November 25, 2015

Hatteras Island Real Estate:
Disaster Preparedness

By TOM HRANICKA

As we watch the evening news, we see that just about every area of the country has its own types of natural disasters. There are earthquakes and wildfires in the west; tornadoes, severe storms, and flooding in the central states, and hurricanes and snow storms along the East Coast.

The importance of preparing for these disasters from both a business and a personal perspective was brought home to me during Hurricane Irene in 2011 and a major fire that destroyed the Outer Beaches Realty office in Avon last November. In this article, I would like to share some of the lessons learned from these experiences with the hope that the negative impacts of similar events will be lessened for readers and their families.

In looking back on these incidents, I would like to focus on three main areas – communication, data back-up/retrieval, and documentation.

Hurricane Irene was accompanied by an extremely high tidal surge from the Pamlico Sound that created a tremendous amount of damage in the northern villages, severely damaged the highway just north of Rodanthe, and a new inlet was formed on Pea Island closing Highway 12 for about six weeks. After the storm passed, I was feeling pretty good about the recovery tasks ahead of me in Avon. Then, suddenly, almost all communication with the outside world was cut off.

At the time, my wife was off the island visiting family. When I tried to reach her by telephone land line and by cell phone, I found that I had no service. My next thought was that I would simply go out to my automobile and contact her via ONSTAR, since it was my understanding that this was a satellite-based mobile communication system that was available in any location under any adverse circumstance. Wrong!

After service was restored, I learned that ONSTAR only works when the cell towers are in operation. The cell towers that provide our service were apparently disabled by the storm. There was also no Internet service, and e-mail was not an option. I could not reach her, and she could not contact me. Fortunately, for some unknown reason, there were a few telephones still working on the island, and I was able to locate one and speak with her later in the day.

Coincidentally, several days earlier, there had been a rather strong earthquake in Virginia that affected communications in the Washington, D.C., area. All of the land lines and cell phone voice circuits were jammed, so my wife could not communicate with other family members.

This is what we learned from these situations – in the event of a disaster, you need to prepare in advance for a blackout of the traditional forms of communication and have a back-up plan in place. In the case of the jammed cell phone voice circuits in the D.C. area, text messaging was still working.

Another option to consider is a satellite phone. It is my understanding that satellite phones are expensive to purchase and have a relatively short battery life. They can also be rented, which may be something to consider since we usually have a relatively long lead time between the formation of a hurricane and its local landfall. One review that I read suggested that if you need a satellite phone for more than six weeks per year, then purchasing is your best choice. If you only need access one month or less per year, then rental would be your most economical option.

A third alternative is to locate a ham radio operator in your area who may be able to provide a means of communication in an emergency. 

The fire that destroyed our business office was a true disaster at many levels. The lessons learned from this tragedy carry over to the destruction of homes by fire as well. In the simplest terms, every material item in my personal office was destroyed by the fire – computer equipment, paper records, files, furniture, research material, reference books, maps, educational materials, and probably a lot of things that I forgot were even there.

The key words in preparation for this type of disaster are documentation and back-up.  After the fire, your insurance company is going to want very explicit documentation for any claims that are made. This will include a detailed description of each item that was lost and an estimate of its value. This can be a monumental task if you have not done any work in advance, especially considering the stress you will be under immediately following the fire.

You will need documentation showing items that were lost or damaged. A good starting point would be to take photographs of everything in your home or office and keep receipts for big ticket items. Then, create a written record of each item and store it online or in a separate geographic location.  This is a time consuming process and requires both persistence and patience.

The second component of disaster preparedness is assuring that you have current back-ups for all of your important records and data.  Fortunately, in today’s world there are many ways to back-up your data online on the Internet. Files on your computer can be automatically backed up using a reasonably low-cost, cloud (Internet) back-up data storage solution like Carbonite, Mozy, etc. Paper files can be converted into online files by scanning them and saving them in a cloud-based storage program like Dropbox. Receipts can also be stored online by scanning and uploading them as they are received. Customer records can be maintained and stored online through a variety of programs specific to your line of business.

It is also important to have the data stored in a retrievable form. For example, if you save digital photos on a disk, you would want to be sure that the disk has not become obsolete.  Basically, your goal is to have a paperless database for your home and your place of business.

I hope you find these tips helpful, and I would invite you to share any additional suggestions or personal experiences that you may have at the addresses listed below. I will update this article in the future as new information is developed.


(Tom Hranicka is a broker with Outer Beaches Realty. Questions, comments, or suggestions for future articles may be sent to Hranicka at P.O. Box 280, Avon, NC  27915 or emailed to [email protected]. Copyright 2015 Tom & Louise Hranicka.  All rights reserved.)


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