As the storm season sweeps into Southern Maryland, homeowners should take the time to get ready for a potential tornado, hurricane or severe thunderstorm. While everyone hopes the most severe storms will pass them by, it’s always better to be prepared for the worst rather than caught without a plan.
Typically, a three-pronged approach to storm prep works best, including getting your home ready to withstand a storm, designing a plan for your family’s safety and making sure you know how to reach your insurance company in the aftermath of a storm.
Prepping your home
While homeowners in hurricane-prone areas like Florida and the Gulf Coast often have storm shutters to install and full-blown emergency plans in place, severe thunderstorms and tornadoes can do a lot of damage, too.
Before the next storm, take a tour around the outside of your home and take the following precautions:
- Check that your gutters and downspouts are clear of debris.
- Check your roof and your foundation and make repairs before storm season starts. A tiny crack could become a big problem.
- Trim your trees and shrubs of branches that could break off or hit a window or your car.
- Decide if you need a sump pump as a back-up to get rid of water.
- Check that your backyard grading slopes away from the house.
- Remember to bring outdoor furniture and umbrellas indoors when a storm is coming.
- Consider buying a back-up generator. Even an inexpensive generator can provide some much-needed power to keep your refrigerator going and to power your cell phone.
Do an insurance check-up
Long before a storm hits you should prepare yourself for the aftermath by checking on your homeowner’s insurance policy and deciding whether or not you need flood insurance. Homeowners in New Orleans discovered after Hurricane Katrina that they needed both insurance policies to cover the damage caused by the wind and the water.
You should also look into sewage back-up insurance that pays if your storm water system or sump pump gets overwhelmed by a storm.
Read through your insurance policy and contact your insurance agent if you’re not clear that you have enough coverage in case of a bad storm.
While you’re thinking about your homeowner’s insurance, update your home inventory with any new items you’ve purchased since your last update. Most insurance companies have an inventory checklist online. Taking photos with your cell phone and storing receipts for big ticket items could be a big help if you need to make a claim.
Making a family safety plan
Everyone old enough to memorize a phone number should have a contact number to call in case you are separated during a storm. In addition, prepare your family members and your home with a few items to stay safe and comfortable during a storm.
- Decide on the best place to shelter in a storm such as the basement or an interior room away from windows.
- Stock up on batteries, flashlights, candles and matches.
- Get a battery-operated radio for emergency broadcasts.
- Consider buying a hand-cranked power supply.
- Power up your cell phone and any available cell phone back-up power sources.
- Make sure you have a supply of cash – ATMs won’t work until power is restored
- Have an extra propane tank around so you can use your gas grill to cook
- Have a supply of bottled water on hand in case you can’t drink the water at home
- Your emergency supplies kit should also include non-perishable food, first aid kit, blankets and warm clothes, medication and tools to last at least 5 days. If you have canned items, don’t forget to have an old-fashioned manual can opener available.
- Prep a “go” kit with medicines and a change of clothes in case you need to evacuate.
Power outages are a common occurrence during storms, so make sure you have the emergency number for your utility company easily accessible. Don’t assume they will know your power is out. It’s a good idea to let them know and then request updates so you’ll know when your power will come back.
Keep your homeowner’s insurance company claim number and your policy number in more than one location such as on your cell phone, in a notebook of emergency papers and in an email so you can contact the company easily.
Once you have your plans in place, a summer storm can be a less frightening prospect.
Michele Lerner is a freelance writer with more than twenty years of experience writing articles and web content for newspapers and magazines on topics related to real estate, personal finance and business. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, NewHomeSource.com, Realtor.com, Bankrate.com, Insurance.com, HSH.com, The Washington Times, NAREIT's Real Estate Portfolio, and numerous Realtor association publications. Her latest book, "New Home 101: Your Guide to Buying and Building a New Home" and her first book, "HOMEBUYING: Tough Times, First Time, Any Time" are available now at Amazon.com or from MicheleLerner.com.