11/2/2012 3:15 PM ET|
7 lessons from superstorm Sandy
Mother Nature has recently shown how powerful and devastating she can be. Here’s how to empower yourself before and after a storm.
One of the worst storms in U.S. history ended lives and devastated property across the East Coast this week after wrecking similar havoc in the Bahamas and the Caribbean. People will be cleaning up for months, but a few lessons from the superstorm have already become clear.
Your stuff is not worth your life
Several people who ignored evacuation orders and who later had to be rescued told reporters they stayed to protect their property.
Hello? Nobody wants their stuff carried off by looters, but public safety officials don't issue mandatory evacuation orders lightly. What such an order says is that your life is at risk. Maybe you'll get lucky, and the hurricane or wildfire or whatever will miss your home. Or maybe you've just made the stupidest (and last) decision you'll ever make.
What you should do, according to the Insurance Information Institute and emergency officials, is plan your evacuation in advance. Figure out where you'd go if you had to leave your home (a friend's house, hotel or shelter), and map out more than one route to get there. Keep a few backups in mind if you can't get to your original destination. Select an out-of-town friend or relative as a contact person your family can reach if you become separated.
Have a ready bag
Stuff a backpack or duffel with basic emergency supplies that you can grab on the way out the door. Make sure the bag is big enough to throw in a few extras if you have time, such as your laptop or hard drive.
Basic supplies include:
- Bottled water.
- Nonperishable food (such as energy bars).
- Portable radio.
- Emergency blanket.
- Hygiene items.
- A first aid kit.
If you have a baby, diapers and food or formula should be included. If you have pets, you need a ready bag for them, too, including pet food, any medications and a crate or other method to transport them.
A change of clothes and a sleeping bag or blanket may come in handy as well. If you don't already have a backup battery for your cellphone, it might be time to get one. Something else that can come in handy: cash. Your access to ATMs may go out with the power, so keeping some green on hand is smart.
Prepare to be on your own
If you stay put, you need to have supplies to take care of yourself and your family for at least 72 hours (a two-week supply is even more prudent). Think through how you would feed, warm and entertain yourself if the power went out for a week or more.
You don't need to stock up on freeze-dried rations. Just buy extras of the groceries you already eat that have a fairly long shelf life, and replace what you use as you go along. Have some backups for perishable items: powdered milk, for example, along with canned fruits and vegetables.
In addition to food, water and medicine, you should stock gear that will allow you to get along without electricity: manual can openers; flashlights and lanterns, plus plenty of fresh batteries; games and art supplies to keep kids busy; a camp stove and fuel if you have somewhere to cook outside. Some people invest in a portable generator, which can cost from $200 to more than $2,000, but you can't use these gas-powered units in an enclosed area -- you must have an outdoor space, or you'll kill your family with carbon monoxide poisoning.
You're not just preparing for your own comfort. You're also helping to ensure you won't be unnecessarily clogging emergency lines as first responders try to do their jobs. The New York City mayor's office tweeted that its 911 system was receiving 10,000 calls an hour Monday night and begged people to use the number only for life-threatening emergencies.
Here's another thought: Get to know your neighbors. They may be able to offer help when official sources are tied up, and you could save a life by checking in on older or disabled folks.
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Homeowners insurance can leave you exposed
Homeowners filed lawsuits after Hurricane Katrina, arguing that their windstorm coverage should pay for damage from storm surges and related flooding. Few got anywhere with these arguments. For decades now, homeowners insurance policies have specifically excluded flood damage. If you want coverage, you need to buy it through the National Flood Insurance Program. There's a 30-day waiting period.
Even flood insurance doesn't cover everything. Damage to basements isn't included, and coverage is limited to $250,000 for the structure of the home and $100,000 for personal possessions. Coverage for possessions is cash-value only, so you get a check for the depreciated value of your stuff, not what it would cost to replace it.
Hurricane coverage also works differently from standard homeowners insurance.
There's usually a "hurricane deductible" equal to a percentage of your total coverage. In other words, instead of paying a flat deductible of $500 or $1,000, you're required to pay a deductible equal to 1% to 5% of the home's insured value. For a house insured for $200,000, that could be as much as $10,000. (Here's where it can pay to have an emergency fund or at least access to low-cost credit.)
Another big problem: Many homeowners discover too late that they're underinsured, often because the value of their coverage hasn't kept up with the cost of rebuilding their homes and replacing their stuff. At least every few years, you should ask your insurance company to review your coverage to see if it's adequate. Another method, if you don't trust your insurer, is to ask a local contractor how much it would likely cost to rebuild your house, and compare that with your policy limits.
By the way, if you're a renter, your landlord's insurance covers the building -- not your stuff. You need a renters insurance policy if you don't want to get wiped out.
Build a strong case for your claim
Past experience has taught us that insurers face trying to process billions of dollars in claims when a disaster strikes. Pressure will be on to settle claims quickly. But you shouldn't accept a lowball offer just to get it over with.
Here's what you need to do:
• Document any damage with photos or video before you start cleaning up. (This assumes you're not dealing with life-threatening emergencies; again, life comes before stuff.)
• Make a list of what's lost or damaged and the approximate dollar value. Keep track of any expenses you incur to prevent further damage, such as boards to cover broken windows, temporary roof fixes or a moving van to transport your possessions to a safer location, since you can get reimbursed as part of your claim.
• Call your insurer or check to see if you can start your claim online. Make sure you find out exactly what you need to file a claim; if you're not clear, ask the insurer. Don't delay starting this process, since insurers generally take a first-come, first–served approach to settling claims.
• If you don't feel the amount offered by your insurer is fair, ask for a better payout. "Think of your insurance claim as a business negotiation -- you're dealing with a for-profit company," advises United Policyholders, an advocacy group for the insured that was born out of the devastating 1991 Oakland Hills fires in California.
The United Policyholders site offers tips and resources to help people navigate the claims process on their own. But if you run into trouble with your insurer or a large amount of money is at stake, you may need to hire professional help, such as a public adjuster, an attorney or a construction estimator. Another resource may be your state department of insurance, which regulates insurers.
You own what you can prove you own
The people with the best shot at getting their lives restored with minimal financial damage are those who have good coverage -- and good records.
You can't count on your memory, said United Policyholders President Amy Bach. Most people can remember only a fraction of what they own, even after the shock of the catastrophe has worn off.
The Insurance Information Institute has software and an app to help you create a home inventory. At the very least, you should walk around your home and take photographs or videos ofyour stuff. Scan receipts of big purchases and home improvements so you can prove what you paid.
All this information needs to be stored somewhere safe -- and that's not in your home.
The cloud is your friend
As I write this, I'm scanning the latest version of our insurance policies (thank you, Fujitsu ScanSnap, for making this process almost painless). I'll save the scans to Dropbox so I can access the file anywhere I have an Internet connection. My Dropbox account also has scans of our insurance appraisals, home inventory, receipts and financial contact information.
This disaster that devastates your house also can destroy your computer and your records. You might keep a copy of your records in a safe deposit box, but the disaster could take out the bank, too. That's why I prefer the cloud.
Wherever you store your information, you'll be smart to have an overview of your financial life handy so you can pick up the pieces after a disaster. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has an Emergency Financial First Aid Kit on its site. You may never need it, but a few hours spent getting ready can pay off in a much quicker recovery.
Liz Weston is the Web's most-read personal-finance writer. She is the author of several books, most recently "The 10 Commandments of Money: Survive and Thrive in the New Economy" (find it on Bing). Weston's award-winning columns appear every Monday and Thursday, exclusively on MSN Money. Join the conversation and send in your financial questions on Liz Weston's Facebook fan page.
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I see that you went and did "research" on some very basic websites and don't actually know what you are talking about. What you need to have ready depends very much on what sort of disaster is likely to hit. If it's a tornado, and it hits your house, you may as well kiss any stockpiles goodbye. The same thing is true of an earthquake--your "ready bag" may be piled under hundreds of pounds of rubble.
While your list isn't a bad list, it isn't disaster-specific. A person getting ready for a hurricane should assume that the two most likely things to go out are power and water. One should scrub one's bathtub (if one has one) to pristine levels and fill it with water--one can use this for basic bathing and flushing the toilet (if one is lucky enough to still have sewer). One should fill every available large, food-safe container with water for drinking (or buy a barrel or one of those bags one can fill with water). One needs to stockpile not food that will "keep" but food that one can eat without any cooking. Energy bars, snack food, and jerky or canned meat one can eat from the can are all good options. Remember that if you have several days to prepare but the stores are empty, that Amazon delivers food. As long as UPS is still running, you can get yourself some big boxes of food. One should have batteries and a solar charger for the batteries and especially for one's cell phone.
If the hurricane is coming right at a person, and the person has week to prepare (and isn't being told to evacuate) eating all the perishables is a great option. Don't buy any more perishables. Put all irreplaceable mementos into ziploc bags and then into a watertight container and store it at least 6 inches above the floor. Get a camp stove that runs on propane, if it is possible to use it. Put some clothing into plastic bags and then into a watertight container.
If you are being told to evacuate and you have time, drain the water from the house and turn off the water, put everything as high as you can get it off the floor, turn off the electricity, rent a U-haul and take what you can (assuming it's going to be all you have left), and board the place up. If you don't have time to prepare, walk away. Walk away quickly--you'll be sure to read later about dumb people who stayed with the home, went down to check on their basements, and are now dead. Remember that this could have been you and feel glad that you have the clothes on your back and your life.
But, yeah--disaster preparations are very disaster-specific. A tub full of water and a bunch of Rubbermaid containers full of water would have been really easy for those people in housing projects to get BEFORE the storm. A bag with a flashlight and the other things you mention would help, but not as much as a solar-charger for one's phone and a lot of extra water.
Oh, and a laminated list of important contacts as well as your name and medical information is a good thing to hang around your neck and the necks of all your children--with a strong string that isn't big enough to slip over your head. If you are dumb enough to stay behind after an evacuation order, it will really help with body recovery.
And, if that isn't enough to get people to obey evacuation orders, I don't know what is.
Hurricanes disrupt electric and water and the supply chain. During the year start purchasing supplies that will get you through the days with out electric and water and common supplies.
It's not rocket science.. provide for your own well being and stop thinking that the government should be at your front door 24 hours after a disaster with a silver platter of fuel, bottled water and pampers.
I have given a gadget I bought at LL Bean as gifts to my family; we keep them in our cars and a spare in our homes. It is a small handheld device that can be solar powered or you can manually recharge it using the crank handle. It is a multi-use device. In case of emergency it is a flashlight, an AM/FM/Weather Band radio with an additional port on the back where you can recharge a cell phone. It cost under $25.00.
Apparenty some of you didnt read the whole article. She pretty much summed it up.
First get out of there. Only idiots stay behind that close. Not to mention people get hurt or killed trying to rescue idiot people. Have a plan to go they had plenty of time.
FOFB she was talking specifically about Sandy not everything else. they knew it was coming
so why stick around.
"As per the , the New York City metropolitan area continues to be the most populous in the United States, by both the definition (18.9 million) and the definition (22.1 million);"
I hope those of you who don't live in the NYC metro area realize for this many people you need more than a couple days notice. There are only so many supermarkets, gas stations, etc... supermarkets were cleaned out and the shelves were bare. NYC is heavily populated...VERY heavily populated. There are elderly, disabled, orphanages, animal shelters...etc to evacuate..not to mention low lying areas just on the island of Manhattan alone that had to be evacuated that included 375K people (45K) were public housing. Where are they supposed to go????????? Not too mention the Rockaways and any water front that includes 100's of thousands of residents. Im sure if you gave people a month heads up they would have been prepared to leave. Telling me on Thursday to leave by sunday night along with half a million other people makes me laugh. I would like someone from the Metro area to speak up and let them know how many people you are dealing with. Too many people, too little time.
The best advice from a poster is to always have 3 mos of food supply for every member in the house that doesnt require cooking.
And show some sympathy for those that lost thier house. These are taxpaying citizens. Uprooted and displaced in a matter of hours. Thier whole life is in disarray. Imagine yourself losing your home...stockpiling means sh*t!
In this day and age, there are many who cannot get out. Many are forgotten. Just witness the nursing home disaster in New Orleans or the older who, for mental or other reasons, just don't get it.
With the increase in severity of national disasters government should establish a group of large emergency response centers for the United States. They should stockpile food, water, medical, and emergency supply centers and be prepared to respond within 12 to 24 hours after an emergency. National Guard and Reserve should be tasked for their summer camps to provide a similar response as if they were federally mobilized. Valuable on the ground training as if going into a foreign country to provide peacekeeping efforts.
Severe criminal charges to be levied against those who block or delay efforts of these responders.
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