Natural disasters, from hurricanes to tornadoes, can strike at any time. Is your family prepared to weather the storm?

Storm shelters are something of a necessity through much of the Midwest and South. Tornado alley, a strip of land in the Great Plains between the Rocky Mountains and Appalachians, sees more than it's fair share of tornadic activity each year.

Last year alone there were 552 tornado related deaths in the United States and 1,688 confirmed tornadoes.

While your home insurance most likely covers tornado damage (be sure to check on the specifics of microbursts, straight line winds, hurricane winds, and tornado coverage for your plan), you have to make it through the storm in the first place.

If your home has a basement, be sure to have a space cleared of debris and ready for use during storms.

You may have just seconds to get to your safe space, especially during the night when it's harder to see a tornado coming. Many Midwesterners have above ground safe rooms in their homes (garages or closets) that are bolted down into the ground and serve as tornado shelters. Many others have underground storm cellars near (the key is near) their homes.

Do some research to find the best plan and deals for your family. You should also invest in a weather monitor, which can alert you with alarms when severe weather warnings have been issued. The key is to not be caught unaware.

If you are a renter or don't have the option of installing a storm shelter then always be sure to have a Plan B should severe weather rear it's ugly head. Do you have a family member or neighbor with adequate shelter? Arrange in advance to share in this space should bad weather appear.

All homes, regardless of location, should have an emergency tote full of supplies. You should have bottled water, a battery or crank operated FM radio, non-perishable food, lighter, flares, first-aid kid, solar cell-phone charger, extra batteries, whistle, pet food, and baby formula if needed. The FEMA-backed website, Ready.gov, gives some helpful tips to families on what they can do to be best prepared for disaster.

Have an open discussion with your family members about where they should go during storms, where to meet up after disasters, and who is responsible for what.

Many people today rely on their cellphones instead of installing landlines. It is important to remember that cell phone circuits become overloaded during times of emergency and you might not be able to get a call through to a loved one. Land lines work even without electricity.

The key is to be prepared ahead of time and to head the warnings of officials about impending storms.

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