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Disaster-proof your home

When it comes to disasters, saving lives comes first; saving the home is a distant second. But with a little planning, you can dramatically increase the chances that your home, sweet home will come through almost any danger in one piece.

The key is to be prepared before an emergency occurs. Check out the Ready campaign launched by Homeland Security as a guide to citizen preparedness. You'll find contacts and information for all types of emergencies.

What are the local disaster dangers? If you live in L.A., you want to be prepared for earthquakes. But if you live in the Midwest, tornadoes are a greater concern. Visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency Web site for your local disaster dangers and ways you can prepare before one strikes.

"Unfortunately, a lot of people are unaware of the hazards that face them," says Rocky Lopes, project manager for Homeland Security with the National Association of Counties, Senior Disaster Preparedness Consultant for the Home Safety Council in Washington, D.C., and convener of the American Disaster Education Coalition, a network of 19 government and nonprofit disaster-related organizations. "Every hazard is different and possesses different risks," says Lopes. Visit Red Cross guidebook on disaster preparedness for more information.

Many of the steps you take will be the same regardless of the threat. So here are some tips on dealing with some of the more formidable emergencies:

Making your home safe
With a little planning, you can dramatically increase the chances that your home will come through almost any danger in one piece.
Use these tips to prepare:
8 potential threats
4. Flood
5. Tornado
6. Winter storm
7. Lightning
8. Terror attack

If you live in a hurricane prone areas like Florida and the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, it pays to prepare in advance. Sometimes, it helps to be ready even if you're not in a storm-prone area.

"With Hurricane Hugo, more people in Charlotte had wind damage than on the coast," says Lopes. "So follow the advice of local officials."

Hurricane winds will always attack through the weakest area of the house -- usually windows and glass doors -- so you need to come up with a plan to reinforce them before storm clouds ever appear on the horizon, says Lopes.

Homeowners have several options. Many shutter systems will protect against storms and are rated on their ability to withstand strong wind, says Lopes. If you have any doubts how strong shutters need to be in your area, he recommends talking with local emergency management officials.

If shutters are impractical for your house or too expensive, you can use plywood. Lopes recommends installing permanent bolts into or next to the window frames. (And you may want to consult a professional to make sure you don't ruin your home's facade.) Then have a piece of outdoor plywood a half-inch thick or more precut to cover every window and glass door, with pre-drilled holes large enough to accommodate the bolts.

When the storm threatens, "you throw [the plywood] onto the bolts and screw it down," says Lopes.

Duct tape, long a favorite to reinforce windows, won't keep them from breaking. "Tape does nothing but help windows break into larger pieces," Lopes says.

Next: "... Preparing for wind damage is one thing, water is another. ..."
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