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Planning for a natural disaster

RISK: Hail and lightning
Hail ranges in size between 0.5 cm and 10 cm (the size of a grapefruit), hits the ground at 130 km per hour and causes severe damage to crops, houses and vehicles and even injures people. It can occur across Canada, though more frequently in Alberta, the southern prairies and southern Ontario.

A lightning bolt hits the ground at about 40,000 km per second, carries up to 100 million volts of electricity -- a million times more powerful than household current -- and is responsible for 4,000 forest fires each year.

Be prepared:

  • Cover windows with protective film. Glass may break but will not be whipped into your home.
  • Move vehicles, valuables and loose items into shelter at the first sign of a storm (but do not go outside if the flash of lightning and the thunderclap are less than five seconds apart).
  • Protect electronic equipment with surge suppressors. For areas with frequent storms, consider a lightning protection system with rods, conductors and a ground terminal.
  • Consider using storm-ready shingles, such as slate or heavy-duty asphalt, that resist cracking.

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RISK: Hurricanes and tornadoes
Canada has more tornadoes than any other country except the United States, with southwestern Ontario and the southern prairies most vulnerable. Tornadoes are hard to predict, move at 70 km per hour and often strike without warning.

Hurricanes can have extremely high winds (Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 measured winds of 299 km per hour), can create violent storm surges (a rapid rise in sea level) and excessive rainfall.

Be prepared:

  • Install doors with three or more hinges and a deadbolt security lock with a 2.5 cm minimum bolt. Secure doorframes to the wall.
  • Apply safety film to windows and glass doors.
  • Install storm shutters to exposed windows and glass.
  • Check the integrity of your roof with a reputable contractor. If you need to replace it, confirm the rafters and trusses are securely connected to walls, replace damaged sheathing and install a covering designed to resist-high winds. Consider installing hurricane straps to hold the roof to the walls.
  • Replace gravel-rock landscaping with shredded bark, keep shrubbery trimmed and remove weak branches and trees.

Be insured
Even meticulous preparations can't always defend against Mother Nature's wrath. That's why it's critical for homeowners and renters to have sufficient insurance coverage before the damage is done. Government disaster programs will not compensate for damage and loss for which insurance was readily and reasonable available.

Eve Patterson, regional manager for Ontario with the Insurance Bureau of Canada, explains that coverage is usually available for damage due to most major disasters including fire, lightning strikes, windstorms, hail and tornados. Flood coverage is not generally available for homeowners, but you can purchase addition protection to cover damage caused by sewer backup. Earthquake protection is also available as optional coverage and should be considered in quake-prone regions such as BC, while mass evacuation coverage can be useful in case you are advised to leave your home.

"You can't get rid of the storms," says Kovacs. "They're going to come. (But) you can take away the risk that the storms will overwhelm you and become a disaster."

-- Posted: Sept. 19, 2007
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