Losing your home or having it severely damaged in a natural disaster is devastating, and the following months are extremely uncomfortable. This is why it’s essential to take preventive measures to limit any damage to your property – and to your family.
The Western Cape has been struck with a number of natural disasters over the years. These include:
- The Tulbagh earthquake in 1969
- The 1981 Laingsburg floods
- The Cape Town fires in 2015
- The Knysna fires in 2017
- The George fires in 2018
Other provinces also regularly experience severe flooding, wildfires and other catastrophic events, and there’s no telling when the next one will occur. In disasters of this scale, it’s very difficult for the local authorities to assist everyone in the area. Therefore, each family needs to take preventive steps to make sure family members and pets are safe and that damage to property is limited.
If the area you live in is at a high risk of wildfires, the City of Cape Town recommends taking the following precautions to keep your home safe:
- Build firebreaks around your property. Placing gravel or a well-maintained lawn around your home will help.
- Regularly remove flammable debris like dead leaves, twigs and litter.
- Remove dead branches from trees and shrubs.
- Keep a fire extinguisher in your house, and have it serviced regularly.
- Ensure your garden hose is rolled up and ready for use.
- Consider installing shutters, screens, or heavy fire-resistant curtains.
- Store firewood and flammable liquids like gas, petrol, or paint away from living areas.
- If possible, have more than one exit from your home.
- Work out an escape plan – and make sure everyone in the family understands the plan.
- Make sure street fire hydrants are easily accessible and not blocked by parked vehicles.
- Ensure the distance between buildings on your property allows for emergency access.
- Ensure there is easy access and turning space for emergency vehicles.
If your property is a possible flood risk, safeguard your home by taking the following precautions:
- Fix any cracks in the walls and mend water pipes.
- Keep the gutters clear of leaves and debris.
- Raise your appliances and bookshelves off the ground.
- Have a plan for evacuation. Know where you will go during a natural disaster and how you will get there. Make sure everyone in the family understands the drill.
- Save emergency numbers on your cell phone.
- Make sure your children memorise your phone number.
- Have a first aid kit ready and include all necessary medication.
- Keep a torch, a battery radio and spare batteries handy.
- Keep a backpack at the ready with non-perishable foods and water.
If you think flooding is imminent, immediately report the disaster to your municipality. If you may have to evacuate, make sure that you’re wearing protective clothing – and don’t leave your pets behind.
- Seal walls and open spaces with sandbags or other materials to keep the water out.
- Switch off all electrical appliances as well as the main switch on the distribution board.
- Tie-down all moveable objects outside your home.
- Place all your credit cards, medical aid details, and personal documents in a water-resistant bag.
- Pack in dry clothing to keep warm.
- Keep an emergency whistle close at hand to signal for help.
Check your insurance policy to make sure that natural disasters are covered. Repairs are usually costly, and since emergencies are sudden and unexpected, you might not have the financial resources to pay for repairs to damaged structures immediately.
Home owners’ insurance usually covers the repair costs of your home should it get damaged during an emergency.
Household contents insurance covers the contents of your home.
Speak to a financial adviser or insurance broker to find the most suitable insurance for your family.
If your property is damaged during a natural disaster, you should contact your insurance company immediately.
During an emergency, public safety officials use a combination of methods to keep people informed, including radio and television broadcasts, text messages on municipal and neighbourhood watch groups and door-to-door alerts.
There’s no guarantee that everyone affected will be contacted, but these methods allow regional officials to notify large parts of the local population quickly.
Your local authority’s disaster management department will coordinate and facilitate efforts to help citizens during an emergency. In addition, the Department of Social Development, Provincial Human Settlements and the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) will be notified to provide social relief support. However, it usually takes some time for these agencies to provide assistance, so it’s best to be prepared beforehand.
Reporting a natural disaster is the first step to ensuring your safety. Therefore, it’s important to immediately report wildfires, storm surges or possible floods – even small ones – and keep monitoring the situation.
Stay informed by tuning in to your local authority’s text group as well as radio stations for information about evacuations and safety tips.
Avoid unnecessary risks – don’t leave your home unless instructed to do so by someone in authority.