Interactive Disaster Map: How Homeowners Across the US Should Invest in Disaster Preparedness

The 2020 Easter tornado outbreak tore in with gusto in April of this year, letting loose 140 tornados over the Southern and Eastern United States. In late summer, we saw another spat of severe weather - hurricanes that leveled huge tracts and sent homeowners scrambling to their storm shelters. As climate change leads to an increasingly volatile world, we find that disaster preparedness is more than just an option for those with extra resources; it needs to be an essential part of life for all of us.

In light of this, we’ve put together a resource for homeowners as well as those looking to buy a new home - a disaster map that provides, in an easy-to-grasp visual format, helpful information on what disasters are most common in each US State. The information on natural disasters is sourced from the FEMA website. Of course, not every flood makes it to the national record. A discussion of what does and what doesn’t make the count is available here.

By default, it’ll be set to ‘total natural disasters’ and the colors on the map will offer you a visual understanding of which areas of the US are most disaster prone. New York state, for instance, is a dark green: FEMA declared 89 natural disasters between 1953 and 2020. Wyoming, the lightest shade on the map, is much less disaster-prone: just twelve disasters have been declared since 1953.

As you mouse over each state on the map, detailed stats will pop up. Mousing over Wyoming, we see a breakdown of the 12 recorded disasters: 3 severe storms, 6 floods, 2 tornados, and 1 disaster related to snow and ice. Wyoming had no hurricanes or earthquakes during the time in question.

The drop down menu at the top also allows you to select a custom map, where you can view the distribution of floods, hurricanes, tornados, severe storms, and snow/ice disasters across the country. If you select floods, for instance, the map transforms to shades of yellow and brown. California and Texas, with the darkest possible shade (33-40 disasters recorded since 1953), stand out as two flood hotspots. Here’s a screenshot of what the map looks like under the flood category.

Making your Home Disaster Resistant

As a homeowner, you can utilize the map to discover what disasters have been declared in your area since 1953 and make responsible decisions about where to put your limited disaster-preparedness dollars. If you live in Kansas, you will want to ensure your house is ready to weather severe storms (Kansas has seen 38 of them since 1951). As a resident of Texas, you will still want a storm-ready home, but you may want to make a bigger investment in readying your home for potential floods.

A flooded basement cleanup is expensive - typically $2,000-$15,000 - as is other water damage restoration (the national average cost for a basic cleanup is $3,000).  If you live in a flood prone area, you may want to install sump pumps in your basement, install backflow valves on your sewage, and anchor any fuel tanks that might spill and contaminate your basement if, in the case of a flood, they were torn free. You should also know how to turn off your electricity in case of evacuation, or should there be standing water or downed power lines in your area.

The interactive disaster map is not only useful for homeowners. It also gives property agents ample information to look for in any potential properties they list. If a property a prospective buyer is interested in is in an area which has seen multiple tornados, you’ll want to know if the house has a storm shelter and what structural safeguards have been put in place should a storm come in the area. Hurricane shutters and storm windows are important assets to inquire about. You’ll also want to do more local research to discover if your county and locale is more or less disaster prone than the state as a whole.

While it’s impossible to predict disaster, a good understanding of historical data and local conditions can enable you to be ‘always ready, always prepared’. You can make informed decisions on where to spend your limited home renovation dollars, and make the upgrades to your home that are most likely to matter in the upcoming years.

As you work through your own personalized homeowner disaster preparedness plan, you’ll gain new confidence. No matter what troubles may come in the future,  you’ll be able to greet them with the equilibrium that comes when you know you’ve been responsible and done all that can be done in advance.