11/02/2012 12:44 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Sandy's Wake Up Call: Disaster Planning for Your Family

Super Storm Sandy has left many of us with questions: Is this a sign of what's to come? Was it a result of global climate change? How often will these types of storms occur in the near-future?

No doubt, Sandy left an impression. Her devastation is unfathomable and the destruction, heartbreaking. In diameter, Sandy was the largest Atlantic hurricane on record, and in damages, she is costing us an estimated $20 billion. Factoring in business interruption, that number goes up to $50 billion. Needless to say, the idea of another storm like Sandy occurring in the near future seems too much to bear.

As devastating as the last week has been, what we learn from the experience helps us move forward and prepare for what might come in the future. Although natural disasters aren't predictable and there are no guarantees that precautionary measures will safeguard us, one thing is for certain: developing a personal disaster plan can't hurt.

Regardless if you are in a defined high-risk zone or not, today, we can't be too safe. No matter where you live, the following steps can be taken to help protect you and your family from future unrecoverable loss.

  1. Assess Your Property: If you own property, you have much more to lose than if you rent. Take inventory of your home and yard. Assess if trees are dangerously close to your house. Work with your gardener or landscaper to assess which trees prove to be at high risk of hitting your home in a big storm. Either relocate these trees (optimal) or cut them down. If any of the trees on your property are dead, have them removed, as they pose a higher risk of falling in severe weather. Finally, cut back tree limbs that hang over your home.
  2. Flood Control: Check for leaks, both in your roof and in your basement. Ensure rain gutter downspouts are extended far enough away from your home. Install an automatic sump-pump to help keep water leakage from building up in the basement. Also, consider a backup battery-operated sump pump system, configured with a switch device to work if the main isn't working.
  3. Structural Safety: Check the ratings of your windows to know if they can handle high-speed winds. If not, have them replaced. Have an architect or general contractor survey your home for any other structural issues that might need to be addressed.
  4. Backup Power: Install an automatic emergency generator that is either powered by propane or natural-gas. This will help keep your furnace or electric heat, refrigerator, septic tank pump, well pump and sump pump working if power is lost. If you are evacuated and don't have a generator, you may return to find your basement flooded, your water pipes frozen or a flooded septic tank. You might also want to consider installing a secondary back-up generator, in case the first one fails.
  5. Duplicate Important Documents: As upsetting as it is to lose property due to a disaster, losing important documents and photographs always seems to be more devastating. For things that have significant importance to you, such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, wills or pictures, take out a small storage unit in an established safe area where you can store duplicate copies. Also, consider keeping copies online or on a cloud server, as this provides another method of back-up. This will help ensure you don't lose these items in the case of flooding or fire.
  6. Home Owner's Insurance: Make sure all of your insurance policies are up-to-date and that you are covered for fire, flood-damage and other types of storm protection. Contact your insurance agent or FEMA for advice on how to add these if you don't currently have them. You might want to also consider getting a secondary flood insurance policy to protect your basement from rising coastal waters and tides.
  7. Establish a Family Disaster Plan: Work with your family members to create a disaster/ emergency plan. Choose a minimal number of "must-take" items if you have to evacuate. Be sure you have important numbers of all family members and designate a place to meet and a place to stay in case evacuation is necessary. If you have family members who are elderly, designate who will be responsible for getting them to a safe place.
  8. Listen to Authorities: As distasteful as it is to leave home behind in a natural disaster, evacuating might be the responsible and ethical thing to do. If authorities firmly ask you to evacuate, please heed their request. Staying behind puts unnecessary stress and pressure on authorities to deal with rescues. The more time that is spent dealing with these types of evacuations, the longer it will take to restore communities back to "normal." Moreover, staying behind is dangerous to you and potentially other family members who stay with you. You run the risk of injury or worse, death.

Has Sandy caused you to start disaster planning? Will you be doing anything different moving forward?