Keeping Your Home Safe During Vacation

Vacation is a time every family, couple or individual looks forward to. However, home invaders can easily ruin vacations. When a person gets a call from the authorities about such an incident, it often cuts the trip short. Leaving a home with broken windows or doors can only invite more trouble, so homeowners usually find themselves on the next flight home. Fortunately, there are several simple steps people can take to reduce the chance of a burglary in a vacant home.

1. Make sure all windows and doors are locked. Construct a checklist to make sure each door and window is checked twice before leaving. Every shutter, blind and drape should be drawn shut.

2. Make the home look occupied. There are several ways to go about this task. A cute note letting neighbors know the family is on vacation may seem like a good idea, but it is the same as putting an invitation on the door for burglars. Set timer switches for lamps to turn on and off randomly. If there is a DVR, set it to record shows randomly and turn the television on during the process.

3. Have a neighbor keep watch. Give a trusted neighbor a spare key. Have that individual pick up the mail every day and check on the home. If it is not possible to set timer switches for lamps, have the neighbor turn lights on and off randomly.

4. Make sure the garage is closed and locked. Leaving the door open is the same as putting a bright flashing sign in the front yard notifying burglars that the home is vacant. Keep the door locked. If there are windows, cover them up to keep burglars from seeing inside.

5. Never leave spare keys in the yard. That cute little rock disguised as a key holder may seem clever, but burglars are very familiar with every form of key enclosure. If a key must be left behind, make sure it is in the hands of a trusted neighbor.

6. Arrange for lawn care. Do not tell lawn care professionals that the home will be vacant. Pay them in advance, but instruct them to clean up well. Keeping the yard groomed and leaving some toys or accessories scattered around on the porch makes the home look occupied.

7. Discontinue regular delivery services. If newspapers, milk or other regular deliveries are arranged, put holds on them. Never leave notes on doors for delivery personnel.

8. Do not make vacation plans public knowledge. Never post plans to travel on social media sites. Do not tell any unfamiliar people in the neighborhood about the trip, and make sure local newspapers do not publicize any plans. Only trusted neighbors, close friends or family members should know about travel plans.

9. Have the mail held. If a trusted neighbor cannot pick up the mail every day, have it held. This can be arranged online or by visiting a local post office.

10. Invest in a home security system. This solution may not be compatible with every person’s budget. However, it is a good investment for those who can afford it. Many companies offer free installation as a promotional special. New technology allows homeowners to monitor activities from the Internet or their smart phones. Another option is to hire a house sitter. If this is the chosen option, make sure the individual knows self-defense techniques and has adequate means to practice them.

How to Make a Car Unattractive to Thieves

The rate of car theft is so high today that it would be a Fortune 500 company if stock analyst firms measured it. Although thieves may not be the most upstanding citizens in society, they have excellent organizational skills. Discriminating thieves will not just break into any random car to look around. When they make the effort to steal, they make sure it is worth their time and the risk of getting caught. In many cases, they may be after the vehicle itself instead of the contents of it. What they are after is economic gain, so they choose carefully. Unfortunately, people who own vehicles that are popular to buy usually also own automobiles that are popular targets for car thieves. This information may sound discouraging to many car owners. However, it is important to take the necessary steps to prevent theft.

To be better prepared and protected, vehicle owners need to know what to do to combat organized car thieves. The steps to better protection are not very difficult. The first goal should be to make the vehicle a difficult target. When thieves do a quick assessment on a car, they are likely to pass up one that is better protected. From their perspectives, they want vehicles they can quickly break into and take. There are several simple things car owners can do to make their vehicles less attractive to car thieves.

1. Never leave the keys in the ignition. Do not leave the keys sitting on the seat or in the glove box. Keep the keys in hand while the car is not occupied. More than 10 percent of stolen vehicles are taken because the keys are left in the car or in the ignition. Never leave the car running unattended, and do not leave children in it.

2. Lock the vehicle. About 50 percent of stolen vehicles are taken because they were left unlocked. Modern locks are difficult to pry, and thieves prefer unlocked doors. Be sure the windows are rolled up completely.

3. Do not hide a spare set of keys in or under the car. If this trick is so popular that there are special magnetic key holders in every auto supply store, rest assured that thieves know about them. Many car thieves watch their targets, so they may know exactly where to look for an extra key.

4. Choose attended lots over unattended areas. Vehicle thieves despise witnesses, so they try to avoid them at all costs.

5. Park under plenty of light. If a parking lot is dark and unattended, find a safer location. Thieves love places where it is difficult to be seen.

6. Limit key access in attended lots. Not all parking lot attendants are upstanding citizens, so it is important to be wary of them. When handing the keys over, only give attendants the keys to the door and the ignition. If the vehicle has a trunk with the same key as the door, have one of them changed. By doing this, vehicle owners can put important items in the trunk without worrying about lot attendants stealing them. Make sure any backseat access to the trunk is restricted. Always make sure the battery, spare tire and regular tires are in tact after returning to the car.

7. Never leave valuables in plain view. Leaving a purse or valuable item on a seat is like leaving a steak on the porch when there are stray dogs nearby. Valuable items are just bait for thieves.

8. Use the garage. Vehicle owners who have garages should use them. Thieves are not likely to want to break into a garage and a vehicle. They want something quicker and easier. Be sure to lock the garage and the vehicle.

9. Never leave the title or registration in the car. It is best to carry registration proof in a wallet that will not be left in the vehicle. Keep the title at home in a safe place. Thieves can use these documents to sell stolen vehicles.

10. Use the emergency brake. This increases car safety, and thieves will have a harder time trying to tow it.

Understanding Insurance Needs for a New Car

New cars bring the need for auto insurance, and liability coverage alone will not be adequate. Although it may satisfy the state’s legal minimum requirements, it will not be enough to compensate for most accidents. In most cases, vehicle owners have unpaid loans to think about, so repairs are almost impossible to pay for. Even spare parts are expensive if they are available at all. As soon as a new car leaves the showroom or lot, its value depreciates considerably. For this reason, the majority of vehicle owners feel safer with insurance that covers accidents, theft and natural disasters. Consider the following tips when looking for coverage.

1. Shop Around
People who are serious about buying a new car should start comparing various policies before signing the papers and taking the keys. The first step is to obtain quotes from several companies. These quotes are free, and they offer a reasonable estimate of what premium amounts will be. Some insurers may have cheaper rates than others. Several factors contribute to determining a premium, so it is very important to shop around.

2. Pay Attention To Comprehensive & Collision Insurance
Since people like to save money any way they can, they often skip extra coverage beyond the state-required liability minimums. Comprehensive coverage protects vehicle owners form a wide array of incidents aside from collisions. Natural disasters and several other calamities are covered. There are usually add-on policies available for hail damage or other specific events. Collision insurance provides money for damages resulting from an accident. The funds are available whether the vehicle owner was at fault or not. When compared with the cost of paying for accidents upfront, insurance is very affordable. For example, one accident where a person is at fault and two other injured parties are involved could easily cost over $100,000. If either of the injured parties sustained permanent injuries that require lifelong treatments, the at-fault driver could be in a financial mess for a long time.

3. Think About GAP Insurance
Many new car owners prefer this type of coverage. It provides funds for the difference between the vehicle’s market value and the unpaid loan amount. If a vehicle is lost or stolen, there will be adequate compensation. This is a great choice for people who own expensive luxury cars or have sizable loans to repay. When the amount of money owed is higher than the vehicle’s market value, GAP insurance is a good choice.

Preventing Water Damage & Dealing With Flooding

When spring arrives each year, many homeowners are reminded that flood damage is not covered under a homeowners policy. However, water damage is covered under a homeowners insurance policy. It is important to understand the difference between water damage and flooding. Water damage is defined as damage that comes downward from the top. Although this is not completely accurate in all situations, it is a good rule to remember. If the water is above ground level, the incident is probably covered. However, there is an exception. If damage is caused by a pipe that is letting water drip slowly into the home, it is not covered.

When it comes time to file a claim, it is important to know how the water damage occurred. To prevent further destruction, it is important to clean up the water immediately. Take pictures first, soak up the water and try to dry the area. Although water damage can leave surfaces looking unsightly, neglected areas can leave behind mold with the moisture. Mold is harmful and can ruin sinks, walkways, walls and carpets quickly.

Anyone who has ever tried to clean black mold off of a bathroom surface knows just how important prevention is. Check caulking and sealant around tubs and sinks frequently. If it starts to crack or appears reddish, reapply new sealant. Keep water off the floors by using bathmats. After taking a shower, hang the bathmat up to dry. It is also important to check pipes frequently. A tiny leak can result in thousands of dollars in damages. Even minor plumbing work is not something everyone can do. It may seem easy, but it is very precise work. Anyone who does not have experience should enlist the help of professionals.

Water damage cannot always be prevented. However, homeowners can take several steps to greatly reduce the likelihood of damage by following the suggestions in the previous paragraphs. It is also helpful to check the roof frequently. Water seeping into the walls from the roof can create entire colonies of harmful mold. Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent flooding in some areas. People who have beautiful riverfront properties enjoy some great views, but they may also face the risk of severe flooding. Anyone who lives in a waterfront area or a region where flash floods and rain are common should look into specialized flood insurance. In comparison with the cost of compensating for flood damages upfront, the cost of a specialized policy is very affordable. To obtain this valuable coverage, discuss the details with an agent.

How to Fight & Prevent Mold Growth in the Home

It is important for homeowners to take the right steps to prevent mold and mildew growing in the home. If there is already mold growing, it is important to remove it immediately. Moisture in the basement, attic, kitchen or bathroom creates an ideal place for mold to grow and spread. If mildew is left untreated, it can ruin furniture, fabric and walls. It can also trigger allergic reactions and other physical illnesses in family members. Battling mold growth is an ongoing challenge, but there are a few helpful steps homeowners can take to keep their living spaces free of this annoying fungus.

1. Find the cause of any moisture buildup or leak. To find leaks and moisture buildup, look over the entire house frequently. Be sure to look in places that do not see much foot traffic. For example, closets, empty rooms and corners are all places homeowners should check. Cracks, crevices and folds of drapes are common hiding place for mildew. If there is moisture, find out where it is coming from.

2. After finding a leak, patch it up immediately. Leaks that originate outdoors should be treated when the house is dry. Windows, roofs and exterior cracks should be fixed as quickly as possible. When improper ventilation is found to worsen the problem, consider purchasing air conditioning units, exhaust fans or dehumidifiers. If necessary, install extra insulation.

3. Remove mold or mildew from any surfaces. If there is mold in the carpet, vacuum it up. When doing this, use the brush attachment. This may not be the best way to clean mold if the vacuum itself is difficult to clean. Many newer bag-free models are easy to clean, but older vacuums with bags may hold smells for a long time. Another option is to use a stiff brush to remove mold from carpeted surfaces.

4. Clean the affected area well. Bleach is the best chemical to use for battling mold and mildew. After cleaning away the fungal growth, use a solution of one-fourth cup of bleach to one gallon of water. Never use hot water with bleach. While cleaning, be sure to wear rubber gloves. Use a sponge, mop or spray bottle to distribute the solution throughout the affected area. Rinse the surface with fresh cool water. Set up fans to dry the area thoroughly.

5. Use mold-resistant paint. After cleaning mold or mildew from a wall, it is best to paint over the area. Choose a mold-resistant paint to prevent future incidents. This paint can be found at any major home improvement store or paint retailer. There are also some mold-resistant wood stains available.

6. Air out moldy furniture and fabrics. Furniture, upholstery and drapes that cannot be put in the washing machine should be put outside to air out. Sun exposure will also help, so try to leave them out during the brightest hours of the day.

7. Wash fabrics to remove mold or mildew. Any clothing, curtains, bedding or other fabrics that have mold or mildew should be washed in hot water. Use laundry bleach in the wash cycle. Be sure to follow each item’s washing instructions. If it cannot be washed in hot water, take it to a professional cleaning company that specializes in mold removal.

The best bet for battling mold is proper preventative techniques. Following the first three steps in this paragraph on a regular basis is a great start. Be sure to keep the house properly ventilated at all times. Rugs, towels and other items that get wet frequently should be washed regularly. After using bath rugs, hang them on towel racks or over the shower to prevent mildew buildup on the bottom surface. If bathrooms or rooms frequently exposed to moisture have carpet, consider replacing the carpet with tile. 

New Technologies Make Vehicles Safer than Ever

Many factors contribute to the longer average life spans of today’s world, and car safety is one of the major factors. With new advances in safety features, less people die in accidents today than they did several decades ago. Cars that drive automatically may seem futuristic, but so did many of today’s features several decades ago. Car safety technology is advancing rapidly. The following points provide some examples.

Adaptive Cruise Control
In the past, cruise control features simply set a desired speed. However, a driver paying attention to something else could still slam into the back of another vehicle. With new technology, there are sensors installed in many vehicles’ cruise control features to apply the brakes when drivers get too close. If a collision is sensed, the brakes will be applied hard. The seat belts will also tighten. This is not an invitation for drivers to give in to distractions, but it could prevent such mistakes from costing motorists their lives.

Tire Pressure Monitoring
Many vehicles are now required to have tire pressure monitoring systems. Wheel sensors alert drivers with an audible noise or panel light when pressure becomes too low.

Rollover Prevention
Many vehicles have systems for electronic stability control or preparation actions. New advances go beyond these features. If a rollover is sensed, the brakes will be applied. The throttle will also be automatically adjusted to help maintain control.

Blind Spot Detector
With this new technology, drivers are alerted when there are objects or vehicles in their blind spots. The feature is usually enacted when a turn signal goes on. The driver is alerted by a flashing light on the dash, a light in the mirror, a seat vibration or a steering wheel vibration. The detection system is only for short ranges.

Lane Departure Warning
This feature is similar to the blind spot detector. However, it determines an approaching vehicle’s speed. When a driver changes lanes, there is a warning signal. If the system detects the vehicle going over the lines on the road, it will also initiate a warning for this.

Emergency Brake Assistance
Emergency brake assistance is not the same as an anti-lock brake feature. This new technology allows the vehicle to sense a panic stop. When it senses a stop, additional brake pressure is applied to shorten the amount of time it takes to come to a complete stop. In some vehicles, this system works in conjunction with stability control or cruise control features.

Occupant-Sensitive Dual Airbags
Since each person is different from the next, low-risk airbags are being created to accommodate those differences. They can be used many times and have occupant sensors for deployment. In addition to sensing an occupant’s presence, these devices also sense odd positions. This means deployment will different for someone who is bending over to reach the radio versus a person who is sitting up straight.

Adaptive Headlights
Thermal imaging cameras and infrared lamps are helpful for night vision. New technology allows the vehicle’s controls to change the direction and height of the beams. There is also a cockpit display, which shows images far away that are hard to see.

Emergency Response
There are several new enhanced emergency response features in the latest vehicles. One system turns off the interior lights, shuts off the fuel and unlocks the doors after the airbags deploy. Some systems also turn on the hazard lights or disconnect the alternator and battery terminal. New systems may also include GPS data for emergency response units to use for locating the vehicle.

Rear Camera
These cameras protect children or pets from accidents in the driveway. Several unfortunate reports of people backing over pets or kids in recent years prompted this feature’s development. When the vehicle is in reverse, a camera appears on the dash or on a mirror, and it generates an image of everything behind the vehicle. The image range includes the ground, so small pets will be noticed. This camera feature is also helpful for hooking up trailers or parking. 

Hurricane Preparation

Hurricanes are destructive and potentially deadly storms that can cause a tremendous amount of property damage and, occasionally, people’s lives. Longtime residents of coastal Florida, the Carolinas, Texas, Mississippi,Alabama and Louisiana are familiar with the drill – but there are always new people and always procrastinators every year. Hurricane preparedness takes time! Don’t leave it to the last minute. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Hurricane season is normally June through November. But that doesn’t mean the occasional storm can’t come early or late. Don’t get complacent.

  • Maintain situational awareness. Keep an eye and ear on national and local media, and monitor developing weather systems.
  • Track the projected path of storms, using websites like National Hurricane Center(www.nhc.noaa.gov).
  • Do a risk assessment for your home. Assess vulnerability to storm surge, wind damage, and flooding. A Category 5 hurricane could result in storm surge of 30 feet above ground level in some areas. You can find a storm surge risk map at http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/surge/risk/.
  • Plan on at least a three day wait before substantial government assistance is in place. FEMA can’t put its trucks and trailers in the direct path of the storm. It takes at least three days for state and FEMA resources to be put in place.
  • Cut down any large trees overhanging your house and garage. The tree could fall, taking out part of your house.
  • Expect a run on hurricane supplies in the last 48 hours before the storm. Buy your batteries, bottled water, fuel cans, generators and other supplies before you need them.
  • Invest in hardened windows, shutters and doors.
  • Failing that, buy your plywood well ahead of time, along with a drill and screws to board up your windows.
  • Obey evacuation orders. If you receive an evacuation order, you are getting it because the authorities know they will not be able to reach you in an emergency. Many people in coastal communities are killed by hurricanes – or vanish forever – when they ignore orders to evacuate.
  • Keep your homeowners or renters coverage updated with the current replacement value of your home and belongings.
  • Inventory your belongings. You can use sites like: Lockboxer.com, Knowyourstuff.org (a creation of the Insurance Information Institute) and Stuffsafe.com. These resources are free or very low cost, and will facilitate compensation from your insurance company if your home is damaged or destroyed by a weather event.
  • Keep fuel in your car. Many times, gas stations run out of fuel in the day or so before a storm. If you can’t fuel your vehicle, you can’t evacuate. And you may not be able to function.
  • Get a functional battery-operated radio. Don’t count on cell phones working for a number of days after a storm.
  • You may be without power for as long as two weeks and sometimes longer. Keep nonperishables, batteries and flashlights.
  • Keep your generator outdoors. Every year, people die from carbon monoxide poisoning because they moved their generator indoors to protect it from theft.
  • Understand your generator’s capacity. Generators have a limited load. This is especially important to know when you start up electrical items connected to the generator, because startups cause a spike in electrical demand.
  • Know your neighbors. Your neighbors may have a harder time preparing or evacuating from storms than you do, because of frailty, disability, young children, poverty or lack of reliable transportation.
  • Look out for family members of emergency responders. Police, fire department, National Guard members and medical personnel often have to concentrate on preparing for the mission, and have less time to attend to their own homes and families.
  • Know your community emergency management contacts. You can find an online listing at http://www.ready.gov/community-state-info
  • Don’t underestimate tropical storms. Just because it’s not a hurricane doesn’t mean it can’t do a lot of damage locally. Tropical storms can dump as much rain as a hurricane.

By understanding these guidelines, you can be an asset to your community in the event of a hurricane, instead of a drain on emergency resources. You will also have an easier time getting reimbursed by your insurance company for any damage done, and be doing your part to keep overall hurricane insurance premiums down.

Taxation of Repairs versus Improvements

Repairing versus improving a rental property considerations go beyond initial cost considerations; it also can reduce or increase your tax burden. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) offers guidelines to determine whether work done to real estate rental property is considered a repair or an improvement.

Repairs

Repairs are defined as something that keeps property in working condition. Calling Handyman Fred out to fix the abovementioned dishwasher is considered a repair to the IRS. Repairs are a business expense and are fully deductable in the tax year the repair was made. Handyman Fred’s $100 charge for labor is $100 off your tax burden.

Improvements

Improvements are generally defined as something that increases the overall value of the property. Examples include:
• replacement
• expansion/new construction
• substantial rebuilding
• restoration

It is considered a capital outlay by the IRS, something done “having a useful life substantially beyond the tax year” according to Terry Myers, J.D. and Dee DeScherer, J.D. The IRS considers repairing the broken dishwasher to be a maintenance expense. But Ripping out the old dishwasher and installing a new appliance is considered an improvement. Handyman Fred charged you $500 for the dishwasher and installation. That $500 gets added to your tax basis in the property. Under MACRS rules, you normally depreciate the dishwasher over 5 years. Over your next five tax years, you are able to take $100 off per year off of your taxable income. (Accelerated guidelines not applied in this scenario).

Which Option to Choose?

Are you going to repair or are you going to improve your property? First, reflect on how long you are going to own this property. If you’re planning to sell, consider the following questions:

• Will you own it long enough to depreciate the full value of the improvement?
• Will the new market value substantially increase your capital gains taxes?
• Will you roll the property over into a 1031 exchange to avoid paying the capital gains taxes?

If you are planning to keep the property,

• Will the repair hold up long enough to keep from being a headache to you and your tenant?
• Does not replacing the item cause additional problems? For example, will a broken dishwasher cause water damage to the subfloor, costing you even more in the long run?
• How does does the cost of repair or maintenance compare to the replacement/improvement cost?

Note: Keep meticulous records and receipts for all work done to your property, whether repair or improvements. Every dollar you spend in improving the property adds to your tax basis in the property, which can pay off handsomely later when you eventually sell it. Contract with a tax attorney or a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Let the professionals do the work you hire them for: By hiring a professional you are better able to correctly categorize the work done to your property and therefore take advantage of all possible deductions and depreciations allowed you by law.

How to Avoid Colliding With a Moose or Deer

Many insurance claims are filed each year as the result of collisions with deer or moose. Although some accidents may happen regardless of precautions, most can be avoided with heightened awareness. Follow these tips to avoid a collision with a moose or deer.

1. Pay attention to the warning signs. Waterways, forested areas and plains marked with deer or moose signs are the prime places to encounter these wild creatures. It is important to understand that they are more likely to appear during certain months. If it is hunting season, keep in mind that startled deer may run across the roads more frequently. They also run more when there are fires nearby, so be aware of any wildfires in the area.

2. Travel at a safe speed. When approaching curved roadways or areas with more hills, slow down. Drive slower at night. Keep in mind that it takes several seconds to stop completely when traveling at higher speeds. Slower speeds can reduce the likelihood of a collision, and slower speeds also lessen the impact of an unavoidable collision.

3. Drive defensively at all times. Practice stopping the car within the length of the headlight beams. Do this in a safe place with little to no traffic. Always drive at a speed where this is possible to do at night. Be ready to react quickly, and always have a plan for what to do. For example, if a deer or moose stops in the middle of the road, brake quickly without swerving. Many accidents happen because people swerve into trees or other cars instead of actually hitting an animal.

4. Scan the landscape frequently. During daylight hours, the key to preventing a collision with a moose or deer is spotting it before it reaches the road. These creatures often run through fields in the late fall or winter months, so they may blend in better with the dead vegetation. Always watch for movement, and be prepared to stop suddenly.

5. Use the horn when needed. If a deer or moose is running near the road, honk the horn. In most cases, the animal will freeze or move away from the noise.

6. Take the proper steps after a collision. Driving defensively is the best way to prevent a collision, but it is important to know what to do if a collision occurs. First, pull over to the side of the road. Put on the hazard lights and make sure the other passengers in the vehicle are conscious. Treat injured passengers accordingly. It is important to keep a first aid kit available in the vehicle. Put road flares out if they are available.
If the animal is dead and lying in the road, try to angle the vehicle enough that the headlights cast light on it. This may help prevent other drivers from hitting the animal. Never approach an injured animal. It may gore, kick or attack a human out of fear. Stay in the vehicle, call the police and wait for help to arrive. If anyone is injured to the point of needing medical care immediately, call 911.

Addition Tips To Consider
Although these six tips are the most important to follow, it is also helpful to know more about deer and moose behaviors. Many of these animals travel together, so there may be more following what appears to be a lone animal. Rest assured that if one deer or moose is seen alone, there are more within one mile. Even if a deer or moose is spotted off in the distance, slow down immediately to enhance alertness and safety.

In some states, oncoming motorists will alert other drivers of dangers in the road ahead. To do this, they usually blink their headlights quickly once or twice. If this happens, slow down and be alert. Tired drivers are more likely to hit deer, so pull over and rent a motel if sleepiness is overwhelming. Do not count on deer whistles to be effective. They have often fallen short of the promises printed on their packaging. These whistles will not work with moose. Keep these tips in mind to avoid submitting an insurance claim. 

Preparing Your Home for Disaster

When it’s hurricane season in the Gulf states and Hawaii, it’s also wildfire season throughout the west. Earthquakes are always in season, and flooding never goes out of style. Are you ready for the next disaster, whether natural or man-made? A few inexpensive preparations you can do in just a few hours can pay big dividends when disaster strikes.

Designate a Rally Point. Disaster may strike while your family is separated.  Cell phones may not work. Work out a plan to meet somewhere safe in the event of a disaster. Explain it to your children. You can even practice it with them. Designate a back-up rally point, other than home or school, in case these obvious locations are inaccessible or dangerous.

Pack Go-Bags. These are bags pre-packed with three days’ change of clothing, non-perishable food and water, hygiene supplies, and key insurance documents. You can keep them in the trunk of your car or in an easily-accessible place in your home or garage. The idea is to be able to grab them in seconds and get away.

Get a Hazard Assessment. Many homeowners’ insurance companies will help you with a free or very inexpensive on-site inspection to assess your home’s vulnerability to common hazards, including water damage from flooding, wind damage, theft, or fires. Contact your agent and take advantage of these programs.

Get a generator. Don’t count on being able to get one when there’s already a hurricane warning afoot or the disaster has already struck. Buy your generator ahead of time. Read the manual and understand how to use it, and to properly plan the voltage loads so as not to overload the generator. And never operate the generator indoors. Also, don’t attempt to plug your generator’s output into a wall socket to power your house. This can be extremely hazardous.

Conduct an insurance audit. Sit down with your agent and go over your existing coverage, deductibles and exclusions. Your home may have appreciated in value since you last reviewed your coverage. Ensure your coverage reflects the actual replacement value of your home and other valuables.

Inventory your belongings. If your home is destroyed by a tornado, fire or flood, many of your valuables will likely be damaged beyond repair, and perhaps beyond recognition. To ensure prompt reimbursement for your lost or destroyed property, it’s important to inventory and photograph each valuable item. Tip: Don’t store the data at home – you don’t want your data destroyed by the same disaster that destroyed your home and property.

Get a battery-powered radio. Don’t count on having electrical power for some time after a severe disaster. In some instances, you could be without power for weeks. Don’t forget batteries.

Fill water bottles. Keep a store of fresh bottled water on hand – at least three days’ supply is optimal. That’s typically how long it takes the Federal Emergency Management Administration to move bulk supplies into a disaster-affected area. You may also consider filling your bathtub and water jugs with tap water. Be prepared to boil drinking water, even if you don’t have gas or electric power. You may need Sterno or propane stoves to do this.

Visit Ready.gov. This is the portal for the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA). The site contains a number of useful tips, checklists and resources for disaster preparation. FEMA also provides a number of tools to help you prepare and educate your children as well. Different states also have their own websites that contain state contact numbers and resources. The state government resources usually contain additional information that pertains more specifically to hazards common in these states. That is, California residents will find more information on earthquake preparedness and not so much on hurricanes, while Florida residents will find a great deal on hurricane preparation and not much on earthquakes.  Midwesterners and Southerners will find additional information on tornados, and northern states will devote more information to snow and ice-related events.