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What disasters can homeowners and renters prepare for?

If you have lived in the same area for a while, you probably know which natural disasters are possible and which are unlikely. If you are new to the area, you should learn about local weather patterns, geographic hazards, and possible risks associated with them. Natural disasters include, but are not limited to:

  • Floods.
  • Blizzards.
  • Severe thunderstorms and tornadoes.
  • Tropical storms and hurricanes.
  • Heatwaves.
  • Extreme cold.
  • Wildfires.
  • Sinkholes.
  • Earthquakes.
  • Volcanoes.

Some of these disasters, such as heatwaves, wildfires, and extreme cold, can affect many regions of the country at certain times of year. Texas may freeze in the winter, California may experience wildfires in the fall, and Alaska may get a heatwave in the summer.

Other disasters are geographically limited. If you live in Miami, hurricanes and tropical storms are possible and likely, but not volcanic eruptions. New Orleans residents may want to prepare for flooding, but probably not earthquakes. Residents of Hawaii do not have to worry about blizzards, but volcanic eruptions could be an issue on some islands.

Non-natural disasters can also happen nearly anywhere. These might include damage from a pipeline explosion, structure fire, or other incidents caused by human error or structural wear and tear.

What emergency supplies can homeowners and renters have on hand?

Disruptions to utility services, including electricity and water, are common in many disasters. While the supplies to have on hand may vary depending on the type of disaster, some basic items are good to have for almost any emergency situation. Helpful items include:

  • A three-day supply of water, with one gallon per day for each person.
  • A three-day supply of nonperishable food.
  • Food and water for pets.
  • A battery-powered weather radio.
  • Face masks.
  • A flashlight or two.
  • Extra batteries.
  • A first aid kit.
  • Blankets.
  • A cell phone charger.
  • Several days of prescription medications.
  • A multi-purpose tool.

These items can be useful whether you shelter in place or evacuate to a safe location. For sheltering in place, it may be helpful to make sure that you have a strong portable electric fan as well as a portable electric heater. It can also be helpful to always keep your car's gas tank at least half-full to help you cover more distance in an emergency or if you need to evacuate.

What is essential in a household emergency plan?

Developing a household emergency plan is always a good idea, especially for households with children or multiple people living together. The details of an emergency plan for your household  depends on the disaster you think you may encounter. Here are some must-haves for most households:

  • Escape routes out of the house and a designated meet-up location.
  • Evacuation routes for leaving the area.
  • Emergency contacts, including your pet's veterinarian.
  • A checklist of appliances and utilities to turn off before leaving, including gas, electricity, and water. Include the locations of shut-off valves and provide clear instructions on how to handle them.

It is also important to make sure that everyone in your household is aware of the plan. In larger households, it may even be a good idea to type up and post the plan on the back of the front door or in another obvious location. A household meeting to go over the plan can also be a good way to make sure everyone is on the same page.

What disasters are covered in my homeowner's insurance?

Homeowner's and renter's insurance coverage varies from policy to policy and can provide good financial protection in case of disasters. Generally, these insurance policies cover damage caused by:

  • Systems within the house, such as burst pipes.
  • Vandalism or theft.
  • Fire or smoke.
  • Natural events, such as wind or hail.

Depending on where you are located, most home insurance policies do not cover flood or earthquake damage. Supplemental coverage, however, is usually available for people who live in flood- or earthquake-prone areas.

Completing a Home Inventory Worksheet can help you identify everything in the home that needs coverage. Doing so can help maximize the benefit of your homeowner's or renter's insurance policy should you need it.

What federal disaster assistance is available to me?

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) handles disaster assistance nationwide. After a disaster, you may be able to file a claim directly with FEMA. States may also have their own disaster relief programs. FEMA's Individuals and Households Program (IHP) provides assistance to people in federally declared disaster areas, including:

  • Temporary housing.
  • Home repairs.
  • Other expenses or needs caused by the disaster.

You can qualify for FEMA assistance even if you have homeowner's insurance coverage, but benefits from IHP and other programs cannot duplicate any insurance benefits that you may receive. Government benefits can only cover under- or uninsured costs.

To learn more about what you can do to prepare your home, or legal affairs, for a disaster, reach out to a Rocket Lawyer network attorney.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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