Tag: flood

Water this summer — too much or too little?


Just a couple of weeks ago I wrote an article about the importance of water this summer for keeping cool – particularly when you have no air conditioning. Then just last Saturday I was on the phone with my son in Germany, talking about keeping his young family safe during the heat wave that was going on in Europe!

At the same time my LinkedIn feed is full of pictures of flooding in the Midwest – often with the caption “No end in sight!”

What do you expect this summer? Too much or too little water? And does it really make a difference?

I think it does. According to the United Nations, “about 90% of all natural disasters are water-related!”

90%? Just think about it. Here are 5 miscellaneous facts that give us an idea of the role water is playing right here, right now in the U.S. I think we should all be familiar with details like these:

  • This year’s floods in Iowa are so bad that Governor Reynolds didn’t even have to do a damage assessment in order to apply for disaster relief.
  • The 2018 wildfires in California (“worst in history) were intensified by nearly 8 years of drought. This summer, utility company PG&E has already begun “Public Safety Power Shutoff’s (PSPS)” to protect from more electrical fires.
  • When Hurricane Florence hit North Carolina in last September, dozens of “hog lagoons” overflowed or were damaged – leaking pig poop onto surrounding acreage and into the groundwater. (Did you realize that over 40% of Americans rely on groundwater for drinking water?)
  • Florida has been in the news lately, not just because of political activity. Turns out that the sea level there is rising by 1 inch every 3 years. Water comes right up through the ground in coastal cities! And saltwater in getting into drinking water and compromising sewage plants.
  • Remember Hurricane Harvey, in Houston? So do the residents there! A study of over 13,000 people shows that mental health damage has had a bigger impact than physical damage. . . both for people whose homes were flooded and those whose homes were spared.

So what can we do about water this summer?

We can’t change the weather. But we can certainly be more aware of how precious clean water really is. We can do our best not to waste or pollute, and we can encourage those around us to do the same.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Here in California that drought had an impact on more than the forests. All sorts of restrictions were placed on washing cars, watering lawns, etc. Even today, waiters bring out silverware and menus but not necessarily water. You have to ask for it!

What’s going on in your neighborhood to save water?

Day 5 of Summer Vacation: A time for some shorter and lighter Advisories as a welcome change-of-pace!

Covered for a natural disaster, or not?


Covered for natural disaster

Time for an insurance review.

I’m putting together my to-do list for the holiday vacation. After all this year’s natural disasters, first on the list is an insurance review. I started the review, and more and more questions kept coming up! Naturally, this led to an Advisory!

Ask your insurance agent these 7 questions to see how well YOU are covered for a natural disaster.

“How many of your clients are under-insured? Am I one?”

This is a tricky question, of course! Maybe you could soften it starting with this quote from Nationwide:
“I understand that 60% of American homes are under-insured by an average of at least 20%. I want to be sure I’m not one of them!”

“I’m worried about all the recent (fill in the blank: wildfires, storms, tornadoes). Am I covered for a natural disaster? What if my house is totally destroyed?”

This is the main question you want answers to. Start with these sub-questions . . .

  • What is the amount of my home coverage?
  • Is that based on the value of the house, or replacement cost? (Be careful. “Value” of a home could include the value of the land, in which case your coverage might not be enough to replace the house.)
  • Exactly how is replacement cost figured in my policy? (It turns out that there is “replacement cost” and then there’s “extended replacement cost.” Make sure your agent can explain which you have, and the difference between them.)

“If I have to live somewhere else while the house is being rebuilt, will my policy cover additional living expenses?”

How much and for how long? Any restrictions on where I stay? How do I get the money in my hand?

“Will my policy cover (fill in the blank: floods or storm surge from a hurricane, earthquake, land slide following rain, volcanoes)?”

You will probably NOT BE COVERED for a natural disaster from the list above!

I love this paragraph from esurance

Homeowners insurance typically doesn’t cover landslides or mudslides. That’s because both are considered a form of “earth movement”, and like an earthquake or sinkhole, they’re generally excluded from a standard homeowners insurance policy. Flood policies often don’t cover damage from landslides or mudslides, either. And earthquake policies only offer reimbursement if an earthquake caused the events.

Quiz your agent closely on coverage for natural disasters. Be sure you know just where “water damage” (covered) leaves off and “flood water damage” (not covered) starts, where “rain damage” (covered) ends and “mud damage” (not covered) starts – on YOUR policy!

Perhaps you need separate policies to be sure you are covered for natural disasters?  We have addressed some of these special threats, including insurance policy info, in earlier Advisories about Volcanoes, Earthquakes , and Floods.

“What else don’t I know about? What about . . .”

  • Mold
  • Sewage backups
  • Debris removal after a disaster
  • Lightning
  • Hail
  • ????

Get your agent to mention some of the frequent problems he or she has encountered here in your neighborhood. Some of these may be covered by your policy, others not. You may want to add an endorsement to your policy to cover a specific risk.

“This is adding up. What can I do to reduce premiums?”

The first thing to discuss are your deductibles, particularly if there has been a change – from dollar amounts to percentages, for example. A 5% deductible may sound better than a $15,000 deductible, but not if your house is worth $400,000!

Generally, the higher the deductible, the lower the premium. You want the highest deductible you can afford.

And you may want to check with your agent to see if you can make changes or improvements to your home that will improve your coverage for natural disasters while lowering the insurance company’s risk. These might include replacing the roof, upgrading the electric system, clearing brush around the house, retrofitting for earthquake, or installing storm shutters. Ask for a list of all the home discounts you’re eligible for, not just those associated with natural disasters!

Now, I don’t review my insurance every year – but this year I’m going to with the help of these questions. I hope you use them, too!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S.  If you discover that you seem to be well covered for natural disasters (Hooray!), you still might want to pose this last question:

“Is the bill for my current homeowner’s policy going up?”

If the answer is YES, and it’s more than 5% or so, ask why. You might hear these reasons:

  • Recent disasters have made prices rise for all insurance companies.
  • Risks have gone up in your neighborhood.
  • Your personal risk profile has changed. (Confirm what’s changed – is it your credit score? That could have an impact in some states.)

P.P.S. Consumers Reports says that people who shop for better deals on property insurance can save hundreds of dollars a year. You can get quotes for free through insure.com or InsWeb.com. (as recommended  by This Old House)

And finally, a disclaimer. I am not a licensed insurance agent, hence all the links in this Advisory to what I trust are reputable sources. Be sure to get advice on insurance from professionals.

Evacuation Fundamentals


“What do we do?”  “Where do we go?”

Evacuation MeetingAfter the wildfires last fall, we kept hearing these two questions from a number of our California neighbors.

The questions seem simple, but people were not satisfied with what they were hearing.

So, we invited the local fire department to address the topic at a special community meeting. Nearly 100 people showed up that evening to get answers to the questions we had sent in advance.

Here are some of the questions we sent, and some of the answers we got. I recommend you consider finding out what YOUR local First Responders would say if asked.

“How will we know if we are supposed to evacuate?”

An evacuation order can come from the governor, the mayor, or the fire department. In every case, once the decision is made, the order will be announced via television, radio, various social media (Facebook and Twitter), the app iAlert, reverse 911 services – and even loudspeakers on cars or trucks.

Your job is to be aware of the POSSIBILITY of an order, and be ready to act when it comes.  That means, at the very least, having your Evacuation Kit packed and your car full of gas. Having a battery-operated emergency AM radio will keep you up to date if power goes out.

“Where are we supposed to go?”

When an order is given, it is typically accompanied by a list of shelters that will be available. The addresses of the shelters will be given, and new shelters will be added as the incident evolves. (In our community, all high schools and community centers are prepared to serve as shelters.)

You can download the FREE Red Cross Shelter App for your Smart Phone and get a list of all open shelters in your area. (Look for Emergency App at the Red Cross site.)

Shelters are set up by the Red Cross and staffed by Red Cross and other volunteers, including CERT volunteers. Note that service animals are allowed in the shelters, but pets are NOT ALLOWED. You need to make arrangements for your pet beforehand!

“When is the best time to leave?”

Our speaker from the Fire Department emphasized that you do NOT need to wait for the order. You can leave any time you want – and sooner may be better than later. He told us that when the fire department arrived in one community where the order had just been given, everyone was already gone!

Of course, you don’t need to go to a shelter. You can stay with friends or relatives, stay in a hotel, etc. (If you have a pet, you may want to put together a list of pet-friendly hotels long before you might need one.)

Note: Once an order is given, and you have left your home, you will NOT BE ABLE TO RETURN until the official all-clear is given. Police need to be able to secure the neighborhood so fire fighters and other emergency personnel can move freely and safely.

“What about traffic?”

Cities usually plan for evacuation in phases, with specific traffic patterns laid out in advance. Streets can be converted to all-one-way. Unfortunately, in widespread evacuations as we saw in Florida last year, even freeways can become parking lots as everyone heads out in the same direction. (I don’t know why those Florida freeways weren’t converted to all-one-way!)

We saw during the Northern California fires, and later during the mudslides in Santa Barbara County that evacuation orders were delayed precisely because officials feared panic and traffic jams – and those officials have come under severe criticism. This is a tricky problem.

But it’s another reason for you to evacuate early if you can.

“How long can we stay in a shelter?”

Per the Red Cross, shelters stay open “as long as there is a need.” At the same time, while the shelter provides basic food and a place to sleep, the Red Cross recommends you bring your own supplies to make your stay more comfortable. On their suggested list:

  • Prescription and emergency medication · medical equipment such as a wheelchair/walker, oxygen, etc.
  • Extra clothing · pillows · blankets and sleeping bags
  • Hygiene supplies
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Small board games · books for entertainment
  • Specialty snacks and juices for those with dietary restrictions
  • Baby food and formula · diapers
  • Beach chair or camp chair

You may NOT bring illegal drugs, alcoholic beverages or guns.

“What about people who can’t evacuate without help?”

Our Fire Department and the head of the Office of Emergency Management assured us that they know our community well enough to know where extra help would be needed – at hospitals, nursing homes, etc. Our speakers also agreed that having a current list of neighbors who would need extra help would be invaluable.

Unfortunately, putting together such a list is a challenge. In our senior community, our emergency response team attempts to collect information about neighbors. But some people are unwilling to provide the personal medical or financial information that would direct special assistance to them in an emergency. So, our list is always incomplete. Have you had success building a list?

“How should we prepare our homes before we leave?”

Fire. Here in California, where the danger is likely to be from fire, we are told by CalFire to take the following steps to protect our homes:

  • Build using fire-resistant materials.
  • Clear out underbrush and overhanging branches from around the home. (Create a “defensible space.”)
  • Block vents and under-eave spaces where embers can catch and smolder.
  • Remove curtains and move flammable furniture away from windows.
  • Remove flammable lawn furniture and other outdoors hazards.
  • Shut windows and doors and leave them unlocked.
  • Leave the lights on (to direct fire fighters if it’s smoky).
  • Do NOT leave water or sprinklers running (will lessen water pressure for professional fire fighters).

Flooding. In areas where flooding is the risk, suggestions include:

  • Make serious changes to the way your home is built: make sure electrical panels, appliances and heating systems are elevated, not in the basement.
  • Waterproof your basement.
  • Raise the whole house (stilts?).
  • Clean out gutters, downspouts and drains.
  • Move items you want to protect to a higher floor or to a safer place altogether.
  • Before you leave, turn off gas, water, and electricity if you know how and can do it without touching water or standing in it!
  • Put sandbags around your property.

Hurricane a risk? Again, some basic precautions before you leave:

  • Close storm shutters or board up windows with 5/8” plywood, cut to fit.
  • Install addition clips or straps to fasten roof to the frame.
  • Clean out rain gutters and downspouts.
  • Determine how and where to secure your boat.
  • Unplug radios, TVs, and small appliances (not refrigerator or freezer).
  • If you live in a mobile home or a high-rise apartment, evacuate for sure. These structures are more vulnerable to both wind and flooding.

Now, consider these last three steps everyone can take.

Start To Work Now On These Longer-Term Protections

Check Your Insurance.

By now, you should know if you are in a burn corridor, a flood plain, an inundation footprint (from a dam collapse) or in a coastal area where your home could be impacted by a hurricane or tsunami. The right insurance policy could help protect you in the aftermath of one of these disasters. It’s likely that your regular homeowner’s policy will not be sufficient. Check with your insurance carrier and do preliminary research yourself, online.

You can start here with our Advisory: Flood Insurance

Get Involved In Your Community.

With so many disasters happening lately, many people are taking political action to strengthen their communities.

First, they are forcing community leaders to reconsider zoning and building codes and their enforcement. (Think about the massive landslide in Washington State where homes were build below a hill that had been identified as unstable. Think about the new homes built flat on the flood plain in Houston.) People are demanding better emergency alerts and automated communications.

Second, they are building community emergency response groups, so knowledge and assets can be shared in case of a disaster. (You saw Joe and me at the table in the picture at the top of the article. Later — the inset — I jumped in to wave the information about upcoming CERT classes in our city!)

Neighbors are the true first responders — they are already there when the disaster hits. You want the most qualified neighbors possible!

Pack Your Evacuation Kits.

This entire article assumes you have a kit ready for each member of the family in case an evacuation is called. Our Fire Department speaker mentioned just three things: Food, Water and Medicines. For a more complete list, check out our complete list of Emergency Supplies — scroll down to the Evacuation Kit section.

This turns out to be quite a list. I hope it’s useful as a review or to stimulate some remedial action on your part.

Virginia and Joe
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. This isn’t the entire list of questions we came up with for our guest speakers. If you are thinking of approaching YOUR fire department and police department, drop me a line and request “the full list of evacuation questions” and I’ll send it to you directly. Naturally, you’ll want to customize your list. But we have found over the years that by providing speakers with questions we get a much better presentation than if we just invite them to “come give us a talk about safety!”

Preparedness Checklist for 2018


Lists work. They’re easy to figure out, satisfying to check off. Here’s one to get us all going toward some new levels of preparedness for 2018.

Review or reminder?

For a few people, this will be review. But for most of us, at least one of these items will cause a grimace or even a slap of the forehead because we know we should already have dealt with it!

There are more ideas and resources below the chart. But take a quick first look.

Which item should be first on your list?

Preparedness Checklist for 2018More resources for items on the list.

  1. Homeowners’ insurance may not cover water damage to the stuff in your basement. Neither may flood insurance! If you rent, what about the items stored in your “cage” in the parking garage? You will never really know what’s covered until you pull out your policy and go over it with your insurance agent. Here’s an Advisory that will give you more questions to ask about any insurance:
    Flood Damage Not Covered By Insurance
  2. What was a good place to head for last year may have changed. Update your plans, particularly if you have children. Pick an assembly place nearby – like the big oak tree at the back of the lot – and another place further down the block or even across town. Can your family members FIND these places without the maps in their phones?
    Get Out Now — Family Evacuation Plan
  3. Every homemaker knows this, and knows how to do it. In a survival kit, just pull and replace everything! (You may discover that more and more canned items now are self-opening. Yay!) On the kitchen shelves, load at the back, eat from the front. Basta.
  4. I finally got far enough ahead on my blood pressure pills to have 10 days’ worth stored in my survival kit. But they’ve been there a while . . . And as we all know, over time pills lose their effectiveness, band aids lose their stick, bottles dry out, tubes ooze. Your first aid kit could actually do you harm if it’s not up to speed.
    First Aid Kit Failure
  5. Seems as though it would be easy to run outside in a fire, doesn’t it? But people are trapped and burned every day. Practice with your family! Make sure you know two exits from every room, how to get down from the second floor. What’s your agreed-upon signal for a home invasion threat? Every individual needs to know how to respond. If all your children know is to come screaming for you, you have NOT trained them properly.
    Escape from Burning House
  6. People around you could turn into rescuers – and even into friends. It can’t hurt to be open to meeting more of them. Besides, it’s just a neighborly thing to do. And if you have a neighborhood emergency response team, invite them to come and find out more.
    Build a neighborhood team
  7. Memorize important phone numbers. Assume phones won’t be available in a car wreck, a storm, or an earthquake. Memorizing is healthy brain activity, too!
  8. Computer companies compete to be your back-up service. But where do they PUT your files, and how to you access them if your computer has been destroyed? Have at least 3 back-up methods: onto your own computer, onto a separate physical hard drive stored off-site, and into the cloud. Test whatever procedure you have put into place. Just having a COPY of something doesn’t mean you can necessarily start right back up to work.
  9. Did you know that if one roommate applies for relief from FEMA, the other roommate may not be eligible? Do you know who would have to sign off for you to get an insurance payout on your house? We all tend to let legal questions linger . . . 2018 is the year to clean legal issues up for a number of reasons, not least of all to get them off your mind.
    Legal problems surface after flood
  10. Emergency preparedness isn’t supposed to be all long faces and determined expressions. It’s supposed to be positive!  What would be fun for you and your family? Learning to tie knots? Identify edible plants? Start a fire without matches? Operate a HAM radio? Take a course in basic self-defense? Do the CERT training? Every one of these skills will improve your knowledge, improve your confidence, and make you better prepared for any emergency!
    Tie the right knot!
    Ham radio operators play key role
    Self-defense for the rest of us

OK, I think that should do it!  Post this list somewhere handy, so you won’t overlook these items. What else should we add to the list? Just let us know in the comments!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. While we’re still on the positive aspects of preparedness, don’t miss my most recent Top Ten list!  It’s a collection of comfy camping items that would make ANY trip so much more pleasant — and fun!  Here’s the direct link: https://emergencyplanguide.org/top-ten/



We will rebuild! Is it grit or stupidity?


I don’t have an answer yet.

But when you hear new zoning or new flood insurance requirements being debated, stop and find out what’s going on. Because YOU are likely paying the bill for repetitive disasters now, and you will be paying the bill when disaster strikes again!

FEMA grants to disaster-prone areasRebuilding in disaster-prone areas is a big issue.

Rick Moran, in American Thinker, said it well.

“Across the nation, tens of billions of tax dollars have been spent on subsidizing coastal reconstruction in the aftermath of storms, usually with little consideration of whether it actually makes sense to keep rebuilding in disaster-prone areas. If history is any guide, a large fraction of the federal money allotted to New York, New Jersey and other states recovering from Hurricane Sandy – an amount that could exceed $30 billion – will be used the same way.

Tax money will go toward putting things back as they were, essentially duplicating the vulnerability that existed before the hurricane.”

(To see the full article, click here.)

The problem is compounded by the current role of the Federal Government.

Many citizens want to, and do, look to government when disasters overcome a community. Even conservatives who fight for less government seem to support government aid when their communities are affected. But by helping local communities rebuild, federal programs have often created targets for the next natural disaster.

There are some efforts underway to break the build-devastate-rebuild cycle.

Some isolated and admittedly random examples from around the world:

  • Alberta, Canada, is considering a plan to not cover damage costs in extreme floodways in future if people choose to rebuild there.
  • In Nigeria, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) has advised state governments to relocate citizens living in flood-prone areas.
  • King County, Washington has bought a mobile home park that lies close to a flood-prone portion of the Cedar River and is planning to relocate current residents.

And as a follow up to Mr. Moran’s comments above, I read that:

  • In New Jersey, $300 million in federal aid has been set aside for the Blue Acres program, which allows the state to buy up homes in repetitive flood-prone areas and convert the area to open space.

As far as I can tell, these examples of prevention are few and far between.

The American Citizen article has a quote from Robert S. Young, a North Carolina geologist, that seems to sum it up:

“We’re Americans, damn it.  Retreat is a dirty word.”

What are your thoughts about supporting rebuilding in disaster-prone areas using your tax dollars?



Are you in a flood zone?


Like maps?

If you are a map fan, check out FEMA’s Map Service Center to see whether you’re in a flood zone. The map is designed for ordinary citizens, but also for real estate and insurance specialists, who can create printouts coordinated with the Digital Flood Insurance Rate Map.

Starting in May, 2013, the map service is being expanded and upgraded. But in the meanwhile, you can do what I did to check out your own home and community. It’s easy!

Check FEMA’s map service.

Here’s the link. www.msc.fema.gov.

Do a “Product Search” by filling in your address. A second screen will come up identifying your general area (county). Click on “View” and be patient as the data loads. Ultimately, you’ll be rewarded with a very small map of your area!

FEMA map shows flood zones

Red arrows point to flood zone markings

You can adjust the scale at the top of the screen. (I changed the 4% to 15 % and that gave me a much better size map, and I could read most of the street names.) You can also click on the “pan” button on the left (looks like a little hand) and move the map around. (Again, be patient since it’s a lot of data and the map re-adjusts slowly.)

Once you’ve found the right area and the right level of detail, search for overlays. In our example, the gray dotted area (left arrow in the illustration) indicates a 500-year-flood zone, and the bright blue color (right arrow in the illustration) indicates a 100-year-flood zone, which means there’s a 1 percent chance of a 1-foot or higher flood in that area in any given year.

How would you be affected?

In the illustration, our home is not in the flood zone. But the blue area happens to be a key highway/railroad overpass/underpass. This interchange is about one mile from our neighborhood, so a flood there would definitely impact our emergency response, particularly if an evacuation were called for.

Check out this resource for your neighborhood, and also for your business or place of work. It’s interesting and good information to have.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

We’ve added more information about flood insurance. Check it out here.