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Whether it’s an unexpected earthquake, a terrible house fire, or a devastating hurricane, disasters can strike at any time and can happen to anyone – they don’t discriminate.

We recently conducted a survey to gauge levels of ‘preparedness’ across the Northeast, South, Midwest, Midwest, and West regions. Our survey revealed that 45% of respondents from across all four regions of the US felt that they were not prepared for a disaster, and over half (52%) have taken no proactive steps to strengthen their homes as a precaution.

belfor disaster strike chart

Perhaps even more surprisingly, 47% did not have home insurance, and of those who did, over a third didn’t know if their home insurance covered damages in case of a disaster.

Based on these statistics, we wanted to offer some tips on how to strengthen your home to protect yourself and your loved ones, should the unexpected happen:

Have a plan

Your plan should highlight where your family can stay before or after an emergency to ensure they are safe, how to get in touch with loved ones if your cell phone is dead or the internet is down, and an agreed place to meet should a disaster suddenly happen. Ready.gov offers additional information on how to put your plan together, as well as a downloadable template for personal use.

Remember, once a disaster strikes, it could be difficult for you to contact your loved ones by phone, so it’s a good idea to have a communication plan in place. Practice makes perfect, so have a run through once you’ve put a plan together!

disaster plan

Prepare for flooding

While many people may already know if they live in a flood-prone area due to their location, you don’t need to live by a body of water to be susceptible to flood damage. If you’re unsure about the flood risks near your home, you can find out more by asking the county planning department or by checking government websites such as USGS for flood maps.

If you know that flooding could be a possibility, try to keep electrical items, such as televisions and sound systems, elevated above flood level. You should also keep important documents in a safe place away from the ground floor and try to move electrical sockets to a higher position on the wall.

It’s also a good idea to stock up on sandbags and consider investing in landscaping around the outside of your home. This doesn’t have to be a large project; it could simply involve some slight alterations outside of your door and garage, to divert any floodwater before it hits the weak points in your home.

Prepare for a hurricane

In order to enter hurricane season prepared, it’s important that you plan for adequate emergency supplies. This includes buying plenty of bottled water, non-perishable food, torches, batteries, a first aid kit, and a radio. This is in case you lose power or water for a few days and you’re not able to leave your home due to flooding or blocked roads. Additionally, make sure your home meets the correct building code requirements for enduring hurricanes and has been equipped with appropriate storm shutters.

When a hurricane warning is issued, make sure to secure any objects outside of your home and safeguard your windows. At this point, it’s important to make sure you have a sufficient amount of fuel, in case your area is told to evacuate and you need to drive. It’s also a good idea to have familiarized yourself with all evacuation routes, especially if you live near the coast.

Pay close attention to local weather reports for any vital updates on the storm. If you choose to stay at home when the storm is about to hit, and you’re not in an area that has been told to evacuate, make sure you do the following:

  • Stay in a secure room, such as a basement or closet, preferably in the lower level of your house
  • Keep away from any windows, skylights, and glass doors • Have emergency supplies at hand
  • If flooding threatens your home, turn off electricity at the main breaker
  • Remain indoors when the eye moves over your area because the storm will resume momentarily

Fire safety

Fire prevention should be one of your top priorities when securing your home from any possible risks. To eliminate fire hazards:

  • Do not overload circuits
  • Store any flammable materials away from heat
  • Don’t run extension cords behind curtains or rugs
  • Check your smoke alarms work on a regular basis
  • Check for broken plugs and wires
  • Keep lit candles away from anything that can burn
  • Make sure to switch off all electrical plugs before bed

If you feel you need help assessing fire hazards in your home, you can contact your local fire department to ask them to carry out a fire inspection. You can find your local fire department by searching the NFPA’s website.

Make sure you’ve created an evacuation plan in case a fire breaks out in different parts of your home. It’s a good idea to clear all doors and windows of obstructions so that there are no difficulties getting out of a prearranged emergency exit. A good way to check this is to do a practice run with your family, ensuring that if a real fire occurs, everyone will be aware of where to meet and how to exit your home safely.

In addition to installing a smoke alarm, fire extinguishers and fire blankets are extremely advantageous to have around, should a fire break out. And remember: should your clothing catch on fire – always employ the ‘Stop, Drop and Roll’ method. This involves stopping (as running will make the fire worse), dropping to the ground, and then rolling around to put the fire out.

installing a smoke detector

Strengthen your home

It’s important to find out which types of disasters your area is prone to when deciding which precautionary measure to take on your home.

Strong, sturdy doors that can withstand extremely high-pressure winds are essential in tornado-prone and windstorm areas. There is currently a range of products on the market that are built specifically for this reason.

Similarly, it’s also recommended that you have your garage door fortified, as this can often be the weakest link in the house. Once a garage or front door has been ripped off its hinges, pressure can build up throughout the building, which increases the risk of the roof blowing off.

Alternatively, you can choose to build a safe room in your house, which can provide ‘near-absolute’ protection for you and your family. FEMA’s P-320 document offers advice on how to construct a safe room inside or outside of your home.

residential roof collapse

Stock up on supplies

It is always good practice to have a family emergency plan in place, as well as a survival kit to keep at home. However, don’t feel compelled to head out to the grocery store and buy everything at once. Set aside canned goods every now and then to stock up, alongside items such as batteries and bottled water.

A survival kit should comprise of items that are fundamental to human survival. Basic components should include:

  • Water
  • First aid kit
  • Three days’ worth of non-perishable food
  • Battery-powered radio
  • Flashlight
  • Batteries
  • Whistle

For an extensive list, as well as further items you can add, FEMA.gov offers a printable checklist to get you started.

emergency supply checklist

Where to take cover

During an earthquake, hurricane or tornado, it’s important that you identify the safest place in your home to take shelter. Most injuries are caused by flying or falling objects, so it needs to be away from shelves, windows or anything that could topple over.

Go to the lowest floor and head to a small room, such as a bathroom or a closet. Alternatively, hiding underneath a staircase is also a viable option – just stay clear of windows in case of shattering glass. The best place for protection is a basement or underground bunker, although not everybody has one of these.

Contrary to popular belief, you should not stand in doorways! They will not protect you from flying objects and they’re actually no stronger than any other part of the house. For more information on where to take cover, as well as further reading on how to build your own shelter, you can visit FEMA’s guide.

Make sure you’re putting your loved ones and household safety first by taking steps to be prepared. In the event of a loss, our restoration technicians are available 24/7, 365 days a year. You can learn more about our disaster recovery services at BELFOR.

BELFOR Media Contact

Alexandra Gort
Phone: 610.594.5566