There are many things in life that you can control — but Mother Nature certainly is not one of them. Earthquakes, droughts, floods and other “acts of God” can wipe out communities without admonishment and cause casualties larger than warfare. In the wake of the recent Haitian earthquake — it has come to society’s attention that the remarkable and unforgiving forces of natural disasters and how they can ambush communities without warning.
What qualifies as a natural disaster?
According to Dictionary.com, a natural disaster is defined as any event or force of nature that has calamitous consequences, such as an avalanche, earthquake, flood, forest fire, hurricane, lightning, tornado, tsunami or volcanic eruption. Worldwide, natural disasters have killed more than 650,000 people in the 1990s alone and caused more than $1 trillion in damage. It is crucial to create an action plan to defend ourselves from these natural catastrophes.
Though you can never predict when disaster will strike, resilient and knowledgeable individuals can prevent hazards from becoming tragedies. Here are some general tips in preparing for any kind of natural disaster:
- Research the specific natural threats in your area. Before you plan any sort of disaster plan, know the types of natural disasters you are up against according to your geographical location.
- Create a family disaster plan for each type of natural disaster that could happen. Discuss how to prepare and respond to emergencies in schools and workplaces (if applicable) as well.
- Obtain a First Aid and Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) certificate from the American Heart Association or American Red Cross.
- Assemble a disaster home safety kit that includes:
- 48-hour emergency candle
- Waterproof matches
- Battery-operated flashlights (with extra batteries)
- Battery-powered radio (NOAAWeather Radio, if possible)
- First aid kit
- Bottled water
- Basic hardware tools
- Blankets and extra clothing
- Three to seven days worth of non-perishable food like jars of peanut butter, canned items including tuna and energy bars
- Map(s) of the area
- Choose an out-of-area emergency contact person and program the emergency contact into your phone.
- Stash away at least $300 in cash in case you are unable to access ATMs or your bank.
- Keep a ll relevant insurance policies, medication list and pertinent medical information, proof of address, deed/lease to home, passports and birth certificates in a safe place.
- Store the important insurance documents, cash and the home safety kit in a safe and secure area in your home.
According to the American Red Cross, 45 states and territories in the United States are at moderate to very high risk of earthquakes — therefore it is crucial to be prepared for seismic activity. Here are the following steps you can take to safety–proof your home for these often fatal underground eruptions:
Protecting your home:
- Anchor free–standing bookcases, light fixtures and heavy breakables to your walls and stable furniture.
- Attach safety film to windows and glass doors.
- Secure gas appliances with flexible connections by installing breakaway gas shut–off devices or a main gas shut–off mechanism.
- Make sure the structure of your house can withstand heavy force. If your house’s foundation is weak, secure anchor bolts between the house and the foundation.
- Reinforce and brace chimneys and other stonework to secure surfaces.
- Latch drawers and free–standing cabinet doors so they are less likely to be projected or swung open.
- Stay inside. Studies show that you are safer inside a building than outside — as you could be subject to large debris.
- Stop, drop and cover. Retreat under large furniture pieces if possible — as these areas provide the most protection from falling objects.
- Move away from windows, lights and doors and drop to the floor while covering your head. If you are outside or in your car — retreat to an area far from trees, buildings and electrical lines.
You may think Hollywood has sensationalized tornados — but in reality their depiction of these cyclonic disasters is really not that far off. They are capable of completely destroying sturdy structures, uprooting trees and launching objects at missile-like speeds. Preparation for hurricanes and tornados is very similar — although there are a few additional tips, found below:
Protecting your home
- Invest in storm shutters and hearty storm windows.
- Confirm that your house follows local building code requirements, as related to wind resistance. If your home is not within code, consult a builder or architect to make improvements.
- Ensure that your roof covering and its sheathing are attached to combat high winds.
- Secure anything in your yard that could become projectile — like outdoor furniture, hanging plants and lawn ornaments.
- Become familiar with your community’s severe weather warning system. You (and your family) should know what to do when a tornado watch advisory is made.
- Move your family members and pets with you to the lowest floor, basement or storm cellar.
- Squat down to your knees under large furniture to protect you from debris flying at high speeds. Bring your head toward your knees with your hands holding the back of your head.
Hurricanes are vigorous storms that affect the coastal areas — marked by torrential rainstorms and sweeping winds. With often devastating aftermaths including property damage and even death — it is imperative to make premeditated actions to prepare for the worst. Here’s how:
Protecting your home:
- When building or buying a new home — make sure that the building materials and foundation of the home are well-built and durable.
- Contact your local government’s building inspection division to find out if your home meets the building code requirements for high-wind territories.
- Cover windows with protective shielding like storm shutters, wooden boards or protective film.
- Determine if your home has truss roof bracing, and--if not — have it installed.
- Install hurricane straps — designed to secure your roof with the walls of your house.
- Keep trees and shrubs around your house trimmed so large branches aren’t loose.
- Stay indoors. If you are outside, retreat to a safe haven indoors as soon as possible.
- If your power goes out, turn off major appliances to reduce power surge when electricity is restored.
Floods are one of the most common and costly natural disasters (according to the American Red Cross). Here’s how you can battle this type of threat:
Protecting your home:
- Validate that your sump pump is working, and then install a battery–operated backup in the instance of power failure.
- Install a water alarm, to alert you if water is accruing in your basement or lower levels.
- Elevate electrical components including: switches, sockets, circuit breakers and wiring a foot or more above your house’s projected flood height.
- Place the furnace, water heater, washer, and dryer on cement blocks at least 12 inches above the projected flood elevation.
- Anchor fuel tanks located in your basement or lower levels of your home.
- Remove debris from gutters and downspouts.
- Move furniture and valuables to a higher elevation.
- Purchase sandbags to create homemade levies around your property.
- Contrary to most other types of natural disasters — you will want to evacuate your house. Head for higher ground or a safe haven designated by your local government.
- Make sure your homeowner’s insurance policy covers flooding.