Katrina Anniversary Underscores Importance of Protecting Your Home and Family

It’s been five years since Hurricane Katrina came roaring into the Gulf Coast, dramatically changing New Orleans and the lives of those who called it home. While there is very little homeowners can do when facing a natural disaster of that magnitude, the anniversary – and the current threat from Hurricane Danielle – is an important reminder that with a little planning and preparation, homeowners can better protect their home and family from a disaster.

The experts at HouseLogic – a free, comprehensive consumer website about all aspects of homeownership – say that with research and a little work homeowners can quickly develop a plan that will help them reduce losses and recover faster following a natural disaster.

“Families build their futures through homeownership, and HouseLogic should be a homeowner’s first stop when it comes to increasing, maintaining, and protecting the value of his or her home,” said NAR President Vicki Cox Golder, owner of Vicki L. Cox & Associates in Tucson, Ariz. “Sometimes it’s unpleasant to think about disaster plans and preparing for the unknown but it’s an important thing for homeowners to do to ensure the continued safety of their family and homes.”

According to HouseLogic, homeowners should begin their natural disaster preparations by developing a plan. A good disaster plan includes not only an emergency preparedness kit, with important papers, food and water, and extra blankets and flashlights but also a well-thought out plan for how family members will evacuate and communicate – making sure that everyone in the family is familiar with the plan and knows what to do and where to go in case of an emergency.

Homeowners should also make sure their home is properly insured against natural disasters, since many plans don’t cover earthquakes, hurricanes and floods – especially in high risk areas – and consider supplemental disaster insurance policies that cover losses from specific catastrophes that traditional policies don’t cover. Homeowners should first review their existing policy to determine what’s covered since supplemental plans can cost a few hundred dollars to several thousand each year depending on the type of disaster and the home’s location, size and type, and then determine their area’s disaster risk.

In the event of a hurricane, residents should reinforce doors and windows against strong winds. Hurricane film is an inexpensive, clear plastic film that keeps glass shards from becoming dangerous missiles and can be left in place year-round, however it can’t prevent heavy winds from blowing in the entire window frame. Another less expensive alternative is plywood; its downside is that it’s temporary and is often put up at the last minute when a hurricane is approaching. An easier but more expensive alternative is roll-up or accordion-style storm shutters that are permanently attached to a house. The most expensive option may be high-impact windows, made of two panes of tempered glass separated by a plastic film. They are always in place and since they look like standard windows they don’t affect a home’s appearance.

While hurricanes often bring great amounts of rain that can cause flooding, few places in the country are considered safe from floods, which are the most common natural disaster in the U.S. Storms with hard rains, snow or ice melting, surging bodies of water, or overflowing levees and dams are often the culprit. Homeowners who live in high-risk areas should have a “go-bag” ready in case they need to leave quickly; including a change of clothing, insurance policy and agent contact information, and toiletries as well as money, an evacuation route and a place to stay.

While little can be done to hold off flood waters like those following Hurricane Katrina, homeowners can do a few things to lessen potential damages, according to HouseLogic. Leaky roofs and foundation cracks can let water into a home more readily and weaken the structure, so it’s important to make repairs quickly. It’s also good to clear gutters and drains, invest in a battery-powered sump pump, and prevent sewer backup by installing a check valve, which allows waste to only flow one way. It’s also smart to catalog all of your possessions using a digital camcorder or camera and move expensive items to a higher location such as a second floor or attic.

If flood waters do make their way into a home, HouseLogic provides advice for action within the first 24 hours. Before entering the home check for any visible structural damage. Turn off all water and electrical sources, even if the power isn’t currently operational because it could reactivate. Before making repairs or removing any water, fully document the damage by taking photos or video and notify the insurer as soon as possible. Wear waders or waterproof boots and rubber gloves because water could be contaminated by sewage or household chemicals. After the insurer has approved removing the water, use a sump pump or wet vac, open doors and windows, and remove wet contents, including carpeting and bedding, to mitigate mold damage.

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