February 24th, 2020
So far on the blog, we’ve covered how to prepare for a hurricane with flood insurance and home preparation tips. The final topic for this year, emergency evacuations, applies to hurricane preparation but also to a number of other situations that necessitate evacuations, including fire. Recently, it’s been a sober season of fire destruction with the Butte County California Camp Fire death toll at 86, and that number would be astronomically larger without the evacuation of the almost 14,000 destroyed residencies in that area. While some specific evacuation instructions vary depending on the disaster — for example, when evacuating in the line of a fire, you want to shut all windows and doors but leave them unlocked when generally it’s best to lock up — these principles can apply across most emergency situations. Do I have to evacuate when a natural disaster strikes nearby? It depends. If you reside in a mandatory evacuation zone, then yes. If you haven’t been given an evacuation order or you’re in a voluntary evacuation zone, then you can hang tight and see how things progress. However, you should still take the steps necessary to prepare for evacuation because alerts, orders, and, of course, the weather, can quickly change. Stay tuned for hurricane and other disaster updates on TV news channels and radio stations such as The Emergency Alert System (EAS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio, and sign up for your community’s warning system. Chuck Frank, the director of the Emergency and Disaster Management programs at the Metropolitan College of New York, has assessed response and recovery efforts for FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency). He noted that the evacuations during Hurricane Florence were “timely and very well executed” due in part to the fact that “people knew that storm surge was the demon in the details and did not seem to be second-guessing as the storm dropped from a Category 4 to a Category 2.” Frank advises residents to start preparing early to take proactive measures and to not just watch weather reports in the hope that projections will change. In short, leave when you are told to leave. Delaying evacuation can put you in a situation where you are battling evacuee and emergency response vehicle traffic, fallen logs, or rising flood waters. If you do encounter flood waters, do not walk, swim, or drive through them or ignore safety barricades. How do I get in touch with my family after an evacuation? Prior to evacuation, study evacuation zones, evacuation routes, and shelter locations with all family members. Make an evacuation plan that includes multiple routes to leave town in case some routes are impassable. The need to evacuate may arise suddenly, so keep a list of places you could stay, such as a shelter, motel or a friend or relative’s home. Assuming cell towers are in operation, you can communicate with separated family members through mobile phone calls, texts, or social media. Text messages go through faster and are more reliable because they use up less battery and phone lines are often overloaded during a disaster. If possible, fully charge your cell phone prior to evacuating. Better yet, purchase and pack high-speed portable charger. It’s also a good idea to establish a shared out-of-state contact person to whom each family member can reach out to report on their own status and check on others. Some emergency situations necessitate sudden evacuation measures, so give young family members a contact card with phone numbers to carry in their backpacks while at school. Unfortunately, cell phone communication isn’t a given when it comes to emergency communication. Many preppers take confidence in knowing how to operate Amateur Radio, also known as ham radio. Amateur Radio operators can talk with people in a line of site up to 50 miles. It does take some effort to obtain a license and you need to program in the frequencies you’ll use ahead of time, but it is invaluable to be able to reliably communicate when on-the-grid phone resources are not available. What should I pack in an emergency supply kit? An emergency supply kit or bug-out bag equips you with survival essentials that keep you alive and even allow you to thrive in perilous situations. Emergency supply essentials include: Food and water First aid kit and face masks Legal documents such as deeds, mortgage statements, bank statements, insurance policies, birth certificates, and passports Prescription medicines Cash and credit cards Flashlight and batteries Cell phones and portable power chargers Basic toiletries Weather-appropriate shoes and clothing Small photos or other keepsakes you absolutely cannot replace or live without An emergency supply kit should be easy to transport. If something is too heavy to lift and impractical to travel with when things are fine, it won’t do you much good when times get tough. Backpacks work well for most items. If you have the option of traveling by vehicle, consider storing longer-term food and water in a wheelable suitcase or tub that can be moved with a dolly. Dr. Steven W. Swann, a seasoned trauma surgeon and medical director for North American Rescue's Audio Bleeding Control Kit, provides insight regarding hurricane-specific first aid kits. “Winds can turn everyday objects into sharp projectiles and polluted flood water can be filled with broken glass, making large bleeding wounds a real possibility,” Dr. Swann explains. Therefore, he recommends including large bandages and dressings, gloves, and scissors strong enough to cut through jeans. How do I prepare myself and my family emotionally before and during an evacuation? Of course, no one can be 100 percent prepared for an emergency, and it can be impossible to predict how we will respond emotionally in certain situations, even if we have all of our ducks in a row when it comes to emergency transportation, communication, and packing. However, there are methods to alleviate the stress of evacuation. Mental health expert writer and former psychotherapist Emily Mendez of On The Wagon describes potential mental struggles in the midst of an emergency. “You may experience anxiety because there is a lot of uncertainty about what will happen. You might wonder about what will happen to your home and worry about your loved ones and their safety.” Mendez says that having a solid plan can reduce anxiety, even if that plan needs to be changed. “Find out what kind of help is available during a disaster and what you need to get assistance,” she suggests. “It is also helpful to remain hopeful that things will turn out okay. Trust in your ability to get through whatever the storm [or other disaster] throws your way.” Author and retired school superintendent Lois McGuire provides five recommendations from her blog regarding preparing children emotionally for emergency situations: Be informed. Discuss age-appropriate information, explain what might happen, and read books about the subject if possible. Be prepared. Create and discuss your family emergency plans with your child. McGuire explains that giving your child a specific task to complete “will emphasize the importance of working together as a team in order to accomplish a goal and will give them some sense of control.” Provide calm support. Acknowledge your children’s feelings and explain that it’s normal to be anxious when you don’t know what the future holds. Get back to normal. As much as possible, do your best to return to regular routines when the storm has passed, realizing that the new normal might still be quite different than life before the disaster. Set realistic goals and timelines for rebuilding your new life as a family. Assist those in need. McGuire reminds parents that there will always be others who have had major losses due to natural disasters and it can actually help your family when you find ways your family can serve others.
Survival accounts throughout history demonstrate that in a true emergency most individuals are willing to consume any food available, whether that’s unfiltered stream water, slugs, or leather. Vegans, people who don’t eat or use animal products of any kind, are no exception. But if you’re a vegan prepper, it makes sense to incorporate food storage that fits with your ideal health and moral lifestyle. Whether or not you end up facing dire straits, you can rotate your food storage inventory in regular meals or on a camping trip. Here are ten delicious, nutritious, vegan-friendly foods to consider storing. If you prep for emergencies with your nutritional needs and taste preferences in mind, you’ll be ahead of the game when the unexpected happens — and if it never does, your food won’t go to waste because you’ll want to eat it anyway! 1. Quinoa This hearty, nutty grain can keep for up to eight years if stored in a cool, dry place in a proper container with oxygen absorbers. Quinoa contains essential amino acids found in meat and sometimes lacking in a vegetarian or vegan diet. Plus, it takes only 15-20 minutes to cook. For an easy meal, cook quinoa in vegetable stock, then add some salt, pepper, olive oil, and tomatoes from your garden. 2. Oats Oats are extremely versatile. They can be ground into flour or made into milk. Whole raw oat groats can be grown as sprouts for homesteading purposes. Plus, oats are cheap and can keep for up to 30 years if packed and stored well. Nutritionally speaking, steel-cut oats are high in fiber, protein, and vitamins. To incorporate oats into your daily meals, cook them on your stove and throw in some freeze-dried blueberries and honey. 3. Nut butter Nuts and seeds contain essential protein and fat and nut butters like peanut butter, almond, butter, and cashew butter are delicious sources. Nut butters generally stay good in your pantry for 6-9 months but it depends on the brand. You can also buy nut butters in individual packets, which are perfect for emergency packs or on-the-go snacks. It tastes best on something, so keep ingredients to make bread or store crackers to snack along with it. 4. Lentils Among the oldest of crops grown, lentils are legumes that are rich in iron, folate, and Vitamin B6. Though taste quality and nutritional value decrease after a couple of years, legumes can be safe to eat after a decade of proper storage. Lentils add flavor and texture to soups and salads, can be eaten plain with olive oil and spices, or be made into veggie burgers. 5. Coconut Dried young coconut is high in fiber, carbohydrates, and sugar (all-natural coconut sugar). It lasts about one year unopened, so its shelf life is not as robust as that of dehydrated or freeze-dried products. However, this is a fruit snack that probably won’t last that long in your pantry anyway because it tastes so good — especially if you buy the Philippine brand! 6. Pineapple Pineapple is a rich source of fiber, vitamins, enzymes, and antioxidants. This tropical fruit is bright in color and in flavor and is surprisingly good freeze-dried. The freeze-dried pineapple chunks sold by Augason Farms has a shelf life of 25 years. You can eat chunks plain as a snack, include in a trail mix, or add to smoothies, cereals, desserts, and salads. 7. Bell peppers We’ve got to include vegetables somewhere on the list, right? Even your veggie-avoidant friends can enjoy freeze-dried green bell peppers in salsa, casseroles, or bean dips. Emergency Essentials’ freeze-dried green bell peppers retain Vitamin C and the peppers’ bright color, flavor, and texture and stay good for 25 years. 8. Potato flakes One of the most convenient food storage products available, dried potato flakes can transform into an instant side dish of mashed potatoes by rehydrating with boiling water for 30 seconds. Potato flakes work well for long-term storage (10-15 year shelf life) but also for a vegan Thanksgiving dish. You can even use the flakes in some bread recipes. 9. Rice milk In unopened, non-refrigerated packaging, this easily-digestible, dairy alternative made from brown rice generally keeps for one year. While it is more expensive than soy or rice milk powders, rice milk is ready to drink, not requiring additional water. Plus, you can buy it in lunchbox-size packaging to easily take on-the-go. 10. Oriental ramen Our list wouldn’t be complete without the ultimate convenience food for preppers and non-preppers alike: ramen noodles. This grain is cheap, flavor-packed, and non-perishable! Just make sure to get the oriental flavor, as the seasoning packets in the chicken and beef flavors are not vegan.
In part 1 of our series on preparing for a hurricane and flooding, our panel of experts emphasized the importance of flood insurance. In part 2, home services professionals — including a number of franchise owners within the Neighborly network — weigh in on minimizing damage in various parts of the home. Windows Windows should be inspected for cracks long before hurricane season, so they can be repaired or replaced, according to John and Emily Anne Thomason, franchise owners of Glass Doctor in Melbourne, Florida. “Windows throughout your home may have tiny cracks that could potentially turn hazardous once a storm hits,” they caution. Is there an easy way to protect windows? The Thomasons explain that a common misconception is that tape prevents glass from shattering. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t. Instead, use plywood, shutters, hurricane film, or, better yet, hurricane impact glass. If you plan to board up windows with plywood prior to a hurricane, purchase supplies well in advance. Once a hurricane warning is issued, it can be difficult or even impossible to find sought-after plywood in your area. Don’t procrastinate cutting the plywood to fit your windows. If you wait too long, you might realize you don’t have enough plywood to cover all of your windows, and you want to keep a little extra in the house during the storm if needed.When placing the plywood, do not screw the plywood into the window frame because it is hard to determine just how far the glass is inside the frame. “If the nail is screwed in too tightly, it will shatter the glass,” the Thomasons warn. Instead, set the plywood into place with carbon steel clips. “Simply cover the window with plywood, and then clip the plywood into the window casing,” they explain. If, despite plywood coverings, window glass breaks during the hurricane, avoid the room where the window is broken and utilize extra plywood to cover up holes until windows can be repaired. Plumbing Don Glovan of Mr. Rooter Plumbing recommends three tips for getting your plumbing system ready for storm-related floods: If you have a basement or crawl space sump pump, check to see if it is operating automatically and clean debris from around the intake/suction area of the pump. “Debris can decrease the amount of water the pump can remove or it can clog the pump, causing damage or a burnout,” Glovan explains. He also recommends homeowners consider a battery-backup system. Find your main shut-off valve. Then, make sure it works and know how to use it. During an emergency, turning off your water can prevent damage from leaks. Check for signs of stress in your foundation and patch any visible blemishes. According to Glovan, cracks in the foundation of the home “could be the root cause of potential flooding or plumbing issues” even if they are not visible. Finally, during a storm, keep an eye on the lowest plumbing fixture in the house, as that is where back up can occur. If you’re concerned about this, you can have a backwater check valve installed if your house sewer is for sanitary use only. Backwater valves prevent water from flowing backward and prevent sewer backup from the public drainage system from entering your home. Yard and home exterior Outside, the best place to start is securing items that could become a hazard in high winds. J.B. Sassano, president of Mr. Handyman, recommends storing any items that are not tied down inside a garage, including patio furniture and garbage cans. Jack White, vice president of technical services at Rainbow International, agrees that you can “prevent items from flying off to Oz,” including your roof, garage, and fuel tanks, by securing those things with roof clips, garage door braces, and fuel tank anchors. Sassano says to “keep trees and shrubs trimmed to increase their wind resistance,” a suggestion echoed by White, who adds, “Trim back any branches touching your home, because if they rub your roof, they could pull parts of it off in a storm.” White also suggests homeowners consider re-grading around trees to strengthen the ground and give roots something to cling to. Prior to a storm, it’s a good idea to clean out your gutters so they don’t get clogged and potentially damage your roof and cause flooding inside. Jeff Dudan, founder and CEO of AdvantaClean, recommends adding a longer downspout extension on your gutters to divert water farther away from your home. Flooring and interior When properly used, sandbags, towels, and other barriers can be effective against flooding. Dudan shares the following tips for keeping your surfaces as dry as they can be during a storm: Don’t overfill sandbags, as they will not lay flat if filled too much. And if they’re underfilled, they’ll leave gaps that allow water to seep through. Opt for filling bags ⅔ of the way. “Don’t put sandbags directly on top of each other,” Dudan says. “You need to lay them on the tied opening of the sandbag next to it and underneath it to build a proper wall to stop water.” To cover doors, duct tape a plastic tarp to the door first, then lay down sandbags at the door’s opening. Place towels on the windows and buckets on the floor before rain starts, and be vigilant about changing the towels and buckets several times as necessary. Dudan cautions, “Remove wet towels and buckets or you risk mold growth, which can start 24 hours after the rain hits.” Put pie plates or aluminum foil underneath furniture legs to prevent staining. Electrical and HVAC systems While most of the preparations discussed thus far are DIY-friendly, when it comes to protecting your home’s electrical system, it’s safest to hire a licensed professional. Mark Farmer, owner of Mr. Electric of Paola and Overland Park, Kansas, explains that surge protectors “are key to offering sensitive electronics protection in the event of power surges or spikes that often occur during tropical storms.” They prevent damage to components within all of your expensive appliances. He describes three types of surge protectors: Whole house protection between street power lines and your home Whole house protection between the meter and the breaker box Point-of-use protection at wall outlets in your home HVAC franchise owner Brian Anderson of Air Serv in Seminole, Florida advises homeowners to install surge protectors on heating and air conditioning systems specifically, as electricity surges can damage HVAC components like electronic control boards, motors, and compressors. He also recommends the following precautions: Keep your HVAC condenser, which releases or collects heat, elevated above the base flood elevation to minimize water damage. Have your air conditioner checked after an event to mitigate potential mold and mildew damage from excessive humidity. Invest in a rainguard, a protective cover that works in conjunction with HVAC systems to offer the proper amount of air circulation with air vents. Anderson warns against DIY coverings like boards, plastic wrap, and garbage bags, which “create a hostile operational environment, allowing moisture and condensation to build up and become trapped inside the system, where it can corrode and rust metal components, rot wire and rubber, and offer an attractive home for insects and critters.” In part 3 of this series on preparing for a hurricane and flooding, we’ll cover how to prepare yourself and your family for an evacuation.
In the wake of Hurricanes Florence and Michael, coastal-dwelling individuals and families have a grim awareness of a flood’s potential for danger and damage. Meanwhile, other regions across the United States have experienced increased rainfall because of the hurricanes. News and images of hurricane damage have been sobering. Even people in regions not usually prone to flooding now realize that flooding can threaten nearly any area under certain conditions. How can we prepare ourselves, our families, and our homes for this risk? We’ve asked a host of experts from fields such as medicine, risk management, and home services for their top flood-specific preparation tips. In this first part of our flood preparation series, we’ll tackle the topic of flood insurance: why people don’t buy it, why they should, and other expert considerations. Why don’t people buy flood insurance? It can seem like an obvious precaution to take, but there are reasons why homeowners don’t buy it — some understandable, some based in misconceptions. In July 2018, the Private Risk Management Association (PRMA) conducted a flood survey amongst 130 brokers regarding their clients’ reasoning for not purchasing flood insurance.Lisa Lindsay, executive director of the organization, explains that the results of the survey revealed three main reasons why people don’t buy flood insurance. 1. It’s too expensive Of the surveyed brokers, 45 percent said cost was the primary reason clients do not purchase excess flood insurance. According to Lindsay, many homeowners think that if their banks don’t require it, they don’t need it and will not be responsible for damage if flooding were to occur. But this is simply not true. Banks do not predict the weather, so “homeowners must avoid putting stock in information from organizations that cannot accurately determine their risk.” Flood insurance costs vary depending on flood risk, building occupancy, year of building construction, and other factors, but the average policy costs about $700 per year. 2. It’s not going to happen to me Lindsay’s study revealed that many homeowners — 29 percent in her survey — have a mindset that “It’s just not going to happen to me.” “This belief is prevalent,” she says, “despite widespread flooding that has occurred in recent years in areas that have never flooded before.” To combat the common myth that flooding only happens in coastal regions, homeowners should consider how flash flooding or even basement flooding from a busted pipe would impact their properties — regardless of their perceived likelihood of those things happening. Unfortunately, FEMA flood maps are not an infallible guide. 3. Lack of education and understanding The survey also revealed that 26 percent of brokers said homeowners lack the education and understanding to purchase flood insurance. Lindsay explained that homeowners often incorrectly assume that flood insurance is covered under a standard homeowners insurance policy. In reality, no type of flood damage is covered by standard policies, but if homeowners haven’t thoroughly read through the terms of their policies, they often don’t realize it until the damage is done. 4. They want to but don’t consider it until it’s too late PRMA’s survey results help explain, in general, why many people choose not to purchase flood insurance. But what about the people in especially flood-prone regions who know a hurricane is approaching? Why don’t they hurry and get the coverage they need before disaster strikes? Stacey A. Guilianti, Esq. Chief legal officer of Florida Peninsula Insurance, explains that flood policies have a 30-day waiting period, so if you don’t buy flood insurance in advance, you’ll miss out. “There is no excuse for waiting until a storm is bearing down on your region to call your agent or carrier. Buy the insurance early,” he advises. What do I need to know before buying flood insurance? The cost is worth the peace of mind Experts agree that people should not wait for threatening weather reports to invest in flood insurance.Vince Lefton, CEO of Bulldog Adjusters, says that during and after Hurricane Florence, the hardest-hit areas in North Carolina were not prepared insurance-wise. In fact, according to an analysis cited in the Washington Post, only about 1 in 10 homes in the counties hit by Florence had flood insurance. Lefton suggests that we learn from this situation when deciding whether or not a flood policy is worth the cost: “You may have to pay more in insurance, but at least you're going to be prepared in case the worst storm of the decade hits, causing a lot more damage than the price of your policy premium increase.” Not all flood policies are the same The National Flood Insurance Program, run by FEMA, provides a relatively affordable option for homeowners looking into flood insurance and is a good resource with which to start. Additionally, many private insurance agencies offer stand-alone flood insurance policies or endorsements that include flood coverage. Just keep in mind that even flood-specific policies can vary in their robustness. According to PRMA’s Lisa Lindsay, some essential coverage items “are excluded or limited in a NFIP policy.” A good flood policy adequately covers the following: All items in a finished basement Additional living expenses while damage is repaired Replacement costs for damaged property Giulanti recommends homeowners purchase a policy that includes coverage for sufficient funds to completely rebuild the house, not just the home’s current market value. Ok, I’ll get flood insurance. My work is done now, right? Not quite. After a flood wreaks havoc in a neighborhood, the hard work of rebuilding begins, such as that done by Rainbow International. Rainbow International is a restoration services company that removes standing water, moisture, mold, and other water damage in the aftermath of natural disasters and burst pipes. The company’s vice president of technical services, Jack White, recommends every homeowner check his or her homeowners policy and purchase flood insurance to ensure adequate protection. However, White also recommends a number of checklist tasks to implement that will minimize the rebuilding necessary (regardless of your flood insurance coverage) after a hurricane, such as securing window shutters to protect glass, trimming trees and shrubbery, and clearing outside clutter like patio furniture. In part 2 of our flood preparation series, we’ll explore further precautions that homeowners can take to prepare their homes for flood-related emergencies.