emergency preparedness

41 Ways to Secure Your Home Before an Evacuation

Nadia TamaraDo It Yourself, Emergency Preparedness, Evacuation 2 Comments

emergency preparedness

It’s scary to think that the place we call home can at some point become threatened by a natural disaster. One of the most important parts of emergency preparedness is learning to protect our living spaces and possessions that we worked so hard to earn and care for.

This blog outlines the best ways to secure your home long before an evacuation and what to do as soon as you’ve received a voluntary or mandatory evacuation notice.

Do whatever you can now to make sure your house is strong enough to withstand a hurricane, pruned enough to survive a wildfire and non-inviting enough to keep looters away.

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Protect your home and belongings

Before an evacuation

1. Update your insurance policy. Before you are ordered to evacuate, it’s recommended that you review your insurance policy to be sure that you’re properly covered. Your insurance may vary depending on where you live and the hazards that are present in your area, so make adjustments based on what coverage your home needs. Remember to update your insurance to fully cover any recent home remodeling projects, such as bathroom, kitchen, or outdoor remodels.

If you’re not a homeowner, you should also purchase insurance to cover at least the majority of your belongings. Homeowners should note that the standard insurance does not cover all natural disasters, such as flooding. Consult your insurance company to determine what is and what isn’t included in your current policy and add what is necessary.

2. Take an inventory of your home. A home inventory makes it easier to apply for disaster aid after the disaster has passed. It will also help and hopefully speed up the process of filing claims to your insurance policy about damaged or destroyed possessions.

To help you get started, you can use apps like Home Contents or Sortly, or consult your insurance company to see if they have any additional tools to help you document your belongings.

It’s also a good idea to take photos of your patio, the rooms inside your home, closets, valuable items and receipts to show proof of the value your possessions hold. For expensive appliances, take photos of their serial numbers. Save those photos to a preparedness folder on an online database, such as iCloud or Dropbox.

3. Back-up any important files to the cloud before the power goes out or you lose WiFi connection. If possible, keep a USB drive or external hard drive also backed up with important information. 

Gas up your vehicles. Fortunately some disasters, like hurricanes, are pre-forecasted on the news. Make sure you’re up to date with the dangers that your community is facing and whether or not your area will be given a voluntary or mandatory evacuation notice. Before evacuations are in full effect, gas up all your vehicles. Gas may become scarce, expensive, and controlled by the government during disasters, so make it a habit to keep enough gas in the car to at least get you to a safe evacuation area.

When you’re ordered to evacuate

5. Be ready to go: Go through the recommendations listed below to make sure your home is properly secured before leaving your house. Grab your go-bag and evacuate.

Keep enough food and water but don’t let perishables go to waste

Before an evacuation

6. Plan ahead. Prepare your home with enough food and water to get your family through at least the first 72 hours following the evacuation or disaster. It’s best if you prepare for a minimum of two weeks but do the best you can within your means. Store this food and water in a location that will be easily accessible when it’s time to evacuate. Purchasing long lasting emergency food is recommended to ease the struggle of cooking in disaster scenarios while not having to worry about it going bad for many years.

When you’re ordered to evacuate

7. Free your fridge from perishables. Eat, give away or throw away any food in your fridge that is perishable. It’s better to come home to a clean fridge than a fridge that is full of rotten food.

8. What about the food in your freezer? If you evacuate and there’s still food in your freezer, the following hack will help you figure out whether or not your food is safe to eat when you return home. Fill a glass or plastic container with water and let it freeze. Then put a quarter on top and put it back in the freezer. When you return home, check the container. If the quarter is still at the top of the ice, it means that your food did not thaw out and is still good. If the quarter is at the bottom, it means the food thawed out and possibly re-froze, which makes it unsafe to eat.

Tip: If you already lost power, or are certain that you will (such as in hurricane situations) then there’s no point in leaving any food in the freezer. This will more than likely go bad, so it’s better to get rid of it before it stinks up your fridge.

Clean up your yard

Before an evacuation

9. Clear your roof. Remove tree limbs that are hanging over your roof and leaves or pine needles that are stuck in the gutters and roof valleys.

10. Keep your property clear of fire hazards. Move any combustible items, such as firewood, bushes, weeds, at least 30 feet away from your house. Make sure to never store wood under a deck.

11. Cut down any dead trees within your property. Not only are dead trees a huge fire hazard, but also many of the trees that fall during a wind storm are weak due to disease.

12. Secure your trampoline. Instead of disassembling a trampoline, you can turn it upside down and cover it in sand bags. This will help to weigh it down and hopefully not end up in your neighbor’s yard.

When you’re ordered to evacuate

13. Bring in any yard furniture as well as grills, decor, bird feeders, hanging plants and flower pots.

14. Don’t trim your trees or do yard work last minute unless you have time to clean up the trimmings. These will become flying debris if they’re left in bundles around your property and not picked up before the storm. If you must do some quick yard maintenance, store the trimmings in a garbage bin inside the garage.

Flood-proof your valuables

Before an evacuation

15. Purchase waterproof and air-tight containers. It’s likely that if you receive a flood warning you won’t be given too much time to evacuate. Be prepared ahead of time with a container to keep small valuables and documents safe. Then, find a location above the water level where you can safely store the container. Don’t store valuables in an attic because a blown roof can cause the attic to flood.

When you’re ordered to evacuate

16. Move your furniture and cover it with a tarp. If possible move furniture, rolled up rugs, electronics and other valuable items to a higher floor. If you live in a one-story house, find an elevated spot for those valuables where the water level might not reach. When you have relocated your things, cover them with a tarp or roll of plastic covering. There is no guarantee that the plastic will protect everything in its entirety but it might help to reduce the degree of damage.

Turn off your utilities

Before an evacuation

17. Locate your utility mains and learn how to connect and disconnect them.

18. Keep all your devices charged. This goes for laptops, cell phones, tablets, rechargeable batteries and the like. Purchase a solar powered charger to charge your devices in case of a power outage.

When you’re ordered to evacuate

19. Turn off the oven, stove top and the heating system. I don’t want to undermine anyone with this tip. Under stressful situations people are more likely to forget to do mundane tasks like these which could result in the loss of their house. I mention it because I have been guilty of this myself.

20. Turn off all the lights inside your house. Not only is it inefficient to leave the lights on when no one is home but it can become costly. Some people install techie devices that trick burglars into thinking someone is home. There are many cost-effective options if you're considering this. Continue reading for more details.

21. Disconnect and close all the utility mains. To prevent broken water pipes from flooding your house or gas leaks creating a fire hazard, make sure you have shut off the utilities at the street level. Cutting off the electricity will also cut the power to your refrigerator, so you may want to reconsider that.

22. Drain the remaining water in the pipes. This is a good habit anytime you leave your house for more than one day at a time. A few years ago, one of my father’s clients received an outrageous water bill for his vacation home which had been uninhabited for months. When my dad went to check on the property, he walked into a flooded house. The house had been completely remodeled a year prior to this, by the way. Learn from this man’s expensive mistake and never vacate your house without shutting off the water main.

Seal your doors

Before an evacuation

23. Repair doors and frames. If any exterior door, especially sliding glass doors, leaves an air space when closed and locked, make sure you get it fixed to secure a tight seal.

24. Repair any broken windows. An air gap in a door or window frame is enough to cause it to implode with strong hurricane-like winds. Seal and reinforce any cracks or openings before the storm.

When you’re ordered to evacuate

25. Tightly close all windows, exterior doors and garage doors. If you decide to shelter in place during a disaster, never open up the windows during a hurricane or tornado even if it looks like the indoor pressure will break the window.

Board up your windows

Before an evacuation

26. Upgrade your windows. Although it could be a bit costly, if you live in hurricane-prone area it is cost effective in the long run to buy impact resistant windows and metal or wooden shutters with permanent anchors.

If you live in a wildfire-prone area make sure you’re complying with the laws that may require you to have tempered glass windows. Tempered glass prevents the window from shattering during extreme temperatures.

27. Caulk the perimeters of your windows. Make sure your windows are properly sealed to help keep out the water and air.

28. Purchase plywood ahead of time. Don’t wait until a hurricane or tornado warning to purchase materials to protect your windows. Too many people do this last minute and supplies run out fast. Once you purchase the materials you need, size them to your windows and keep them stored in the garage or an accessible location. When there’s a hurricane warning, you won’t need to rush to the store so you can focus your time on securing your home instead.

Tip: Purchase plywood that is at least 5/8 inch thickness.

When you’re ordered to evacuate

29. Board up ALL the windows. The wind from a hurricane, tornado or wind storm is unpredictable and can come from any and all directions. Even if you don’t have plywood, you should at least drill a few wooden beams across the openings of the windows.

30. Don’t tape your windows. Taping your windows is a myth and will likely cause the glass to shatter in deadly pieces. It's better to board them up or not tape them at all.

Protect your roof

Before an evacuation

31. Re-roof your house with the right materials. If you are planning to re-roof your home, upgrade to fire-resistant or high-wind approved materials, depending on the risks that your region faces. Even though it’s more costly in the present, it could be the thing that saves your roof in the future.

32. Upgrade your ridge vents. These can easily be replaced so make sure you get the ones that meet the requirements for water intrusion resistance in high winds.

When you’re ordered to evacuate

33. Cover vents on the roof and foundation. This will help to keep large quantities of water from entering your attic.

34. Remember, keep your windows and doors closed. The simple mistake of opening your doors or windows while the threat of a hurricane or tornado is present can cost you your roof. Depending on the strength of the wind, that opening can cause your roof to give way and uplift.

Protect your attic from flooding

Before an evacuation

35. Upgrade your vents. Like before-mentioned, if you need to change your attic vents, choose a product that is rated to resist wind-driven rain.

When you’re ordered to evacuate

36. Cover the gable end vents. Use flat sheet shutters or plywood to keep the openings sealed. This will keep large quantities of water away from your attic.

Secure your home from looters

Before an evacuation

37. Install burglar-deterrent technology. Evacuations are unfortunately a peak time of activity for looters. There are countless  gadgets that can provide more safety for your home even when there’s no reason to evacuate. Many options now-a-days can be regulated by your phone. You can control your home’s lighting system, blinds, music, among other things.

There has been recent popularity circling around the Fake TV which simulates a TV light and is set to turn on around dusk every day but can also be set to work in the daytime. All of these gadgets require electricity, of course, so if you decide to shut the power breaker before evacuating (or the power goes out while you're gone) you'll be out of luck here.

Consider other options that don't require electricity, like dummy surveillance cameras or a burglar alarm sign near your front door.

38. Install motion sensor lights outside the house. One of the easiest targets for looters is a dark house. A motion light that turns on while they’re approaching a door is more likely to scare and deter them because they’re suddenly in the spotlight. Neighbors that sheltered in place might also see them and become witnesses to provide a description. Many motion sensor lights are built through a solar powered system, however in stormy weather conditions, the lights might not have enough power to work effectively if the batteries haven’t recharged in the sun for several days.

When you’re ordered to evacuate

39. Follow all the tips you just read about. You have a higher chance of securing your home properly if you have prepared in advance. It's definitely an advantage over those who are rushed and leave in a hurry. 

40. Set your home alarm system. Set your alarm as you normally would when you leave the house on daily errand outings.

Say a prayer

Before and during an evacuation

41. Pray for your home and your family's safety. I’m not here to preach on religion but people have been blessed when praying over their house and loved ones.

I remember being evacuated for the fires in Southern California in 2003. One man was featured on the news with the remarkable story of his house. His neighborhood was under mandatory evacuation and he knew the fire was very close to his house, but he didn’t have any information on its status. He decided to send a fax. In the fax, he wrote the words “God bless this house.” The fax was  successfully sent through and it gave him peace for the time being that his house was still standing. Upon returning home he saw the miracle that his house was the only one in his neighborhood that was untouched by the fire. All of his neighbor’s houses were completely destroyed.

Whether you pray over your situation or not is up to you, but I hope this story encourages you anyway.

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In conclusion

When you choose to evacuate, you won’t be allowed to return home until the area is safe. This means that anything you do before you leave is vital because there’s no turning back if you forgot something.

Prepare a checklist of your needs and must-dos ahead of time so that when you’re under the stress of evacuation, you will be able to get everything you need.

What are some things you have done, or would do, to secure your home prior to an evacuation? Tell me in the comments below!

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Comments 2

  1. My uncle has been having a lot of problems with his home because there is a lot of damage from other storms. He would really like to get some shutters to protect his property with some help from a professional. Thanks for your tips about how the wind can come from every direction, so making sure that it can’t get it is really important.

  2. Thanks for the advice to get some shutters for your windows if you live in an area that is prone to hurricanes. Too many people ignore how important it is to protect your windows properly during a storm. It is better to be prepared for a hurricane than to be washing you had the shutters once it starts up.

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