Securing Your Home for Natural Disasters

Authored By: Hannah Kerns

Steps to reduce the effect natural disasters have on your family and your home

A natural disaster is a devastating event caused by rain, wind, fire, and even earth that endangers people's lives and property. Although there is often little that can be done to prevent a natural disaster, people can take steps to reduce the effect that it has on themselves and their property. When it comes to our homes, it is important to know how to prepare for the numerous threats from nature. Not only will this save your property from excessive damage, but it may also help to save the lives of loved ones.

Image: flooding_John Blair
How to Prepare for Flooding

Flooding is a natural disaster that can affect anyone, regardless of where they live. In the U.S. it is in fact the most common type of natural disaster, with flash-floods causing an estimated 200 deaths annually. To protect yourself in the event of a flood, you should always seek higher ground. Don't attempt to drive— driving through flood waters could cause your vehicle to become stuck and even swept away.

There are steps you can take to protect your property before a flood occurs. One way to protect your property from water damage is to seal the basement walls with waterproof compounds. If possible, flood walls may also be constructed to help stop the possible flow of floodwaters before it reaches your home. You should also have a sump pump, as well as a backup that operates on batteries. Electrical components and the water heater, washer and dryer, and furnace should be elevated no less than 12 inches above any assumed flood levels. If constructing a new home in an area that is located in a flood zone, it should be elevated and reinforced.

Taking some steps to protect your home ahead of time will help curtail any costly damage due to flooding.

How to Prepare for Earthquakes

An earthquake is a natural event that occurs when the tectonic plates in the earth shift, break, and slide together. The resulting release of energy causes the earth to shift and move, and the shaking can cause buildings, bridges, and homes to collapse. In the U.S., earthquakes are most frequently associated with the West Coast; however, as many as 45 states across the nation are at risk.

Because earthquakes are largely unpredictable, make sure your home can withstand intense shaking, no matter where you live. There are several ways you can prepare your home for the threat of an earthquake. For heavy items that run the risk of toppling, secure them to the wall or floor. This includes strapping water heaters and large appliances to the walls or bolting them to the floor. Any breakable items that could fall should be moved to lower shelves. You should also have your home inspected for cracks in the foundation and any defective wiring or connections, and any repairs should be made as quickly as possible. If you live in an area where earthquakes are common, consider bolting your home to its foundation.

For family safety, you should understand what to do in the event of an earthquake, such as find shelter beneath a sturdy table or desk. If you've been issued an earthquake warning, to prevent an explosion or fire, the gas and electricity should be turned off. In case of emergency, you should always keep supply of both water and food should as an emergency backup that will last your family for at least three days.

Image:  Wild Fire _ Alan English
How to Prepare for Wildfires

Like many natural disasters, wildfires can happen anywhere. Once started, a wildfire will often spread fast, destroying vegetation, wildlife, and property in its path. Most often they start in forests, remote hills, mountain areas, or other woodland settings. Take note that areas with drought are especially susceptible to wildfire. Wildfires are often triggered by natural occurrences such as lightning; however, human carelessness can also cause wildfires.

If you live in an area especially vulnerable to wildfire, there are steps you can take to secure your home. When you build a home, you'll want to avoid using any type of combustible material on your roof, or on any other part of the home. When using wood to construct any part of the home, it should be fire-resistant treated wood. Or opt for fire-resistant materials, such as stucco or fiber cement.

You can also take steps around your home's perimeter to help prevent wildfire damage. Around the outside of the house, shrubs and other plants should be of a fire-resistant variety and should help contain as opposed to fuel fire. Lawn furnishings and any items that could easily burn should be moved away from the home so that it is outside of what is considered the defensible space. You should also have a hose that is long enough to reach around the entire house.

If warned of an approaching fire, keep all windows and doors shut, turn off the gas, wet the roof, and evacuate as instructed.

Image: Hurricane  NASA GSFC

How to Prepare for Hurricanes

Lives and property are lost on a yearly basis as a result of hurricanes. These low pressure tropical storms are common in the Gulf Coast, and can cause damage to property as a result of wind or flooding. If you live in an area with hurricanes, it's important to fortify your home against a hurricane before one occurs.

To protect yourself from the damages caused by hurricanes, you should have garage doors fortified, and add clips or straps to your roof to help maintain its structure. Add some permanent storm shutters to help protect windows from damage. You may also consider building a safe room in your home or basement. These are rooms that are designed to withstand extreme winds and resulting projectiles. Proper insurance is also important for people who live in areas known for hurricanes. Because hurricanes are often accompanied by tornadoes and flooding from heavy rainfall, a home should have adequate flood and wind coverage (see our section on floods).

Learn your community's evacuation plan in case of a hurricane, and do not attempt to wait it out if you're issued an evacuation warning.

Image:  tornado Nicollo Ubalducci

How to Prepare for Tornadoes

A tornado involves winds that can travel as fast as 250 to 300 miles per hour. These winds can destroy buildings, and turn objects, including cars, into projectiles that can harm people and property. You can take steps to protect your home from a tornado, but if your home is in the direct path of a tornado it may not be possible to completely prevent damage.

Especially if you live in an area prone to tornadoes, make sure to take steps to help secure your home. As with hurricanes, shutters may be added to protect windows from shattering. Garages should be fortified and some people may choose to have a safe room installed for the safety of their families. You should also schedule a home inspection and have the house and roof checked, and make any repairs as necessary.

If a tornado becomes a threat, have a place where you can go. Some homeowners prefer to have a safe room installed, but a basement is also a good choice in case of a tornado. If the home has neither a basement nor safe room, then the ideal place to seek shelter is the center of the home, away from windows or outer walls. If outdoors, a person should seek shelter or lay flat in an open field. People should not stay in a car or under a bridge or overpass as these areas are unsafe. If a tornado approaches, seek cover and do not stay outside or attempt to outrun a tornado.

Image:  Hailstorm  Nicholas A Tonelli

How to Prepare for Hailstorms

Hail is frozen drops of rain that circulate in a thunderstorm until they become too heavy and fall. When these chunks of ice fall, the force can dent vehicles or even crash through roofs. Hail often falls in storms where large amounts of hail fall at one time, often accompanying thunderstorms.

There is little that you can do to prepare your home for hail. In areas where hailstorms are frequent, you may consider replacing an old roof with an impact-resistant one. Likewise, because hail can shatter windows, it's a good idea to install double-pane windows, and keep your shades or blinds drawn during a hailstorm. To protect yourself, it is important to move indoors and away from windows when a hailstorm begins.

Image:  Volcano  Andy Heather

How to Prepare for Volcanic Eruptions

When a volcano erupts it spews molten lava and ash that will devastate anything that it comes in contact with. In the event of a volcanic eruption there is nothing that can be done to save a home that is in the path of lava. In this case, you should consider your safety and evacuate the home.

If not in the direct path of lava flow, you may not be advised to evacuate. Keep your windows and doors closed to minimize the amount of ash that enters your home. Place moistened towels in front of closed doors and windows to prevent lava or ash from entering on a draft. If lava threatens your home, you should also cover and unplug all electronics. You should also keep emergency food and water for your family for three days, in case it's needed.


Even if a natural disaster is not immediately threatening your family, it's a good idea to keep an emergency kit in your home, and make sure the entire family knows exactly where it's located. That way, if there's any type of emergency or disaster, your family will know where there are supplies to help. For each natural disaster scenario, consider sitting down with your family and making a plan, so everyone knows where to go and what to do in case a natural disaster occurs.



Last Review and Update: Sep 25, 2013
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