Though there are no definite safeguards against natural disasters like Hurricane Irene and Tuesday's earthquake, experts say there are simple steps to try to protect your family and minimize property damage and financial costs.
1. Prepare for Phone Interruptions
Tigger Freeman, an accountant living in a community 10 miles from the earthquake's epicenter in Mineral, Va., said he and his neighbors were relieved to learn from family members via text that the North Anna Power Station, less than 35 miles away, had been shut down automatically and no damage had been reported. Meanwhile, phone lines were jammed and they had no internet access after the electricity was shut down.
"The people who were running the plant put out good information to let us know they shut the plant down," he said.
Paul Reynolds, electronics editor with Consumer Reports, said cell phone users can usually text more successfully than call when a network experiences high volume, like during 9/11, because texting uses less data. But those not familiar with texting may need a tutorial. He said a full QWERTY keyboard makes it easy to text versus a numeric keypad on basic cellphones, which can be more cumbersome and harder to learn.
Judy Spry, partner in the insurance claims services practice at BDO Consulting, advises business owners to have a communication plan, in case neither phone and texting is available.
"In the instance of Hurricane Katrina, cell phone towers and land lines went out and employers and employees had no way of communicating the disaster plan," she said. "Be sure employees know and understand the disaster plan in advance and each have a copy of it they can easily refer to."
2. Create a Disaster Plan, or Test Your Current One
Julie Rochman, president and CEO of the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, said it is important to create a plan for your family to act quickly in the event of an evacuation.
"If you wait until the very last minute to do everything, you're not going to get anything done. If hurricane watchers warn you to get out, you need to get out, especially in dense areas," Rochman said.
Homeowners should consider which valuable objects they will take with them in case of evacuation.
"People think about computers and jewelry, but not family heirlooms or photos on the wall," Rochman said.
Spry said a disaster plan should clearly communicate pre- and post-hurricane procedures to any relevant people. For families, that includes near and far relatives and friends. Business owners should communicate disaster plans to employees, customers, vendors, and business partners.
Spry said the safety of people, such as employees and customers, should be the first procedure. The plan should next address how to protect your property and business records.
"Make preparations in advance to potentially change locations or outsource manufacturing, distribution, sales operations, and administrative functions to help reduce losses. Train employees in the disaster plan procedures to ensure they all know what to do in case a disaster strikes unexpectedly," Spry said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, also has a dedicated website for hurricane preparedness.
3. Check Insurance Policies