“You take what you need and when you need it.”
It’s a quote from a book I had read by the author of the National Disaster Preparedness Act, my government partner.
Unfortunately, disasters happen and most homeowners are focused on immediate needs – whether that is to feed their family, secure their homes or find a safe place to sleep.
This doesn’t make it easy for people to rebuild after a disaster. They don’t know how to choose the right contractor, engineer or insurance policy. Many cannot afford to rebuild completely. Some victims of a flood only have temporary housing and need to rent or live with family or friends.
These are painful times for us all – regardless of who you are or what country you come from.
But when disaster strikes, it often throws us all into the dark and unhealed places. We have worked closely with some of the most vulnerable communities to learn how to rebuild, right here, right now.
Donating money to disaster relief organizations can be a lifeline. Money goes towards food, shelter, health services and more – but the majority of the costs for rebuilding come from human capital.
One of the most important lessons for our families to learn is the importance of being prepared, staying vigilant and taking actions now to protect ourselves in the future. Some of these steps are readily available – some take time and effort to master.
Here are seven steps for building a disaster-proof house:
1. Know Your Stuff. Taking inventory of belongings and things you need to find immediately will make the process of rebuilding easier. Make a checklist and work through your items and “want” list, which includes tools and emergency supplies.
2. Have an Emergency Plan. This plan is your way of asking yourself, “If something bad happens to me, what am I going to do?” It has to be something tangible, written down, flexible and safe so that you can have it on hand in case of emergency. Find some basic maps, maps of areas you know, and answers to important questions like where you live, who your closest neighbors are, who is connected to you and who you trust. Plan on what to do and where to go in case of emergency. Review the plan with family, friends and your neighbors.
3. Start Now. This house is your sanctuary, your personal castle. But you don’t want the community to feel like it’s living inside your castle – and you want your neighbors to know that you are going to deal with all of their major needs. What can you do to have neighbors pitch in? Let your neighbors know that you want an honest conversation about your priorities so they know where they stand in an emergency.
4. Pick the Right Design and Build Team. Some people need to be engineers, builders, writers or mechanics. The nature of disasters means that some people have expertise that others don’t. Start by having a conversation with a trusted advisor. Know the technical requirements in place. Pick the best contractor and engineer to make sure that your house is built with the best and most durable materials for the worst case scenario. The longer you have the best design and builder, the more likely it is that no one will damage the house because the process will be faster.
5. Go Hands-On. There’s no substitute for hands-on experience with the materials and process involved. Don’t just read about what a house looks like and read a textbook. Ask the contractors and inspectors to come take a test run. You’ll learn how to observe and learn from the experience.
6. Don’t Forget the Steps to Up Your Building Efficiency. Even if you have skilled professionals, don’t forget to check in on your operation to see if anything is broken or missing. The most efficient and efficient construction methods use smaller walls, so you won’t get as much wasted space.
7. Be Smart About Insurance. You need to make sure that you have enough insurance for the total rebuild of your home, not just the assets you know you’ll need in a disaster. Different factors play into the total cost, including the type of coverage you buy, the age of your home, the type of construction materials and any mitigation that you have done in the past.
Building a disaster-proof house takes work and effort, but it’s worth it to help each other. Let’s get to it!
Christian Sellers is CEO of Disaster Preparedness for Homes (DPH), a company that provides emergency housing solutions for the home owner in disaster-prone locations.