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About 3.4 million people had to leave their homes in the U.S. last year due to natural disasters, including hurricanes, floods, fires, and tornadoes.
The U.S. Census Bureau data is based on the nearly 68,000 responses collected in early 2023 to the agency’s ongoing Household Pulse Survey. Roughly 40 percent of respondents were able to return to their homes within a week. However, 12 percent were displaced for more than six months, and 16 percent were expecting never to be able to return to their homes.
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While these numbers are startling, what is more alarming is that climate-related disasters are occurring with increasing frequency.
If you’re a frequent visitor to this site, you know we often offer preparedness information, and we’ve published many articles on how and why to prepare a bug out bag. These portable kits are designed to help you survive for about 72 hours if you have to leave your home in an emergency.
The best advice is to be prepared, stay aware, listen for alerts, and to evacuate when a potential disaster is looming. But what if an emergency unravels so quickly that you cannot leave your home? The terrifying scenarios could include a fast-spreading wildfire, torrential rain that is causing flash flooding, or an approaching monster tornado. What if it’s simply too late to bug out?
For this article, we’ve gathered some tips for staying as safe as possible when you have no choice but to shelter in place.
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As we write this article, people in Vermont and other areas of the Northeast are reeling from devastating floods. Intense rain events, like the ones causing this disaster, are making the idea of a “once in a century” flood obsolete. According to the report released by the First Street Foundation, a non-profit weather risk research organization, a catastrophic “one in a 100 years” flood could occur at least every five to 10 years in much of the country.
Rapidly rising and rushing water can turn deadly in a hurry, and many people underestimate the danger. If flood waters are preventing you from leaving your home, here are some basic tips from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA):
- Go to the highest floor of your house or building.
- Avoid basements, lower floors, and closed attics where you could become trapped there by rising floodwater.
- Go onto the roof only if absolutely necessary.
As people who have faced the threat of wildfires know all too well, wildfires can develop, increase in intensity, and then change course very rapidly. Here are some suggestions for when you have no option but to stay in your home.
- Keep your family together inside the home in a room that allows you to see the progress of the fire and ideally has two ways out.
- Shut doors and windows.
- Move curtains away from windows and sliding glass doors.
- Fill sinks and tubs with cold water.
- Stay away from outside walls and windows.
Although meteorologists have gained more accuracy in predicting hurricane strength and issuing evacuation warnings, these dangerous storms can have a mind of their own. Data from NASA shows that hurricanes are increasing in frequency, intensity, and the amount of rainfall they produce.
- Stay away from windows and glass doors.
- Close all interior doors. Brace external doors.
- Close curtains and blinds.
- Gather the family in a small interior room, closet, or hallway on the lowest level.
- Lie on the floor under a sturdy table or desk.
Tornadoes can strike quickly, sometimes without time for authorities to issue a tornado warning. Warning signs of an approaching tornado may include:
- A dark or green sky
- Large, dark, low clouds
- Large hail
- A roar that sounds like a freight train
- Rotating funnel-shaped cloud
- An approaching cloud of debris
The safest place in a home when a tornado is approaching is the interior section of a basement. If your home does not have a basement, gather in a windowless room, hallway, or closet on the lowest floor.
Here are some other tips.
- Avoid areas below heavy objects, such as large appliances or pianos, that could fall through the floor when the tornado strikes.
- Get under a heavy table, desk, or workbench.
- Protect your body –especially your head — with a blanket, sleeping bag, mattress, or anything else that is available.
- If you live in a mobile home, seek another nearby building. If necessary, lie flat in a ditch, ravine, or culvert and cover your head with your hands.
Exposure to radiation is a terrifying thing to consider. However, remaining in your home may be safer than trying to escape. That’s because the walls of your home can help block harmful waves.
If you are at home during a radiation emergency, consider the following steps:
- Close and lock all windows and doors.
- Gather in the basement or the middle of the home.
- Stay as away from the walls and roof.
- Turn off air conditioners, forced-air heating units, and fans.
- Close fireplace dampers.
In conclusion, we want to stress that it is important to have an emergency plan – or even several plans to cover different scenarios — in place. Being prepared can help you stay calm and collected when an unexpected event happens. You won’t have to think about what steps to take; you’ll just need to follow the ones you have already prepared.
The basic components of an emergency plan are:
- How will you receive emergency alerts and warnings?
- Where will you take shelter?
- What is your evacuation route?
- How will you communicate with any family members not at home?
- Prepare an emergency preparedness kit (go bag) for each family member.
- Consider the specific needs of your household, including the different ages and abilities or everyone and remember your pets.
- Practice your plan with your family.
To help you get started, you can use this form to create a family emergency plan.
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