The Gulf Coast is bracing for an enormous wave of water and high winds as Hurricane Isaac bears down, headed for New Orleans.
"I want to encourage all residents of the Gulf Coast to listen to your local officials, and follow their directions, including if they tell you to evacuate," President Obama said Tuesday morning. "We're dealing with a big storm, and there could be significant flooding and other damage across a large area.
FEMA has a dedicated website for disaster preparedness, Ready.gov.
It may be helpful to know the risk of flooding in your area and the elevation of your home above flood stage, which is available from your local Red Cross chapter or your local emergency management agency, advises insurer MetLife.
A flood watch or a flash flood watch means a flood is possible in your area, generally issued for flooding that is expected to occur at least six hours after heavy rains have ended. A flood warning or a flash flood warning means flooding is occurring or is imminent in the warning area.
Here are tips from Judith Spry, partner in the insurance claims services practice at BDO Consulting, and other insurance experts from lessons learned after Hurricanes Katrina and Irene.
Here are seven tips that may help you, your family or your business prepare for a natural disaster:
Prepare for Phone Interruptions
Spry advises business owners to have a communication plan, in case neither phone nor texting is available.
When Hurricane Katrina hit, knocked out cell phone towers and land lines left employers and employees without the means to communicate. Spry advises employees to know and understand the disaster plan in advance and each have a copy of it they can easily refer to.
Paul Reynolds, electronics editor with Consumer Reports, said cell phone users can usually text more successfully than call when a network experiences high volume, like during 9/11, because texting uses less data. But those not familiar with texting may need a tutorial. He said a full QWERTY keyboard makes it easy to text versus a numeric keypad on basic cell phones, which can be more cumbersome and harder to learn.
Create a Disaster Plan, or Test Your Current One
Homeowners should consider which valuable objects they will take with them in case of an emergency evacuation.
Spry said a disaster plan should clearly communicate pre- and post-disaster procedures to any relevant people. For families, that includes near and far relatives and friends. Business owners should communicate disaster plans to employees, customers, vendors, and business partners.
Spry said the safety of people, such as employees and customers, should be the first procedure. The plan should next address how to protect your property and business records.
Check Insurance Policies
Spry cautions that homeowners and business owners should never fully rely on an insurance policy.
Homeowner's policies usually do not cover loss due to flooding, but coverage can be purchased from the federal government. Homeowners can ask their agents about the details or contact the National Flood Insurance Program at 1-800-379-9531.
It is especially important to review your homeowner's policy with your agent or broker so you understand the amount you will receive in the event of a covered loss, and whether it will be adequate to rebuild your home. Homeowners should also know the amount of a deductible and any special provisions in the policy such as wind exclusions. And include your insurance company's toll free claim number and insurance agent's phone number in your emergency evacuation kit.
Assess Your House for Vulnerabilities
Homeowners should inspect their homes for potential problem areas of a house in case of a disaster, such as old trees.
You should also make sure the roof does not have holes or is missing shingles. To safeguard against strong winds, you may have to nail down new shingles or remove loose objects, like lawn furniture.
Some fix-it tasks can be completed over a weekend, such as reinforcing a garage door, vents and a gable, or triangular, roof, so water does not leak in. Those living in low lying areas where coastal storms surge should move electronic devices off the ground floor and put heavy furniture on blocks to prevent damage from flooding. Also, homeowners should roll up rugs.
Spencer also advises that you look around your neighborhood for vulnerabilities, such as from abandoned properties.
If a hurricane or tropical storm approaches, homeowners should notify the lender or bank that has taken ownership of the foreclosed property, as well as town officials, of concerns regarding foreclosed homes, he said.
Take Video or Photos for a Home Inventory
For insurance purposes and for your own personal keepsake in case of a disaster, you should have a home inventory or a photographic record.
While you are doing that, you can consider which few items to bring in case of an evacuation.
Consider Important Supplies
FEMA recommends people should have a bare minimum of a three-day supply of water and you should store at least one gallon of water per person per day.
A normally active person needs at least one-half gallon of water daily just for drinking, but sometimes children, nursing mothers, the sick and people in hot temperatures may require more, according to FEMA.
You may also want to prepare covered foods and about a month's supply of medication. You should also prepare traditional and special batteries for products like cell phones.