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Health and Reality Check: Preparing for a Natural Disaster Before it Happens

Most of us don’t want to think about a natural disaster, because we really assume it won’t happen to us. If you have been watching the news in the last 4-6 years, you will notice that there are an awful lot of people that have had their lives completely torn apart by natural disasters. There are some fairly easy steps that you can integrate into your life that will help reduce the problems in a natural disaster and can make things just a little less stressful.
When I lived in Southern California, I became a bit used to earthquakes. We had earthquake insurance for our home and a few canned items put aside, but I really didn’t plan past that point. After moving to Florida, I was enlightened on the many things that we can do to help ourselves, our home, our neighbors, our pets and our sanity.

While this may be a no-brainer to most, you would be surprised at how many people don’t have the right insurance coverage. One of the reasons may be financial. Insurance is not always cheap. We don’t live in a flood zone and my insurance company scratched their head when I said I wanted this type of insurance. If you look at some of the areas that have flooded in the last couple of years, they were probably a low risk as well. Due to our location, the insurance was under $350 per year. Windstorm insurance is a different subject. That is quite high and, thanks to some of the Florida politicians, the insurance companies are raising the rates even more. I have arranged for most of the insurance to be added to my mortgage payment. The mortgage company places the payments in an escrow account and then pays the insurance when it’s due. This type of budgeting can make everything a little less painful.

You will need fresh drinking water in abundance as well as water for general washing. FEMA recommends that you need one gallon of water, per person, per day; with a minimum of a 3-day supply. We have both large, sealed bottled water containers as well as using the gallon iced tea containers. After having experienced a lack of power for over a week during Hurricane Charley, I now keep about 30 of the iced tea containers for cleaning purposes.

Disaster Kit:
We have very little room in our garage and, in Florida there aren’t any basements and very few have attics; so the garage is it for storage. We have set aside 2 brand new large trash bins and all of our camping gear in a special area. These are our disaster kits. They contain everything we could think of that we might need in a disaster: fresh batteries, lots of candles, matches, flashlights, rubber boots, plastic dinner ware, pots & pans…etc. We have two other smaller bins that house emergency medical kits along with an inflatable rubber raft. Now you might say this is excessive. But, considering that a few years ago we have almost a week of rain every day and many of the streets in our town were flooded; you might think again. Food is a main concern. Canned food can be stored but must not be kept for more than a year. You have to remember that you may not have electricity, so we even have a hand-crank cell phone charger. You must also remember to have enough food for any of your pets. Giving them human food in a crisis can throw them into gastro-intestinal distress.

Important Paperwork in case you have to leave:
Most people I know have their insurance policies in one place and other important documents such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, etc in other places. I have gathered all of the important documents, including our Wills and placed it in one easy-to-grab location. If you have pets, you will need their documentation as well. In the case of home damage or less, other than loved ones, the first main contact you will be making is a call to is your insurance company. If you have your paperwork, you can make their job easier and your situation will be addressed quickly.

Emergency Shelters and Pets:
Up until a few years ago, none of our emergency shelters would accept anyone that brought their pets. Those that were often at risk in a natural disaster would refuse to leave their furred members of their family, and stayed in their homes. Thanks to people like my Veterinarian, there are now shelters that accept pets. Find out where your emergency shelters are and if they accept owners and their pets. There are rules and guidelines for each shelter that takes pets. Most of the rules relate to having the documentation that your pet has received the appropriate inoculations and, that it is not a pet.

Preparing Your Home:
I have family that works within the disaster divisions of insurance companies. They point blank told me that those that do nothing to try to save their homes in a natural disaster will go to the bottom of the list. Too many times I have heard people say “that’s what we have insurance for”, but as a homeowner, you need to understand that you have to do everything that you can to help protect your home. Whether it’s sandbags or boarding windows, your home is your responsibility. As long as you are not putting you or your family at risk, you need to take every precaution to help in protecting your home.

Medication for your family and your pets:
Natural disasters occur at a variety of times a year. While most are in the summer months, those that live in areas that experience high snow levels and below freezing temperatures know that this can be just as devastating. Preparing for a natural disaster will include ensuring that you have sufficient medication for both you and your pets. If you are in an area where you have sufficient time for preparation, you can work with your pharmacist to contact your medical insurance company for more than one month’s supply of the prescriptions.

Many people have eliminated their land lines and substituted their cell phones as their home phones. Even if you still have a land line, you probably have portable units that need to be charged. Two things to remember in a disaster: the cell phone towers will probably not be able to handle the influx of calls and both your portable and cell phone charge will eventually die. Call me old fashioned, but I have one land line in my house and an old coil-cord phone stored in the bedroom. If you don’t, then find out whom in your neighborhood does so that you can possibly rely on their phone line for emergency calls.

Setup One Contact Person:
In a natural disaster, all of your family and friends are going to be worried about you. This will generate a lot of calls, most of which they will not be able to connect on. If you set up one family member or friend as the main contact person, they can get the update messages to everyone.

The above steps may seem like common sense. They also may seem like a lot of trouble. But let me tell you from experience, if you take care of yourself and your family with a little planning and time, it will be worth it.

The information supplied in this article is not to be considered as medical advice and is for educational purposes only.