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Disaster-proof your home
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Tornado
A tornado is like a flood: There's not much you can do except protect yourself. If you live in a tornado-prone area, it's more important than ever to keep the house and yard well-maintained. Keep the roof, gutter and shutters in good repair.

If the tornado is the result of a hurricane, you might have some advance warning to batten down the hatches. But many times, the alarm is sounded after a tornado has actually been spotted. That means "you're dealing with minutes, not hours," says Lopes. Hustle yourself and your family to a basement or lowest level inside closet, someplace with interior walls and no windows.

And don't bother opening windows to "equalize the pressure," says Lopes. That's just an old wives tale. "If a tornado wants to open your window, it will."

Winter storm
Everyone knows to stock up on food before Old Man Winter blows into town. But you also want to shore up your home.

Rain gutters and downspouts need to be clear. Otherwise, ice and snow can cause a backup that could make it rain inside your home. Make certain the roof is sound. And insulate or protect exterior pipes.

Inside, when the temps drop below freezing, letting faucets drip to guard against freezing won't hurt, says Lopes. But it's even more important to open the cabinets to allow heated air to circulate. And if you normally turn the heat down at night, be a little less thrifty for the sake of the pipes.

If you have a fireplace, have it cleaned before you use it each winter. Establish that it's in good working order and the chimney is clear. It needs to be properly vented to the outside.

Lightning
"A lot of people don't realize that lightning causes more damage than any other hazard but fire," says Lopes. So be proactive. Protect your expensive appliances like computer, TV and DVD player by plugging them into an uninterruptible power supply. Better than a simple surge protector, these units range from about $50 to $100 and will guard against power spikes and brownouts, Lopes says.

Lightning loves water and height, so keep tall trees away from the house. Don't put tall objects, like antennas, on the roof if you can help it. If you can't, at least see that everything is properly grounded.

Terror attack
Contrary to what you may have heard, you don't have to cover your house in duct tape and plastic sheeting. For the most part, the provisions you'd make for any emergency will serve you well in a man-made disaster. Have a family communications plan so that you can get in touch with loved ones at work or school, and plan in advance where everyone should go.

If you're concerned about a chemical or biological attack, choose an interior room similar to what you might look for during a tornado. Then get out the good ol' duct tape and plastic sheeting and seal off vents, windows and cracks around doorways.

If there are openings around pipes, use tape or caulk to seal the area. (But if you caulk, be sure to ventilate the area until the substance has cured.) And put childproof plugs in electrical outlets to block incoming air.

Worried about running out of air? That shouldn't be a problem because likely you'll only need refuge for a few hours or overnight, Lopes says. "Not months or days." But if you set up the room ahead of time, you don't want people sleeping in it or using it for long periods of time.

Most important, have a radio to stay in touch with the outside world and heed the warnings of local disaster authorities.

Dana Dratch is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.

Bankrate.com's corrections policy -- Updated: March 30, 2006
 
 
More stories by Dana Dratch
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