New Jersey Home Inspectors - New Jersey Home Inspections

How Can Your Home Inspector Help You Prepare For Emergencies?

Many homeowners will be faced with seasonal threats to their safety, such as a wildfire that is too close in proximity or rising floodwaters thatcompel them, at least temporarily, to abandon their properties. In only the last three years, damage caused by natural disasters and severe weather conditions in the U.S. has amounted to a cost of tens of billions of dollars and has resulted in hundreds of deaths.

In October of 2012, the state of New Jersey experienced the horrific, devastating wrath of Hurricane Sandy. Over two million homes in New Jersey lost power, thousands of individuals found themselves forced to evacuate, 346,000 homes were destroyed or damaged, and 37 people were killed. Damages were assessed to have been an excess of 68 billion dollars.

In such nightmarish situations, preparedness is key. Here are some suggestions that can help you to make a well-planned retreat, as well as some ways that your home inspector can help you to ready yourself for an emergency and assess any damage to the property upon your return home.

Emergency evacuation can be problematic even under the best of circumstances and with ample warning. Emotions rise, panic sets in, and decision-making can be affected. It is important to consider whether the situation is widespread or localized. In an occurrence such as a nearby chemical spill, a gas pipe that has been ruptured, or a home fire, you can reasonably conclude that assistance is just beyond the immediate danger zone and the evacuation will likely only be temporary (several hours to a night or two). Your family should devise a plan for evacuation that determines a family point of meeting outside of the home. A larger disaster, however, such as a flood, wildfire, earthquake, tornado or hurricane, may affect a wider area, thereby compromising or completely disabling public utilities (electricity, communications, water and sewer). The roads within this area may be difficult to navigate, or blocked altogether, making it difficult or impossible for emergency personnel to reach those in need of assistance.

There are many steps you can take, regardless of the type of disaster, to lessen the potential for property damage and allow for a secure and safe evacuation should that become necessary. Such procedures can minimize the potential for unpleasant shock upon your return home.

For the sake of pre-emergency organization, I've broken down these evacuation tips into the following three categories:


Certain measures should be taken by homeowners to ensure their personal health and safety when they are required to leave their homes during an emergency situation. It is important to tune in to local news and broadcasts on television or radio by the Emergency Alert System in order to stay aware of the latest weather or other conditions, as well as to find out the recommendations of local emergency management, such as the location of public shelters.

You can greatly minimize the last-minute panic of leaving home in a hurry through preparation. The following list of items to pack may vary from person to person, but they are based on these priorities:

  1. Short-term vs. Long-term evacuation
  2. What you'll need while you're away
  3. What you shouldn't leave behind while you're gone

You can augment your emergency supply list with the following items:

Possession of items such as these can enable a family is self-sufficient until they are able to return home. With the exception of electronics that are used on a daily basis or regularly taken medications, most of the items on these lists can be stored in a central location, such as a garage cupboard or a coat closet, or already stored in your vehicle.

Other Considerations

For family members with special needs, such as infants and small children, the elderly, and individuals who have mobility issues, a plan for emergency evacuation is of great necessity because the time required for their departure is more substantial, and the list of their personal items is usually specialized. A lightweight, collapsible wheelchair, for example, may be a practical option for short-term, emergency use for a wheelchair-bound individual. Someone who is reliant on oxygen may do well to have a more readily portable supply on hand. Individuals who use hearing aids should make a practice of keeping a supply of extra batteries in their toiletries bag.

First responders and emergency personnel should be alerted as soon as is possible to the location of elderly and at-risk residents who may have compromised mobility so that they will be able to receive any additional assistance they may need to make a safe and timely departure.

The B-List

If a mandatory evacuation is expected to be long-term and residents have extra time to pack more than just their basic essentials, some homeowners may desire to pack items of special sentimental or monetary value, such as family heirlooms, artwork, jewelry, and other prized possessions.

As with most lists, this "B-list" should be developed well in advance of an emergency. Take into consideration how these items can be stored in your vehicle while still leaving enough room for family members and emergency essentials. Also investigate the option of off-site storage at a secure location.


Here's a bit of good news for homeowners whose home inspections were performed by an InterNACHI inspector. You have likely already been given Now That you've had a Home Inspection. This free ultimate home maintenance manual is presently in its fourth edition and is now also available in Spanish as a PDF download. This essential guide spells out precisely the seasonal and annual issues of which homeowners should be aware in order to keep their homes in good condition. A good number of these tips can be applied in emergency situations.

Homeowners should confirm on a regular basis that the drainage systems on their property are unobstructed. This includes downspouts, gutters, and drain fields. Tree branches should be cut back to avoid breakage that could result in roof damage and to prevent entanglement with power lines during storms. Chimneys and shingles ought to be in good condition, having no unsecured pieces that can become hazardous projectiles in severe storms. Those living in homes in areas that are susceptible to wildfires should maintain a suitable protective area around their properties.

As well as understanding the basic maintenance of the exterior of their homes, it is also necessary for homeowners to be aware of the possible hazards that exist within their home that can jeopardize personal safety. This includes things such as shelf units, light fixtures, and windows, which, during a storm or other emergency, can become damaged or unsteady, resulting in serious injury to family members taking shelter indoors.

It is critical for you to know where all of all shut-off valves in your home are and to be knowledgeable about how to operate them. If you are not, do not delay in scheduling an appointment with your InterNACHI inspector. He or she can educate you in these essentials so that, when the time inevitably comes, you can move quickly and confidently.

Shutting Off Utilities

If time allows, before you shut off your home's utilities, power off all household appliances and then unplug them. If you fail to turn off the electricity at the panel, the appliances that are plugged in will continue to draw current, creating the possibility for disaster in a situation that is already unstable.

Lock Your Windows and Doors

Securely lock all of your home's windows and doors to prevent undesired entry by trespassers during an emergency. This includes any and all exterior doors, as well as doors connecting an attached garage to the house, all outbuildings, and yard gates. During a tornado, however, some homes can become overly pressurized if some windows are not left open a bit. In regions that are prone to hurricanes, the windows of a home may need to be boarded up. Use your own best judgment, and also consider the type of emergency as well as the recommendations of local experts.

Other Security Issues

Farmers and ranchers have their own special concerns, such as the security of their livestock, additional equipment and buildings. Likewise, those who manage multi-housing units and commercial property owners have their own unique priorities that must be addressed with tenants and employees prior to any emergency evacuation. In general, fire marshals mandate that a sign of specified dimensions displaying the emergency escape route be posted in a location with easy visibility. Such signage is usually located near fire extinguishers and fire pull alarms. All employees and residents should focus on safe and timely evacuation and leave the security of the property to those in charge of such responsibilities.


Returning to one's home after an emergency or disaster can be an emotional event, so it's crucial to allow first responders and emergency personnel to do their jobs and to heed their instructions. In general, unless you are able to turn all of your utilities back on, your access to your home may be somewhat limited. This, however, depends on the municipality in which you reside as well as the extent of the damage. It may be necessary to boil your supply of water for a period of time until governmental agencies confirm that it's safe and potable without being treated.

Before re-entering your property:

Examine the exterior.

Examine the interior.

Check in with your neighbors and others.

Those of us who have never experienced disaster sometimes ponder what we would take if we had only mere moments to spare. The truth of the matter is that there is no wrong time to make those plans and formulate that list. Have a family discussion about what they should do in the event of an emergency. By involving all family members in the making of sensible preparations, chances are good that when disaster strikes, rather than panicking, you'll be better able to guide your family in a safe and sensible manner during an evacuation. When all are aware of what to expect (as much as is possible), that will ease their tension, enabling them to remain calm and act quickly. Schedule an appointment with your InterNACHI inspector who can aid you in developing a checklist to secure your house in the case of an emergency, as well as determine its condition afterward to confirm that it is safe for your return. Your inspector can also help you in putting to gethera plan of action for repairs. And finally, remember to replenish your emergency supplies so that you will be prepared for the next time, should it ever be necessary.

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