Always be prepared to weather the storm

Make a plan for the unexpected

Always be prepared to weather the storm

Make a plan for the unexpected

Preparing for a Natural Disaster

Alabama is listed as one of the 10 riskiest states for natural disasters, according to Bankrate.com. Since 2013, there have been 262 disaster declarations in the United States. Those disasters took hundreds of lives.

There is no way to prevent such disasters; but it’s smart to prepare for the inevitable. Start preparing now so that when a natural disaster strikes, your action plan is in place.

Preparing for a Natural Disaster

Create a family communications plan. Write it down and keep it easy to understand.

This plan should instruct everyone where to go, what to do, and what to take in case of an emergency, or if your family is in different locations or separated during the disaster.

Writing it down helps formalize ideas and sets up a uniform way of responding to an emergency. It can also be easily shared.

Then, practice your plan with the entire family. People do what they practice, and in the frantic aftermath of a disaster, practiced behavior is more easily recalled.

Create an emergency travel kit for any family member with special needs, such as medical or physical conditions. Store an extra supply of baby formula, powdered milk, bottles, medication, special equipment, etc. in this kit.

A general travel bag for the family should include water, canned foods, first aid kit, flashlight with extra batteries, fire extinguisher, and a manual can opener.

Don’t forget the car emergency kit with phone charger, flashlight, spare tire, jumper cables and a blanket. Fill the car with gas before the disaster strikes if you have advance warning.

If you have to evacuate: grab your emergency travel bag and, if time permits, a few personal items or important documents.

If someone in your home lives on electric powered life support, keep in mind that Huntsville Utilities maintains a Priority Restoration List. The patient's physician must request Huntsville Utilities, by letter, to add a patient to the list. Being on the list does not necessarily mean power is restored quickly, so plan accordingly in case the patient has to be moved elsewhere. Do not wait until a person's condition is critical before planning the move.

Shutting off utilities during natural disasters

Here are some general safety tips to remember and tools to use:

  • Get a NOAA Weather Radio.
  • Never use a generator or other fuel-burning equipment inside the house, in the basement, in the garage, or outside near a window where fumes can enter the house.
  • Residents may legally store only 5 gallons of gasoline or kerosene in their home. All fuels must be kept in approved containers.
  • Install a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector in your home.
  • Designate an out-of-town family member who can contact other relatives. Try to contact this family member and let them know how you are doing. Phone systems may be damaged, and after disasters they are typically overloaded for days.
  • Hang up displaced telephone receivers that may have been knocked off by strong winds; but stay off the telephone, except to report an emergency or contact your out-of-town family member.
  • Consider buying flood insurance.
  • Be aware of hazards from exposed nails and broken glass and wear sturdy shoes or boots, long sleeves, and gloves when handling or walking on or near debris.
  • Stay away from downed power lines or objects in contact with downed lines. Report electrical hazards to the police and the utility company.
  • Use battery-powered lanterns, if possible, rather than candles to light homes without electrical power. Never leave burning candles unattended.
  • Keep as much heat as possible inside your home. Check the temperature in your home often during extremely cold weather.
  • Leave all water taps slightly open so they drip continuously when temperatures drop below freezing.
  • Allow more heated air near pipes. If your pipes do freeze, do not thaw them with a torch. Thaw the pipes slowly with warm air from an electric hair dryer.

Protecting your finances during a Natural Disaster

Create an emergency or ‘rainy day’ account so that you can stay afloat when unexpected expenses threaten to drown you. Most financial advisors suggest saving 3 to 6 months’ worth of basic living expenses.

Use your credit union’s online money management tools, such as online banking, mobile banking and direct deposit to make sure your money and other income keeps coming in, regardless of the circumstances. These services also provide automatic bill pay without interruption.

Make sure your insurance coverage is up to date. Review all your policies and note their dollar limits, what they cover and the deductibles. You should insure your home for at least the minimum estimated replacement cost recommended by your carrier.

Flooding can overburden sewer systems, causing raw sewage to back up into the drains in your home. Backed up sewers can cause thousands of dollars in damage to floors, walls, furniture and electrical systems. Sewer back-up is not covered under a typical homeowners or renters insurance policy, nor is it covered by flood insurance, according to the Insurance Information Institute. This type of coverage must be purchased either as a separate product or as an endorsement.

Take an inventory of your belongings. If possible, include a receipt for major purchases or just write down how much it costs. A great addition to your inventory list is a video of your home’s furnishings or photos.

Store your inventory list using RFCU®’s cloud device My Virtual Strongbox, so that it is accessible anytime and anyplace.

Another great tool is the Insurance Information Institute’s free Know Your Stuff Home Inventory software or app. It allows you to create, update and store your room-by-room inventory.

In the event of an emergency or disaster, you are still responsible for paying your mortgage regardless of the condition of your house or its habitability. You are also responsible for paying your credit card bills. Failing to remain current with your payments could negatively affect your credit at a time when you need credit the most.

If an emergency or disaster causes you to lose income and you are unable to pay your bills, please contact RFCU’s Member Solutions at 800-234-1234 ext. 3531 to discuss your situation.

Get your smart phone emergency ready by downloading apps for banking, insurance, emergency services, etc. See a list of the best weather apps here.

Staying safe during a Natural Disaster


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March is the start of the tornado season in the South.

Tornadoes can also accompany tropical storms and hurricanes as they move onto land.

Tornado sirens means there is an immediate danger. Immediately take shelter in a basement or an interior room. Place a blanket or other covering over you to protect against flying debris. If you are under a tornado warning, seek shelter immediately! Most injuries associated with high winds are from flying debris, so remember to protect your head.

  • If riding in a car, do not get under an overpass or bridge during a tornado. You are safer in a low, flat location.
  • Never try to outrun a tornado in urban or congested areas in a car or truck. Instead, leave the vehicle immediately for safe shelter.

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Lightning continues to be one of the top three storm-related killers in the United States. On average in the U.S., lightning kills 51 people and injures hundreds more, according to www.Ready.gov and www.Listo.gov. Although most lightning victims survive, people struck by lightning often report a variety of long-term, debilitating symptoms.

  • Get inside a home, building, or hard top automobile (not a convertible). Although you may be injured if lightning strikes your car, you are much safer inside a vehicle than outside.
  • Shutter windows and secure outside doors. If shutters are not available, close window blinds, shades or curtains.
  • Unplug any electronic equipment well before the storm arrives.
  • Avoid contact with electrical equipment or cords. Unplug appliances and other electrical items such as computers. Power surges from lightning can cause serious damage.
  • Avoid contact with plumbing. Do not wash your hands, do not take a shower, do not wash dishes, and do not do laundry. Plumbing and bathroom fixtures can conduct electricity.
Flash Flooding

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Flash floods are the number one cause of weather-related deaths in the US. Flash flooding can occur suddenly over a relatively short period.

If a flash flood warning has been issued, prepare to evacuate to higher ground. Flooding can result from severe thunderstorms and hurricanes. Listen to your weather radio or local television news for flooding information.

Be aware of streams, drainage channels, canyons, and other areas known to flood suddenly. Flash floods can occur in these areas with or without such typical warnings as rain clouds or heavy rain. Move to higher ground if you suspect flooding even if no evacuation order has been issued. Do not drive or walk through rising or moving waters.

If water rises in your home before you evacuate, go to the top floor, attic, or roof. If you've come in contact with floodwaters, wash your hands with soap and disinfected water. Floodwater can be contaminated by gasoline, oil, sewage, or other chemicals.

Winter Storms

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Many winter storms are accompanied by dangerously low temperatures and sometimes by strong winds, icing, sleet and freezing rain.

Regardless of the severity of a winter storm, you should be prepared in order to remain safe during these events.

Ice storms and occasional snow are the major winter weather occurrences in the Southeast and Gulf Coast.

  • Find time to winterize your home and check your heating systems before winter arrives.
  • Prepare your car for winter weather driving. Keep the gas tank full. A full tank will keep the fuel line from freezing.
  • Keep an emergency kit in your car. The kit should include: a phone charger, battery-powered radio, flashlight, extra batteries, blanket, booster cables, bottled water, nonperishable high-energy foods and a bag of sand or cat litter.

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The hurricane season is June to November. If a hurricane is approaching, move further inland. Know where to go if an evacuation is ordered. But don’t try to evacuate once the storm reaches you.

Secure loose rain gutters and downspouts and clear any clogged areas or debris to prevent water damage to your property.

Protecting your pets during a Natural Disaster

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As you prepare a severe weather plan for your family…don’t forget your four-legged or feathered family members. Planning for pets, service animals, and livestock is essential.

Make advance arrangements with a boarding kennel or stable, relative, etc. to care for your animals in anticipation of an evacuation. A place a few miles away may not be affected in the same evacuation.

Most public shelters refuse to allow animals inside due to health regulations. Think about shelter alternatives for you and your pets before you need them. Keep a list of pet-friendly hotels or motels.

If you can't move your livestock or other animals, make water (even in winter) and food available. If possible, arrange shelter out of the wind and sun.

Here are more tips for caring for pets during a natural disaster:

  • Animals have instincts about severe weather changes and will often isolate themselves if they are afraid. Bringing them inside early can stop them from running away. Never leave a pet outside or tied up during a storm.
  • If you must evacuate your home, don’t leave your pets behind.
  • Separate dogs and cats. Even if your dogs and cats normally get along, the anxiety of an emergency situation can cause pets to act irrationally.
  • Have newspapers on hand for sanitary purposes. Feed animals moist or canned food so they will need less water to drink.
  • Make sure that your bird is caged and the cage is covered by a thin cloth or sheet to provide security and filtered light.
  • In the first few days after the disaster, leash your pets when they go outside. Always maintain close contact. Familiar scents and landmarks may be altered and your pet may become confused and lost. Also, flood waters may bring snakes and other dangerous animals into the area. Downed power lines are also a hazard.

Recovering from a Natural Disaster

Once the immediate danger is over, make sure your loved ones are safe. Then, secure your home and make temporary repairs if needed. Take steps to protect your property from further damage, but don’t make permanent repairs until a claims adjuster has assessed the damage.

If you need to relocate, keep your receipts. Keep records of all additional expenses. Homeowners insurance generally provides coverage for additional living expenses if your home is damaged by an event that’s covered by your policy.

  • Report your claim. Prepare for the adjuster’s visit.
  • Before hiring a contractor, make certain to check out his or her credentials. Check for all appropriate licenses.

Here are other tips from the Better Business Bureau on selecting a contractor:

  • Never pay for the job in advance. Be suspicious of any contractor who demands full payment upfront.
  • Research companies through verifiable resources, like the Better Business Bureau.
  • Resist high-pressure sales tactics. Take the time you need to do your research.
  • Get a written contract. Don’t forget to include the following specifications: the price, the work to be done, contractor's insurance and a time frame.
  • Pay by credit card. If possible; you may have additional protection if there’s a problem.
  • Check the contractor’s vehicle. It should have signs or markings on it with the business name, phone number and license plates for your state.
For More Information, Speak with a Trusted Advisor

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