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What are the Initial Steps I Need to Take Before a Natural Disaster Strikes?

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Every part of the world is susceptible to natural disaster, as we’ve seen in the USA this year. Hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, and wildfires have affected numerous locations across the country. Learn about the types of disasters that are likely in your community and the local emergency, and shelter phone numbers, websites, and plans for each specific disaster.

So—what should you do if your home and community is hit by a natural disaster? Below are valuable steps.

Basic Preparedness Tips

Know where to go. If you are ordered to evacuate, know the local evacuation route(s) to take and have a plan for where you can stay. Bookmark the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster preparedness site, Ready.gov.

Put together a disaster supply kit, including a flashlight, batteries, cash, first aid supplies, medications, and copies of your critical information (insurance ID cards, insurance policies, etc.). Keep it ready to grab and go if you need to evacuate.

If you are not in an area that is advised to evacuate, and you decide to stay in your home, plan for adequate supplies in case you lose power with food and water for several days since you may not able to leave due to flooding or blocked roads.

Earthquake

There’s nothing you can do to actually avoid the effects of an earthquake. All you can really do is make sure you understand the difference between a minor one and a serious one, and prepare accordingly. Give your home an earthquake checkup. Check for hazards, fasten shelves to wall studs, and store breakables and poisons in cabinets that latch shut so they won’t fall out and onto someone in an earthquake. Put heavy objects on lower shelves, and secure heavy furniture—either by fastening it to the wall or blocking rollers so they won’t slide around. Make any structural repairs to the walls or foundation that are necessary. It’s critical to have a disaster plan for your household and family, and to have practiced it so it’s second nature when you need to act on it.

Tornado

There’s little you can do to actually “prepare” a home or business for a tornado. Their destructive power is simply too immense for you to just brace for it and function per your usual routine. Once you hear a storm warning, tune to a NOAA weather radio for tornado alerts. If an alert comes, seek refuge in a basement, if one is available, or go to an emergency shelter. As a last resort, stay on the lowest floor of your home. If you’re in a car as a tornado approaches, get out and seek shelter indoors. If you’re caught in the open, lie flat in a ditch or depression and cover your head with your hands.

Familiarize yourself with the warning signs. Tornadoes are usually accompanied by other strong storms, like thunderstorms or hurricanes, but not always. Watch the sky. It will get dark suddenly, and you may hear a loud rushing sound, almost a roar. The wind may pick up for a while, but suddenly die down. Watch for clouds beginning to rotate in a circular pattern. Tornadoes may strike quickly—the trademark funnel cloud is a good sign, but the cloud doesn’t take on that tone until the cloud descends or debris is picked up. They may be transparent before that.

Flood

If you have time to evacuate your home, turn off utilities and move critical items to the highest possible point. Do this only if you have time, but if you live in a floodplain, you may have some warning. Make sure you know where gas, water, and power cut-off valves are, and disconnect any appliances you can. Of course, don’t touch any wires, plugs, or other electrical equipment if you’re standing in water. You don’t have to wait for instructions or an official warning. If you feel your safety requires it, just get your disaster kit, important documents, family members, and go as soon as possible. It’s essential to practice your escape plan with family members so you can get to a meet-up point quickly and safely. If an actual flood warning has been issued, do the same and evacuate for higher ground immediately. Make sure you know the difference between a warning and a watch.

Hurricane

Prepare your home. Board up your windows with plywood or install storm shutters, secure your roof and siding to your house frame with straps. Reinforce garage doors, trim back long branches, and bring in outdoor furniture. Check the Federal Emergency Management Agency flood map database to determine if your home is in an area prone to flooding. Check where the highest ground in your area is, just in case. Familiarize yourself and your family with utility shut-off switches and valves in your home in case you have to evacuate.

Make sure your family understands what to do if the storm arrives and you’re not all in the same place together. A 72-hour kit with food and water is especially important for a slow-moving storm like a hurricane, which can knock out power for days and cut off potable water supplies. Make sure you have water, either by buying it or filling bathtubs and toilets with fresh water before the storm hits.

Wildfire

Make sure you have a disaster plan. Your strategy in the case of a fire should largely consist of an evacuation plan that you’ve practiced. Everyone in your household or office should be well versed in it, and you should have meet-up or rally points set at a safe distance from your home or office. Your goal now, before a fire happens, is to make your home or business and the surrounding area more resistant to catching fire and burning. This means reducing the amount of material that can burn easily in and around your home or business by clearing away debris and other flammable materials, and using fire-resistant materials for landscaping and construction. When a wildfire threatens your area, the best action to protect yourself and your family is to evacuate early to avoid being trapped. If there is smoke, drive carefully because visibility may be reduced. Keep your headlights on and watch for other vehicles and fleeing wildlife or livestock.

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