Disasters: Are You Ready?

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I have been in and around this industry for better than 20 years, and I am constantly amazed at how unprepared homeowners, including myself, can be when it comes to disasters. Regardless if on the East Coast, the Gulf or the West Coast, disaster can strike at any time and in any community.  Disasters are not limited to hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes, but include man-made events that can cause loss of life and property like a train derailment, forest fire, an act of terrorism or a gas line rupture.

Homeowners and communities need to be prepared for a multitude of potential disasters, and an emergency plan is the first step toward preparation.
Emergency Planning Tips
Now that you’ve learned about what can happen, prepare your family and community by creating a disaster plan. Discuss with them what you would do if family members are not home when a warning is issued.
Additionally, your family plan should address the following:

  • Escape routes.
  • Family communications.
  • Insurance and vital records.
  • Safety Skills

Escape Routes
For the homeowner, draw a floor plan of your home. Use a blank sheet of paper for each floor. Mark two escape routes from each room. Make sure children understand the drawings. Post a copy of the drawings at eye level in each child’s room.
For the community, determine the best exit strategy to the approved escape route.  Is the community a single-entry neighborhood or are there several entrances and exits?  Create an emergency map and communicate the information to homeowners during board meetings, in the community newsletter or on the community website.
Where to Meet
Establish a place to meet in the event of an emergency, such as a fire. Record the locations in a disaster preparation notebook.
Everyone lives a busy life these days.  Families may not be together when disaster strikes, so plan how to contact one another. Think about how to communicate in different situations. Complete a contact card for each family member. Have family members keep these cards handy in a wallet, purse, backpack, etc. Send one to school with each child to keep on file. Pick a friend or relative who lives out-of-state for household members to notify they are safe.
During an emergency, board members may evacuate to different locations.  Always keep a disaster preparation notebook on hand with email addresses and cell phone numbers of fellow board members.  Determine who will be the primary and secondary contact during emergency situations and how information will be disseminated among board members and to homeowners.  Consider utilizing flash drives with community email addresses and contact information (these can easily be kept on a key chain), and leverage technology like the community website or a community Facebook page to keep the lines of communication open.
Insurance and Vital Records
Obtain property, health, and life insurance. Review existing policies for the amount and extent of coverage to ensure that what is in place sufficient for all possible hazards.
Flood Insurance
If in a flood-prone area, consider purchasing flood insurance to reduce the risk of flood loss. Buying flood insurance to cover the value of a building and its contents will not only provide greater peace of mind, but will speed the recovery if a flood occurs. Call 1 (888) FLOOD29 to learn more about flood insurance.
Inventory Home Possessions
Homeowners should make a record of personal property, for insurance purposes. Take photos or a video of the interior and exterior of their home and include personal belongings in the inventory. The Household and Personal Property Inventory Book from the University of Illinois at www.aces.uiuc.edu/vista/abstracts/ahouseinv.html can be downloaded at no cost and is helpful in recording possessions.
Similarly, associations should record property in common areas and take photos or video of common area equipment, facilities and structures.
Important Documents
Store important documents such as insurance policies, deeds, property records, and other important papers in a safe place, such as a safety deposit box in a separate location from the property. Make copies of important documents for the disaster supplies kit. (Information about the disaster supplies kit is covered later.)
Homeowners may want to consider saving money in an emergency savings account that could be used in any crisis. It is advisable to keep a small amount of cash or traveler’s checks at home in a safe place where it can be quickly accessed.
Basic Disaster Supplies Kit
The following items are recommended for inclusion in a personal disaster supplies kit:

  • Three-day supply of non-perishable food.
  • Three-day supply of water – one gallon of water per person, per day.
  • Portable, battery-powered radio or television and extra batteries.
  • Flashlight and extra batteries.
  • First aid kit and manual.
  • Sanitation and hygiene items (moist towelettes and toilet paper).
  • Matches and waterproof container.
  • Whistle.
  • Extra clothing.
  • Kitchen accessories and cooking utensils, including a can opener.
  • Photocopies of credit and identification cards.
  • Cash and coins.
  • Special needs items, such as prescription medications, eye glasses, contact lens solutions, and hearing aid batteries.
  • Items for infants, such as formula, diapers, bottles, and pacifiers.
  • Other items to meet your unique family needs.

If in a cold climate, think about warmth. It is possible that heat may not be available. Also think about clothing and bedding supplies. Be sure to include one complete change of clothing and shoes per person, including:

  • Jacket or coat
  • Long pants
  • Long sleeve shirt
  • Sturdy shoes
  • Hat, mittens, and scarf
  • Sleeping bag or warm blanket (per person)

For board members, consider making a disaster preparation notebook with the following information:

  • Board members’ contact information
  • Communication plan for disseminating information
  • User name and passwords to social accounts like Facebook
  • Flash drive with community email addresses and contact information (phone tree list)
  • Map of community
  • Photo copies of common areas, facilities and buildings
  • Copies of important documents

A disaster may not occur, but if it does… preparation is key to being prepared.  Are you prepared?