Not to be a Debbie Downer, but there are a ton of things that can go wrong in life, whether it’s a landslide full of debris, a tornado or hurricane, or even extreme heat or cold, which could be deadly. That’s why it’s important to protect your home, not only with a home security system, but also from various types of disasters. But with so many different disasters, it can be hard exactly to know what to prepare for, and how to prepare.
This article will break down every type of disaster that could happen to you and your home in the United States, explaining exactly what the disaster is, how likely it is going to happen to you depending on where you live, and what exactly you can do to prepare your home. There’s no time like the present, so let’s get started!
Tornadoes aren’t just an issue in The Wizard of Oz. These rotating, funnel-like columns of air can happen anytime and anywhere, with winds of over 200 MPH. They won’t bring you to Munchkinland, though; rather, tornadoes can destroy buildings, flip cars, and create flying debris, creating dangerous conditions, according to the Department of Homeland Security website. Here’s how to prepare your home:
- Identify a room in your house to go in during a tornado, ideally a small, windowless room in the basement. The fewer windows and doors, the better
- For more protection, you can create a shelter that’s compatible with FEMA or ICC 500 standards, although it’s best to go to a mass shelter rather than stay at home, if you can avoid it
- Put fire extinguishers and first-aid kits in your home shelter so that you’re supplied with any medical items you need, according to an article from Missouri Storm Aware
- Clearly mark your utility switches and valves so that they can easily and quickly be turned off
Hurricanes are gigantic storm systems that move from warm oceans towards lands and can involve strong winds, rain, floods, tornadoes and landslides. You should look out for hurricanes from the beginning of June through November 20th for states near the Atlantic Ocean, and from May 11th through December 30th if you live near the Pacific. If you live on a United States coast and 100 miles inland, or a territory in the Atlantic of Pacific oceans, September is peak hurricane season, so it’s best to prepared beforehand:
- Declutter drains and gutters
- Check valves in plumbing to prevent backups
- Install hurricane shutters
36 hours before a hurricane, be sure to:
- Install sandbags, water pumps, and other loss avoidance measures, which could be covered by the National Flood Insurance Program, a federal program which provides affordable insurance to homeowners
18 to 36 hours before a hurricane, you can start to:
- Bring any loose or lightweight objects inside, like outdoor furniture and garbage cans
- Any items that you can’t bring inside, like propane tanks, make sure to anchor
- Trim or remove nearby trees to prevent them from falling on your home
- Install storm shutters, exterior grade of marine plywood over your windows
Six to 18 hours before a hurricane, you should:
- Close all storm shutters and avoid windows
- Turn your refrigerator and freezer onto it’s coldest settings
- Put a thermostat in your fridge and freezer so you can see what temperature it is when your power is back on. If it’s over 40 degrees Fahrenheit, throw your food out
Earthquakes are sudden and rapid shaking of the earth caused by movement of underground rocks. With severe earthquakes, buildings can collapse and heavy items can fall, killing or injuring people. Although earthquakes can happen anywhere, they are most likely to occur in California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Mississippi Valley. Unfortunately, earthquakes don’t come with any warning signs and can cause even more natural disasters, from fires to landslides. Here are some tips to prepare:
- Secure any objects on your walls, like bookcases, televisions, paintings, and refrigerators
- Put any heavy and breakable items on your low shelves
- Make sure you have an earthquake insurance policy, as this is typically not covered by standard homeowner’s insurance
- Make sure the structural elements of your home are reinforced. You can do this by adding anchor bolts or steel plates between your home and it’s foundation, bracing your home’s cripple wall with sheathing as well as bracing unreinforced chimneys, foundations, masonry and concrete walls, according to an article from Military.Com
Floods happen when water temporarily overflows onto land, and they’re actually the most common natural disaster in the United States, resulting from rain, snow, dams, or any other overflowing of water systems. Floods can come with or without warning, causing power outages, damaging buildings, creating landslides, and disrupting transportation. What can you do to prepare your home from a flood?
- Move valuables to higher levels
- Declutter your drains and gutters
- Install check valves and a battery-powered sump pump
- Get flood insurance policy as soon as possible, as policies typically take 30 days to go into effect. Plus, like earthquake damage, damage from flooding is not covered in standard homeowner’s insurance (another great reason to use the National Flood Insurance Program)
Wildfires are any unplanned fires, caused by humans or lightning, that can burn in a forest, prairie or grassland and cause flooding or disrupted gas, power, communications or transportations. Wildfires can technically happen anywhere at anytime but are more likely with periods of drought and high winds, costing the federal government billions of dollars every single year. There’s a few things you can do to your home to prevent damage during a wildfire, including:
- Designate a room that you can go to during a wildfire, ideally one with few or no doors or windows
- Setup a portable air cleaner to keep your home’s air clean if conditions are smoky outside
- If you’re doing any building, renovating or repairing, make sure to use fire-resistant materials
- Find an outdoor water source with a hose that can reach your entire property
- Make a fire-resistant zone (a.k.a one that has no leaves, debris or flammable materials whatsoever), about 30 feet away from your home
If you’re in Texas, Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska or South Dakota, then you’re probably pretty familiar with hailstorms. There were over 4,610 hailstorms in these states in the year 2018 alone, causing $810.2 million in damages, according to a report from the Insurance Information Institute. Fortunately, you can minimize damage from hailstorms by doing the following measures, provided by the insurance website Esurance:
- Install hail-resistance roofing, either modified asphalt shingles, which have rubber-like qualities allowing hail to bounce right off, or shingles made from rein, plastic, copper or aluminum, which might be a bit more expensive
- Install storm shutters to protect your windows
- Move all lawn furniture into a garage, shed, or some other covered area like a carport
According to an article from the National Weather Service, the Glossary of Meterology defines a drought as
“a period of abnormally dry weather sufficiently prolonged for the lack of water to cause serious hydrologic imbalance in the affected area.”
Droughts can affect nearly all of the United States, and there are many actions you can take at home to save water.
Let’s start with the inside of your home:
- Repair any dripping faucets. Although it may not seem like very much water, one drop per second can waste 2,700 gallons of water per year!
- Check all plumbing for leaks and have any leaks repaired by a plumber (to check for leaks, I’d look at my list of the best water leaks sensors of 2019)
- Retrofit all of your faucets with aerators, which restrict water flow
- Install an instant hot water heater on your sink
- Insulate your water pipes to avoid heat loss and to prevent them from breaking
- Only install a water-softening system if the minerals in your water will damage your pipes, but make sure to turn it off if you’re away!
- If you’re buying new appliances, make sure they’re energy and water-efficient. The same goes for toilets and shower heads— make sure they’re low-volume and low flow to save water
Now, let’s go into the outside:
- Plant native or drought-tolerant grasses, ground covers, trees, shrubs, and smaller plants, which should be grouped together based on their water needs
- Install water-efficient irrigation devices, like micro and drip irrigation or soaker hoses
- Use mulch to retain the moisture in soil and control weeds, which can take away water from plants. Be sure to spread some around trees and plants especially!
- Avoid buying or using any water toys or ornamental water features like fountains
- Make sure your sprinklers are hitting mostly your lawn and shrubs as opposed to your driveway or pathway. Your sprinklers should spray only a fine mist, saving as much water as possible. Make sure your irrigation system can automatically adjust watering times and frequency based on wind, rain, soil moisture, evaporation and transpiration rates, and if it’s fall or winter, turn irrigation down or off
- When mowing your lawn, raise your blade to the highest level possible, as tall grass leads to moist soil, shading the roots from the sun
- Buy drought-resistant lawn seed and avoid over-fertilizing your lawn, as this only increases it’s need for water. Your fertilizer should have forms of nitrogen that are both slow-release and water-insoluble
- If you have a pool, use a water-saving pool filter and make sure to cover your pool or spa up when you’re not using it to reduce evaporation
Extreme heat is more than just annoying and uncomfortable. It actually results in the highest number of deaths among all weather-related hazards, which is a problem considering how common it is. Extreme heat is defined as two to three days of high heat and humidity with temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (although humidity doesn’t effect the temperature, it increases the feeling of heat, affecting the body).
As evaporation is slowed, the body must work extra hard to maintain a normal temperature, which could put seniors, children, disabled and sick people more at risk of suffering or even dying. But don’t worry; there are many things you can do to your home to combat extreme heat:
- Have drapes and shades for every window along with weatherstrips for all doors and windows
- Use heat reflectors to bounce the heat back outside and away from your home
- Insulate your home to keep heat out
- Use attic fans to clear hot air, as it rises upwards towards the top of your home
- If you don’t have central air conditioning, install window air conditioning units and be sure to insulate around them
Landslides and Debris Flow
No, I’m not talking about the Fleetwood Mac song. Landslides can occur anywhere in the United States and it’s territories. Caused by everything from earthquakes to storms, landslides happen when huge masses of rock, earth or debris move down a slope, changing into slurry, a flowing mud river.
Although this may sound relatively harmless, the further the slurry gets away from it’s original slope, the faster it gets until it reaches avalanche speeds (which even the fastest Olympian runner couldn’t beat). As the slurry gets faster, it also gets larger, picking up cars, trees, and anything that crosses it’s path. The most dangerous landslides occur quickly and without any warning signs.
Now, if you’re planning on building a house, keep it away from steep slopes and mountain edges. Basically, be sure to follow proper land use procedures, as they’re there for a reason. However, all landslide prone areas can’t be avoided, so if you live in one, I recommend hiring a geological hazard professional to recommend safety upgrades for your home, which may include:
- Install retaining walls
- Use sandbags or k-rails, concrete or plastic barriers otherwise known as Jersey barriers or walls
- Built channels or deflection walls to make the landslide avoid your house.
However, these channels or walls may not stop the flow entirely, and if they redirect the flow to your neighbor’s property, you may be liable for damages.
Snowstorms and Extreme Cold
Winter can be a magical time, but it can also be a dangerous time, with higher risk of car accidents, CO poisoning, frostbite, hypothermia, and even heart attacks stemming from over exertion. Extreme cold and snowstorms can last anywhere from a few hours to several days, knocking out power, heat, and communication services and leaving seniors, children, and sick people more at risk. So, what should you do to keep the winter wonderland outside of your home?
- Make sure your home is properly insulated and caulked, with weather stripping around the doors and windows
- Prevent your pipes from freezing, as this means they can explode and lead to water leaks (which you can detect with water leak detectors to prevent flooding before it happens). There are many ways to prevent your pipes from freezing like draining your pool or sprinkler properly, using pipe sleeves, heat tapes or heat cables to insulate your cold and hot water pipes, or even relocating exposed pipes to warmer areas, according to the Red Cross
- Make sure your smoke and CO detectors aren’t dependent on your home’s power, as this might go out during a snowstorm. Instead, make sure you have cellular, landline, or battery backup.
Thunderstorms and Lightning
Thunder and lightning isn’t so frightening…that is, if you’re prepared for it. Although they may seem commonplace, thunder and lightning storms are actually one of the leading causes of injury and death if you’re talking about weather-related hazards. Aside from having powerful winds of over 50 MPH, thunderstorms can also cause flooding and tornadoes, so here’s how to prepare:
- Remove or trim trees that are nearby and could fall on your home
- To protect your home’s appliances and electronic devices, buy surge protectors, lightning rods or a lightning protection system
- Unplug any electronic equipment when not in use, even appliances, according to an article from Nationwide. However, doe not unplug equipment during a thunderstorm as there’s a chance you could be struck, says the National Weather Service
Nuclear Power Plants
Nuclear power plants use heat generated from nuclear fission to convert water into steam, which powers generators which then produce electricity, about 20% of our nation’s power. Of course, this all takes place in a contained environment monitored by the Nuclear Regulator Commission, but accidents are possible and can affect anyone living near a nuclear power plant. The catch? Nuclear power plants operate in the majority of states in the United States, with about three million Americans living within 10 miles of an operating plant.
While there’s not much to do about a nuclear disaster except go to a mass shelter, you can make sure that you have an emergency supply kit complete with the following:
- Plastic sheeting
- Duct tape
These materials will be used to cover doors and windows, although you should ideally go into a basement room without any windows. For more information on what should be in your emergency supply kit, scroll down towards the bottom of the article.
Power outages happen to the best of us, but if they’re extended, they can majorly disrupt transportation, water and communications, forcing businesses and services to temporarily close, spilling or contaminating food and water, and possibly preventing the use of medical devices. However, with a few preventative measures you can protect your home from power outages:
- Look around your house and make a list of all the components that rely on electricity. For any electronic medical devices or medicines that must be refrigerated, make sure you have a power backup or power outage plan
- Make sure your house has flashlights with extra batteries for every household member, plus nonperishable food and water
- Put a thermometer in your fridge and freezer so you can tell the temperature when your power comes back on, and throw everything out if it’s over 40 degrees Fahrenheit
- Make sure your smoke and CO alarms have backup batteries and place them on every level of your home in central locations like hallways
Preparing Your Emergency Supply Kit
Now, no matter the disaster, you want to make sure that your home is stocked with an emergency supply kit, as defined by the Department of Homeland Security. Let’s go into detail.
Emergency Supply Kit Components
Your emergency supply kit should include:
- Under-the-counter and over-the-counter medications like pain relievers, laxatives, etc. A pre-packaged first aid kit is a good place to start
- Glasses and contact solution
- Anything a baby needs like formula, diapers, wipes, etc.
- Pet food and water if you have one
- Cash or traveler’s checks
- A sleeping bag or warm blanket for each member of your household
- Plastic plates and utensils
- Feminine supplies and toiletries
- Matches, stored in a waterproof container
- Fire extinguisher
- Household chlorine bleach and a medicine dropper to disinfect water
- Changes of clothes including shoes
- Important documents like your insurance policies, ID and bank account information, kept in a waterproof and portable container
- Paper and pencil
- Activities for kids like books or puzzles
Storing your Emergency Supply Kit
Your emergency supply kit should be stored in a designated place in your home that all members know about and that is easily accessible. Make sure to keep canned food in a cool, dry place and any boxed food in plastic or metal, tightly-closed containers. Be sure to replace any expired food periodically and update every year based on your family members’ circumstances and needs.
That’s my comprehensive guide on how to prepare your house for disasters! Of course, we hope that disasters never happen to you and your family, but being prepared in advance will give you peace of mind, and protect your home if anything does happen.