Survive a Disaster In a Mobile Home

If you live in a mobile home park (more accurate these days may be the term “manufactured home park”), you join more than 6 million other Americans. From an emergency preparedness point of view, you may have unique decisions to make compared to people who live in standard site-built housing.

Popular wisdom suggests that mobile homes are less safe than traditional housing. In many cases, that may be true. But newer homes (built since 1976) are regulated by HUD and may be even safer than some traditional housing.

Some Advantages to Modern Mobile Homes

  • Modern manufactured homes are built in a controlled environment – a very big assembly line in a very big warehouse – following an approved system and where there is no interference or material degradation from the weather. Construction is consistent and reliable.
  • The home is essentially two sturdy box frames built on steel frames and bolted together. This construction tends to make a more stable dwelling compared to conventional construction which may be built room by room with the addition of chimneys, etc.
  • In an earthquake, a manufactured home may move, but is less likely to disintegrate. In a severe hurricane, of course, a mobile home will be damaged from the wind just like any other dwelling. They too are vulnerable to flooding, toppled trees, etc.

The Vulnerability of a Mobile Home

The majority of homes in parks stand on piers that place them 1-4 ft. above the ground or foundation. In high winds, or in an earthquake, the home can become dislodged; no matter where you live, your home needs tie-downs and anchors.

In modern construction, the frame of the mobile home is secured to the piers, and the piers are in turn anchored to the ground/foundation. The U.S. is divided into wind zones; standards for tie-downs may be different for different zones. And different foundations or soil conditions may require different anchors: augur anchors, drive anchors or crossed steel stakes.

First step for security: Be sure your manufactured home is properly tied-down and anchored for its location and type. A qualified contractor, familiar with national and local regulations, can inspect the home (likely for free) and make recommendations for foundation improvements, earthquake bracing and holddowns. Extensive work will require a permit, and can be expensive. Get multiple bids. (Note that you may be eligible for a reduction in homeowners’ insurance rates as a result of these improvements.)

Understanding Manufactured Home Park Characteristics

Many parks were built 30 or more years ago. The oldest ones may exhibit some of these characteristics:

  • Infrastructure weaknesses. Older parks may have water or gas lines that are aging and fragile, and home utility connections that are exposed above ground and therefore vulnerable to weather, rot, or bumping. In a serious earthquake or even storm, these systems may fail.
  • Gas line ruptures are the most dangerous. You will likely smell a gas line leak at your home. In this case, open windows and evacuate without flipping any electrical switches! That means wait until you are a safe distance away from the home before you make any phone calls! A leak in a distribution line underground may be more difficult to assess. In an earthquake, however, until the condition of the gas lines has been ascertained, avoid driving! In the Northridge Quake in California many years ago, automobiles’ catalytic converters ignited gas leaking from beneath the street, causing the entire park to burn.

If you do NOT suspect a gas line break, do NOT turn off the gas at your utility connection. Once turned off, it can only be turned on again by the gas company – and it may take days for them to get to you.

  • Fire. Older mobile homes typically become fully engulfed in less than 10 minutes! And with homes so close together, a fire in one can threaten all – especially in windy conditions. However, older homes with metal siding tend to burn and collapse in on themselves. And many newer homes have fire blocking in the walls and fiber-cement composite siding, which is fire resistant.

Taking Responsibility for Individual Preparedness

Suggestions for individual mobile home park dwellers to prepare themselves and their neighbors are similar to those for everyone. They involve taking steps to:

1. Store Water

The standard: A gallon a day per person, for at least 3 days and preferably for 10 days or even two weeks.

Plastic bottles of water are better than nothing, but if you have room in your shed or alongside the home, consider a larger container like a 55 gallon drum, with pump. Naturally, you’ll want to refresh this supply from time to time, but with proper storage you can keep this supply available for months.

If you live in an older park, you probably already know that the water system may be fragile. Assume you will be without water immediately and for hours or days in an emergency.

2. Collect Food

Start now, a little at a time if necessary, to set aside extra quantities of necessary medications and foods that you already eat. Then eat what you store. This means rotating supplies, replenishing favorite foods on a regular basis. In an emergency, you will not be able to cook unless you have camping gear. You may not be able to “add water.” Keep these limitations in mind as you manage your food stores. Don’t forget tools to help you open foods: a mechanical can opener and a knife, etc. Be sure to store emergency medications, food and water for your pets, too.

Naturally, if the electricity goes out, food in your freezer and refrigerator will begin to spoil. Use frozen items as soon as they are thawed, then eat foods in the refrigerator. All this before you start in on your stored canned goods.

3. Prepare for Emergency Communications

When the electricity goes out, so does T.V., phone service, and cable internet. You may have some sort of smartphone connection but only until your batteries are dead. And that’s only if the cell towers in your area are operating. Therefore emergency preparations need to include a battery-operated radio. The best ones can be recharged via hand-cranking or solar panels. (We studied five of the most popular being sold on Amazon. Check the radio reviews here.) Having a couple of two-way radios (“walkie talkies”) available to talk between neighbors can be good backup.

4. Provide Emergency Lighting

You may already have experienced electricity outages in your park, so you know how dramatic they can be. At night, with no light, you will not be able to move about at all. With light, you can move confidently, prepare your surroundings to be as comfortable as possible, and retain some semblance of normalcy. Recommendation: A flashlight in every room, preferably someplace where it will stay even after a shaking. We also have battery-operated lanterns that can provide light for a whole room.

Naturally, a supply of batteries is essential.

Until you know it’s safe, candles are not advised. Striking a match or even a stray spark can set off a gas explosion!

5. Withstand the Weather

In any climate, having no heating will make an immediate difference and extended cold will be life threatening. Be sure to have adequate blankets and, if you live in a cold climate, invest in a cold-weather sleeping bag. There’s nothing as effective.

6. Repair Damage

Depending on the situation, you may have to make repairs to your home. If you know how to use them, some essential tools include:

* Hammer, gloves, safety glasses or goggles

* Duct tape, plastic sheeting

* Utility Knife with variable blades and tools

* Pliers (maybe a multi-tool), heavy-duty scissors or cutters

* Pry bar, flashlights, battery-powered radio

* Screw driver (an interchangeable Phillips head and slot head, all in one)

7. Manage Sanitation

This is likely to be one of your biggest challenges, but critical for health. If the entire neighborhood has been impacted by the emergency, you can assume that within hours your toilet will no longer flush and will begin to back up. If you have a swimming pool nearby, you may be able to carry water from it to pour down the toilet to flush it. There are two additional sources of water . . . your hot water heater and your toilet tank. (In these cases purification before drinking is advisable.)

However, the only real solution for sanitation is heavy-duty plastic bags (like the ones used in trash compactors). Place one in the toilet or in a five-gallon bucket to catch waste and dispose of them outside when they are full. Regular plastic bags by themselves won’t do, but you can use double or triple layers.

Be sure to have supplies of toilet paper and sanitary wipes.

Counting on the Neighbors

In a mobile home park, you and your neighbors are likely to be “in the same boat” when it comes to emergency conditions. You will be depending on each other, and not outside assistance, during the first minutes, hours or even days of a real emergency.

So, how readily can you answer these questions about your neighbors?

* Do you know your neighbors?

* Will they be able to help you in an emergency?

* Will you be able to help them, for example, sharing food and water, if they need it?

If people are prepared and willing to help each other, long-term effects of a disaster may be averted. Building an emergency preparedness ethic, and training neighbors to know how to respond, is the role of a Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT.

If the first step in your park is individual preparedness, as touched on in this article, then building an effective CERT group is the next step.

There are many resources for CERT training and team building, starting with www.FEMA.org and including here at Emergency Plan Guide Neighborhood CERT – How to Recruit as well. As soon as you have taken care of your personal preparations, consider speaking to your park management or Homeowners Association about adding a CERT organization to your community.