There’s no guarantee that you’ll get a warning before you have to evacuate because of a fire or other life-threatening emergency. Take the time now to prepare, which can simply be that everyone in your household knows where they will go if told to flee and what they will take with them.
Emergency preparedness experts suggest, at minimum, three actions you need to take now to improve your family’s safety during and after a disaster: Sign up to be informed of an oncoming hazard, and have an escape plan and a bag ready with essentials.
To help you prepare, the American Red Cross’ interactive map of common disasters across the U.S. lets you see which emergencies may strike your area.
Enroll in Public Alerts, Citizen Alert or a service in your county to be notified via text, call or email by emergency response agencies when you need to take action such as shelter-in-place or evacuate.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radar live app offers real-time radar images and severe weather alerts.
The Eton FRX3 American Red Cross emergency NOAA weather radio comes with a USB smartphone charger, LED flashlight and red beacon ($69.99). The alert function automatically broadcasts any emergency weather alerts for your area. Keep the compact radio (6.9 inches tall by 2.6 inches wide) charged with its solar panel, hand-crank or a built-in rechargeable battery.
A portable emergency radio ($49.98) with real-time NOAA weather reports and Public Emergency Alert System information can be powered by a hand-crank generator, solar panel, rechargeable batteries or wall power adapter. See other solar-powered or battery-powered weather radios.
Make sure everyone in your home knows how to safely exit a building, where you will all reunite and how you will contact each other if phones aren’t working.
Instructive apps like the American Red Cross’ MonsterGuard make preparedness learning fun for kids between the ages of 7 and 11.
Younger children can also learn how to stay safe during disasters and emergencies from a cartoon penguin in the free, downloadable book “Prepare with Pedro: Disaster Preparedness Activity Book,” produced by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the American Red Cross.
Older children can draw your home’s floor plans and locate first-aid kits, fire extinguishers and smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. They can also draw evacuation routes from each room and know where to find the gas and electricity shutoffs.
Place a rescue alert sticker near the front door or window so it’s visible to rescue workers.
Keep the bag as lightweight as possible in case you have to carry it when you evacuate on foot or use public transportation. It’s always a good idea to have an emergency kit in your car.
Also pack a lightweight travel bag for your pet and identify a place to stay that will accept animals. The Federal Emergency Management Agency app should list open shelters during an active disaster in your area.
People trained by the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and other volunteer groups are advised to follow a preparedness calendar that breaks down supplies to acquire and actions to take over 12 months, so the preparation work is not overwhelming.
Print out an emergency preparedness checklist and stick it on your refrigerator or family bulletin board.
You can build an emergency preparedness kit yourself, following guidelines by the American Red Cross and Ready.gov, or you can buy a ready-made or customized survival pack to help in case of an emergency.
Consider the color of your portable disaster kit. Some people want it red so it’s easy to spot, while others buy an ordinary-looking backpack, duffel or rolling cargo bag that won’t draw attention to the valuables inside. Some people remove patches identifying the bag as a disaster or first-aid kit.
Assemble essentials in one place. Many of the must-have supplies may already be in your home, like hygiene items, but you’ll need duplicates so you can access them fast in an emergency.
Have a pair of long pants, a long-sleeve shirt or jacket, face covering, pair of hard-sole shoes or boots, and protective goggles near the go bag to put on before leaving.
Keep bags as light as possible by including only essentials:
Extra cash, eyeglasses, medicines. Ask your doctor, health insurance provider or pharmacist for an emergency supply of prescription and nonprescription medications.
First-aid kit: The American Red Cross Deluxe Family First Aid Kit ($59.99) is lightweight and yet packed with 114 essential supplies to treat injuries, from aspirin and triple antibiotic ointment. Add a pocket-size American Red Cross Emergency First Aid Guide or download the free Red Cross emergency app.
See other first-aid kits
Simple backup light, radio and charger: If there’s no place to plug in a device, you’ll appreciate the American Red Cross Clipray crank-powered, flashlight and phone charger ($21). Cranking for one minute produces power for 10 minutes of light. See other hand-crank chargers.
A multitool (starting at $6) can provide, at your fingertips, knives, pliers, screwdrivers, bottle and can openers, an electrical crimper, wire stripper, file, saw, awl and ruler ($18.99). Leatherman’s heavy-duty stainless-steel multitool ($129.95) has 21 tools, including wire cutters and scissors.
Do not store any documents that reveal your personal information in an emergency bag in case the bag is misplaced or stolen.
- Keep your car’s gas tank at least half full in case you have to quickly evacuate. Gas stations may be closed during emergencies and unable to pump gas during power outages, says Ready.gov. Take one car per family to reduce congestion on roads.
- Keep a whistle in each bedroom to wake up your family members in the night if there’s a fire or other emergency.
- Know how to locate and shut off the gas.
- Consider purchasing a smart water shut-off valve, which will automatically stop your water supply if a pipe bursts.
- Better yet, consider investing in smart home technology for real-time updates on everything from water leaks to abnormally humid conditions in your home. Insurance companies often offer discounts when smart home devices are installed.
- Test your smoke detectors and other safety equipment frequently.
Portland Fire & Rescue has a safety checklist that includes making sure electrical and heating equipment are in good working condition and not overheating.
Here’s what you should do to make sure your family and your home are prepared for fires:
- Place fire extinguishers on every level of your home.
- Install smart smoke and carbon monoxide alarms on each level of your home and in each bedroom.
- Purchase collapsible ladders for each upstairs bedroom. Typical ladders measure 15 feet and cover two stories of your home.
- Remove clothes, rags and other materials around furnaces, stoves and other heat-producing equipment.
- Clear the lint buildup in your dryer after every use and the area behind your dryer every few months.
- Close the fireplace screen to stop embers from popping onto the floor or carpet.
- Clean your chimney every year. Soot can harden on chimney walls as flammable creosote.
- Make sure your electrical cords are in covers and don’t run under carpets or against your walls.
- Space heaters and heat-producing appliances like toasters and hair dryers should be at least three feet away from anything flammable such as curtains, beds and other linens.
- Lighted candles should always be contained and monitored.
- Know how to feel the temperature of the bottom of doors and avoid opening doors if they are too hot.
- Practice family fire drills twice per year.
- Learn more by reading emergency guides
— Janet Eastman | 503-294-4072