Coping With Disasters

8/1/2003

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During the past 20 years, the U.S. has sustained 44 weather-related disasters in which overall damages and costs reached or exceeded $1 billion and more than 11,000 people lost their lives. Thirty-eight of these disasters occurred between 1988 to 1999, with seven occurring in 1998 alone—the most for any year on record. To help keep yourself and your loved ones safe, this brochure provides you with the information you need to be prepared in times of disaster.

DISASTER CHECK LIST

When facing the prospect of any type of natural disaster, make sure you have the following disaster supplies on hand:

  • FLASHLIGHT AND EXTRA BATTERIES
  • PORTABLE, BATTERY-OPERATED RADIO AND EXTRA BATTERIES
  • FIRST AID KIT AND FIRST AID MANUAL
  • NON-PERISHABLE FOOD AND WATER
  • NONELECTRIC CAN OPENER
  • ESSENTIAL MEDICINES OR PRESCRIPTIONS
  • CASH AND CREDIT CARDS
  • DURABLE SHOES AND APPROPRIATE CHANGE OF CLOTHING
  • BLANKETS, BEDDING, OR SLEEPING BAGS

HURRICANE SAFETY
Before A Hurricane Hits:

  1. Evacuation: Plan an evacuation route. Contact the local emergency management office or American Red Cross chapter, and ask for the community hurricane preparedness plan. This plan should include information on the safest evacuation routes and nearby shelters. Learn safe routes inland. Be ready to drive 20 to 50 miles inland to locate a safe place.
  2. Family Preparedness: Make sure that all family members know how to respond after a hurricane. Teach family members how and when to turn off gas, electricity, and water. Teach children how and when to call 9-1-1, police, or fire department and which radio station to tune to for emergency information.
  3. Pets: Make arrangements for pets.
  4. Protect Your Windows: Permanent shutters are the best protection. A lower-cost approach is to put up plywood panels. Use 1/2 inch plywood—marine plywood is best—cut to fit each window. Remember to mark which board fits which window. Pre-drill holes every 18 inches for screws. Do this long before the storm.
  5. Clear Debris: Trim back dead or weak branches from trees.
  6. Consider Flood Insurance: Check into flood insurance. You can find out about the National Flood Insurance Program through your local insurance agent or emergency management office. There is normally a 30-day waiting period before a new policy becomes effective. Homeowners’ policies do not cover damage from the flooding that accompanies a hurricane.
  7. Communication Plan: In case family members are separated from one another during a disaster (a real possibility during the day when adults are at work and children are at school), have a plan for getting back together. Ask an out-of-state relative or friend to serve as the "family contact." After a disaster, it's often easier to call long distance. Make sure everyone in the family knows the name, address, and phone number of the contact person.

When A Hurricane Hits:

  1. Status: A hurricane watch is issued when there is a threat of hurricane conditions within 24-36 hours. A hurricane warning is issued when hurricane conditions (winds of 74 miles per hour or greater, or dangerously high water and rough seas) are expected in 24 hours or less.
  2. During A Hurricane Watch or Warning:
    1. Listen to a battery-operated radio or television for official hurricane reports.
    2. Check emergency supplies. Fuel your car.
    3. Bring in lawn furniture, toys, and garden tools, and anchor objects that cannot be brought inside.
    4. Secure buildings by closing and boarding up windows. Remove outside antennas.
    5. Turn refrigerator and freezer to coldest settings. Open only when absolutely necessary and close doors quickly.
    6. Store drinking water in clean bathtubs, jugs, bottles, and gather some cooking utensils.
    7. Store valuables and personal papers in a waterproof container on the highest level of your home.
    8. If officials indicate evacuation is necessary, secure your home by unplugging appliances, turning off electricity and the main water valve, and locking up your home. Then leave as soon as possible. Avoid flooded roads and watch for washed-out bridges.

TORNADO SAFETY
Tornadoes are the most violent atmospheric phenomenon on the planet. Winds of 200-300 mph can occur with the most powerful tornadoes. When a tornado warning has been issued for your area or whenever a tornado hits, do the following:

In A Home Or Small Building: Go to the basement (if available) or to an interior room on the lowest floor, such as a closet or bathroom. Wrap yourself in overcoats or blankets to protect yourself from flying debris.

In A School, Hospital, Factory, Or Shopping Center: Go to interior rooms and halls on the lowest floor. Stay away from glass enclosed places or areas with wide-span roofs such as auditoriums and warehouses. Crouch down and cover your head.

In A High-Rise Building: Go to interior small rooms or halls. Stay away from exterior walls or glassy areas.

In Cars Or Mobile Homes ABANDON THEM IMMEDIATELY!!! Most deaths occur in cars and mobile homes. If you are in either of those locations, leave them and go to a substantial structure or designated tornado shelter.

FLOOD SAFETY
According to FEMA, flash floods and floods are the #1 weather-related killer with nearly 140 deaths recorded in the U.S each year. If there is the possibility of a flood in your area, do the following:

When Inside: If ordered to evacuate or if rising water is threatening, leave immediately and get to higher ground.

If Caught Outdoors:

  • Go to higher ground immediately! Avoid small rivers or streams, low spots, canyons, dry riverbeds, etc.
  • Do not try to walk through flowing water that is more than ankle deep.
  • Do not allow children to play around streams, drainage ditches or viaducts, storm drains, or other flooded areas.
  • IF IN A VEHICLE: DO NOT DRIVE THROUGH FLOODED AREAS! Even shallow water should be avoided. The majority of deaths due to flash flooding involve people driving through flooded areas. Water only one foot deep can displace 1500 lbs! Two feet of water can easily carry most automobiles.

POST-DISASTER RED FLAGS
The damage caused by natural disasters such as fires, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, and blizzards can often bring out the best in people, as strangers reach out to help others in need. Unfortunately, the aftermath of a crisis also brings out persons who take advantage of those who have already been victimized. Some of the most common "after-disaster" scams involve home repairs, clean-up efforts, heating and cooling equipment, and flood-damaged cars. The Better Business Bureau has the following advice for consumers:

  • Check with your insurance company about policy coverage and specific filing requirements the company may have.
  • Although you may be anxious to get things back to normal, avoid acting in haste. Don't be pressured into signing a long-term contract. Make temporary repairs if necessary.
  • For major permanent repairs, take time to shop around for contractors, get competitive bids, check out references, and get a report from the BBB.
  • Be wary of door-to-door workers who claim your home is unsafe. If you are concerned about possible structural damage in your home, have an engineer, architect, or building official inspect it.
  • Prepare a written agreement with anyone you hire. It should delineate the work to be done, the materials to be used, and the price breakdown for both labor and materials. Review it carefully before signing. Never pay for all repairs in advance, and don't pay cash.

DISASTER APPEALS

  • Examine your options instead of giving to the first charity from which you receive an appeal. There will be a variety of relief efforts responding to the diverse needs of disaster victims.
  • Be wary of appeals that are long on emotion but short on what the charity will do to address the specific disaster.
  • Ask how much of your gift would be used for the disaster mentioned in the appeal, and how much would go towards administrative and fund raising costs.
  • Find out what the charity intends to do with any excess contributions remaining after the victims' needs are addressed.
  • Remember there will be opportunities to give in the future. The problems caused by disasters don't disappear after the headlines do.
  • Complaints: Consumers who feel they may have been victimized can file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau to try to recover their money and to warn others about the individual or company.
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