How to prepare for a natural disaster

New Zealand is no stranger to natural disasters. Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions have long influenced our landscape, due to our position in the Pacific “ring of fire” and the fact that we straddle the Pacific and Indo-Australian tectonic plates. Our vulnerability to seismic activity also makes us susceptible to tsunamis. On top of that, we increasingly experience storms, floods, landslides, fires, and even the odd tornado.

Natural disasters are unpredictable and unpreventable, but you can still take steps to protect yourself from some of their effects. Here are some things you can do to make sure that you and your family are prepared to cope with a natural disaster.

Looking after your family

Even if you live in an area of New Zealand that doesn’t often experience natural disasters, it’s important to know how you would deal with one.

Make a household plan that includes where your family would meet if you were separated at the time of the emergency, how you would contact other family members, and how you would turn off power, water or gas to your property.

It’s also important to have a getaway kit in case you need to evacuate your home. It should include essential items like torches, a radio, a first aid kit, dust masks, sanitation equipment, medicines, a bit of spare cash, and enough food and water to last for three days. You can download a handy household plan checklist at the Get Ready, Get Thru website.

Looking after your home

Many areas of New Zealand are prone to major earthquakes, as recent events in Christchurch, Wellington, and Kaikoura have illustrated.

There are some practical steps you can take to minimise the risk of harm to your possessions and the people they may fall on. These include using blu-tak to stick ornaments to shelves, pushing picture hooks closed to prevent framed items falling off the wall, strapping appliances and televisions to benches, fixing tall pieces of furniture to the wall and anchoring your hot water cylinder or wood burner to a strong part of the house structure. The Earthquake Commission has a comprehensive guide available for you to download.

If a severe storm is forecast, ensure your gutters and downpipes are clear of leaves to prevent them overflowing into your roof cavity. High winds can turn objects like rubbish bins and trampolines into missiles, so tie down or bring inside anything that is likely to blow around. When the storm arrives, close all your windows and doors, and close the curtains or blinds to prevent broken glass flying into the room. Turn off appliances to protect them from power surges.

If there is an imminent risk of flooding, move all your valuable items, electronics and chemicals to the highest point in your house. Shut off your utilities and unplug electrical appliances to protect them from power surges.

If you are likely to be affected by ash from a volcanic eruption, disconnect your drainpipes to prevent them from becoming clogged. Close all the doors and windows and block any gaps with damp towels. Turn off heat pumps or ventilation fans. Also, shut down all of your electronic devices and seal them in plastic bags, as ash can easily get inside and damage the internal components.

Act now

If a natural disaster is severe, it’s likely that damage will occur. It may even be extensive, so it’s important to have adequate insurance cover to enable you to repair or replace your home and your possessions.

If you don’t have insurance, or you’re concerned that your current cover is inadequate, reach out to us on 09 365 5901 (Auckland) or 09 237 1191 (Pukekohe). For more information about dealing with natural disasters, visit getthru.govt.nz.