By Nicole Nouhra
From escalated numbers of hurricanes in Florida to devastating fires and large-magnitude earthquakes in California, recent years show a striking uptick in natural disasters coast to coast. FEMA.gov reported fifty-three major disasters nationwide in 2019, including 10 weather and climate disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information. Whether you are watching the wreckage on television, witnessing the devastation in nearby communities, or experiencing the trauma and loss that accompany these disasters yourself, you are one of many with growing concerns. Not only are these events increasing in frequency and severity, but we are quickly realizing that our society has new and unfamiliar issues to contend with. Southern California Edison’s Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) across the west are leaving entire neighborhoods defenseless against raging wildfires. Heavy snowfall in historically snow-less regions is catching residents brutally unprepared. It is now more important than ever to revisit your emergency checklists, update your contingency plans, and ensure that your insurance policies are up to snuff. Because the stakes are simply too high to gamble.
Disaster on the West Coast
The Parrick family went to bed even though the smoke from the nearby fires made it hard to sleep. With the power shut off, there wasn’t much else to do anyhow. But at 2:30 a.m., they were jolted awake by banging at their door. A neighbor was shouting about a shift in the wind. Joel Parrick stumbled through the dark and as he opened the door, his jaw dropped in disbelief. A wall of flames was engulfing the ridgeline right before his eyes. Joel’s neighbor seemed to read his mind. “Ya, and with no power, we have no water pressure...we’re sitting ducks.”
For many, this nightmare is all too real. In the recent Thomas, Tick, and Woolsey fires, power was turned off to prevent lines from sparking, which inadvertently handicapped many communities that relied on pumps for water pressure. This unanticipated development left homeowners and fire crews literally powerless against the blaze. The Business Insider warns that conditions are only getting worse as, “fire season in the western US is getting longer each year,” and The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection reports that wildfires in the Golden State have damaged or destroyed at least 732 structures this year. Many of these displaced families return to their once beautiful communities, now scorched by wildfires, only to be met with rainstorms fed by an atmospheric river. Despite the best efforts of the fire department and special reinforcements to set up sandbags along the perimeter of these areas, heavy rainstorms often give way to rivers of mud that shake the earth and destroy everything left in their path.
In addition to the surging number of wildfires in California and the continued aftermath they leave behind, the state’s long history of earthquakes continues to rock the area. In July of this year the town of Ridgecrest experienced a “7.1-magnitude earthquake that rattled Southern California...one day after the strongest recorded quake there in 20 years,” reports the New York Times. Danger continues to loom as the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) calculates that there’s a 60% chance of a 6.7-magnitude earthquake in the greater Los Angeles area within the next 30 years.
Threats to the East
Record-breaking storms along the east coast and throughout the midwest have led to a rise in dangerous accidents as well as damaged property. On December 3rd, the New York Times announced that the most recent storm came ashore from the Pacific as a bomb cyclone and “dropped at least four inches of snow in 30 states. Its mix of cold, wind, snow, sleet and rain shuttered schools, blocked hundreds of miles of highways, scuttered scores of flights and was linked to multiple deaths over the long holiday weekend in Missouri, Arizona, and South Dakota.” This upswing in natural disasters affects warmer weather states to the east as well. Last year, Hurricane Michael – the only Category 4 storm to ever hit the Florida panhandle and the third largest hurricane in US history – destroyed entire rows of homes in the seaside town of Mexico Beach. Intact households were left without power or access to safe water, animals and families were displaced, and whole communities were demolished.
Contemporary Strategies for Disaster Preparedness
With new threats and more frequent natural disasters causing unprecedented damages across the country, it is critical that you now take extra precautions to protect your family and safeguard your livelihood. We urge you to follow the steps outlined below to ensure that you have a bulletproof disaster preparedness strategy in place.
STEP 1: Get a Good “Go-Bag”
Several brands manufacture comprehensive emergency kits that would make Bear Grylls proud. Our top pick: SOS Survival Products. This company specializes in emergency supplies for just about any disaster situation and also sells first aid kits for your pets. Create a fully-stocked Go-Bag that contains crucial personal items you must take in a grab-and-go situation.
STEP 2: Invest in a Generator
Southern California Edison’s Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) across the west are just one of the reasons why we highly recommend investing in a whole-house backup generator with the capacity (and available fuel) to keep appliances, heaters, alarm systems, water pumps, and medical equipment running in the event of a power outage.
STEP 3: Stay Informed
Make sure you have a way to stay up-to-date on the latest emergency news. Purchase in a portable, multifunction radio like the Voyager KA500 that has USB charging for your devices, solar and crank power capabilities, a built-in LED flashlight and seven pre-programmed NOAA weather stations.
STEP 4: Prioritize Communication
Agree on how you will communicate with loved ones and set a pre-planned meeting point to reconvene should your group get separated. Be sure that you have one out-of-state contact who can act as a liaison in an emergency. Consider purchasing a satellite phone like the Iridium 9555 if you are located in a rural area with poor cell reception.
STEP 5: Facilitate Access for First Responders
Solutions like Knox® boxes can greatly help to minimize property damage and save lives, giving first responders immediate access to your property. Forced entry is time-consuming, and every second matters in an emergency situation. Knox® Rapid Access Systems allow fire and law enforcement agencies entrance to your home with one master key.
STEP 6: Document Your Belongings
Now is the time to make sure you’ve got proof of your assets. Take video footage of the items in your closet and storage spaces. Have your artwork and collectibles assessed, and store all of that information in a fireproof safe or briefcase. Be sure that your evacuation plan includes knowing how to pack and transport any vintage items or irreplaceable keepsakes.
STEP 7: Ready Your Home
Choose fire-resistant landscaping and clean roofs and gutters regularly. Secure heavy furniture and appliances to the walls with anchors to mitigate loss in an earthquake. Residents living in hurricane-prone areas must install impact-resistant shutters. Educate yourself on how to prevent your pipes from freezing in the event of a winter storm.
STEP 8: Adjust Your Routine
Keep at least half a tank of gas (or charge) in your car at all times so that you can be ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice. It’s equally important to have cash on hand for instances when the power is out and ATMs and credit card machines are down. Store flashlights, a pair of shoes, and glasses near your bedside for immediate access.
STEP 9: Plan for Recovery
Stay informed about changes in insurance legislation such as recent bills signed in California that increase insurance protections in response to worsening natural disasters. When investigating coverage options, utilize the AM Best Ratings Service and aim for an A- rating or higher, preferably in the XV (or greater) Financial Size Category.
Lean on Expert Advisors
One of the greatest comforts available, when you are faced with the threat of natural disasters, is having the right team of advisors on your side. High-net-worth property owners have unique needs that call for wider considerations and a more personalized approach. As you bolster your disaster preparedness strategy, be sure that you’ve consulted with an insurance brokerage firm that is familiar with the particular risks associated with valuable assets.
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