Your home is your refuge. It is important to store the things you need in advance of any emergency or crisis situation. You may need to survive on your own during a winter storm, shelter in place during a chemical emergency, or provide your own care if first responders are needed elsewhere.
Keeping enough water and food on hand for your family is part of the equation. Adding light, heat, and comfort items can reduce stress and anxiety during an incident. Review the guidelines that follow and adopt as many tactics as possible to get your home ready.
Having a supply of clean water is very important. A normally active person needs to drink at least 8 glasses of water each day. During hot weather, you will need to increase that amount. Children, nursing mothers and sick people will need more. You will also need water to fix meals and to wash. Store at least one gallon of water per person/per day for each member of your family. Don’t forget water for pets.
If supplies run low, drink what you need today and try to find more for tomorrow. You can use less by doing less and staying cool. Also, you should consider keeping water purification tabs on hand in case the water has become contaminated.
Keep your water in very clean plastic, glass, fiberglass or enamel-lined metal containers. Never use a container that has held poison. Plastic soft drink bottles work well for water storage. You can also buy food-grade plastic buckets or drums. Close water containers tightly, date them and keep in a cool, dark place. Change this water with fresh water every six months.
You don’t need to go out and buy special foods to prepare your emergency food supply. You can use the canned foods and other staples on your cupboard shelves. In fact, familiar foods are important. They can lift spirits and give a feeling of security in times of stress. Also, many canned foods don’t need cooking, water or special preparation. Just be sure to have an adequate supply.
People with special diets and allergies will need more attention, as will babies, toddlers and elderly people. Nursing mothers may need to give their baby liquid formula in case they can’t nurse. Canned dietetic foods, juices and soups may be helpful for ill or elderly people. Make sure you have a hand-operated (not electric) can opener and disposable utensils. And don’t forget foods for your pets.
Heat and light
Have lots of flashlights, extra batteries and bulbs on hand. Keep a flashlight next to your bed. Check batteries often. Be careful using open flame candles or lanterns for emergency lighting.
Examine your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms now. If you have alarms that are hard-wired into your home’s electrical system (most newer ones are), check to see if they have battery back-ups. If not, buy battery-operated smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. If you already have detectors, clean and test them. Working smoke detectors can double your chances of survival. Replace all batteries in all alarms each year as a general safety precaution.
If you plan to use alternate equipment for heat, cooking and light during a power failure, be sure to check your equipment periodically. Have an adequate supply of fuel stored (not in the house). Have fireplace chimneys and stove flues cleaned regularly.
Practice home fire drills. Make sure all family members know the outside meeting place and how to get out quickly.
Store any gas cans or other flammable liquids away from the house. Always keep an ABC fire extinguisher close at hand.
Possible home hazards
During an emergency, ordinary objects in your home can cause injury or damage. Anything that can move, fall, or break can cause an accident or fire. For example, an unsteady bookshelf is a home hazard. People can trip over loose electric cords or toys on stairways. Make sure that freestanding heaters or lamps cannot be knocked over by active children or pets. Enlist all family members to keep your home hazard free. The Home Safety Council has a variety of tools to help keep your home safe.
Locate the main electric fuse box, water service meter or main intake pipe, and natural gas meter. Learn how and when to turn these utilities off. Teach all responsible family members how to do these things as well.
Keep necessary tools handy in case you need them to shut off gas and water.
Remember, turn off the utilities only if you suspect the lines are damaged or if you are instructed to do so. If you turn the gas off, you will need a professional to turn it back on.
If you have your own septic system for sewage, make sure your treatment schedule is up-to-date.
Preventing flood damage
If your property has flooded in the past, consider strategies to mitigate damage in the future. Flood mitigation means making changes on your property to prevent future flood losses. Flood mitigation saves lives and money. Some mitigation options are:
- Elevate the buildings on your property above the base flood height
- Relocate buildings out of the floodway, or
- Allowing your county or city government to purchase your property.
Contact your city council, county emergency services director or county commission to express interest in flood mitigation programs. The city or county then applies for grant money on your behalf to fund mitigation projects. For information about home safety and mitigation, go to http://flash.org/about.php.
Pharmacies, medication and general health
Your drugstore keeps its records on computers and they may be subject to power or even computer problems. If you take medication regularly, ask your doctor to write an additional prescription so you have an extra supply on hand.
Keep a family medical inventory. List all medications used by family members as well as any necessary supplies such as needles or alcohol swabs. For each family member list medical conditions, allergies and medical devices needed to maintain health care. List the last dates of immunizations for adults and children.
Discuss these lists with your doctor to be sure they are complete. Ask how to handle chronic medical conditions in an emergency and what you can do if needed mechanical or electric equipment fails. Keep medical and dental checkups up-to-date. Maintaining good health is the first line of defense against any unexpected emergency.
Banks and financial records
Keep important family documents in your safety deposit box at the bank or copies at the house of a friend or relative. It is a good idea to keep copies of documents you might need in an emergency, just in case you can’t get to the bank. Keep these in a locked waterproof, fireproof, portable container that you can take with you if you have to evacuate. Remember to take the key to this container with you.
You may want to retain copies of the following:
- Bank statements
- Social Security earnings profiles
- Mortgage or car loan
- Utility and rent payments
- Income statements
- Tax records
- Important phone numbers;
- Wills, insurance policies, contacts, deeds, stocks and bonds;
- Passports, social security cards, immunization records;
- Bank account numbers, credit card account numbers and companies;
- Inventory of valuable household goods; and
- Family records (birth, marriage, death certificates) as well as legal papers such as divorce, immigration or citizenship records.
Keep your automobile gas tank more than half full and oil at the proper level. Gas stations could experience a variety of electrical problems or delays in fuel delivery. Storing gasoline at home can be extremely expensive and hazardous and is not recommended.