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12 disaster-preparation tips

Plan ahead to keep your family, food and possessions safer. These tips will make life after a disaster easier.

By Stacy Johnson Jul 9, 2012 1:58PM

This post comes from Brandon Ballenger at partner site Money Talks News.


Money Talks News on MSN MoneySevere storms struck the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states at the end of June and left millions without power. Next, there came a record-breaking heat wave.  


Image: Lightning (© Warren Faidley/Corbis)I can sympathize. I clearly remember when Hurricane Wilma hit South Florida in 2005 and left millions without power, some for more than two weeks. 


While nobody can tame Mother Nature, there are a lot of precautions we can take to protect our homes, family and possessions from major storms. Here are some ideas from the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, known as FLASH, and generator maker Kohler:

1. Make the most of empty freezer space.

Fill plastic containers with water -- leaving an inch of space at the top -- and then use them to fill any extra space in the freezer. If the power goes out, they'll keep your food cold longer. 


2. Back up and stock up.

Regularly back up your computer's files. Among the many free services are Amazon Cloud Drive, Apple's iCloud, Dropbox, Google Driver and Microsoft SkyDrive. There's nothing stopping you from using more than one if you fill up all your free space. (They make money by charging for extra space and services.)


Turn off electronics when you aren't using them, and you'll save power and know that they're safely shut down.


Stock up on batteries for your electronics, and have a battery-powered radio, flashlight, clock and fan. Consider a power converter for your laptop. "A power converter allows most laptops (12 volts or less) to be operated from the cigarette lighter of a vehicle," FLASH says. Some radios and flashlights are powered by a hand crank.


Remember, when there's no electricity, gasoline won't be available. At the first sign of impending peril, fill up the car and, if you have a generator, gas cans too.


3. Protect against surges and fires.

Remember the difference between a power strip and a surge protector. If the packaging doesn't mention surge protection/suppression, or you can't remember if it did, don't assume the device will protect against surges. explains (.pdf file) how to safely use surge protectors and warns against using any kind of power strip for appliances such as microwaves, fridges, toaster ovens and coffee makers. Replace any surge protectors that are hot to the touch or made before 1998. Also avoid crazy daisy-chaining (.pdf file) or leaving strips hanging by their cord. (Post continues below.)

4. Don't get locked out.

Have an electric garage door opener? Better find out where the manual release lever is and learn how to use it. You may need an extra pair of hands to lift the door. FLASH adds, "If you regularly use the garage as the primary means of entering your home upon return from work, be sure to keep a key to your house with you."


5. Get a corded phone for landlines.

A cordless phone or answering machine won't work if the power is out. Your cellphone may be difficult to charge or have reduced service during and after a major storm. FLASH says you should plan on alternate, traditional communication: "a standard telephone handset, radio or pager."


6. Make a plan.

Kohler suggests devising an emergency plan -- including important phone numbers, an evacuation route and an established meeting place -- in case you lose communication. Make sure to keep paper copies. 


Familiarize yourself with your main electrical panel, and make a chart of breaker positions and what they feed. You may have to reset circuit breakers after an outage.


7. Assemble a kit.

Fill a backpack or large plastic bucket with three days' worth of food and water, a flashlight, battery-operated radio, first aid kit, money, medications and a USB drive with important files. Keep it in a safe place you can get to in an emergency.


8. Leave a light on.

Kohler recommends leaving a light on so you'll be able to see when power comes back. But if you were forced to flee, you may not know if the power had been off or for how long. 


Here's a trick: Leave a penny on top of an ice cube in the freezer. If you come back and the penny is sitting in water or refrozen at the bottom of the tray, you'll know there was a lengthy outage that allowed the ice to melt completely and that the food should be suspect. 


9. Don't get shocked.

Avoid fallen wires, flooded areas and debris. Assume that anything touching a downed wire can fry you. Kohler says to inspect the area around your electricity meter too, and if you suspect any damage, call the power company.


10. Be careful with generators.

Kohler warns against connecting portable generators directly to your electrical system. Instead, plug in key appliances, such as the fridge, directly. They also warn about using extension cords: "Be sure to use properly rated extension cords (electrical load and length) -- and venting to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. (Don't use a generator "in your home or an enclosed space with limited ventilation like a garage or a screened porch.")

11. Make an inventory.

You could lose everything you own in a moment through natural disaster, fire or other bad luck. That's why you should always have a home inventory. The insurance company won't pay you for things you don't remember to claim. And there's no way you'll remember everything. 


Make a list of all your possessions or make a videotape of everything, dictating when you bought it and how much it cost. 


12. Protect your paperwork.

Put difficult-to-replace papers in a waterproof container. Keep it where you can grab it and run. Focus first on documents with raised seals and original signatures -- items like car titles, passports and property deeds. 


More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:

Jul 10, 2012 4:42AM
For those (like me) who find the prospect of making an emergency kit mentally and/or financially overwhelming, the blog at makes it easy. The author broke it down into 26 steps and posts one step each week.

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