When Hurricane Matthew slammed into Florida and other East Coast states this past October, it caused more than two dozen deaths. It also inflicted $4 billion to $6 billion worth of property damage in the region, according to CoreLogic, a property information and analytics company.
That’s not close to the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina ($35 billion to $40 billion) or Superstorm Sandy ($15 billion to $20 billion), but it’s enough to drive home the importance of preparing for natural disasters.
So, if you live in an area that’s open to earthquakes, hurricanes, floods or other natural disasters, learn the following half-dozen tips for how to financially prepare for an emergency and minimize damage to your home.
Prepare Your Home for Some Rockin’ and Rollin’
During a 6.0 earthquake in Napa County in 2014, a TV falling on a woman caused the sole fatality. So, make sure your home and the things in it are secure, said Sage Singleton, a safety expert from SafeWise, a safety and security information website.
For starters, strap down your water heater so it meets safety codes. Consider hiring a professional plumber for this. Also, install flexible connectors to all of your home’s gas appliances, such as the water heater, stove and clothes dryer. When an earthquake hits, you don’t want those breaking.
“Also, check the foundation and walls of your home for cracks and defects that make it particularly vulnerable to earthquake damage,” said Singleton. If you find damage, have it professionally repaired.
Here are a few other key things Singleton suggested to prevent damage or injury from an earthquake:
- Disengage or remove rollers from major appliances. This will help prevent them from moving during an earthquake.
- Identify the location of your home’s water, gas and electric main shutoffs valves and switches. Make sure each family member knows how to turn them off.
- Remove all flammable liquids from the living areas of your home. Put them in the garage or another outside storage area. To help prevent a fire, store them away from heat sources, such as a water heater or furnace.
- If your home has a chimney, consider securing it to the roof with sheet-metal straps. You might also want to add angle bracing to help prevent the chimney from breaking away from your home.
Prevent Flooding in Your Home
Here’s a news flash: Most homes are not supposed to fill with water. In fact, flooding can destroy just about everything in your home, including the home itself.
That’s why it’s important to take specific preventative measures in the days and weeks before possible flooding, said Peter Duncanson, director of system development with ServiceMaster Restore, which offers home services that include cleaning and disaster restoration.
In addition to sandbagging and other defensive measures, Duncanson said there are several steps you should take. Here are six key ones:
- Review your policy. Learn what is and is not covered in the event of property damage.
- Protect against high-wind damage. Board up windows, keep trees trimmed, and clean debris or branches from your yard that could damage your roof or home.
- Clear rain gutters and repair roof leaks. If you have the budget, extend your rain gutter downspouts to direct water far from your home.
- Keep gutters and downspouts free of debris. And make sure water is flowing several feet away from the foundation.
- Make sure your septic tank and sewer are inspected and cleaned at the start of every season. During periods of heavy rainfall, clogged sewers and overtaxed septic tanks are disasters waiting to happen. Consider installing a sump pump to drain out unwanted standing water.
- Check for cracks or small holes in the foundation where water can seep in. Even a few inches of water from excessive rain can cause interior water damage to carpet, drywall, wood floors, and even your home or business’ structure. Also, check your basement door for cracks.
Create a Digital Home in the Cloud
When it’s time to evacuate, you might forget your computer or portable hard drives, which likely contain photos and important documents. One way to ensure you don’t lose these is to store copies in the cloud.
“One key preparation step for any natural disaster is to have a digital home inventory of your home and the contents inside it stored in a place not in the home, such as a cloud platform,” said John Bodrozic, co-founder of HomeZada, a digital home platform. Storing information in the cloud gives you access to photos of items, text inventories and other documents you need for insurance purposes.
In the cloud, keep close-up photos of all the contents in your home, including photos of the home itself and its materials and equipment, said Bodrozic. You should also keep copies of receipts, warranties and appraisals supporting the value of collectibles.
Retain digital copies of important property documents, such as insurance policies, your mortgage and other documents. Companies such as HomeZada help you store this information, often for free, said Bodrozic.
Get Your Finances in Order Before Disaster Strikes
In the frantic days before a natural disaster, it’s a challenge to organize and prepare finances and paperwork. So, do this well before a natural disaster threatens, said Cathy DeWitt Dunn, a retirement income financial professional with DeWitt & Dunn.
“People often overlook their finances, but preparing financially can be critical to restoring normal daily life after an emergency,” said DeWitt Dunn. For instance, she said, regularly review your insurance to make sure policies are up to date.
“Consider getting replacement coverage,” she said. “It costs more than an actual cash value policy, but you will be reimbursed for what you would have to pay to replace damaged property, rather than the depreciated value of an item.”
DeWitt Dunn also suggested signing up for online banking and direct deposit.
“Online banking will be helpful if roads are closed, or you have to evacuate to another city,” she said. She also suggested having a decent amount of cash on hand, since natural disasters can close banks and shut down ATMs. “Three to five days of spending money is a good rule of thumb,” she said.
Finally, make copies of any important paperwork you might need if you are unable to return home for several weeks. Such documents might include:
- Health, life and property insurance policies
- Credit and bank account information
- Vehicle registration
- Real estate deeds
DeWitt Dunn suggested putting these and your emergency cash in a locked, waterproof and fireproof container that you can take with you. “You may need these documents to start filing claims,” she said.
Find Out: 35 Ways to Save for an Emergency Fund
Put Together a Natural Disaster Kit
While it’s important to protect your home and property, your life and comfort are even more important. So, long before you worry about trimming trees and boarding up windows, prepare a natural disaster kit for yourself.
“Your natural disaster kit should include enough items to last each person three to five days,” said Greg Simko, CEO at Life Gear, which invents, manufactures and markets products with life-saving potential.
Simko recommended that you have at minimum of 1 gallon of water per person, per day. Also, have plenty of nonperishable food, preferably with a shelf life of five years so you don’t have to remember to replenish it each year. In addition, keep the following:
- 7-day supply of medications
- Multipurpose tool
- Whistle to signal for help
- Sturdy flashlight with plenty of batteries
- Hand-crank radio
- First-aid kit
- Clean clothes
- Respirator mask
Don’t Forget About Your Pets
If you have pets, you know they rely on you for almost everything. That responsibility becomes even more daunting during a natural disaster. So, it’s vital to plan ahead for their safety.
The San Diego Humane Society offered these eight important tips to make sure you and your pets survive a natural disaster.
- Make arrangements for a safe place for your pets during a disaster. Most evacuation shelters don’t accept pets. Research hotels and motels outside your area for pet policies, or ask friends.
- Have your pets licensed and microchipped. Also, keep their vaccinations current.
- Leave early and take pets with you. You might be forced to stay away from your property longer than anticipated. If you wait until a mandatory evacuation, emergency officials might tell you to leave pets behind.
- Have enough trailers or travel containers for large animals or livestock. Keep halters and ropes ready.
- Keep a reserve 72-hour supply of feed. Include feed for horses and other animals on hand.
- Keep a picture of you with your pet to prove ownership should you become separated. You can also register your pet’s photo on the facial recognition app Finding Rover.
- Prepare a natural disaster kit for your pets. Include items such as food and food bowls, two weeks of any medications, vaccination and medical records, extra leashes and collars, and a pet first-aid kit.
- Know the emergency numbers of trained professional rescue teams. This will be handy in case you have to evacuate without your pets. And, this will prevent you from succumbing to the strong urge to be a hero and endanger yourself by trying to rescue pets.