Natural Disaster Resource Guide: Safeguarding Your Home

When a disaster is caused by forces of nature, it is known as a natural disaster. These types of events can be costly in terms of injuries and damage to homes. When people live in areas that frequently have a particular type of natural occurrence, it is important that they understand how to protect their homes from ruin and themselves from harm. To do that it may be necessary to take certain steps, even before the disaster can occur. Although it may not always be possible to save a home from being destroyed, it is worth the effort to try.

Earthquakes

The tectonic plates that form the surface of the Earth are constantly in motion as they rub against, over and beneath one another. Occasionally, these plates become locked and excessive energy begins to accumulate. The expulsion of this energy breaks the plates and causes severe shaking or tremors of the Earth. This rapid shaking is called an earthquake. Although it is often associated with the West Coast, particularly California, it can also occur in the East Coast and in other areas around the United States.

When an earthquake does occur, the results can be devastating. Depending on the severity of the event, it can cause items in the home to fall and potentially hurt someone. The tremors may cause gas and water pipes to break or leak. Damage can be so severe that it can cause damage to a house’s foundation or cracks may appear in the walls or ceiling. In some cases fires may start as a result of broken gas lines or buildings may even collapse. All of these can cause injury and loss of life if precautions are not taken in advance.

Regardless of the location, there are certain steps that people can take in order to protect their belongings and lower their risk of injury. The most important thing that can be done is to be prepared. There are several ways to protect the house and stay safe during an earthquake:

  • Identify areas in the house that will provide good overhead protection. This may be a sturdy table, desk, or an inside doorway.
  • Secure items in advance to prevent them from falling and potentially hitting someone. Breakables should be kept in enclosed cabinets that can be secured with a latch. Ideally, these cabinets should be low and the latches secure enough to hold closed during severe tremors.
  • Ensure that all shelving, mirrors, artwork or anything that hangs on walls, are securely attached. They should not be hung above beds, seating or where they can fall on someone’s head. During an earthquake, move away from these items.
  • Regularly maintain all electric wiring and gas connections in the house.
  • Strap the water heater and gas appliances to the floor or wall studs.
  • Keep flammables tightly closed in their containers and store them where they will not easily fall.
  • Shut off the gas. In some areas, homes may already have an automatic gas shut-off valve that will turn the gas off in the event of an earthquake.
  • Keep the most important valuables in one place that is easy to reach. This makes it easy to quickly retrieve and evacuate these items in the case of an eruption.
  • University of Idaho: Earthquakes
  • Pre-Earthquake Planning
  • FEMA: Earthquakes

Floods

Flooding is one of the most common natural disasters; it can happen in any state, city or town. It occurs when an area is overwhelmed by a rush of water that can result in severe damage to homes, injuries and even death by drowning. Unlike other devastating events, there are several potential causes of flooding. Severe rainy conditions frequently cause flooding in areas with poor drainage systems or in locations near bodies of water, such as lakes, which may overflow. The failure of a levee system or dam can also cause flooding as can excess snow melt.

Flooding can damage or destroy a home. A house that has been filled with flood water may suffer from water damage, bacteria from the water and mold. This can cause health problems if cleanup is not done in a safe and timely manner. If water damage is not able to be safely repaired or mold is too extensive, the house may not be salvageable. During a flood there are several things that people can do to keep their homes and themselves safe.

  • Turn off the main switches for utilities. It’s important to learn how to turn off the gas, electricity and water before there is an actual flood. By knowing where they are located and how to turn them off, you’ll be better prepared in the event of a flood and will have the necessary tools to turn them off as quickly as possible.
  • Unplug any electrical item, even with the electricity turned off.
  • Close all windows and doors to the house. This includes the garage door.
  • Move outside furniture inside.
  • Place sandbags around the property to block and minimize the risk of floodwater entering the home.
  • Flood Safety and Preparedness
  • Flood Safe
  • Flood Safety Tips

Hailstorms

A hailstorm is a type of storm that contains a large amount of hail. Hail is made of raindrops that have been carried into a thunderstorm where they promptly freeze. The updraft from the thunderstorm keeps them from falling, and they gradually build into larger chunks of ice. When their size and weight becomes too heavy, the hail falls to the ground. Hailstorms are brief, occurring as a part of thunderstorms and often alongside heavy winds, rain and even tornadoes. Because of their size, they can cause injury if they fall and hit someone, or they can damage vehicles or other property. Hailstorms often occur in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Nebraska.

There are no special precautions associated with hailstorms, in terms of protecting the home during this type of storm. If a person lives in an area that has had several hailstorms in the past, they may consider replacing their roof with an impact resistant one. The main precaution that a person can take is in terms of physical protection. When a hailstorm begins, they should stay indoors and move away from any windows that may break if hit by hail.

Hurricanes

Hurricanes are low pressure systems that originate off the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean, the Eastern Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. They have wind speeds of at least 75 miles per hour (mph) and are often accompanied by heavy rainfall. This type of severe storm can also result in other natural disasters. Tornadoes, for example, are often produced by hurricanes. In addition to their association with tornadoes, hurricanes can also cause flooding to occur in some areas. An example of the damage that can occur as a result of flooding and hurricanes took place in 2005 with Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. In addition to the potential damage caused by flooding, people must also protect their homes from high winds.

  • Put storm shutters in place over windows and close them before the storm hits. Plywood may also be used for boarding up windows in the house.
  • Keep trees and shrubs trimmed if you live in an area that is known for having hurricanes.
  • Fasten the roof to the frame with straps or clips for reinforcement.
  • Bring in outdoor furniture or any outdoor object that cannot be secured.
  • Evacuate if necessary. If you are unable to leave, stay indoors in a location that is away from windows.
  • Shut off the gas and electricity.
  • What to Do in Case of a Hurricane
  • Get Ready for Hurricane Season
  • Before a Hurricane

Tornadoes

Tornadoes are a type of whirling funnel of air that is associated with thunderstorms. They reach from the clouds to touch the ground, moving at speeds of up to 300 mph. Tornadoes typically develop as a result of thunderstorms. When warm air moves ahead of a westerly cold front, or a cold front that is moving toward the east, it produces thunderstorms and sets the stage for the potential formation of a tornado. They may also spin off from hurricanes or tropical storms. Tornadoes primarily form in the central United States, but they can appear anywhere in the country, or even over water in the form of a waterspout. Damage caused by tornadoes is often the result of wind and debris hitting a structure with extreme force.

When a tornado occurs there are ways that people can protect themselves and their homes. If the home is in the direct path of a tornado, it may not be possible to prevent damage or even destruction from occurring.

  • If there is no basement to seek shelter in, move inward toward the center of the house. Stay within a hallway or someplace that does not have windows that can shatter.
  • A person should cover their face and head with a blanket or hooded jacket.
  • If possible, move to a basement and stay beneath a sturdy table or desk.
  • Summary of Tornado Safety Rules
  • Tornado Safety
  • Tornadoes

Volcanoes

A volcanic eruption is a type of disaster that can completely destroy any home that’s caught in its direct path. Volcanoes are mountains that are open to molten rock below the Earth’s surface. Gases inside of the volcano create a buildup of pressure. When that pressure becomes too great, the molten rock, or lava erupts from the mouth of the volcano, accompanied by ash, gases and rocks. Volcanic eruptions occur from active volcanoes. In the United States, they can be found in Hawaii, the Pacific Northwest and in Alaska. The extreme heat from an eruption and the molten lava can burn down a home that is within its path. If this occurs there isn’t anything that can be done to potentially save the house. The home can also be buried beneath a sufficient amount of ash spewed from the volcano. People can take steps to keep themselves safe from the problems associated with an eruption. Volcanic ash for example can cause problems with the respiratory system. When preparing the home for a volcanic eruption a person should:

  • Keep the windows and doors of the house firmly closed. This will reduce the amount of ash that enters the home, although it may not be entirely possible to keep it all out.
  • Dampen towels and place them where they can cut off any drafts from doors or windows.
  • Cover electronic items.
  • Turn off any air conditioning or fans that may be running.
  • Keep the most important valuables in one place that is easy to reach. This makes it easy to quickly retrieve and evacuate these items in the case of an eruption.
  • Protecting Yourself During a Volcanic Eruption
  • During a Volcano
  • Volcanoes

Wildfires

Wildfires are fires that spread quickly and are difficult to control. They typically occur in areas where there is a growth of trees and vegetation and can occur in any part of the country. Primarily wildfires take place during the summer or fall months or during periods with high winds and increased dryness. Often they are started by accident or by lightning strikes. Homes caught in the path of wildfires may burn completely or suffer only some fire damage. If homes escape the actual fire, there may be smoke or cosmetic damage.

During a wildfire it is important to:

  • Keep the windows and doors closed throughout the house, but do not lock them.
  • Move waterproof items into the pool if available.
  • Fill the pool with water if it is not already. Fill barrels, garbage cans and other containers with water.
  • Wet the roof of the house. This can be done by placing sprinklers from the lawn on various locations on the roof.
  • Keep tools that can be used to fight the fire nearby. These tools include a rake, handsaw, an axe, shovel, and bucket.
  • Shut off the gas.
  • Have gas-powered water pumps ready in the event that they are needed.
  • Move furniture that’s inside of the house toward the center of each room.
  • Stay away from outside walls.
  • Protect your Home, Property and Forest from Wildfire
  • Steps you can take to protect your home during wildfire season
  • Coping With Wildfires

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