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When Emergencies Strike

Emergencies can strike at any time

and anywhere and can be man-made or natural.

The only predictable thing is your preparation.



These are probably the best-known emergencies. They trigger dramatic news cover- age and funding drives to help victims. Natural disasters include severe storms, tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, blizzards, ice storms and other natural events.

As more people move into high-risk areas, like the coasts, the costs of natural disasters grow. More and more events are tallying up price tags into the billions of dollars in dam- age. In 2017, 16 natural disasters caused more than $1 billion in damage. That year also saw a record total cost in natural disaster damage: a startling $306 billion.



There are large-scale man-made disasters, like building collapses and dam failures, but the majority of these take place on a local scale. These include fires, hazardous material spills, acts of terrorism, explosions, infrastructure failures and transportation accidents. Incidents like these also tend to lead to extended litigation for victims to be made whole for their losses if they don’t have the proper insurance. According to the Insurance Information Institute, the costliest man-made disaster on record is the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism attacks, which caused more than $25 billion in losses.



Both types of disasters require the same kinds of preparation plans: Protect your family, your property and your business. And while you can go all-out prepper, even the most basic of plans can keep your family safe during an emergency. Put your important documents in a fire-safe box. Keep a current list of contacts and know evacuation routes out of your area. Make sure your insurance is up to date.

Also, know the risks for your area. If you live on the Gulf Coast, for example, you should have a hurricane plan. But if you don’t live near a nuclear power plant, a nuclear disaster can be somewhat lower on your list. Keep reading for tips on how to protect your family, your home, your business and more.


Protect Your Family

Keeping your loved ones safe is hugely important in an emergency. Property can be repaired and replaced, but human life can’t. Once you know what the risks are in your area, it’s time to gather your household and make a plan. Consider your pets, medical needs, disabilities and the ages of the people for whom you are responsible.



The call for an evacuation is too late to have a plan. Pick a sunny day, grab a map and know what you’re going to do long before it’s actually time to use it. Some basic steps in an evacuation plan are knowing more than one place to go, preferably in different directions from your home.

Plan for your pets and for alternate means of transportation. Read more about evacuations later on.



In each evacuation destination, make a plan for shelter. Do you have the means to cover several days in a hotel? Will you be staying with friends and family? Will you rely on government shelters or religious organizations?

Know where each place is and what you will need while you’re there. And don’t forget about your pets. Make sure you have a safe place for them to go, too.



According to the Census Bureau, just 26 percent of Americans have an emergency communications plan. If something happens when you’re not with your family, if your family gets separated during an emergency, or if regular communications lines are down, have a plan for how you’ll get in touch with each other.

Step one is to create a paper copy of important information like cell phone

numbers, emails, doctors’ phone numbers, school numbers and numbers for service providers. Give each person a copy to carry with them. You can get a PDF from FEMA that prints on a wallet-sized card. Review and practice your plan regularly so all your family members will know what to do.

Some important things to keep in mind: During a disaster, texting can work better than regular calls. Also, identify someone outside of your community who can be a central contact for your family. Make sure everyone knows how to get in touch with them.


Protecting Property

Just like with a family plan, when an emergency is imminent is too late to adequately protect your property. It’s important to keep and maintain a plan for your property year-round to ensure adequate coverage.


The first step, according to FEMA, is to document your property and keep a detailed inventory. This includes pictures, written descriptions, and a record of the year, make, model and serial numbers. Store your inventory with your other important documents in a fire-safe box. Next, you want to make sure all that property is properly insured. Your local agent can help and can help make sure you’re covered for certain disasters common in your area, like a flood.



Some things to understand about insurance are what kinds of coverage you need (fire, flood, tropical cyclone), types of policies (homeowners or renters) and what your coverage limits are for structures, personal property, liability, medical protection and in other circumstances. Your mortgage company may require a certain minimum coverage, but your situation may demand a lower deductible or special coverages for certain items.

Talk with a local agent and be frank about your needs, your finances and your pos- sessions. Remember that floods and earthquakes aren’t usually covered by regular homeowners’ policies and may require special coverage.



In the event of property loss, make sure you know how to file a claim. Do so as soon as it’s possible to safely access your property. Remember to save all your receipts and take lots of pictures and video of your damaged property.

Remember that your policy may cover replacement costs at normal market value but may not cover price surges that often follow a major disaster. Also know what government aid will and will not cover; remember, government disaster aid is designed to give you basic shelter, not replace what was lost.



Evacuations are a critical part of protecting those most important to you.

Sometimes, you have days to get ready, like during a hurricane, and sometimes your home becomes unlivable in the blink of an eye like during a tornado or a wildfire. Here’s what to know about evacuating.





The time to plan for an evacuation is well before disaster strikes. Pick several destinations in different directions for your home in case that area, too, is affect- ed. Consider your family’s needs when picking routes. Will you need to stop frequently? Do you have pets? Is there a chance you’ll need medical assistance? Choose routes that fit your needs.

Pack a bag to carry with you. Ideally, this should be one light back you can carry with you on foot or on public transportation. Pack clothing, some cash, a first- aid kit and any other sup- plies you’ll need to be away from home for an extended time. Also include a copy of your communications plan.



Listen to alerts from local officials on how to get out and for a list of public shelters, if you need one. Make sure to grab your go bag and check that all your information is up to date before you go. Refill your medications and add them to your kit. Don’t forget about your pets; grab food and any medications they take as well. Gas up your car and make sure it’s in good repair before leaving and call your central contact on your family communication plan.



Grab your insurance paperwork and take steps to secure your property like boarding up windows and moving valuables to a second floor. Unplug appliances and electronics and, if local authorities instruct you to, shut off your water, gas and electricity.  Check on your neighbors, especially the elderly and vulnerable, then hit the road.



Do not return home until local officials clear you to do so. Plan for outages of electricity and other utilities for long periods and bring food and other supplies with you. Document any damage to property and work with your adjuster to process your claims quickly.


Protecting your Business

We’ve talked about protecting personal property, and a lot of that applies here, but there’s more to protecting your business from a disaster than just your investment in property.


Well before an emergency, you should foster emergency planning among your workers. Involve people from all levels of your company and practice, practice, practice.

Establish a crisis communication plan and make sure all employees have a copy of it and know how to get in touch with their supervisors during a disaster.

Keep in mind that your workforce may also be affect- ed well after the disaster has passed and your business has recovered.

Employees may be rebuilding their own lives or dealing with personal losses.



You also need to think about your clients and how you will still meet their needs if a disaster affects your physical location or your work- force. Establish a plan for how to meet their needs, either by setting up emergency locations for work or remote plans that allow your business to continue.



There are some special considerations for protecting your business. Some policies will cover your business expenses during an emergency, while others protect property. Review your coverage with a local agent familiar with the risks in your area. Just like at your house, inventory your equipment and facilities and note down model numbers, serial numbers and descriptions. You might also consider a policy against data and information technology disasters as well as more common disasters like hurricanes or fire.


Planning for your Kids


Preparing children for a disaster, FEMA says, can

help them be less anxious in a time of crisis. Once again, start preparing your kids well before an emergency.



Help them create their own emergency kit with clothes, snacks, books and magazines, and toys. Have your children help create communication and evacuation plans so they know what to expect. Give them their own copies to put in their bag. If they haven’t already, get your children to memorize their address and important phone numbers.



Role-play as a family what you would do during a disaster, including fire drills. Let your children hear smoke and fire alarms so they know what to expect. Talk to children about what kinds of emergencies can hap- pen in your area and make sure they know the terminology, such as the difference between a watch and a warning.



A big part — and maybe the most difficult part — of preparing children for a disaster is what happens in the aftermath. Disasters can leave children feeling frightened and anxious. It’s important to remember to talk to your children about what is happening and be open about it, including your own feelings. Answer questions directly and be calm as much as possible.  Establish normal routines as soon as you can after the emergency is over.  Older children may want to help out, and this can be a great way to help them feel empowered in the wake of disaster.


Emergency Glossary

Here are some terms to be aware

of when identifying, planning for and responding to risks in your community.

NFIP: The National Flood Insurance Program. Most homeowners’ policies don’t cover flood damage, so this coverage is provided by the federal government. It’s avail- able through your insurance company or agent and pricing is based on what flood zone you live in.

Hypothermia: An unusually low body temperature that can be brought on by exposure to cold temperatures. Any body temperature below 95 degrees is an emergency. Signs of hypothermia include shivering, fumbling hands, slurred speech and exhaustion or con- fusion.

Aftershocks: Shaking that occurs after an earthquake. Aftershocks can continue for days or weeks after the original earthquake.

EAS: The Emergency Alert System is a public warning system that requires broadcasters to disseminate emergency information.

Watch: A weather watch means that hazardous weather, such as a tornado or winter storm, is possible.

Warning: A weather warning means that hazardous weather is imminent and could pose a threat to life or property.

Landslides: According to FEMA, landslides cause 25-50 deaths and more than a billion dol