When the unthinkable happens, it usually happens when you least expect it and are not prepared for it. Who could ever expect to have their entire house ravaged by a tornado? If you have an unused generator sitting in your garage, you probably bought it after dealing with a prolonged blackout.
And while you might struggle to get a campfire going, you’d be surprised how fast a fire can travel through your neighborhood. The point is, disasters can happen quicker than any of us usually feel prepared for. It’s understood that we can’t fully prepare for an attack from Mother Nature — but while natural disasters can happen unexpectedly, it’s still a good idea to prepare in advance as much as possible.
One day, the beautiful old oak tree in your yard might decide to become a part of the living room. It’s important to be ready for action if that unfortunate event should happen.
Assess Your Situation
Whether you got hit with a tree, a flood, a fire or a hurricane, you need to assess your situation and take immediate action. That may simply be accounting for every member of your family and getting out of your dangerous environment.
Do you have a known place you can go if you have to evacuate your city? Have a pre-determined place in mind — maybe the home of a distant relative or friend.
Contact the Authorities
Call 911, but realize you may be one of hundreds of people calling, depending on the scale of the catastrophe. Contact the utility companies if it’s appropriate.They may already be aware of the situation, but customers’ calls can help them identify affected areas. Call your insurance company or agent and report known and potential damages.
Document for Insurance Claims
Deal with your mess when it happens but realize your insurance company will eventually make it possible for you to clean up. Take care of immediate needs first and then allot some time to ensure you get compensated for your losses.
If your house and all its contents are destroyed, you will need to have documentation of your belongings in order to get compensated through insurance. Take photographs and video of all your possessions — especially those of higher value.
Keep receipts for further documentation. Locate your receipts, bills of sale, insurance policies, birth certificates and other important documentation you may need in the claims process. It would be wise to invest in a fire-resistant and waterproof storage box.
You could also elect to store these items in a bank safety deposit box if they are not needed around the house. That way, if your house is destroyed, your documents will still be intact.
Restore Safe Living Conditions
If you can stay in your home, count your blessings — but be prepared to do some work. Get out the chain saw and clear any fallen trees or limbs which may be blocking your roads or endangering your house.
If there is electrical damage, shut off your main line so you won’t have to deal with power surges or fallen lines that could seriously injure or kill someone. If pipes have burst, shut off your main water line. Clear your possessions from flooded areas. Put your most valuable possessions up high.
Remove wet and soiled drywall, as this will help the frame of your house dry out more quickly. Put out small fires, but don’t tackle any big ones. Leave these for the professionals. Cover broken windows with wood, cardboard or whatever material you have at your disposal. Remind your family how sharp glass is and that they should never touch it.
If you are going to hook up a generator, make sure you do so outside of your house and not near a window. Generators produce toxic amounts of carbon monoxide and could poison or kill your family if not used correctly.
Follow-Up With Your Insurance Claim
One of the most important steps in the claim process is finding a trusted restoration company — they have people who deal with these situations on a regular basis. If you have someone in mind, consult your claims adjuster. They usually allow you to choose whoever you would like as long as they are certified. If you don’t know one, your claims adjuster should have several for you to choose from.
Make sure you know your insurance policy. Some natural disasters may not be covered or may require a separate policy. Know your deductible, too, which is the amount of money you will pay toward any damages caused. In the case of a tree damaging your house, the costs would likely exceed the deductible. Minor damage may not, so it might be something you'd want to fix yourself.
Have more than one roofing company assess the damage. Unless you want to get up on the roof yourself, you are relying on their expertise to determine what needs to be repaired and how it should be done. Experts may disagree, so it’s important to get a few estimates.
Prepare for Survival
You might be living in less-than-ideal conditions for a while. Be grateful you survived and try to stay positive. This is the time to dig into your reserves of canned goods and water, assuming you prepared in advance. Try to ration as best you can so you don’t find yourself hungry or dependent on others.
Keep flashlights nearby. If you have a generator, use it to keep your cell phone fully charged at all times. It’s your only connection to government agencies, your insurance company and loved ones checking on you.
Pack a first aid kit with bandages, antibiotic ointment, tweezers, aspirin, wipes, antibacterial hand sanitizer and anything else you can retrieve from your damaged home which may help you in the future. Once you have done all you can do, you just have to wait for others to do their part. Be patient, but use your phone when you have to.
Keep others accountable for their role — just keep in mind that you may be one of hundreds or thousands of people affected.
Eventually, with everyone doing their part, your home and family life will be restored in due time.
Photo by Alex Radelich
All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.