How to Prepare Your Home for a

Natural disasters can be dangerous and expensive. According to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), natural disasters have been responsible for $1.7 trillion in damage from 2000 to 2012 across the world. These same natural disasters have affected 2.9 billion people, resulting in 1.2 million fatalities.

What Is a Natural Disaster?

Natural disasters can be grouped into several categories.By definition, a natural disaster is a natural event, often calledan “act of God,” that results in widespread damage and/or death. provides examples ofnatural disaster categories, including:

  • Drought
  • Earthquakes
  • Extreme heat
  • Floods
  • Hurricanes
  • Landslides
  • Severe weather
  • Thunderstorm/
  • Tornadoes
  • Tsunamis
  • Volcanoes
  • Wildfires
  • Winter storms/extreme cold

Each natural disaster has its own unique cause related to the environment and the elements. A seemingly innocuous natural disaster like drought can affect millions, such as the 2002 drought that swept India and China. Drought may cause related environmental conditions that can trigger more natural disasters in a domino effect, like flash floods, wildfires, and landslides.

Earthquakes have been happening for hundreds of millions of years as tectonic plates move and shift under the surface of the earth. But an earthquake in a populated area can cause serious damage, injury, and death.

Floods are a common natural disaster risk in the U.S.—they can develop quickly and without warning, also called a flash flood. Floods normally occur after several minutes or hours of heavy rainfall; a flash flood can sweep a community if a dam or levee breaks. Floods can even occur in the changing of seasons, if rainfall or snowmelt fills and overflows underground pipes.

No matter where you live in the U.S.,
you could be vulnerable to natural disaster.

Californians and West-coasters see their fair share of earthquakes. Tornadoes barrel through the Midwest at the drop of a hat. Coastal states, like Florida and Louisiana, have had to rebuild after many a hurricane. Extreme winter storms have shut down parts of the Northeast.

You have likely experienced the effects of natural disaster, in some form or another. While it is entirely possible for a natural disaster to result in death—like an earthquake, tornado, or hurricane—in most cases, widespread disaster is responsible for serious property damage.

UNISDR figures show that storms caused the most economicdamage in 2005, estimated at $251 billion. 2005 was the yearHurricane Katrina devastated Louisiana.

  • 2005

  • 2008

  • 2011

In 2008, earthquakes were responsible for the most global economic damage at $203 billion—the year the Sichuan earthquake struck China. Global economic earthquake damages peaked again in 2011 at an estimated $371 billion; this was the year the Great East Japan Earthquake hit.

Besides damage, injury, and death, every naturaldisaster has its own unique environmental effect:

  • Erosion

  • avalanches

  • destruction of plant life

  • loss ofanimal life

  • Blizzard

  • Drought

  • ExtremeHeat

  • Flood

  • Thunderstorm

  • Tsunami

  • Wildfires

  • soildeterioration

  • drought

  • landslides

  • flooding

Major natural disasters
change the course of history


Egyptian/Syrian Earthquake

The “deadliest earthquake in recorded history” struck Egypt and Syria on July 5, 1201. The earthquake wreaked havoc on almost every major city in the eastern Mediterranean and killed 1.1 million people in total.


China’s Drought

The Chinese drought from 1876 to 1879 is considered the “deadliest drought in history.” The drought affected more than nine provinces—killing 9 million people, as well as crops and livestock.


Krakatoa Volcano

The Krakatoa Volcano of Indonesia erupted from August 26 to 27, 1883; the volcanic explosion occurred within four blasts, releasing three cubic miles of magma in the energy equivalent of an atomic bomb. 36,000 lives were lost due to thermal injury and tsunamis triggered by the eruption.


Yangtze River Flooding

Following another severe Chinese drought from 1928 to 1930, torrential rains unleashed in 1931. Yangtze, Yellow, and Huai River flooding destroyed rice crops to cause famine and disease; 51 million people were affected by the mass flood, and 4 million were killed.


Tangshan Earthquake

The deadliest earthquake of the 20th century took 255,000 lives at first count with more deaths to follow. Total death tolls were later estimated at more than double the original count as the earthquake was followed by a year of disaster in China.



This major weather event spanned from Cuba to Canada and was dubbed the “storm of the century,” made up of 11 tornadoes, hurricane force Southern winds, torrential rain, and winter storms along the eastern seaboard. The storm caused an estimated $6 billion in damage with 300 casualties.


European Heat Wave

Unprecedented summer heat in 2003 caused a continent-wide heat wave and health crisis. Ukraine lost 75% of its wheat crops, and close to 1500 casualties were reported in France among the elderly and in homes without air-conditioning.


Indian Ocean Tsunami

This major tsunami was triggered by a 9.1 magnitude earthquake off the coast of the Indonesian island Sumatra, considered the third largest and longest recorded earthquake in history at over eight minutes. The tsunami that ensued washed over 14 countries, killing 230,000 people and leaving 1.7 million homeless.


Hurricane Katrina

Category 5 Hurricane Katrina washed over the Gulf Coast in August 2005, claiming 1800 lives; New Orleans was leveled with 80% flooding and damages incurred by maximum force winds of up to 175 miles per hour.


Haiti Earthquake

This recent earthquake had a measured magnitude of 7.0 with a depth of 8.1 miles, striking Haiti on January 12, 2010. The strongest earthquake the country had seen since 1770 caused more than 200,000 deaths and left 2 million homeless.

Home Preparedness Tipsfor Natural Disasters

Here are five important emergency prep tipsfor six major natural disaster categories:



Prep your home in a high-risk earthquake zone by securing top-heavy furniture, like dressers and bookcases, into wall studs. Flexible fasteners are recommended to offer more furniture movement and lessen the burden on wall studs.


All cabinet doors should be secured and latched with basic child-proofing or earthquake-prep accessories; latched cabinets will prevent glass and other heavy items from falling out during a quake.

Secure major appliances

Refrigerators and other heavy appliances should be secured to prevent tipping using earthquake appliance straps.

Store heavy items at ground level

Never store large, heavy items on high shelves in an earthquake zone—this could cause serious injury when falling.

Check pipes

Commission a plumber to give your house a full earthquake check-up to ensure that rusted or worn gas and water pipes are properly secured and replaced. Broken pipes are a major source of property damage after an earthquake.


Earthquake Kit
portable radio
can opener
canned food
City map
change of clothes
first aid kit
fire extinguisher


Check structural building codes

If your home was built to meet or exceed current building codes in tornado-prone regions, it has a better chance of withstanding violent winds with less damage. Reference the Southern Building Code Congress International’s Standard Building Code for further information.

Rethink landscaping

In tornado-prone regions, shredded bark landscaping materials are preferred to more dangerous gravel and rock fillers.

Trim trees

To protect your house from damage during a tornado, and to shield passersby from injury, keep shrubs and large trees trimmed of hanging branches.

Upgrade your windows

Impact-resistant window upgrades are recommended to increase windstorm and tornado survival—and to protect against injury from broken glass.

Anchor the roof

Take extra precaution by anchoring your roof to housing walls using straps and metal clips; consult a professional for effective tornado-proofing during routine roof replacement.

Source: United States Geological Survey ITS Mapping and Analysis Center, Washington, DC

tornado risk

  • highest
  • high
  • no data avail.


Check your building codes

Similar to tornado prep, your home should meet current high-wind building codes to minimize damage during a raging hurricane; see the Standard Building Code issued by the Southern Building Code Congress International, Inc.

Seal roof sheathing

Roof joints should be fully sealed to create a secondary moisture barrier and prevent flood damage; sheathing can be glued to rafters and trusses using adhesive that meets APA Performance Specification AFG-01 standards.

Check walls and foundation

Hire a contractor to ensure that housing walls are properly anchored to the foundation. Joints may require retrofitting by a qualified contractor to ensure storm and hurricane resistance.

Upgrade your home

Hurricane-proofing home upgrades include impact-resistant window systems, three-hinge doors with secure anchor frames, laminated or plastic glazed sliding glass doors, and garage doors reinforced with permanent metal or wood stiffeners.

Keep up on landscaping

Trim hanging branches on trees and shrubs that could cause damage; use gentler shredded bark instead of gravel or rock as landscaping material.


category 1

minimalUnanchored mobile homes, vegetation, and signs.

category 2

moderateAll mobile homes, roofs,small crafts. Flooding.

category 3

extensiveSmall buildings. Low-lying roads cut off.

category 4

extremeRoofs destroyed.Trees down. Roads cut off.Mobile homes destroyed.Beach homesflooded.

category 5

CatastrophicMost buildings destroyed. Vegetation destroyed. Major roads cut off. Homes flooded.


Take inventory of all possessions

Use pictures, videotape, and documentation to create a written and visual record of all household valuables for insurance purposes. Not only can floods destroy belongings in an instant, they can spark black mold growth, which if left neglected could compromise the structure of your home and create health issues for its inhabitants.

Raise appliances

Major appliances that can incur costly damage should be lifted at least 12 inches above projected flood elevation levels, including washer and dryer, furnace, and water heater.


Ensure that your house sump pump is working properly with a battery-operated backup to use in a power outage.

Install a water alarm

For houses located in flash flood zones, a water alarm can be installed to alert of rising water in the basement or on lower levels.

Elevate electrical components

Sockets, circuit breakers, wiring, and switches should be reinstalled a minimum of 12 inches above the projected flood elevation in your area.

2013 u.s. flood fatalities – activity of victims

  • 53%


  • 14%


  • 19%


  • 2%

    fell in

  • 4%


  • 8%


Severe Thunderstorm

Secure windows and doors

Outside doors and windows should be secured and shuttered when a major thunderstorm is in the forecast.

Keep gutters and downspouts clean

In the midst of a sudden downpour, gutters can quickly clog and overflow to cause leaks and flooding in your house; regularly check and clean gutters and downspouts to divert water flow and deflect damage. This is another possible source of mold growth, which could endanger your home and loved ones.

Secure heavy objects on the property

Tie down or move heavy objects on the porch and in the yard that could cause damage when thrown during a storm, including lawn furniture, dog kennels, charcoal grills, decorations, etc.

Trim trees regularly

It’s critical to remove rotting or dead limbs from large trees on your property as a major storm could strike at any time. Regular trimming can protect against expensive property damage and personal injury.

Invest in a backup generator

Most weather experts consider backup generators a “must-have” for any home, especially those in high-thunderstorm areas. An efficient backup generator should provide enough power to run a refrigerator and several other appliances.

united states (contiguous)
average number of thunderstorm days per year

Blizzard/Winter Storm

Install backup lights

LED hand-crank lights are a basic winter storm essential, requiring only a windup to provide a bright light source without batteries.

Install a backup sump pump

As snow starts to melt after a winter storm, a power outage could derail your sump pump and cause flooding in your basement; an emergency battery backup is key.

Stock up the pantry

During winter, always keep at least three days worth of non-perishable food items on hand. Buy in bulk—and don’t forget bottled water.

Use a freeze alarm

In northern areas of the US prone to heavy snowfall, a freeze alarm can be used to alert you when your home has lost power and hit freezing temperatures before you arrive.

Prepare a backup heat source

Heat is the utmost concern when power goes out during a winter storm; confirm a working non-electric backup heat source for your home, such as a backup generator, wood stove, or kerosene heater.

january – december 2013
statewide temperature ranks

  • Record coldest
  • much below normal
  • below normal
  • near normal
  • above normal
  • much above normal
  • record warmest

Where Are You Most at Risk
for Natural Disaster?

As you can see in the map below, different areas of the country show different natural disaster vulnerabilities:

  • tornado risk

  • hurricane risk

  • earthquake risk



The city of Dallas wins the “natural disaster grand prize” with the highest metro risk of all, taking into account flooding, drought, hail, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and extreme weather. Dallas residents must prepare for natural disasters in all categories, with the exception of earthquakes.

Texas tops the U.S. for natural disaster risk.

There is a minimum of one major natural disaster recorded almost every year in Texas, the second largest state in the U.S. following Alaska. Texas was rated by BankRate as the number one state with the highest natural disaster risk. Texas’ natural disaster count has hit 88 over the past 60 years.


“DISASTER IMPACTS / 2000-2012.”
“Top 10 Natural Disasters: Science Channel.” Science Channel.
“25 Worst Natural Disasters Ever Recorded – List25.” List25.
“10 Worst Natural Disasters of All Time.” Disasterium RSS.
“Where to Live to Avoid a Natural Disaster.” The New York Times.
“10 states most at risk for major disasters.” 10 States Most At Risk For Major Disasters.