In 1989 storm ripped through Houston, Texas just two weeks before my birth, which took down a tree in my parents’ backyard. That tree fell right through the roof and into my nursery. Had I been born just a little early, I may not have survived my first month of life. That’s not the kind of story that you ever forget being told. It may also be why I’m a tad obsessive about feeling prepared for looming natural disasters.
Have a go-bag prepped
My childhood was spent living in two areas known for natural disasters. First, the south where hurricanes were a completely run of the mill occurrence. Then in Japan, where I went through more earthquakes than any person needs to in a lifetime. I’ve also been through hurricanes Sandy and Irene in New York City as well as a couple of nasty snowstorms.
Part of the earthquake preparation strategy in Japan was to always have a go-bag at the ready. I’m not talking doomsday prepper level go-bags, but my kid version contained spare clothing, a flashlight, batteries, a first aid kit, bottles of water and some nonperishable food.
Adults should level up their go-bags, especially when there’s time to prepare for natural disasters like hurricanes. One key part of an adult go-bag is money and any medication family members will need. Don’t forget about pet food if you’ll be traveling with the family animals. You can use BringFido.com to search for pet-friendly accommodations while on the road.
You also need a spare tank or two of gas in the car when you’re evacuating.
Take out cash
You should always have cash on hand at your home, but it’s especially important when a natural disaster is heading your way. We’re so used to credit cards and debit cards that we don’t think about what happens when power goes out and we no longer have access to our bank accounts. It’s important to have enough money on you to at least cover a week and some basic travel expenses in case your family needs to evacuate.
Put your precious items and legal documents in a fireproof box (and be ready to bring it)
All my important documents are sitting in a fireproof box in my apartment. When I say important, I’m talking about my birth certificate, Social Security card, will, tax returns, proof of insurance, passport, my trademark paperwork, and lease. I’ll also add my pre-nuptial agreement and marriage license in the next year.
Not only are these documents protected if anything terrible were to happen while I’m gone from my apartment – like a fire – but they’re also all sitting there ready to go if I need to evacuate for a natural disaster.
You may also want to add some sentimental items like photo albums, love letters, or journals if you know a disaster is on the horizon.
Create a family and pet plan
Have a plan in place to prepare for a natural disaster. I remember having to be taught how to handle an earthquake, which came in handy when I was home alone one day at age 14 when an earthquake hit. Fortunately, it wasn’t large enough to cause chaos, but it helped me react quickly and calmly to the situation.
Your family, especially children, need to know how to react to dangerous situations. It also helps keep children calm if you’ve walked through or even simulated the plan for an evacuation. You should also have the tough conversation of what will happen to family pets, especially if you have larger animals (e.g. horses) or need to be evacuated on a boat and are unable to take them with you. If you have pets, it’s wise to evacuate before the storm hits so you can take them with you.
Understand your insurance policy
One of the most important parts of prepping for a natural disaster is to really understand your insurance policy. Are you covered against hurricane-level winds causing damage to your property? What about floods? Lots of policies will not cover flood damage, including those as a result of a hurricane. You may need to purchase additional flood insurance if you live in an area prone to hurricanes. It’s currently estimated only 20% of Houston homeowners had flood insurance when Hurricane Harvey made landfall.
You’d want to enact changes in your insurance policy, or purchase a new policy ASAP, as most take 30-days to go into effect. Even with flood insurance, everything may not be covered. For example, all the contents of your basement may not be covered. In some cases, you may want to take the extra time to move beloved pieces of furniture to higher ground in the home if a hurricane is headed your way.
Apply for FEMA grant
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) helpo provide relief to individuals after a disaster.
You may be eligible for up to $33,000 in assistance from FEMA and Households Program for home repair to make the primary residence livable or to cover the cost of temporary housing. While this money is tax-free, there are strings attached depending on your insurance policy. You may end up needing to pay FEMA back with your insurance settlement. Should you be declined by FEMA, you have 60 days to appeal its decision.
Renters may also be eligible for help under FEMA’s Other Needs Assistance program. You may get relief for damaged property, primary vehicles, medical bills or damage to job-related equipment if you’re self-employed.
Create a contingency plan for job loss
One of the most devastating fall outs of a natural disaster is job loss. Your employer may not be operational for weeks, months, years or, in some terrible cases, ever after the damage of a natural disaster.
Consider what would happen if you were unable to immediately return to work. How much runway do you have in the family budget? It’s ideal to have three to six months of emergency savings in place for these moments – but if that’s not already in place, it sure isn’t going to happen in a week before a hurricane hits. Instead, focus on the factors you can control, like filing for unemployment if you experience job loss. Your local unemployment office may be able to help or you can also file for unemployment assistance with FEMA.
You may also need to consider finding work in another area in the short-term while your community begins the rebuilding process. It may be a painful option, certainly, but in some cases, the only realistic one.