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How to Reduce Risk to Home or School from Disaster

Jennifer Wiginton

Natural disasters can be dangerous and destructive. Knowing how to prepare for and deal with disasters can reduce fear and anxiety during a disaster and improve recovery afterwards.

While homeowners and school officials cannot prevent disasters, actions they take to reduce the risks of and damage will greatly benefit families, schools and communities.


  1. Obey all local building codes and zoning ordinances. Comply with land-use management programs such as avoiding construction in flood plains. Purchase adequate home insurance and separate flood insurance if necessary as it is not included in home insurance policies.

  2. Prepare a disaster kit, including an evacuation map, battery-operated radio, food, water and personal items for each family member and pet. In areas that experience winter storms, include rock salt, sand and snow shovels and other snow-removal equipment in the kit. Discuss and practice disaster scenarios with all family members.

  3. Repair or upgrade household wiring, plumbing, utility and sewer systems. Install spring-loaded check valves in sewer traps to prevent raw sewage from flowing back up into the home during floods. Replace inflexible plastic and metal pipes and utility connections with flexible plastic downspout adaptors for drains and flexible tubing for gas appliances to allow for building movement during earthquakes or landslides. Have a professional install an automatic gas shut-off valve, triggered by strong vibrations.

  4. Purchase or make security aids for the house. Install smoke detectors in the home and replace their batteries once a year. Place escape ladders near upper-level windows of the home. Consider permanent storm shutters for homes in hurricane-prone areas. Leave regular storm windows—usually used only in the winter—up year-round in areas that experience severe heat emergencies. Make sure all storm windows, shutters or burglar bars can be opened easily from inside the house, to permit timely exit during a disaster.

  5. Arrange household items for stability during a disaster. Attach mirrors, large pictures and bookcases to the walls, and anchor overhead lighting fixtures to the ceiling. Place heavy and easily-breakable items on lower shelves and closed cabinets. Secure water heaters, refrigerators, furnaces and other appliances to the wall studs. Outdoors, keep the lawn trimmed, leaves raked and gutters clean. Remove dead trees and branches that could cause injury if toppled.


  1. Build new schools in safe locations, such as out of flood zones and away from known fault lines, drainage ways, steep slopes, natural erosion valleys or major transportation routes. In current schools, repair and secure equipment and items as for individual homes.

  2. Develop disaster management and school continuity plans well in advance of any disaster. Address the hazards most likely to occur in the area. Arrange for alternate school locations, transportation, schedules, curriculum delivery and exam administration. Ensure adequate measures for safely reuniting families following a disaster. Frequently practice a variety of disaster scenarios.

  3. Educate children and families about disaster awareness and prevention. Encourage older students and community members to receive training in light search and rescue, first aid, and other life-saving skills. Include disaster information in the school’s formal curriculum. Encourage a culture of safety in the entire school and community.

  4. Tip

    Many risk-reducing concepts can be applied most easily during building construction or remodeling. For example, consider including a safe room, especially in areas that experience tornadoes, earthquakes or hurricanes. In areas prone to wildfires, use fire-resistant materials such as stone, brick or metal and use multi-pane windows and tempered safety glass to protect from radiant heat. In coastal areas, consider using reinforced garage doors and reinforced-concrete-form wall systems to protect against severe winds.