Keep your family and property safe during bad weather
By Felicia D. Pinkney
Unpredictable weather is as much a part of the Texas landscape as bluebonnets and cowboys. We’ve just about seen it all in the Lone Star State: hurricanes, tornadoes, drought, flooding, wildfires, blizzards, and hail and ice storms.
Greenville resident Chris Strawn knows all too well. As a lineman for his local power company, he has seen poles blown over by fierce winds, downed power lines, customers displaced by power outages, and plenty of damaged roofs – including his own.
In late October, hail pounded his roof, which had to be completely replaced.
“We had about $5,000 to $5,300 worth of damage,” he says. Everything else on his 24-acre property was fine, including his horses and donkeys.
Strawn, a Texas Farm Bureau Insurance customer for three years, was thankful that his homeowner’s policy provided what he needed at the right time.
“I’d be in a mess if I didn’t have the insurance,” he says.
Now that spring is just around the comer, difficult weather is ahead. Protect your own family and property by taking these steps recommended by the Texas Department of Insurance, Texas Farm Bureau Insurance agents, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Check your insurance policies
First, review all of your insurance policies – health, homeowners, auto, commercial – before a weather emergency. Talk with your agent about your coverage, limits, and deductibles.
You also may want to consider other coverage that fits your needs, including wind, hail, or flood coverage; renters insurance to protect your possessions if you rent an apartment or house; and coverage for hotel and food expenses if you’re forced to evacuate your home.
Conduct a home inventory
Second, make a list of all your belongings and document it with pictures or video. Include serial numbers and dates of purchase, if possible. A detailed inventory can speed up the claims process, advises the Texas Department of Insurance.
Keep a copy of your inventory in a secure location, such as a safe deposit box. Email a copy to yourself, so it will always be available.
Ask your insurance agent for home inventory forms, or buy an inventory guide through any bookseller.
Create an emergency supply kit
Next, put together a disaster kit that you can grab in a hurry. It should include enough canned food and water for several days, a change of clothes for each member of the family, batteries, medical supplies, and more.
Insurance documents, a copy of your home inventory, and other important papers should be in a waterproof, airtight container. For a list of other recommended items for your kit, visit www.ready.gov, a site developed by FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Sign up for alert services
Some communities offer text or email alerts to warn residents about weather emergencies. Check your city or county website to see if they offer the service in your area. Your local TV station may offer weather alerts on its website.
You also might invest in a good weather radio, or tune in to a NOAA Weather Radio station in your area. (Find yours at www.weather.gov/nwr)
What’s the plan?
Now, develop and practice your emergency plan. (School-age children are used to this; they have safety drills regularly.) Make sure your plan includes what to do if you’re driving during bad weather.
Map out exactly where your family will go in the event of a weather emergency, whether it’s to a safe place in your home or off-site.
Then, determine how you will contact each other, such as by text message, walkie-talkie, or through an out-of-town contact. FEMA recommends text messages, which can sometimes get around network disruptions if phone calls can’t get through.
Protect your property
If you have time to prepare for a weather emergency beforehand, get your house in order. The Texas Department of Insurance recommends the following:
- Buy emergency repair items, such as masking tape, lumber, plastic sheeting, sandbags, and sand. Keep receipts for insurance or tax purposes.
- Secure lawn furniture, trash cans, or anything else that can be picked up by the wind and become a projectile.
- Move valuables away from windows and to an upper floor, if possible.
- Cover windows, glass doors, and skylights with storm shutters or plywood panels. Use heavy-duty masking tape on small windows.
- Unplug all appliances, electronic equipment, and cable TV connections.
- Move cars, boats, and trailers to garages or warehouses, or tie down boats and trailers next to your home.
- Check tie-downs if you live in a mobile home.
- Brace garage doors, drain swimming pools halfway, move loose items indoors, and secure television antennas and satellite dishes.
- Bring pets indoors or make other arrangements for their safety. Check with your local humane society for information about animal shelters, just in case your pets can’t go with you.
- Trim dead limbs from trees, and any live limbs that are close to the house. High winds could cause them to break off and damage your home.
- Make sure your address is visible from the street so emergency workers can easily find your home.
- If you leave your home, lock and secure the premises. Take small valuables and your disaster kit with you.
If you don’t have time to prepare your home, do the best you can and follow the recommendations of local weather and emergency management authorities. Whether they advise you to seek shelter or evacuate, do it.
Do you know what to do in the event of a weather emergency? Visit these sites for more tips on protecting your family and property.
- Texas Department of Insurance
- Re-roofing: FAQs
- Ready America
- FEMA: Disasters & Maps
- FEMA Publications about Safe Rooms
STORM SHELTERS & SAFE ROOMS
If you live in storm-prone areas – and if it’s in your budget – a safe room or storm shelter might also be an option.
Although only his roof sustained damage from the hailstorm, Strawn says he wishes he had one.
“This house was already here when we moved in,” he says, “but I would like to put a storm shelter outside in the ground or a safe room in the house. We need one.”
Texas Farm Bureau Insurance Agent Pam Stahr, who is based in Hunt County, says she has several clients who have built safe rooms in their homes.
“Safe rooms are a very viable option, especially when you’re building a new home,” she says. “They’re built strong enough to withstand winds,” Stahr says. “And depending on the area you live in, safe rooms may be less
expensive” than digging a hole in the ground for a storm shelter.
FEMA offers guidelines on its website tor building either a below-ground or in-home safe room. A below-ground room is probably safest, FEMA says, but one that is in a basement or a first-floor interior room can provide the necessary protection.
Prosper-based writer Felicia Pinkney is a pro at storm planning for her family. She was raised just a stone’s throw from the Texas state line in Shreveport, Louisiana.
Copyright 2011, Texas Heritage for Living®