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Prepare for Severe Weather Before Disaster Strikes

Even with advanced weather science to better predict storm conditions, Mother Nature still holds all the cards. The massive tornado that obliterated Moore, Okla., on May 20 struck just 16 minutes after the first siren was sounded. And while violent storms grab all the headlines, more common severe weather like heat waves, heavy rain and lightning cause considerable casualties. While there are no guarantees, you should know how to prepare for the worst and increase your chances of survival during any type of severe weather.Tips to Survive a Natural DisasterWhat started as a mild spring took a nasty turn for the worse in May as tornadoes, severe storms and flash floods raked the nation’s midsection. Tornadoes alone are blamed for 31 deaths – 23 in Moore, Okla., and six in Texas – and nearly $6 billion in damages, according to the National Weather Service. Add in nationwide storm activity and we appear well on our way to matching 2012 severe weather statistics: 2,651 injuries, 528 deaths and more than $38 billion in property and crop damage combined.Be Ready Before Disaster StrikesWhat you do long before a natural disaster strikes can tip the balance between life and death. Start at NOAAWatch to monitor and learn more about everything from air quality, droughts and earthquakes to heat waves, hurricanes, tornadoes and even volcanoes! Next, visit the American Red Cross home and family page to find directions on how to assemble an emergency kit with the critical supplies you might need during and after an emergency. Then use the interactive checklists so your family is “Red Cross Ready” with a customized disaster plan. Depending on where you live, you might also consider purchasing a tornado-safe room for your home. According to Builder magazine, premade safe rooms start at around $3,000. Or download this booklet from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and build your own. Financial assistance is available in some areas to help pay for construction.Be Warned When Disaster StrikesEven with all the latest in prediction technologies, there is no one system that guarantees you will have plenty of warning before severe weather strikes. For example, the average lead time between the first warning siren and a tornado is just 14 minutes! -Experts agree that your best bet is NOAA’s weather radio, a nationwide network of radio stations broadcasting continuous weather information directly from the nearest National Weather Service (NWS) office. Specially designed radios (priced from $20 to $200) will tune in local NWS frequencies. Look for receivers that also include an alarm for severe weather alerts and battery backup in case there is a power outage. Here is more information and a list of suggested manufacturers. There are also dozens of smartphone apps that link into NOAA weather radio while providing an amazing array of weather data, including live radar images (see recommendations here and here). Depending on the phone you own, you can enable alarms for severe weather alerts in your notification settings. The American Red Cross also offers free emergency apps for tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, first aid and finding shelter. And don’t forget those warning sirens, which were designed to alert people outdoors. Because sirens are owned by individual cities and counties, they are activated for different reasons in different parts of the country. For example, a county might blow its sirens for thunderstorms and tornadoes while a city may warn only for tornadoes. There are even small towns that sound the sirens for lunchtime! Best policy – be safe and assume sirens mean severe weather is imminent or already occurring. Take cover immediately, then seek additional information from weather radio, smartphones, etc.Be Wary After Disaster StrikesWhile disasters often bring out the very best in people, there are criminals and scam artists out there who prey on disaster survivors by offering fraudulent services. To help people avoid and report scams after a disaster, FEMA published this list of consumer safety tips. You should also take steps to protect your rights and ensure that your insurance claims are paid. As a start, download this handy guide from the American Association for Justice. Knowing what your policy covers, documenting everything in writing and with photographs, and staying on top of all communications with your insurance company are among their recommendations.

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