Disaster Preparedness-- Beyond the Basics

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While disaster-preparedness is rarely considered a ‘no-sweat’ operation, like most habits, it gets easier with practice. Moreover, if your plan is ever called into action, the groundwork you lay now will pay infinite dividends later-- you’ll be your own hero, and it will be easier to not only survive the disaster but to come through relatively intact.

Disaster Preparation is a must-do, no matter where one lives. Disaster planning becomes more urgent every year as the severity and frequency of natural and human-caused disasters of every kind increase-- hurricanes and typhoons, superstorms, tornados, floods, earthquakes, and wildfires. Moreover, it is more important to plan comprehensively-- beyond the mere minimum of basic survival for a few days.

Disaster Preparedness Basics

The basics of disaster preparedness are relatively easy-- water, food, shelter, first aid/healthcare, and hygiene for 4-7 days. Additionally, a solid evacuation plan, in case sheltering in place is unadvised, as well as communication and rendez-vous plans with family members are important to have in place. There are Websites and useful articles to help you with planning and making lists, purchasing and storing supplies, and checking/refreshing them annually. For instance, there’s a good article here. Commit some time and money, and you can have the basics covered relatively easily and painlessly-- you’ll be glad you did.

Beyond the Basics: Layer One

If you want to prepare for more than simply staying alive for 7 days after a disaster-- what can and should you do? Focusing on catastrophic loss prevention is a great starting point. First, focus on protecting the land and structure on and within which you live-- your home itself. Here are some Advanced Beginner strategies:

  1. Have sufficient insurance (for your home, or renter’s insurance).

  2. Check insurance paperwork religiously for accuracy. Mistakes do occur in insurance paperwork, even if one is simply continuing one’s coverage with the same insurer. Once, I received my annual documentation of coverage for our home and I thought to myself, “Whose house are they talking about?” The insurance paperwork described a house that clearly wasn’t mine-- references to hot-tubs and saunas we didn’t have, flooring types and fireplace locations inconsistent with our home, and omissions of valuable assets our home does have-- for example, a security system, an attached garage, etc. It was an innocent mistake, but I’m sure glad I caught it!

  3. Know what items are covered in your policy and make sure to get insurance riders for additional or special possessions that are not insured, or are underinsured, by normal insurance policies. There are many of these-- silver, jewelry, artwork, etc. Having an inventory of everything you own-- or the majority of significant possessions-- is a very good exercise. You don’t have to list the rubber bands and paper clips in the junk drawer!

  4. Keep valuable paper records and originals of historic photographs-- even some smaller jewelry items-- in a safety deposit box. Accessing a bank vault might not be possible immediately following a more widespread disaster, so be sure to store electronic copies (photos or .pdf files) in a secure, reliable, cloud-based archiving system, especially the documents you’ll need for proof of insurance.

  5. Prepare your home, whether you own or rent, for the most likely disasters in your region.  For those in the Western U.S., this may be wildfires or earthquakes; in the Midwest, flooding or tornadoes; in the East and Southeast, hurricanes or superstorms. Preparations will depend on your home’s age, features, and layout. Do you have a basement prone to flooding, are you in a flood zone, near an earthquake fault, or in a coastal area? Assess your most likely natural disaster risks and make plans to mitigate them as much as you can. The best insurance is the insurance you never need to call upon!

Beyond the Basics: Layer Two (the Nitty-Gritty)

Beyond our homes themselves-- the walls and roof keeping us warm and dry-- are all of the possessions among which we live, things with which we clothe and feed ourselves, but also, and importantly, all the things which give our lives meaning and which record the stories of our lives-- what and who is and was important to us, what we learned or like to study, our interests and hobbies, how and with whom we spend or spent time. Recording these cherished possessions in detail will give you more footing if a catastrophic disaster should strike and if you ever need to submit an insurance claim for some or all of the things you own. This means cataloging your possessions beyond a video strolling about one’s house to record the furniture, curtains, and fine art. Think about what things mean something to you and what would be hardest to replace-- this is about replacing important pieces of one’s life.

  1. Keep an electronic, cloud-based inventory of your most valuable possessions and electronic copies of important documents. This is easy to do with some modern inventory applications like CatalogIt (www.catalogit.app). CatalogIt helps individuals and families to keep a detailed inventory of valuable collections, possessions, heirlooms, and important archival documents. These documents and possessions may have been accumulated over a lifetime-- or over generations if you’re the guardian of valuable family keepsakes and memorabilia. CatalogIt records can be accessed on any web-enabled computer or mobile device anywhere, anytime, with a simple annual subscription. Furthermore, in the case of less severe disasters or accidental mishaps where possessions are damaged-- reparably-- these records are easily shared with conservation specialists who can assist in restoring objects to their previous condition and even return them to their former glory.

  2. Protect those same things from damage. If you haven't yet, use museum putty to secure small, fragile, freestanding artwork and valuables, prepare art installations using closed clips rather than open wall hanger hooks, bolt bookcases and other heavy furniture to walls to prevent damage not only to possessions but to prevent harm to people, too. Rent a safety deposit box at a nearby bank branch for originals of important documents which are infrequently needed.

  3. Keep your home well-maintained. Many home fires begin in the garage (don’t store flammables for long periods of time-- most municipalities have designated hazardous waste drop off locations where hazards can be disposed of safely). Another frequent causes of home fires are dryer vents-- clean your lint trap after each and every dryer load and clean dryer outlet line regularly, particularly if it’s a long distance (over 6 feet) from your dryer to the exterior of your home. Lastly, and perhaps obviously, fires begin where fires are made-- in the chimney or the firepit/BBQ.  Chimney sweeps are not just for Mary Poppins-- find one today if you use your chimney and always wait several days before disposing of chimney or BBQ ashes.

If you follow the layers of tips contained in this blog, you will be well prepared for any emergency and more likely to come through relatively unscathed or at least not tormented by woulda, shoulda, and couldas.  Make a plan to cover these bases in priority order throughout the remainder of the year and you will feel secure, prepared, and confident facing an uncertain but hopefully brighter and happier future.

Hope SalzerCatalogIt