Are you observing National Preparedness Month?

By the time you know that a natural disaster is bearing down on your home or office, there isn't usually much time left to prepare. That's why the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is urging Americans to participate in a "PrepareAthon" during September. In addition, the American Public Health Association (APHA) has declared September 19 "Get Ready Day."

Both organizations are asking Americans to think about all of the risks facing their communities. However, FEMA has focused its public outreach activities on six particular scenarios that it sees as presenting the most pressing risks: hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, wildfires and winter storms.

American households, businesses fall short on key measures of preparedness

Unfortunately, studies show that many Americans are not taking basic steps to prepare for natural disasters. An Allstate Insurance survey found that more than 90 percent of American adults have not practiced an evacuation plan, while 30 percent would ignore an official evacuation order and "take their chances" with a disaster.

Businesses don't fare much better when it comes to preparedness, according to a survey performed by Small Business Majority. The poll found that more than 50 percent of small businesses do not have any type of emergency plan, and most of those that do have plans rarely update them or take time to assess their level of preparedness.

Beyond survival, property owners must consider what situation they may find themselves in after a disaster. Arranging repairs or reconstruction in a hard-hit area may be difficult, costly and time-consuming. Insurers can do their part to support community preparedness by keeping replacement cost estimates for residential structures up to date with a valuation system that accounts for local variations in construction costs.