Readiness for the Home
and convenient steps everyone should take
Power outages, fires, floods,
earthquakes, wind, and storms can interrupt utilities, phones, stores,
ATMs, and travel. You can be forced to leave your home because of
flooding, sewage backflow, fire, chemical accident, or terrorist
threat. These things occur when you are least prepared. This is an
inexpensive common sense preparation document. It will help your
commute and vacations.
The large disaster relief
organizations can provide basic relief for a lot of people, but need a
few days to get set up. Wise people are prepared to handle problems on
their own for at least a week.
Don't buy any survival kits or
anything you are not familiar with. After the power goes out is not the
time to try something new. Don't waste your money buying "special
survival food". It will probably get old before you need it. Just keep
your regular canned goods stocked.
This is not a complete guide
to preparation; it is only to give you a starting place. Experience,
training and special equipment provide better preparation. And nothing
is better than common sense (which doesn't seem to be very common).
The most effective way to prepare is to have good friends and
neighbors. And that means being a good friend to your neighbors. The
people who are well connected socially to those nearby do the best when
disaster strikes. The only thing better is to be part of a neighborhood
group that prepares for disaster together.
Copyright 2005-2020 Ken
All rights reserved.
This document may be freely
redistributed for educational purposes at no charge in unaltered form.
This information is for
educational purposes only. There is no guarantee of any kind that it is
accurate, or that no harm will come to anyone who uses it.
This information is
provided on an "as is" basis with absolutely no warranty or guarantee.
The information is not necessarily correct, complete, or suitable for
any particular use. The entire risk is with you. Should harm arise from
using this information, you assume responsibility for all damages and
injuries. In no event shall the copyright holder, or any other party,
be liable for compensation or damages arising from the use, misuse,
failure to use, or inability to use this information.
Why most planning is simple
Most people do the wrong thing when
confronted with a disaster. This is their first time in the situation,
they aren't ready for it, and they need to decide what to do under
stress. Most often, they choose incorrectly, compounding the problem.
Making simple plans and preparations
that can be used for any disaster, large or small improves your
situation a great deal.
prepare for trouble
- Buy appropriate insurance.
- Locate the cutoffs for the
water, gas, and electricity. There may be special tools to operate
them, know where they are.
- Make a fire escape plan. House
fires can spread quickly, and the smoke is what's dangerous (it's full
of carbon monoxide). Everyone
should practice jumping out of bed and running out the main route and
the backup route at least once a year. Decide on the one thing to grab
on the way out, and don't stop if it isn't where it should be (a key
ring, purse or wallet would be a good choice). Do not look for anything, do not linger!
The fire department recommends you don't try to save anything, just get
out as fast as you can. And never go back in for anything.
- Arrange nightlights to light
the way out in case of fire. It takes as long to find a light switch as
it does to get out.
- Everybody should sleep with bedroom doors shut. This makes a huge
difference during house fires.
- If you live in tornado country, make and practice a tornado
- If you live in earthquake country, make and practice an
- Identify a "back-road" route to
use to get out of the area when the highways are clogged. This is handy
to know about on holiday weekends. The route does not have to be
fast, just less likely to be completely clogged.
- Decide on what to do about your pets if you have to evacuate.
Animal-related agencies and web sites say to bring the pets to improve
their chances, and people-related agencies say to leave them to improve
your chances. Bringing the
pets reduces the chances for your spouse & children, and keeps you
from helping other people. Little fluffy may be like part of the
family, but will you risk your children's safety to protect him? Decide
your priorities in advance.
- Educate yourself about
insurance issues before a crisis occurs. If you need insurance, you
probably won't be in the right frame of mind to carefully research how
to not be taken advantage of. One web site dedicated to this is http://www.disasterprepared.net/
(this listing is not an endorsement).
- You can download disaster readiness and notification apps for
your mobile devices. Be aware that wireless communications are brittle
and easily disrupted once trouble starts.
Get everybody ready
- Make sure children can recite
their name, address, & phone number. In addition, the name and
phone number of a nearby relative and a relative in a distant city in
case of separation.
They will forget unless drilled regularly.
- Make sure children know what emergency numbers to call and when
it is appropriate to call them.
- Agree beforehand to call a
certain relative in another city in case of separation away from home.
Remind everyone before going on vacation.
- Agree beforehand on a certain neighbor's house to meet at if you
can't go into your home for any reason.
- Set up an ICE entry on everyone's mobile phones. It stands for
"In Case of Emergency". Emergency responders check the person's phone
for this. Make sure it can be accessed when the phone is locked. It can
be as simple as listing a person's name as ICE in the address book,
though some phones have a dedicated feature.
- Put an ICE card in everyone's wallet. It should list emergency
numbers, medications, conditions, and so forth. Emergency responders
check the wallet for insurance information, and will know what to do
when they find this. ICE stands for "In Case of Emergency". Do an
Internet search for "ICE card" for example cards and keyfobs you can
order or print yourself.
- Designate godparents for the children.
- Some city & county emergency management offices keep lists of
functional needs. Make sure they know about your loved ones if
- If someone has mobility impairments, keep some heavy gloves in
strategic locations. Many disasters put broken glass all over the
place. The gloves can help them negotiate this hazard.
- People with mobility impairments can't get out of the house quick
in a fire, so get the flammable stuff out of the house. Ask the fire
department to tell you what to get rid of.
up an X-plan for the kids
kid is in a situation he doesn't feel comfortable with, or feels wrong
somehow. The X-plan lets them get out of it gracefully.
The kid texts a parent with an "X".
The parent waits a few minutes, then calls the kid back. The parent
orders the kid to come home now or comes to get him. The kid can even
pretend he doesn't want to. Kid gets out of the situation gracefully.
Kid is immune to punishment when texting "X". They might be somewhere
they aren't supposed to be, out past curfew, and smell like cigarettes,
but there is no punishment and they don't have to explain themselves.
Get the house ready
- Get appropriate insurance, and get good advice on what type to
get. Basic homeowners insurance just covers fire, not floods. Renter's
insurance just covers loss of personal posessions.
- Take pictures of everything you
might want to use insurance to replace if there is no other record that
you own it. Photograph every room, all possessions. Repeat every year.
Make sure the pictures are up to date annually. Record the make, model
serial numbers. Store this with your insurance information. If you lost
a high-end TV, your insurance company could try to write "TV" on a form
and base compensation on the cheapest TV available.
- Install a smoke detector and
a carbon monoxide detector. Make
sure your smoke detectors have good batteries. Most houses have smoke
detectors; the ones that don't have most of the fires. Inspections find
that 1/3 of all smoke detectors have missing batteries.
- Test your smoke alarms regularly to ensure they make a loud beep
when needed. Fire departments recommend doing this monthly.
- Keep an escape ladder in every upper-story bedroom. Make sure
they are stored for easy access and everyone knows how to use them.
- Clean your gutters annually.
- Install a sump pump and flood alarm in the basement. All
basements flood sooner or later. Make sure
the battery backup can run for at least an hour.
- Don't put anything electrical on the floor or the basement,
particularly power plug strips. Don't put anything on the basement
floor that can be ruined by water.
- Anchor water heaters, fuel oil
& cabinets to the wall to prevent toppling.
- Put foam sleeves over exposed
- Install a sewage backflow valve.
- Earthquake-proof your home,
earthquakes can happen anywhere. No heavy things that can fall from
high places onto your head. No heavy things on the wall over
headboards. Secure tall furniture to the wall so it won't fall on
you. Bolt your house to the foundation. Install water-heater straps.
These precautions also protect your house against weather-related
- A lot of disasters rip stuff off the wall. A moderate earthquake
can hit anywhere on the planet and make an entire city want wallboard
fasteners, and the first one to the hardware store wins. Keep a supply
wallboard fasteners on hand, in several kinds. A ripped-out fastener
leaves a hole bigger than a pencil, so keep fasteners that can re-use
those holes. Also keep fasteners for virgin wallboard.
the supplies ready
- Maintain a 7 day reserve
of medicine, supplies for babies, and everyone's special needs. Don't
you are running out to buy more. Some areas should use a bigger
reserve. Stock up extra during sales.
- Own sunscreen.
- Keep good raingear on hand for
everyone. For some reason disasters are usually followed by drenching
rain, deep mud, and freezing cold. If it doesn't rain, the firemen will
- Own a hat for everyone.
- Everyone needs boots that are
already broken in.
Food & water
- Keep canned food on hand, 10
cans per person. Maintain this reserve. Keep a manual can opener.
Stocking up on your usual canned food when it is on sale saves money
and builds your reserve.
- Keep bottled water on hand, 5
gallons per person. Maintain this reserve. It only keeps 6 months, so
date or number the jugs and use them for cooking or drinking (oldest
- Identify an auxiliary source of water, such as a pool, hot tub,
or creek ahead of time. If you don't you may have to use a day's supply
of drinking water to flush a stinking toilet.
- Maintain enough paper plates,
plastic forks, and foam cups to serve 10 meals without washing dishes.
Figure out how many packages this is. Buy more before you run low.
- Own a barbecue or camping
stove. Keep enough fuel to cook 10 times. Maintain this reserve.
- Keep toilet paper on hand,
at least three rolls per person (6 is better). Maintain this reserve.
Stock up extra during
- Keep a supply of soap on hand, at least 3 times what you need.
This means every kind of soap: hand soap, dish soap, laundry soap, etc.
- Keep some liquid antibacterial
soap. Buy more before opening your last bottle.
- Hand sanitizer comes in handy pumper bottles, and also
pocket-size bottles. Ironically, the pocket bottles are more expensive
than the pumpers. They are easy to refill from a pumper, though. You
need a pumper for every sink and a pocket bottle for every car and
purse. Keep enough reserve to refill everything.
- Keep at least one unopened jug of
unscented bleach on hand at all times. Bleach is best stored low and
only with laundry supplies.
- Own a bucket or two.
- Own a shovel and a garden
trowel, or at least a garden trowel. These are for sanitation.
- Keep candles on hand, three
candles per room. Maintain this reserve. Train the children not to
touch the matches or candles. Candles are not a good idea for
households with small children, keep extra flashlight batteries instead.
- Keep flashlights on hand, 1 in
every room. "Headlamps" that strap to your forehead are invaluable. So
are high-candlepower flashlights that can recharge from a car's
cigarette lighter. So are lanterns and lantern-type flashlights. Avoid
- Keep a flashlight by the bed,
one per person. Put it where it can be found without fumbling around in
the dark. Glow-in-the-dark flashlights are good for this, but must be
stored where light can reach them.
- Keep batteries on hand, one
refill per flashlight, one refill per radio. Maintain this reserve.
- If you have a fireplace, keep
wood on hand to keep warm for seven cold winter nights. Maintain this
- Own enough blankets for a cold
night with no heat.
- Own some basic tools, like a
claw hammer & nails, screwdrivers, big pliers, and an adjustable
- Own an ax, saw, or other way
to cut wood. It can cut 2x4s for repairs, make firewood, and remove
- Own a big pry bar to move heavy
- Keep a fire extinguisher rated
for grease in the kitchen.
- Own petroleum jelly. It is a
lip balm, a lubricant, and can seal out water.
- Keep 10 gallons of gasoline in
non-sparking cans, or never let your vehicles get below 1/2 tank. You
choose. Maintain this reserve. Put stored gasoline in your tank and buy
new gasoline every year.
- Own one or two multi-purpose
fire extinguishers. Maintain them. Shake them every 6 months to keep
the powder from caking.
- Keep at least one unopened box
of plastic garbage bags on hand. Don't let the supplies run low. You
can put things in them, cover things with them to keep the rain off, or
cut them up into small temporary tarps. You can make rain ponchos and
skirts. You can use them for sanitation if you cannot dig.
Get the electronics
- Do you have any important information on your computer? Back it
up regularly, because your computer and its hard drive will fail. They all do, its only a
matter of time. Put every other backup in
a different building (your drawer at work, your safe deposit box, your
relative's house, upload it somewhere, etc). Fires and thieves take
both the computers and the backups. Accidentally yanking a USB cable
during a backup can ruin the format on both the computer and backup
drive (this happened to me, and my redundant backup saved me).
- Protect expensive electronics
with a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply). Power line problems can fry
your expensive possessions. A surge protector is inadequate, use a
UPS. You only need it to power your stuff for 5-10 minutes so you
can safely power it down. For many families this means one UPS for the
computer and another for the entertainment system.
- Own a cell phone and keep the
- Maintain a list of emergency phone numbers - police, fire, and
rescue agencies; power companies; insurance providers; family, friends
and co-workers; etc. - and program them into your phone. Other good
places are a USB key-fob or a fireproof box. Fireproof boxes are good
because you can include more details like account numbers, but don't
include details like passwords because thieves take these (it looks
like it contains valuables).
- You may be able to get locator service for your family's cell
- Don't get rid of your old-fashioned landline. Landlines are much
more likely to
work in emergencies. A rotary phone is even more likely to work (but
modern phone lines don't always have the power to operate the ringer).
Be aware that many salespeople don't know the difference between a VOIP
line and an old-fashioned landline, and will promise a landline and
deliver VOIP. An old fashined landline does not need a modem to operate.
- Your cell phone provider may offer a free backup service to
preserve your contact list.
- Make sure you can receive local alerts. Do an Internet search on
"emergency alerts" and your city name to see what's available and how
to receive them.
- Use a USB thumb drive as a key fob. Load it with emergency
information, your contact list, photos of your loved ones,
prescriptions, insurance information, automobile information, medical
equipment information, and so forth. It has lots of room, load it with
everything you can think of. It should not
have your car description,
license plate number, or home address if it is a key fob.
Get everything else ready
- Own and maintain a good
household first aid kit. Don't let the supplies run low.
- Put a family zip-kit
car. If some people get
around without cars, put a personal zip-kit in their backpack or
- Own a safe deposit box. Store deeds, birth certificates,
documents, insurance information, photos documenting the house, and
computer backups in it. Leaving
copies of these items with a relative in a distant city works. They can
be zip-locked and put into the freezer for fire-safety, but this is not
quite as good. Open safe deposit boxes annually or some states will
gleefully seize the contents. Keep the information up to date.
- Put a 72-hour
kit in the
trunk of you car.
It is just enough to get by for a few days.
- Collar, tag, and/or chip your pets. This way you can be re-united
with your pet if someone rescues it.
- Keep slip-on shoes by your bed.
The most common injury from fire, earthquake, and other sudden
emergencies is running on broken glass. Without shoes you are likely to
be injured, and this is a bad time to not be able to walk.
- Losing a purse or wallet while traveling can have serious
consequences. You and your spouse should each have a credit card that
nobody else has. That way you always have a working credit card.
- Make a secret web page that
nobody can reach unless they know how. It should have scans of drivers
licenses, passports, and health insurance. Without your ID you can't
rent a motel room or a car, use your airplane tickets, etc. For extra
security, the page should not
have birth certificates. If you
don't have a web page, put it on a relatives web page. Be sure to
encode or obscure ID codes like drivers license numbers, social
security, and passport numbers. And put a "norobots" tag on it.
- Bleach can react with other
household cleaners, producing chlorine gas. They used it to kill people
in world war I. Do not store bleach in the same cabinet with other
chemicals or cleaners (other than laundry products).
- Ammonia based cleaners can
react with other household cleaners, producing dangerous ammonia gas.
Do not store ammonia in the same cabinet with other chemicals or
- Women should always have a
scarf handy. Most people on the planet always have some sort of scarf
or bandana, except for urban/suburbanites in safe industrialized
countries. Scarves have hundreds of practical and fashion uses. See the
separate pictorial scarf research document.
- Establish good relations with
your neighbors. They are priceless in emergencies. Good neighbors can
make your life easier in the best of times.
- Having friends or relatives out of the area who will take you in
due to evacuation can be the difference between life and death. Most
people never have to evacuate. But the people who suffered and died in
evacuation situations usually stayed because they had nowhere to go. If
you have no friends out of the area, make some. Set up evac exchanges
people you know; you will take them in if they will take you in (short
term sheltering only).
- When you interact with a
contractor, plumber, or hardware store manager, maintain a simple
long-term relationship. They are good to know when problems occur.
- The most important thing to have after a disaster is help from
others. The way you get it is to help others as much as you can when
they have difficulties.
Last minute preparations
- You can prepare if the disaster is coming, but hasn't arrived
yet. Weather, fire, & flood related disasters can provide several
notice. The problem is that the hardware store will be sold out of what
you need. You can order anything on the Internet and have it shipped
- You can't always hire someone
with money, but you can usually get someone to help for a case of beer.
Bottled beer keeps for a year in a cool and dark place. If possible,
keep a reserve on hand and cycle through it. Keeping beer
isn't practical for everyone.
Your preparation needs will differ.
Go over this list once a year to make sure you are still prepared.