Natural disaster survival guide

Natural disaster survival guide: weathering the storm

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Between hurricanes and tornadoes, earthquakes, droughts, floods and fires, natural disasters cost U.S. insurers about $60 billion in 2012, making it the second-most expensive year on record. (The top spot goes to 2005, when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the Gulf Coast.)

Virtually every location in the U.S. is prone to some form of natural disaster. There's nothing you can do to prevent them, but you can prepare. Have an evacuation plan, know where your local shelters are, and have emergency numbers both written down and programmed in your phone. Most importantly, you should have a disaster survival kit prepared before  something happens. If you wait until a storm approaches or an earthquake hits, it could be too late. (And trust us, supermarkets in the days before a storm are not a fun place to be.) Your needs will vary, but here are the things everyone should have:

Disaster kit essentials


Enough to last at least a week at one gallon per person per day. So for a family of four, you should have 28 gallons, and don't forget your pets too.
Again, you should have enough stored to last a week or more. Canned goods are ideal, and stay away from items that are high in sodium, as they can be dehydrating.
Make sure it's manual. If you have to plug it in, it's worthless.
NOT candles. Everyone in the house should have one. Gas leaks are common after a disaster, so open flames are a bad idea.
Information is essential during emergencies, and a radio could be your only source.
You really can't have too many. Stock up on different sizes, especially the kind used by your flashlights and radios.
If you take prescription medicines, be sure to have at least a week's supply on hand as well.
If a storm is particularly bad, banks and ATMs could be out of operation for some time, so have plenty of cash on hand.
Get some moist wipes as well. You'll be glad you did.
Birth certificates, social security cards, and IDs can be difficult to replace – especially if you lose them all at once. Keep them in a watertight, resealable plastic bag, and if you have copies, it's not a bad idea to store duplicates in a safe deposit box.
If you have a fireplace, make sure you have plenty of firewood, kindling, and matches or a lighter handy. You could be without fuel for prolonged periods.
You might be stuck for some time without TV or the Internet to keep you company. Having books and games on hand can help, and toys are essential to keep kids occupied and entertained in hard times.
You'll need it more now than ever. Keep your cards, documents, and contact info in a dry, secure place. And remember: homeowner's insurance will pay for storm damages only, not floods, which can happen easily during and after a storm. If you have questions about your policy or would like to switch, one of our agents would be happy to help.

Hurricane survival

For the Atlantic, hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30, with the peak falling on September 10. They're nature's most destructive storms, but thankfully they tend to give more warning than most disasters. If you have the time and resources, the best plan is to head inland, away from the storm, but if that's not an option, there are some steps you can take to mitigate the danger.

Put away the tape
Do not use duct tapeYou'll need to batten down the hatches, but forget about masking tape on the windows. According to experts at the National Hurricane Center, taping the glass before a hurricane does absolutely nothing to help. Even worse, it can cause larger pieces of glass to blow through a room, which is the last thing anyone needs flying at them.

Storm shutters are your best bet, but if that's too pricy, some newer fabric models have come on the market that are both affordable and capable of withstanding hurricane-force winds. Plywood isn't worthless, but it should only be used as a last resort. (If you do go with plywood, make sure it's 5/8" thick, cut to fit within the inset, and secured with four-inch bolts drilled into the concrete or stucco every foot.)

Fill ‘er up
Make sure your emergency kit is stocked and up to date. Before the storm comes, fill your car with gas. Check the yard for items that can become projectiles in heavy winds and secure them inside if possible. Clean your bathtubs and sinks, then fill them with water. You can use it for sanitation and flushing the toilets. (That's a big deal, as you can imagine.)

Get inside
When the storm approaches, ensure all your windows and doors are closed and secured, then get to an interior room on the first floor. Basements make bad shelters in a hurricane because of the potential for flooding, and a possible roof collapse means the top story is a bad idea too. Your best bet is a bathroom or large closet in the center of the ground floor, away from windows, broken glass, and flying debris. If the winds become extremely intense, taking cover under a sturdy table or the like can provide extra protection from falling debris. Don't be fooled by a lull in the storm…it's probably the eye passing overhead. Stay inside until the all clear has been given.

After the storm:

Stay away from downed power lines. Seriously. There's no reason to risk it. Water is a good conductor of electricity, so be very cautious of puddles. Stay off the roads unless it's an emergency. Traffic can impede emergency vehicles and repair crews, and the streets pose a lot of hazards in the wake of a storm. Flooded roads can be especially dangerous, as it's easy to misjudge depth and drown. If you're using a generator, make sure it's outside. If the area isn't well-ventilated, you're at serious risk for carbon monoxide poisoning. Conserve supplies, listen for updates on the radio, and get comfortable – you could be stuck for awhile.

Tornado survival

Twisters can come without much warning, so you should become familiar with your area's emergency alert system.

Pay attention
If there are thunderstorms in the area, listen to radio or television for updates. If you're outside, look for the following warning signs: large hail; low-lying dark clouds; green skies; and/or a loud roaring sound. If you see or hear any of them, take shelter immediately.

Get down
The safest place to be is a basement, but if that's not an option, head to an interior room without windows on the lowest floor, like a bathroom or closet. If you can, get a sturdy table or something similar. It can give extra protection in case of a roof collapse. Lying under a blanket, mattress, or tarp can help catch glass and debris, and give your head as much protection as you possibly can.

If you're caught outside when a tornado is approaching and can't find shelter, look for a ditch or low-lying area, lie as flat as possible, and cover your head with your hands. Mobile homes provide virtually no protection from tornadoes, even when they're tied down, so it's essential to have an evacuation plan in place.Locate sturdy buildings nearby, and if there isn't one, advocate for the community to build a storm shelter.

After it passes:

If there are serious injuries, call for help and stay put unless there's immediate danger. If no one is hurt, you'll want to keep it that way, so be careful. Boots or sturdy shoes can help prevent foot injuries from stepping on nails or sharp debris. Gas leaks are common, so use a flashlight instead of a candle or lantern when moving around in the dark. If there are strange odors or you smell something burning, shut down the main circuit breakers and gas lines and leave the house. Be wary of downed power lines, stay off the roads unless it's an emergency, and listen for updates on emergency radio.

Blizzard survival

If you’re caught in your vehicle when the storm hits, STAY PUT and wait for help to arrive. You should avoid the roads when a storm is approaching, but if you must travel, make sure you have a winter emergency driving kit in the car. If you lose heat in your home, try to stay in one room, closing off other doors and windows, then sealing them with rags or towels to preserve as much warm air as possible. Cover the windows at night, but you’ll want the sunlight streaming in during the daytime.

Be very careful if using a fireplace or other form of emergency heating. Storms can interfere with proper ventilation, which is potentially fatal. Have a carbon monoxide alarm nearby, and make sure it’s functional before using an alternative heat source. Remember to wear plenty of layers, stay hydrated, and try to get comfortable. You may be there a while.

Things to remember

Memories can't be replaced. Childhood photos, wedding albums, and the like are priceless, so make copies and store them in more than one location. Your bank's safe deposit box is a great option for hard copies, and storing duplicate digital files online gives you even more protection.

Be wary of supposed contractors offering repair services after a natural disaster. Many con artists prey on victims, taking payment for work that's done shoddily (or not at all). Get multiple estimates, check with your state to make sure the contractor is bonded and licensed before agreeing to a deal, and never make full payment until the work is complete. If a potential contractor's vehicle doesn't have any markings or has out-of-state plates, there's a good chance he's up to no good.

The right insurance policy can help put your life back together, but only if you have it. Once a disaster happens it's too late, so give one of our licensed agents a call at 844-244-4572. They'll discuss your unique situation, explain your coverage options, and compare rates to find the policy that's perfect for you.

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