No matter where your home is located, there will always be the threat of some kind of natural disaster. You won’t always be able to predict when they will occur, but you can take steps to protect your home, and in turn, your family. The following guide will provide advice and resources on securing your house against damage from these acts of nature, as well as considerations to keep in mind for special audiences like children, seniors, pets, and people with disabilities.
As destructive as they are unpredictable, tornadoes occur throughout the world. With the cyclones themselves come strong winds and often hail that can cause serious damage to your home and property. Major protective modifications include replacing windows, doors, and even roofing with more durable materials or damage-resistant designs. Minor changes might be limiting (or removing) lawn ornaments and patio furniture that could become dangerous debris in a storm, as well as trimming back tree branches from windows.
You should designate a safe space within the house that everyone will go to in the event of a tornado watch — ideally a storm cellar. For homes without, families should plan to move as far from windows and exterior doors as possible and use a sturdy piece of furniture or a mattress as protection against flying debris. Parents and older siblings should plan to help seniors, young children, and family members with disabilities move to safety, and should run practice drills regularly to avoid unexpected problems. Also designate someone to bring the pets to the safe space. Stay put with your home emergency kit until the all-clear is given, and then be extremely careful navigating your home if there is damage.
Earthquakes strike quickly and often without warning. If your home is in an area that’s prone to them, you can take precautions like bolting heavy bookshelves, mirrors, and art to the walls, and adding latches to cupboard doors to keep items inside secure. Keep as many decorative items off the wall as possible, especially around beds, cribs, couches, and other high-use furniture. Heavy appliances will also need secured, as will any medical equipment for a senior loved one or person with special needs.
In the event of an earthquake, you’ll want to take shelter under a heavy table, desk, or a staircase. Talk to children about safe places to hide in their bedroom in case the shaking begins in the middle of the night. For loved ones with limited mobility, installing grab bars near the bed can make it easier to get to safety. If you have pets, the family member closest at the time of the earthquake should take responsibility of grabbing the pet and bringing it to the same safe place; however, if the pet runs away, it’s safer to wait until the shaking stops to find it. Have practice drills on what to do, reminding all to be wary of aftershocks after the initial quake.
In some parts of the world an earthquake may bring on another dangerous natural disaster: a tsunami. Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do to prevent damage to your home if a tsunami strikes. You may be able to elevate it or take precautions against water, wind, or rain damage, but you’ll need to consult an expert. Your home may have specific needs based on its location, age, or even the material it’s built from, so keep in mind that what has worked for other homes in the area might not be ideal for yours.
You should move two directions if a tsunami is drawing near: inland and upward. Move your family as far away from the coast as possible, and get to the highest ground you can. Make sure you assist children, seniors, and pets; instruct everyone to hold onto one another as you travel. Plan out a fast, simplified way to move your loved ones with limited mobility, and try not to rely on too much electronic equipment (like a motor chair) that might be up against the elements.
Though they can be tracked and somewhat predicted, hurricanes can still be plenty destructive, and even deadly. Adding storm shutters or reinforcing doors and roofing are all wise investments for coastal region homeowners. Rocks and gravel can be used in landscaping to keep flooding waters away from your foundation, but bags of sand are a helpful last-minute solution if a flood-causing hurricane is predicted for your area. Trim trees and shrubs away from windows and power lines, calling a professional as necessary. If you or your loved ones have any electronic medical equipment, a generator will guarantee that their care can continue in the event a hurricane knocks out electricity in the area.
There should be someone in charge of handling the pets, a designated adult to gather and evacuate the children, and at least one person who can assist a senior loved one or person with a disability. In some cases, there will be an evacuation order issued following a hurricane warning. Always obey these orders immediately, and follow the specified evacuation route exactly — no detours. Keep the radio on for updates, and only return when the emergency order has been lifted.
A major snowstorm can keep families holed up in their homes for days at a time and could cause more damage than you might think. Homeowners in areas with particularly brutal winters should protect their property by insulating pipes, replacing worn siding and roofing, and regularly cleaning out gutters to avoid ice buildup. Insulting exterior doors and windows is also important, especially in bedrooms. You might also want to have the capacity of your roof checked to make sure it can withstand the weight of heavy snow.
For areas where blizzards may occur, home emergency kits should contain plenty of backup medications and necessary care supplies for people with disabilities, children, seniors, and pets, at least a week’s supply. Extra blankets and clothing should also be included. A generator will be necessary in any homes where family depends on electronic medical equipment, and extra tanks of oxygen and other supplies should be kept on-hand, as well.
Your strongest ally in protecting your home from wildfire damage will be smart landscaping: the idea is to create a burn path away from or around your house. Clear your yard of debris like sticks and leaves, especially within at least 30 feet of your house. Remove any dead or rotting foliage, keep gutters clear, and make sure your lawn stays trimmed. Some houses, patios, dog houses, and even children’s outdoor playgrounds can be treated with flame-resistant products. Be sure to check with local laws and regulations on wildfire precautions, as some areas may have more specific guidelines to follow.
Wildfires usually call for evacuations, and it’s important that the entire family knows what to do if the order is issued. Talk to your teens about heading to a trusted neighbor or family member’s house if you aren’t home, and make sure younger children know to obey their older siblings in these situations. If you have a loved one with a disability that would need help getting out of the house, talk to at least two neighbors (one to call first, another as a backup) about lending a hand should the need arise. Family members with disabilities and seniors with mobility issues should have mobile phones kept on them at all times so they can quickly call for help.
Reducing irrigation around your home, especially around slopes, is one of the few ways you can protect your house from a landslide. Unfortunately, there aren’t many other precautions you can take aside from being observant. It’s crucial that you pay close attention to your immediate environment: keep an eye out for signs of shifting land like leaning trees or light poles, new cracks in the sidewalks, outdoor stairs or walkways pulling away from the house, or new, unexplained plumbing leaks.
Landslides may occur after a great amount of precipitation, an earthquake, or even a wildfire, so talk to your family about being extra vigilant following these kinds of events. If you aren’t sure if something is truly moving (if the fence seems to be shifting slightly, for instance, but you can’t tell for certain), take photos of it each day to track it. Don’t leave young children or pets outside unattended in landslide-vulnerable areas, especially if you suspect there could be one in the near future. Evacuate only if you are directed to do so, and have a clear path to safety; avoid low-lying areas and be particularly wary around rivers and streams. Be prepared to carry small children and pets to safety, and have a plan for how you’ll help seniors and people with disabilities; you likely won’t have the time, opportunity, or loading space to bring their necessary equipment, so plan to bring only what is immediately necessary.
Preparation is vital when it comes to disaster safety. Take the relevant precautions for your own home and talk to your family about how to handle each situation. Make sure your emergency network understands how to use and transport equipment your loved ones with special needs require, as well as any important information about the care of your kids or pets. Practice emergency drills at least once a year and look for opportunities to make the process smoother and evacuations quicker. The more disaster preparation is a conversation in your home, the better your family will handle the situation in the moment, and the safer everyone will be.