A definitive guide to natural disasters and how to prep

A definitive guide to natural disasters and how to prep

The thought of having a natural disaster like a tornado or flood impact your home can be nerve-wracking. While you can't control the weather, you can control how you prepare for it. The good news is that you can help safeguard your home and the people inside it with appropriate emergency preparedness planning. This includes creating a kit of emergency supplies and coming up with a plan for what to do and where to go if a disaster strikes.

This guide provides the information you need to stay safe in different kinds of natural disasters. With this knowledge, you can create your own home emergency prep kit and plan. Of course, the hope is that you'll never have to use your emergency strategy. However, having it ready is a smart move and can bring peace of mind. Read on to find out how to protect yourself.

What is a natural disaster?

A "natural disaster" refers to a severe weather or environmental event, from tornados to earthquakes. Natural disasters can damage property like houses and cars and disrupt infrastructures like phone lines, internet connections and roadways. Unfortunately, natural disasters can also be a threat to the health and safety of animals and humans — which is why it's smart to prepare for them.

You can begin by learning about the different types of disasters. Our roundup details types of disasters, where they're common, how to prepare for them and what to do when they strike. Further down in this article, you'll find a guide to creating a general disaster preparedness kit for all kinds of natural disasters and tips for creating your own household emergency action plan.

Severe Storms

Severe storms are characterized by high winds, heavy rains and sometimes hail. According to FEMA, states that report the most severe storms are Missouri, Kansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Texas. You can prepare for a storm by boarding up glass windows and doors, keeping tree branches trimmed (to decrease the odds that they'll blow down and fall on your house) and securing loose objects (for example, putting garden furniture inside).

If the local authorities advise you to evacwwwe the area, do so before the storm strikes. If the storm has already hit, stay put. Stay inside and away from windows when a severe storm hits. If possible, go into a cellar or basement. This way, you're better protected if a tree falls on your roof or a window shatters. If you don't have a basement or cellar, find an interior room on the lowest floor of the house (one without windows).

Infographic on states with the most natural disasters caused by severe storms

Floods

Floods can occur during heavy rains, often resulting from overflowing rivers, lakes and other bodies of water. States that report the most severe storms are Iowa, North Dakota, Minnesota, Missouri and Texas. You can prepare for a flood by elevating and anchoring key utilities, like electrical panels and propane tanks, waterproofing your basement (for example, with a sump pump) and elevating furniture and carpets. Store documents (birth certificates, Social Security cards, etc.) in a watertight safety deposit box.

If you live in an area prone to floods, keep an eye on the weather report for flood alerts when it rains. If possible, evacwwwe to an area with a higher elevation. It's important to have a communication plan in place in case of a power or telecommunications outage. For example, you can designate an emergency spot to meet, one that everyone knows, without having to call or text. Ensure your car has fuel in case you need to evacwwwe. If you get stuck in the house, don't try to get through flood waters and move to the highest floor for safety.

Infographic on states with the most natural disasters caused by floods

Earthquakes

Earthquakes occur when tectonic plates under the Earth's surface shift, causing the ground to move. Sometimes, earthquakes only cause a few moments of brief tremors. In other cases, earthquakes can completely disrupt the Earth's surface, splintering roadways, toppling trees and structurally damaging houses. The states with the most earthquakes are California, Washington, Alaska, Virginia and Hawaii.

Earthquakes are unpredictable and far-reaching, so it's hard to evacwwwe to avoid one. You can prepare by securing heavy items in your home like bookcases and refrigerators, for example, by anchoring them to walls. Store breakable and heavy objects on low shelves, reducing the risk that they'll fall on someone. If an earthquake strikes and you're in bed, turn face down and place your pillow over your head and neck. If you're inside, stay inside and avoid doorways. Drop to your hands and knees and hold onto something stable. Get under a table or desk if you can.

Infographic on states with the most natural disasters caused by earthquakes

Tornados

A tornado is a mobile vortex of rapidly rotating wind. It looks like a cloudy column and can move quickly across the ground. The wind itself can't be seen; the tornado funnel cloud you see usually consists of water droplets, debris and dust that the wind has picked up. Tornadoes occur most frequently in Georgia, Illinois, Tennessee, Kentucky and Oklahoma. You can prepare for a tornado by anchoring loose objects outside, keeping trees near your house trimmed and boarding up doors and windows.

It's difficult to evacwwwe to avoid a tornado because their paths are unpredictable. Go to the basement or cellar if you're home when a tornado strikes. If you don't have one, find an interior room without windows on the lowest floor of the house and stay there. A closet also works. For added protection, cover yourself with something sturdy, like a heavy table and a mattress or blanket.

Infographic on states with the most natural disasters caused by tornados

Hurricanes

A hurricane is a cyclone that forms over tropical or subtropical waters, characterized by extreme rain and high winds. Once a storm system's winds reach at least 74 miles per hour, it's classified as a hurricane. Hurricanes are further classified on a ranking of one to five according to the severity and wind speed. A higher category hurricane is more dangerous. Coastal states like Louisiana, Texas, North Carolina, Florida and Georgia have the most reported hurricanes.

You can prepare for a hurricane by clearing your yard of loose items, boarding up windows and doors and turning off your power to reduce the risk of electrical shocks. During your hurricane prep, you should also set aside valuable documents in case you need to evacwwwe your home, and fuel your car. If you're at home for a hurricane, set aside clean water and have an emergency generator on hand.

Infographic on states with the most natural disasters caused by hurricanes

Wildfires

A wildfire is an uncontrollable fire that burns through vegetation like brush and bushes, spreading rapidly across large swaths of land. Wildfires are most common in the states of Texas, California, Florida, Oklahoma and Washington. You can prepare your home for a wildfire by using fire-resistant materials to build it, like concrete and stone, identifying outdoor water sources within reach of your property and creating a fire-resistant barrier free of flammable materials (like bushes) around your home.

If you're home and a wildfire is approaching, evacwwwe. Fill your car with gas and identify a safe evacwwwion route that won't take you through the fire. Local authorities can provide updates on the fire's whereabouts. If you're at home and can't get out, designate a room that can be closed off from the outside. Close all doors and windows and use a portable air cleaner to keep indoor pollution levels low to protect against outside smoke.

Infographic on states with the most natural disasters caused by wildfires

Winter storms

A winter storm is characterized by cold-weather precipitation like snow, sleet and freezing rain. This may be coupled with strong winds and freezing temperatures. According to FEMA, the states most prone to winter storms are Oklahoma, Kentucky, Texas, Virginia and Missouri. You can prepare for a winter storm by weatherproofing your home with insulation, caulking and weatherstripping doors and windows and adding storm windows to help minimize heat transfer.

Winter storms are far-reaching, covering large geographic areas, so they can be hard to outrun or evacwwwe. If a storm is expected, ensure you have food and fresh water at home. If you plan to use a fireplace, have the chimney inspected annually and install a carbon monoxide detector in the house. Also, an emergency generator can be useful in case of power outages.

Infographic on states with the most natural disasters caused by winter storms

Drought

A drought occurs when there is a prolonged lack or shortage of precipitation in an area. Extreme heat can worsen the sitwwwion. Droughts are most common in Texas, Georgia, Virginia, Missouri and Minnesota. Droughts can cause plants and trees to die and ruin agricultural crops. They also increase the risk of other natural disasters, like wildfires. You can prepare by planting drought-tolerant plants in your garden, following local water restrictions and conserving water (for example, by installing low-flow toilets).

Avoid using water for things like car-washing and watering your lawn when droughts hit. If your municipality puts water conservation rules into place, follow them. For example, a city may limit water use for certain tasks (like lawn care). If you have a well at home, ensure it's functioning properly and that the pump is running normally.

Infographic on states with the most natural disasters caused by droughts

Natural disasters by state

Your location directly impacts the natural disasters you're most likely to experience. For example, coastal dwellers are more susceptible to hurricanes. In contrast, you're more susceptible to wildfires if you live in a heavily wooded area that's hot and prone to droughts. Alternatively, people who live along a fault line — like the San Andreas fault in California — are more likely to experience earthquakes.

Understanding the types of natural disasters you are at risk of experiencing will help you prepare accordingly (as described above). The below map gives you an overview of where natural disasters are most likely to occur. The states with the most natural disasters reported, according to FEMA, are Texas, Missouri, Kentucky, Virginia and Louisiana.

But just what types of natural disasters can you expect in your state? FEMA has a handy online database where you can look up disaster types according to year and geographic region.

For example, when you input Texas for the year 2022, you see that there have been two fires and two winter storms reported. If you live in Texas, it's important to have a plan for either scenario. In contrast, if you input Missouri for the year 2021, you see that the disasters reported are severe storms, tornadoes and flooding. It's important to know what to prepare for if you live in Missouri.

Map of the number of natural disasters reported since 1953 per state

What do you need to prepare for a natural disaster?

Regardless of where you live and the type of natural disasters you can expect, it's smart to have an emergency preparedness kit in your home. This includes supplies that may prove useful if you're evacwwwing from a natural disaster or stuck at home getting through one. Here's a roundup of some essentials to include in a basic emergency supply kit. You can also get disaster-specific lists from Ready.gov.

Water

You may lose access to running water in a natural disaster. Set aside clean drinking water in a sealed container. Plan on one gallon per person per day for at least a few days.

Food

Going to the grocery store or ordering food may not be an option when disaster strikes. Have at least several days' worth of non-perishable food on hand. If you have a baby, stock up on formula if necessary.

Can opener

Non-perishable food often comes in cans. Ensure you have a can opener in case you need it to open food for your family (or pets).

Food utensils

Pack some basics, like forks and knives. You can use disposable plastic items if necessary. Paper or plastic plates can also be handy. Also, ensure you have cookware if needed — for example, to heat canned soups on a portable stove.

Radio

Power outages and telecommunications issues can cut off your contact with the outside world. Have a battery-powered or hand-crank radio to tune into emergency lines for news. You can also get a NOAA Weather Radio with an alert system.

First-aid kit

All kinds of emergencies can happen in a disaster, from broken bones to cuts and scrapes. Have a comprehensive first-aid kit with basics like bandages, antibiotic ointment and gauze.

Flashlight

If the power goes out, a flashlight will ensure you can still see. Purchase extra batteries for it.

Cell phones and chargers

Use your cell phone to call emergency services, contact family or get emergency alerts from the National Weather Service. Charge your phones and have backup chargers, portable chargers and batteries on hand. Write down emergency contacts, too.

Blankets or sleeping bags

If you're sheltering in a basement, you probably won't have a bed. Warm blankets and sleeping bags can help you get the rest you need.

Sanitizer

Maintaining hygiene is tough when there isn't running water. Invest in some bottles of antibacterial hand sanitizer.

Hygiene items

Arrange for basic hygiene and sanitation with moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties. If you have a baby, stock up on diapers.

Prescription medications

If you take prescription medications, have at least a few days' worth of your meds safely stored in a waterproof container. It's also wise to have some over-the-counter drugs, such as anti-inflammatories and anti-diarrhea medications.

Extra clothing

Have at least two sets of extra clothing for every family member. Dress in layers with water-wicking clothing and wear sturdy shoes.

Cash and credit cards

If you have to evacwwwe suddenly, you won't have time to run to an ATM. Have cash on hand and bring some credit cards, too, in case you need to buy supplies or pay for a hotel to evacwwwe.

Maps

If your phone runs out of power, you can't rely on Google Maps or similar apps for directions. Have a map of your local area on hand in case you need to plan an evacwwwion route.

Whistle

A whistle can be useful for signaling for help — for example, if emergency service teams come into your home but you're trapped in the basement. Multiple whistles are a smart investment for multi-person households.

Basic tools

Basic tools like a wrench or hammer can be handy. For example, you can use a wrench or pliers to shut off power or water valves. A hammer and nails can be used to board up windows.

How to create an emergency plan in 5 steps

Having an emergency preparedness kit is only half the solution when it comes to getting ready for a natural disaster. You should also have a plan for your household. What should they do, who should they call and where should they go if a disaster strikes? When people are panicking, having a ready-made guidebook of instructions to follow is a great help. Here's what to consider as you create your plan.

Step 1. Consider the specific needs of your household

When making a plan, consider every household member and their special needs. Do you have a family member with disabilities? Do you have a pet to bring along? What ages are your children? If you have a pet, make an emergency prep kit for them (carrier, food, ID tags, etc.).

Step 2. Identify a safe space to store important documents

Certain documents like Social Security cards, birth certificates and passports are hard to replace. Store all your essential documents in a waterproof, fireproof and secure safe. In case you have to evacwwwe, make sure you can grab them quickly. If necessary, share the safe code with other family members.

Step 3. Outline specific roles for each member of your household in the event of a natural disaster

Create an action plan for "who does what" if a natural disaster strikes. Possible roles for different family members include:

  • Ensuring you have important documents
  • Setting up a safe place to shelter in place
  • Planning the evacwwwion route and checking alerts from authorities
  • Grabbing the emergency preparedness kit
  • Helping pets, young kids or people with disabilities get to the car or safe place

Step 4. Identify local shelters and evacwwwion routes, if needed

Plan out evacwwwion routes from your home using local maps (not Google Maps, in case you don't have your phone when disaster strikes). Also, identify area shelters where your family can go in case you have to leave home. This resource guide can help.

Further, know where to get information in case of a disaster. For example, NOAA provides updates about hurricanes. Finally, ensure you have the numbers for relevant emergency services dispatchers on hand. This could include the phone numbers of fire departments, police or first responders.

Step 5. Practice and maintain your plan

Sit down with your family and ensure everybody knows your plan. Beyond that, do a practice run to put it into action. Revisit your plan regularly so everybody knows their role and where to find essentials, like the emergency kit.

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Emergency management isn't fun to think about. However, knowing you have a disaster plan can bring peace of mind. Plus, if you have to shelter in place, you'll have your emergency supply kit to fall back on. The most important thing is to protect your family, which the above emergency preparedness guide can help you do.

As a homeowner, you also want to do all you can to protect your house — your safe place. Investing in the right insurance policies is a wise move. For example, flood insurance is advisable if you live in an area prone to flash flooding.

You can further help protect your house and its contents with a home protection plan from Cinch Home Services. Cinch's home protection plans safeguard repairs to built-in systems and appliances, like your AC and dishwasher, saving you money. Get a quote and find out how Cinch can bring greater peace of mind.

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