Disaster planning begins before you even choose your home, with a simple investigation of the risks that you will face. Is the house in a flood zone? Is there a history of hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes? Then, once you're settled, you steadily build up resources, secure what's important to you, and turn your home into a survivable system. And when disaster hits, you'll be prepared.
FILL UP EVERY BASIN
FEMA suggests you store at least 1 gallon per person per day in the event of an emergency—28 gallons per week for a family of four. But that wasn't nearly enough for Conway Yee's family in Weston, Conn., after Sandy knocked out power lines and disrupted his well-water supply for a week. To keep hydrated and clean, "we went through 20 gallons a day" for drinking and washing, he says. They ended up driving to the local high school to refill their supply.
"If a storm is approaching, I suggest you fill up every tub, sink, and water bottle in the house," says survival instructor and star of TV's Dual Survival Cody Lundin. A standard bathtub holds 109 gallons. Stuck with a stand-up shower? You can purchase 55—gallon plastic drums online for $70 and up.
SAVE YOUR BYTES
The best way to protect your data from a natural disaster is to back it up to a remote location. Mozy, one of several online backup solutions, will store 125 GB for $120 per year. ( and give away a few gigabytes of storage for free.) If you'd rather store your data with someone you trust, buy two 2 TB network-attached storage (NAS) drives (about $200 each) and split them both into two equal partitions. Give one drive to a relative who lives in another state, and then have the drives back up to each other over the Internet using rsync software. Both you and your relative will get local backup and a mirrored remote backup.
HOW TO STOCK YOUR DISASTER PANTRY
BE FUEL SMART
Storing large amounts of gasoline to run your car and generator is dangerous and expensive. The gasoline must be treated with fuel stabilizer or used and replenished every few months. Instead, store 6 to 10 empty 5-gallon cans and fill them at the gas station in the days before a storm. And don't forget propane for your outdoor grill. When utilities go down, the barbecue becomes your most reliable cooking tool.
BEYOND FIRST AID
A basic first-aid kit may not be enough to get you through the worst of a disaster. It's a good start—you do want bandages, gauze pads, aspirin, hydrocortisone, antiseptic wipes, etc.—but unexpected emergencies demand unconventional remedies. We asked Mykel Hawke, former Green Beret medic and host of Elite Tactical Unit on the Outdoor Channel, what he would add. His list:
· DUCT TAPE—Great for wound closure, splints, and casts.
· SUPERGLUE—Excellent for small, deep wounds. Use tape to hold while drying.
· TAMPONS—An unexpected tool for stanching heavy bleeding.
· NEEDLE-NOSE PLIERS—Use for removing large splinters or nails.
HOW TO READ A FEMA MAP
Search for your address at . If your house is in a blue shaded area, you're in a 100-year-flood zone, which means there's a 1 percent chance of a flood of 1 foot or higher affecting your property in any given year. The gray shaded zone puts you in the 500-year-flood risk category. Do you think FEMA got it wrong with your house? Check the base flood elevation on the map, then see if your house sits above that height.
SAFE DEPOSIT DOCS
Keep copies of your insurance papers, household deed, and birth and marriage certificates in a safety deposit box. Also include a home video documenting your house. If your house gets destroyed, those documents are vital for reconstructing what you've lost.
B. Within 72 hours, a storm can evolve from remote possibility to life-altering event. Most disasters give a bit of lead time—with a tornado, that's just long enough to get to the basement; with a hurricane, there's often enough warning for the unprepared to empty a whole region's supermarket shelves. But whether you've got minutes or days, use the time wisely. Focus on getting your family to a safe place and preparing for the cleanup.
CHARGE 'EM UP
Before the power goes down, plug in every rechargeable device you own and top off the batteries. After the lights go out, a simple DIY recharging station can replenish your laptops, cellphones, tablets, and power tools for days. Here's how it works:
Before the storm, use a battery charger (1), such as DieHard's microprocessor-controlled model ($80), to charge up a gel-cell deep-cycle battery (2), such as the Optima BlueTop ($210). After the local grid goes dark, unhook the battery and attach an inverter (3), such as the Cobra 400-watt power inverter ($55). Now sit back and enjoy some homemade juice.
Go through the yard and tie down or bring inside anything that might go flying in high wind. That includes lawn furniture, wheelbarrows, garden tools, potted plants, and any construction materials.
In the days before Tropical Storm Irene, in 2011, PM editor Glenn Derene knew the storm was headed for his house on the Connecticut coast. He went to his computer and joined Amazon Prime. The $80-per-year service offers free two-day delivery on everything from generators to water to batteries. "A package full of goods arrived on my doorstep the morning before the storm," he says. "I spent my time preparing my home, not driving from store to store."
6 TIPS FOR DEALING WITH DISASTER
Riding out a disaster can take a surprisingly long time. Whether you stay at home or evacuate, plan out some activities that will keep kids busy and adults sane. Think board games, books, playing cards, puzzles, and a tablet stocked with video games and movies.
PLAN FOR FIDO
Animals are often afterthoughts in a disaster. According to Jennifer Abbrecht of the Louisiana SPCA, "The worst thing you can do is leave your animal and hope for the best." During Hurricane Katrina, an estimated 80 percent of rescued animals were never reunited with their owners. Include your pets in your disaster plan from the outset, and stock up on extra food and meds. Keep a carrying cage, and pre-scout pet-friendly hotels or campgrounds in case you have to evacuate. Make sure your pets have tags, or get them implanted with a scannable HomeAgain pet microchip (from $45).
GET A POOL PUMP
If your basement regularly takes on water, an installed sump pump is the way to go. But if you don't have one and a storm surge is on the way, consider a gas-powered water pump. A 5.5-hp model can pump 150 gallons per minute out of a flooded basement, and it works when the electricity is out. You can get one for under $250, or better yet, split the cost with your neighbors, since they'll probably be affected by the surge too. But don't pump out any basement unless you're sure the power's off, and there's no sewage contamination.
BE LOCATION SAVVY
"It's really important to be geographically aware of where you live," says Greg Carbin, the warning-coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service. Warnings for tornadoes and severe storms with hail are often geographically precise. So it's really useful to know what part of town you're in (northwest, city center) and your proximity to certain landmarks (town hall, a nearby pond, etc.). It will help you understand if a storm is headed your way.
C. Two months. That's how long it took to get the power back on at the home of Jayne and Tom Lee in Breezy Point, N.Y., after Hurricane Sandy last fall. The Lees are one of 37 families who were able to return to the neighborhood—more than 2000 families remained displaced months later. For victims of a disaster, the return to normalcy can take a frustratingly long time after the rest of the world moves on. While you are still settling with the insurance company, protecting your property, and rebuilding your home, your responsibilities to your job, family, and friends don't go away. Welcome to the survival long game.
"The sense of community that comes out after a storm is incredible," says John Foberg, an HVAC engineer whose Hoboken, N.J., home was flooded after Sandy. Foberg's neighbors loaned him cleanup equipment, and he gave back by turning his deck into a community barbecue spot.
SAY SO LONG TO YOUR CAR
If flooding reached over the floorboards of your vehicle, your insurer will consider it a total loss. The adjuster will quote you standard Blue Book value on the car, but double-check that number based on your area—and factor in any equipment you've installed.
WHAT GOES IN YOUR DISASTER TOOL KIT
DEALING WITH DEBRIS
All manner of wet, slippery, splintery junk will need to get shoveled, raked, and dragged to the curb. Wear protective gloves, boots, and long pants. Check with your town to see if there is a public debris-removal program. If not, check with your insurer to see if your policy pays for a Dumpster.