic rock. To protect your home from a volcanic eruption, the best thing you can do is to acquire volcano insurance to protect yourself financially. Keep an emergency kit handy with safety goggles, dusk masks, sturdy shoes and long sleeved clothing. In the event of volcanic activity, home is not always the safest location depending on the proximity of your house to the active volcano. Keep a battery-operated radio so that you can listen to government and emergency advisories in the event of volcanic activity or a call for evacuation of your area. If you are trapped at home during an eruption, securely close and seal all doors and windows to keep ash out of the home, and put all machinery or vehicles in a garage or cover them with tarps if that’s not possible.