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Simple Steps To Prepare For A Natural Disaster

Guest post by Angelo DiGangi of Home Depot

Residents of the mid-Atlantic and Gulf coasts are fluent in hurricane preparation. Cities and towns along major rivers are well-versed on flooding, and those living in Oklahoma know a thing or two about tornadoes. But Superstorm Sandy's attack on the northeast last year proved that no region is safe from a natural disaster, despite past natural trends.

Unlike hurricanes, some natural events – like earthquakes and tornadoes – give little notice before striking; however, in all cases, it is possible to emerge from a disaster more quickly and easily with proper preparation.

Following are basic steps that homeowners can take to prepare for a natural disaster.

Prepare to Be Powerless 
You never realize how dependent you are on electricity until you are without it. Power outages happen frequently and can be caused by seemingly insignificant events, like innocent summer storms, although larger scale catastrophes can leave the power out for days and even weeks. Whether you live in an apartment or on an estate, it pays to prepare for when the power to goes out.

  • Consider candles: Candles are compact, easy to store, and may provide the light you need during a power outage. You will be able to find your way around your home, complete any necessary tasks, and even read the kids a book to calm them while the storm passes. Remember that you will need a flame to light the candles, so store matches or a lighter where you keep them.
  • Flashlights and Headlamps: Similar to candles, flashlights will allow you to navigate a pitch-black house with ease. The benefit here, though, is that flashlights won't blow out, particularly if you need light to secure a busted window or venture into the basement to pump out any water that may be leaking. Keep a cache of batteries, and if you are entering the time of year when disasters are likely in your area, put a note on your calendar to purchase fresh batteries.
  • Generate your own electricity: If you live in an area prone to storms and you have the space, it may be worth purchasing a generator that can keep the lights on when the power is out. Make sure to purchase one that is rated for the amount of power that you will need, fuel it up, and follow the directions provided with the machine to prevent carbon-monoxide poisoning, electric shock, or fire. It is important to service your generator twice each year, and start it every quarter to make sure it is running smoothly. By keeping your generator service, you can rest easy that it will turn on when the electricity goes out.

Safeguard Against Flood Waters 
It is important to waterproof your below-ground basement to keep moisture from entering and molds from growing, but even this may not be enough to keep excessive flood waters from invading your home. Sump pumps ensure that you can evacuate any water from your basement before it can cause harm, but you need to make sure that your pump is prepped and ready before the flooding poses a threat. Follow these steps to prepare your sump pump for flooding:

  1. Test the sump pump: Regardless of the type of sump pump that you have, you can pour water down into the pit until it reaches the level of the pump. It should automatically begin pumping.
  2. Clear the pit: It is important to make sure that the pump pit is clear and the water that is discharged is moving away from the home.
  3. Replace the pump: If you find that the sump pump isn't working, it may be more cost effective to replace it rather than fix it.
  4. Emergency backup pump: A battery backup sump pump can work for hours when you are out of power. You can also consider a water-powered sump pump. Provided you have water pressure, these devices will use your water supply to extract two gallons of water out of the pit using one gallon of water and require no electricity. Speak to a licensed plumber for details.

Stock Up on Sustenance 
While your family and you may be able to survive without electricity and a flooded basement may not prove life-threatening, you simply can't get by without food and potable water. Canned fruits and vegetables are inexpensive and can be stored for long periods of time. It's a smart idea to purchase sealed gallons of water to drink during the natural event and after. This can be critical if the public water supply is interrupted, at which time you will need enough on hand to keep your family nourished until help can arrive.

Be Prepared to Evacuate 
The Boy Scouts' motto is "Be Prepared," and while this is true, in the face of a natural disaster, it may not be enough. If a significant storm is on the way, or the river waters are predicted to rise above safe levels, consider evacuating. Even fairly predictable disasters – like hurricanes, which are tracked for days and weeks prior to landfall – can act erratically. Superstorm Sandy is a perfect example. If local agencies are recommending that residents leave their homes for a safer location, heed the call. But don't base evacuation plans solely on the recommendation of the mayor's office; trust your judgment, and leave if you feel it is the safest option.

Even if you expect to evacuate, prepare for the natural disaster just as you would if you were planning to ride it out. You can't predict what you may find when you return home, and the preparations you have made and food and water that you have stored may be the key to helping your family rebound quickly.

Angelo DiGangi is a sales associate at a Home Depot in suburban Chicago. Angelo also writes on plumbing topics for Home Depot, including storm preparation tips, sump pumps and other devices for the home.

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