Productivity How to Prepare for a Natural Disaster

by Kate Ashford | December 13, 2018

Natural disasters come in a variety of forms, from hurricanes and earthquakes to fires and flooding.

Sometimes you have days of warning ahead of a storm, or sometimes a tornado forms in minutes.

But even though the news is full of stories of dire weather and events, six out of 10 people don't have a disaster plan, according to a survey from disaster recovery company BELFOR Property Restoration. And 45% don't know what items they should have on hand in an emergency.

You can't plan for everything

Sometimes the weather and how it will develop is just highly unpredictable. After Hurricane Irma in 2017, Florida resident Katie L. needed a foundation repair, the removal of the first floor and a complete electrical rewire of her home due to storm damage. "We had historic flooding in my neighborhood," she says.

Katie could not have predicted the aftermath of this storm, but she was prepared in how she documented things before and after the storm. "The biggest thing I did that made my life a lot easier was that before the hurricane I took a very detailed video of the exterior and interior of my house, narrating all the finishes and state of the house, going through all my possessions as well," Katie says. "I was able to reference that for the before and after damage report."

One solution doesn’t fit all, but there are some basics that can help you feel more prepared for a natural disaster without the panic.

Understand your insurance policy, and update if necessary

Check your policy. Do you know how much coverage you have? Is it enough to replace what you actually own, based on current home values and materials prices? If you were displaced from your home, would your insurance pay for you to live elsewhere? Have a conversation with your insurance agent to ensure that you'd recuperate losses if you lost everything.

Discuss disaster coverage. Some events, such as floods or earthquakes, may not be covered by your regular policy, or you may need a secondary policy for coverage. Many insurance policies don't cover flooding caused by heavy rains, hurricanes or other conditions.

And even if you have flood coverage, it might not pay for everything. "Insurance didn't cover the $20,000 foundation repair," Katie says. "And even though my electric was damaged from flood waters, it didn't cover the entire rewire — it only covered the downstairs, where the water was." (Note: Flood insurance doesn’t kick in until 30 days after purchase, so this isn’t a last-minute decision you can make.)

Check extra deductibles. Hurricanes and other major event claims are sometimes treated differently than typical homeowner's claims. Many policies carry a hurricane or windstorm deductible of 1% to 5% of the insured value of your home — so if you suffer hurricane damage, you could owe some of your home's value out of pocket toward damages before your insurance starts paying. Read your policy carefully to understand the terms and conditions, and ask your agent about whether you should consider purchasing extra coverage.

Take a home inventory

As Katie learned, this can be invaluable when you're dealing with an insurance claim after the fact, and it's easier than ever with a smartphone. Videotape your home, room by room, to document your possessions. Open every drawer and closet and film the contents. You can also use a home inventory app such as Sortly or Memento Database for finer detail.

Hurricanes and other major event claims are sometimes treated differently than typical homeowner's claims.
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Stay storm-ready

You can't change the weather or circumstances, but there are things you can do to your home or grounds to better prepare yourself to withstand different kinds of disasters.

  • Secure the outside. Trim large trees and shrubs, and bring outside furniture, potted plants, bicycles and outdoor toys indoors. Close and secure all awnings and tie down any loose items. Make sure windows, doors and skylights are protected with appropriate shutters or impact resistant glass.


  • Test your power source. Regularly test your gas-powered generator and have plenty of fuel on hand to ensure that it’s ready when you need it in the event of a power outage.


  • Take care of your valuables. Secure all interior wall hangings and be sure that art hung on exterior walls is removed and placed in an interior room, and elevated, if possible. If you’re a collector, make a list of all works or objects in your collection. Include notes about any existing damage, as well as the condition of the frames and bases. If possible, have outdoor sculptures relocated to a secure indoor location.


  • Be careful with electronics. Unplug everything from outlets during a storm. If you can, move expensive electronics to a higher floor to keep them away from flooding, or up off the floor in general. And if large electronics get wet during the storm — like your washer and dryer in the basement — have them checked by a professional before you use them again.


  • Go the higher ground. If a big storm is looming, look at your home from a flooding perspective — what else would get wet if you had a foot of floodwater in the house? To the extent that you can, move precious items out of water's way. Put photos in a watertight container. Store jewelry and small heirlooms somewhere safe and preferably well above ground level. Put furniture and big appliances up on blocks if you can manage it.


  • Move your car. If you’re in a potential flood zone, park your car on higher ground or in your garage, carport or against the house. Don’t park under trees, power lines or on low ground. Fill your gas tank if you can.
You can't change the weather or circumstances, but there are things you can do to your home or grounds to better prepare yourself.
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Be prepared with an emergency preparedness kit

  • Make a car kit. Keep a family emergency kit, as well as booster cables and tools, tire repair kit/spare tire, matches, flashlights, shovel and traction mats in your car.


  • Copy your documents. If you can prepare ahead of time, keep copies or originals of important records — marriage and birth certificates, passports, legal documents, insurance policies — in a fire and water safe lock box you can grab if you must leave in a hurry. Keep electronic copies of everything in a cloud service or on a USB drive that you store in a safe, off-site location.


  • Have a home kit. Make sure you have enough supplies at home that will allow you to survive for at least 72 hours. Items include bottled water, flashlights, a portable radio, extra batteries, non-perishable food, cash, blankets, clothing and toiletries. Refresh the items in your kit twice a year — use daylights savings dates to remind you. has a handy list you can reference.

Know your emergency disaster plan

It’s important to have a plan for what to do when disaster strikes — from evacuation to getting together with family if you’ve been separated. Among other things:

  • Stay informed. Monitor NOAA Weather radio or local television and radio stations for updates.


  • Be ready. Keep your gas tank full and your phone (and any portable phone power banks) charged.


  • Remember your pets. Make sure all animals wear tags with ID and contact information. If your pet isn't microchipped, consider having it done and register your info with the microchip company. And keep a carrier in the house that your pet is familiar with, that you could grab if you needed in a hurry.


  • Have a strategy. Choose a meeting place for all family members, and have a plan for your pet’s evacuation if needed.

Emergency resources to know

A variety of organizations help during emergency and recovery efforts. If you need assistance, try contacting one of the groups below, along with any local operations that may be lending a hand. If you escaped an event without damage, consider volunteering your time (or money) to some of these organizations to help your neighbors:

  • American Red Cross Provides disaster relief, emergency assistance and disaster preparedness education, as well as volunteer opportunities.


  • Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) An organization that can help in an area once the federal government has declared it a disaster. FEMA also offers a template emergency planning guide.


  • AmeriCorps A network of national service programs with volunteer opportunities based on the program and circumstances.


  • National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster Organization that assists after disasters with potential volunteer opportunities.


  • Salvation Army Assists after disasters with an array of volunteer opportunities available.

Kate Ashford

is a New York-based writer. Her work has appeared in Money, Parents and