OK, so moved into your new home, got the right insurance, the new lawn mower, unpacked all the boxes and then just went back to your life. That was everything. Right? Wrong. If you didn’t create or update an emergency plan for your home and family, you could be putting everyone in danger. It is critical to be prepared well in advance for any disaster to keep your family as safe as possible. Preparedness sounds like a no-brainer, but even though the news is always full of fires, storms, tornadoes, and hurricanes, the majority of families don’t have a plan for where to go or what to do if an emergency strikes.
Know Your Risks
Each area has different disaster risks. The internet is your best friend here. Look up your area to find out what is most likely to happen. If your area is at risk for natural disasters like tornadoes or hurricanes, your community likely has resources available for you. Get on the right mailing lists, websites, social media profiles, and texting lists, so you always know what’s going on in your area. If you don’t already get the WEAs (wireless emergency updates) from the national weather service on your phone, check with your wireless provider to make sure your phone is compatible and get those turned on ASAP. For more information, check out NOAA Weather Radio online. Download a variety of weather apps with alert systems from your phone or desktop app store.
Find the Right Shelter
It’s important to understand what disasters require evacuation to a safer area, and which you can wait out in your home. Each different disaster has a different method to keep your family safe, and your community should prepare in case evacuation measures are necessary. Check with your local government for emergency services and locations. If you have kids, make sure to check with their schools and get familiar with their emergency response plans as well. That way, no matter what happens, you know your kids will be safe.
- Hurricanes – First, secure the fridge and freezer: plan for the power to go out, so turn them all the way down to as cold a setting as possible and secure them shut to keep your food cold for as long as you can. Since you won’t want to open it, if possible, get some dry, shelf-stable food to get you through the storm. Make sure you disable as many appliances as possible to keep them from shorting out due to power fluctuations or water damage. Lastly, close up your hurricane shutters and board any windows without them to keep them from shattering in the wind. Depending on its severity and the security of your home, you may be able to wait out the storm in place. Watch for evacuation notices though, and when told to leave, do it. Your family’s safety is more important than staying in your home.
- Thunderstorms and Tornadoes – If at all possible, make sure you have access to underground shelters. If you have a basement or cellar at home or work, this will be your best bet. Even walkout basements are safer than upper floors, so long as you stay well away from the windows and doors and keep near the walls braced all around by the ground outside. If an underground space isn’t available, stick to interior rooms like closets and bathrooms. Your best choices will have sturdy walls and no windows. If a tornado is in your immediate vicinity, huddle down in a bathtub and away from any glass or possible falling objects.
- Earthquakes – These disasters tend to have the least warning. If you live in an earthquake danger area, its best to prepare your house from the outset. Make sure that any hanging decorations or items are earthquake safe and secure. You don’t want them falling and injuring your family or getting damaged. Appliances should also be secured to prevent them from pulling away from walls and floors or tipping over when the ground moves. Get familiar with the safest spots in your home — the sturdiest interior walls or spaces under furniture where you can brace during the event. Also know what areas of your home to avoid, specifically around hanging objects, light fixtures, windows or mirrors. In a pinch, you can brace in an interior door frame to keep yourself safe, but it is better to have a more protected space. For the best results, immediately drop to your knees when the earthquake strikes then move to your most secure area while protecting your head and neck. Once you get situated, continue bracing and protecting your head and neck until the earthquake stops.
- Flooding – Floods can happen with minimal warning, and the water level can increase much faster than you can plan for. Don’t risk it. The moment your area is under a flood warning, get to higher ground. Whether that’s finding a hill outside, or just moving to the second floor of your home, don’t ignore these warnings. If its late at night, grab the kids and go upstairs for a storm slumber party. That will keep your kids calm and safe at once.
- Fire – If there is any sign of a fire in your home, get out and stay out. Plan for a variety of ways to exit your home depending on where the flame is greatest. If you have a second, or perhaps a third story, make sure that all working upper windows are armed with fire ladders so you can get out without using the stairs. Don’t be left without a way out. Plan a meeting place nearby, but at a safe distance, so your family can re-convene after exiting the home, just in case you all go different directions. Make sure your kids are aware of what to do and practice with a home fire drill just like they do at school. Once your family is outside, call 911 and follow the directions of your emergency service providers.
City or town-wide evacuations can be panic-ridden and chaotic. The evacuation itself is dangerous because those who are unprepared are more scared and unsure what to do. Keep both you and your family calm and safe throughout the process by being prepared ahead of time. Have an emergency kit with a change of extra fuel, clothes, water, some candles, and food in your garage or car if you can. That way your family is ready at a moment’s notice. Learn the evacuation procedures of your community, so you know how they will direct you in case of emergency. Always make sure to follow evacuation orders as quickly and calmly as possible. Evacuation is a last choice, so stalling because you “don’t think its necessary” puts your family in danger and over-taxes emergency personnel. If there were any other options, your community would avoid the evacuation order.
Make sure to ask your real estate professional what disasters are frequent in your area before buying your home.