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  • Random Acts of Nature

    On May 1 one of them (code name: weasel) immobilized CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest atom smasher. Another (code name: bird scat) shut down a New York nuclear reactor for three days. A third (code name: crow) caused a fire and knocked out power to the entire community of Summerside, Prince Edward Island, Canada, on May 6. In April they attacked 22 sites in 11 states and six countries. They are all around us, unnoticed, unseen. They are our neighbors. They are ... the animal kingdom.

    Random Acts of Nature

    "Squirrels are the biggest offenders," Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Eliot Brenner told the Associated Press.

    Though we spends a lot of time talking about major disasters, random acts of nature like animals, wind, and lightning can create similar problems. Here are a few ways to prepare for these troublemakers.

    Tree Down - Standard Examiner Random Acts of Nature Photo courtesy of Standard Examiner

    First, have insurance. Hopefully a homeowner in Kaysville, Utah, carried insurance when local hurricane-force wind gusts sent a tree into their home May 1. Wind also knocked out power to 39,000 people in the area.

    With all insurance plans, check what they cover. Homeowner’s insurance will typically pay to repair or rebuild a home if it’s damaged by disasters like fire, hurricane, hail or lightning, according to the Insurance Information Institute. It also may cover personal items and liability for damage by family members or pets.  It won’t pay for damage caused by a flood, earthquake or routine wear and tear. Supplemental flood and earthquake insurance is available in places like floodsmart.gov.

    Almost every state requires drivers to carry auto liability insurance. Many car loan agreements also require comprehensive and collision insurance as well. Hopefully, the owner of a pickup in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, Canada, had comprehensive insurance on May 1. That day, when a crow touched something it shouldn’t have at the Summerside Electric Utility power plant on May 1, it knocked out power to the town. It also triggered an electric arc that shot into a pile of firewood in the driveway of the home across the street. That fire caused minor damage to a pickup. Comprehensive insurance would cover the cost of repairs from the act of crow. Liability insurance would not.

    Second, have an alternate power source. Most of the time, outages caused by random acts of nature are short-duration. The Summerside crow outage, for example, lasted only 45 minutes. However, people dependent on powered medical devices should make a power outage plan, according to ready.gov. The plan can include extra batteries or a generator. A person whose equipment has steady power needs should also register with the power company so it can provide outage updates and prioritize power restoration.

    Third, know the neighbors. On May 6, a squirrel blew a fuse in a transformer that brought power to a shopping plaza in O’Fallon, Ill. Some businesses lost power; others didn’t. Localized effects are common with these random acts of nature. Neighbors can help each other with power, supplies, and cleanup.

    Fourth, know basic safety rules. A fallen, live power line (caused by a goose) burned a Pennsylvania middle schooler when he went to move it at the request of his school bus driver. Never, never touch fallen power lines. If at all possible, stay inside during heavy storms.

    Ready.gov has a good list of safety tips for storms and other disasters. This information, and supplies like those sold here at beprepared.com, can help anyone be ready when life – or a squirrel – happens.

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  • In Case of a House Fire...Plan Ahead

    House FireOn the night of March 30, a fire ripped through a block of apartment buildings in Brooklyn, N.Y. Though no one lost their lives, at least 35 families were displaced. Three buildings burned and two others were damaged.

    The New York Times described the struggles of the next few days for several families.

    “How the days, even weeks, after a fire play out for someone it has displaced are largely determined by what that person can grab in the seconds before escaping,” wrote Times reporter Michael Wilson.

    The American Red Cross helps at about 70,000 house fires every year in the United States, an average of one every eight minutes, said Rich Woodruff Red Cross Communications Director for the Utah Region of the American Red Cross.

    When they’re thinking about preparing for a fire, many people remember 72-hour kits or go bags. Some even remember to gather extras like diapers and prescription medication. Here are a few things Woodruff said people tend to forget when they’re planning for rapid evacuation.

    First, have an evacuation plan and rehearse it. Map two exit routes and arrange meeting places in case household members get separated from each other. Also arrange meeting places and phone contacts out of town in case of a widespread emergency. Ready.gov has templates to make planning easier.

    “Let’s say at 3 a.m., the smoke alarm goes off, and you can’t see well. Instead of panicking, you have a predetermined route,” Woodruff said.

    Second, plan for pets. Pets are often overlooked in peoples’ emergency plans, Woodruff said.

    When packing a grab-and-go kit for household members, pack one for pets. Pack things like food and a water bowl. Make sure each pet has identification, like a collar or microchip. The Red Cross has a pet first aid app and other pet preparedness information.

    For a few days after the Brooklyn apartment fire, according to the New York Times story, one resident, Luke Moffitt, worried about his cats. He’d opened a window on the way out so they could escape, but he hadn’t seen them. He was lucky. When firefighters allowed him to enter his apartment, he found them inside. A building superintendent who raised pigeons on the roof of another building lost all of them.

    hard drive connected to the computer with vital documents House Fire

    Third, keep digital copies of important papers either in the cloud or in a place like a safe-deposit box. These include papers like wills, vital records, financial and legal information and ownership records. One of the greatest struggles for people displaced in the Brooklyn fire was finding and recreating vital records, the New York Times story reported.

    For example, the Red Cross gave out preloaded debit cards to fire victims, but adult family members had to have identification to receive them. The Rondon family had five adults and an infant living in their apartment. Only one adult, away during the fire, escaped with his ID. Two others found ID copies by calling an employer.

    The Quinones family needed their son’s birth certificate and proof of residence to get into temporary housing. They got a letter from their son’s pediatrician since they didn’t have a birth certificate. They had to get a form signed by their landlord and notarized since they had no lease on hand. A few days later, demolition workers recovered their battered file cabinet that contained birth certificates and other important papers.

    On average, people have two minutes to escape from a burning house, Woodruff said. When the Brooklyn blaze began, one man was on his way to the shower. He escaped shirtless and shoeless, no phone, no wallet. Emergencies aren’t convenient. But preparing for them can make the aftermath a little more bearable.

    The Red Cross has emergency preparedness apps like first aid, emergency alerts and preparedness for kids.

     

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  • Tips for Improving Home Accessibility and Safety as We Age

     

    Accessible House - via Flickr by Living in Monrovia Image via Flickr by Living in Monrovia

     

    Tips for Improving Home Accessibility and Safety as We Age

    Research from AARP finds that 73% of people ages 45 and older want to remain in their current residence as long as possible, while 90% of older adults ages 65 and older wish to do so. For many seniors, this decision is motivated at least in part by finances. With the cost of senior living on the rise – from independent living communities to assisted living and nursing homes – staying in a private home can offer substantial savings over moving to an expensive senior housing complex.

    In order to age in place, however, it’s often necessary for seniors to make home modifications to ensure accessibility and safety as the activities of daily living become more challenging. Still, the cost of such modifications is often a more affordable approach than paying for care in a senior living community. These tips will help you improve home accessibility and safety:

     

    Keep Costs Down By Hiring a Trustworthy Contractor

    Some home safety improvements, such as eliminating clutter and ensuring clear walkways, can be achieved on your own. But for homes that require more extensive modifications, such as installing a bathroom on the first floor, you’ll need to hire a contractor.

    Finding a trustworthy, efficient contractor is one way to keep the costs of your home modifications as low as possible. Eldercare.gov provides advice on what to look for in a contractor. The site suggests finding a contractor that is “licensed, bonded, and insured” and checking with friends and family members to get recommendations.

    You might also check out consumer review pages to find quality contractors in your area. As the YP page for Massachusetts roofer, Duval Roofing, shows, it and similar sites offer an easy way to see what other customers have to say about area contractors.

     

    Embrace Technology

    Technology such as medical alert systems and remote monitoring tools can facilitate better communication between family, caregivers, and healthcare providers to keep aging adults safer in their homes.

    For older seniors, technology adoption may be initiated by a family member but is typically well-received. The Merrill Lynch-Age Wave survey found that 76% of retirees “are interested in technologies to monitor their health at home such as sensors, alerts or medication reminder apps,” and 64 percent expressed interest “in home technologies that connect them with family and friends, such as video chat and interactive devices.”

     

    Install Hand Rails and Grab Bars

    One in three older adults experiences a fall each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Additionally, one in five falls causes a serious injury, such as a broken bone or head injury, making falls a major risk to the health and safety of older adults who choose to age in place.

    Installing hand holds in key areas is a great way to protect against falls. Ensuring that existing hand rails are sturdy in stairways can help to prevent accidents on the stairs, and installing grab bars in other areas where older adults are prone to falls – such as in the bathroom – can help seniors safely enter and exit the bath tub or shower. Other modifications, such as the use of non-skid surfaces in the shower and installing carpeting on stairs, can also help to reduce the likelihood of trips and falls.

     

    Ensure Adequate Lighting

    Poor lighting is another issue that can increase the likelihood of slips and falls. But dim lighting can also lead to other accidents, such as turning the stove top temperature too high or taking the wrong medication. Check light bulbs throughout the home and use the maximum wattage safe for use with light fixtures. In some homes, particularly older homes without many built-in lighting options, adding light fixtures to areas that are generally dim can also improve visibility.

    The National Institutes of Health suggests that each room, entryways, and outdoor walkways should be well-lit, as well as stairways, ideally with light switches at both the top and bottom of the stairs. Nightlights should be placed in the bathroom, hallways, bedrooms, and kitchen. Make sure that lamps are easily accessible on either side of the bed, and store a flashlight in an easily accessible bedside area for quick access in an emergency or power outage.

    With more older adults choosing to remain in their own homes as long as possible, more resources are becoming available to facilitate safe aging in place. Advancements in technology allowing for remote monitoring and care-giving, innovative safety adaptions for the home, and financial assistance options for seniors who require more extensive home modifications are just a few of the options that today’s seniors can take advantage of to live safely and happily in their own homes long into their golden years.

     

     ______

    Angela Tollersons is a former business owner turned full-time mom. The mother of a son on the autism spectrum, she truly believes that every family is special in their own way. She started ForFamilyHealth.net with her husband to provide parents a resource for information, ideas, and inspiration on giving children of all abilities healthy and happy lives. Angela lives in the ’burbs of North Carolina and is an active member of PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center and Parents Helping Parents.

     

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