By Bud Coburn
To help homeowners get organized before an emergency, we’ve broken down these common concerns into three categories:
- personal health and safety;
- home security; and
- an all-purpose, waterproof first aid and emergency kit that includes hand sanitizer, a flashlight, a radio with batteries, and matches;
- glasses, hearing aids, and prescription medications for all family members;
- supplies for pets, including carriers, leashes, plastic or collapsible/camping-type water bowls, food and medication;
- a kit of personal toiletries for each family member that’s ready to grab and go;
- a change of clothes, including undergarments, footwear and outerwear;
- sleeping bags and Mylar™ camping blankets;
- personal paperwork in waterproof pouches, including irreplaceable or hard-to-replace documents, such as:
- drivers’ licenses and other ID;
- birth certificates;
- Social Security cards;
- insurance policies, and other banking, business and legal cards and documents;
- contact information for relatives, friends and neighbors, as well as local shelters, including the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which may be directing disaster relief activities in your area;
- cash and credit cards;
- personal electronics, including cell phones and chargers;
- irreplaceable personal effects, such as albums of photos that haven’t been digitally preserved;
- enough snacks, including special food items such infant formula, and non-perishables, along with a can opener (if needed), to last until reaching alternative housing and supplies;
- water. If the emergency may be extended, FEMA recommends a three-day supply of one gallon per person per day, to be used for both drinking and sanitation;
- plastic bags, wet wipes, hand sanitizer and other items for personal sanitation and hygiene; and
- a basic toolkit that includes work gloves, pliers, an adjustable wrench, a hacksaw, and other tools to fix a flat tire, turn off and on household utility shut-off valves, pry open a damaged door, or cut through tree branches that may be blocking a road.
An expanded emergency supply list can include the following items:
- a gallon of bleach to be used as a disinfectant and to purify drinking water, if necessary. Adding 16 drops of plain household chlorine bleach to a gallon of water will make the water potable;
- a gasoline-powered portable generator, along with extra gasoline;
- a portable fire extinguisher;
- portable lanterns and flashlights;
- a camping toilet;
- a portable cook stove and mess kits;
- face masks for every family member;
- plastic sheeting or tarps, duct tape and scissors to create a “shelter in place,” if a more secure shelter cannot be accessed in time. These can also be used to create a barrier from flying debris if it is not safe to leave and you must take refuge in your home; and
- other supplies that can aid in daily routines if temporary accommodations are too difficult to reach or overcrowded.
These items can help a family be self-sufficient while temporary accommodations and plans for returning home are sorted out. With the exception of medications and electronics that are used every day, most of the items can be stored in a central location, such as a coat closet or garage cupboard, or already loaded in your vehicle.
If a forced evacuation is predicted to be long-term and residents are afforded extra time to pack more than just the essentials, some homeowners may opt to pack items that have special sentimental or luxury value, such as heirlooms, jewelry, artwork, and other prized possessions.
Like most lists, this “B-list” should be made well in advance, including how such items can be packed into your vehicle while leaving room for occupants and emergency essentials, or even stored off-site at a secure location.
In addition to learning about the maintenance of their homes, homeowners should also take inventory of potential hazards within the home that can compromise personal safety, such as light fixtures, windows and shelf units. Things such as these can become unsteady or damaged and cause serious injury while a family takes shelter indoors during a severe storm or earthquake.
If you’re not familiar with the locations of your shut-off valves and how to operate them, it’s critical for you to schedule an inspection with your InterNACHI inspector who can walk you through these essential steps so that, when the time comes, you can act confidently and quickly.
Shutting Off Utilities
If you have time, prior to shutting off the utilities to your home, turn off all your household appliances and unplug them. If you do not turn off the electrical service at the panel, your plugged-in appliances will still draw current and create potential hazards in an already unstable situation.
- Electricity: The method for disconnecting your electrical service depends on the age of your home and the type of system it has. Most homes have circuit breakers, but some older homes have fuses. Locate your main panel and open the door, called the dead front. For a fuse panel, you should find a knife-switch handle or pullout fuse clearly marked “main.” For a circuit breaker panel, there should be one switch marked “main,” with directions marked “on” and “off.” If you have more than one panel, it’s a good idea to turn off the switches or remove the fuses at the sub-panels because current can sometimes bypass the main breaker or fuse.
- Gas: Each of your gas-fueled appliances, such as your water heater and stove, should have its own shut-off valve. The service for your home is located outside at your gas meter. It may be exposed, it may be in a box underground, or it may be in an above-ground cabinet. Make sure that you have easy access to it (especially if it is a locking box), and make sure you know which service is yours if you live in multi-family housing. The shut-off valve itself generally runs parallel to the pipe that extends from the ground to the meter. Turning this valve 90 degrees in either direction so that the valve is crosswise to the pipe will shut off the gas supply.
If you suspect a leak, do not ignite any fire source (candle, cigarette, etc.) or turn on or off any electrical switches nearby, including lights, as even a minor spark can cause an explosion. Make sure that the service is safe to turn back on when you return home.
- Water: Each sink, commode and water-supplied appliance has its own shut-off valve. If you have time and depending on the type of emergency, shutting off the water to these appliances may prevent accidental flooding of the home. If you find it necessary to shut off the home’s water supply, make sure you know where the valve is located. Typically, it’s in an area of the home or garage that’s nearest the exterior valve at the meter. Similar to the gas shut-off valve, those with a blade-type valve are aligned with the pipe when turned on, and turning it a quarter-turn will shut the water off.
Lock Your Doors and Windows
Secure the home’s window and door locks to prevent unwanted entry by intruders during a time of crisis. This includes all exterior doors and doors leading from an attached garage to the home, as well as yard gates and all outbuildings. During a tornado, some homes may become overly pressurized unless some windows are left open a crack. In hurricane-prone regions, windows may need to be boarded up. Use your judgment and the recommendations of local experts based on the type of emergency.
Other Security Issues
Ranchers and farmers have their own particular concerns because of livestock, as well as additional buildings and equipment to secure. Likewise, commercial property owners and managers of multi-housing units have their own unique priorities that should be addressed ahead of time with employees and tenants in an emergency evacuation plan. Fire marshals generally require that the emergency escape route, of specified dimensions for easy visibility, be posted in a common location. Such signage is typically located near fire pull alarms and fire extinguishers. All residents and employees should concentrate on safe evacuation and leave security of the property to those charged with such responsibilities.
Being let back onto one’s property after a disaster or emergency can be an emotional time, so it’s important to allow emergency personnel and first responders to do their jobs and to follow their instructions. Generally, unless you can turn on all of your utilities again, your access may be limited, but it depends on your municipality and the scope of the damage. You may be instructed to boil your water for a brief period of time while governmental agencies confirm that it’s potable and safe without treatment.
Before you re-enter your property, check the exterior.
Check the exterior.
- Make sure that there are no downed power lines on or near your property. If there are, do not attempt to move them yourself; immediately contact utility company personnel or law enforcement.
- Check for broken tree branches that may impede your access to your property, or which themselves may be in contact with power lines; again, enlist help in such situations to avoid a potentially fatal injury.
- Make sure the perimeter of your property is secure before allowing pets back onto the property. Natural disasters can be disorienting for them, and they may try to escape.
- Check any damage to windows and exterior doors, as well as the roof, chimney and other penetrations, but do so safely. You may defer this to your InterNACHI inspector.
- Check gutters, downspouts and exterior drainage for blockages, and clear them as soon as it’s possible to do so safely.
- It’s always best to document damage from the ground and contact your InterNACHI inspector who can make a more in-depth and detailed inspection. Even after you contact your insurance carrier, an unbiased inspection by a trained home inspector may reveal issues that are not immediately apparent, such as hail damage, which requires some expertise to properly identify, especially if the insurance investigator must inspect damage incurred by multiple clients in the aftermath of a widespread emergency.
Check the interior.
- Before turning on the water and gas service to the home, check the individual appliances to make sure that they’re undamaged. Document all damage, and contact utility personnel if you don’t feel safe turning the fuel or water back on yourself. If there is no apparent damage or telltale smells or sounds (such as hissing) emanating from any appliances, it should be safe to turn on the gas and water at their shut-off valves. Make the same damage assessment before turning the electricity back on, too.
- Securely dispose of perishable food items left in the refrigerator during a power outage. Ensure that stray animals foraging for food can’t access it. Some food left in the freezer may be salvageable, but always err on the side of caution to avoid serious illness caused by bacteria.
- Go back through your home to check for structural damage, including broken glass.
- In the aftermath of a storm or flood, check the basement, crawlspace and attic areas for moisture intrusion, as well as areas at window sills and exterior doors. Unchecked moisture can lead to mold problems and structural issues down the road. Have your InterNACHI inspector survey your home with an infrared camera, which can identify areas of moisture intrusion and energy loss that may not be visible to the naked eye.
Check in with neighbors and others.
- At-risk and elderly neighbors should be accounted for.
- Notify pet owners or Animal Control if you see disoriented domestic pets searching for their owners or homes. Also, avoid contact with wildlife that may have been forced from their natural habitat. Report their location to Animal Control.
- Bible (waterproof)
- Bible (camo)
- Survival, Evasion and Escape
- Other survival handbooks, such as the classic Firefox© series
- Gardening books
- Baking and cookbooks
- How to butcher livestock and game manual
- Cooking with stored food books
- Homeopathy books
- Food preservation books
- First-aid manuals
- Pens and paper
- Hats (baseball cap for sun protection, and wool cap/balaclava for warmth)
- Boots & other footwear
- Spare laces
- Work gloves
- Rubber boots
- Rain suit or poncho
Clothes pins (for air-drying clothes)
- Sewing kit
- Sewing awl
- Treadle sewing machine
- Wash tubs
- Laundry tongs
- Hand washer/wringer for laundry
- Diaper pins
- Antique iron
- CURRENCY & BARTER
- Wine, beer & spirits
- DEFENSE & SECURITY
- Gun-cleaning kit
- Night-vision scope and gear
- Fully opaque, blackout curtains
- Earth-tone or camouflage clothing
- Green and brown dye
- Detection systems
- Camera systems
- Camouflage face vale
- Jobsite boxes (Vicki boxes) to cache preparedness goods.
- Playing cards
- InterNACHI’s Residential Code Exam Prep Flash Cards
- Board games, toys for young children
- Harmonica and other acoustic musical instruments
- Coloring books and crayons
- FOOD & COOKING SUPPLIES
- Energy bars
- MREs (Meals Ready-to-Eat)
- Canned goods
- Wheat (hard red)
- Rice (white rice stores longer than brown, but has fewer nutrients)
- Dried beans
- Dried lentils
- Corn (whole-kernel)
- Peanut butter
- Dried fruit
- Honey (liquid/pure stores the longest)
- Canned sardines, tuna, salmon
- Cooking oil
- Olive oil
- Nut butter
- Powdered milk
- Salt (large supply)
- Baking soda
- Nitrogen-packed food
- Freeze-dried food
- Ground coffee
- Food bags
- Fishing lines
Bow & arrows
- Bow strings (spares)
- Snare wire (stainless)
- Hunting rifle & shotgun
- Gun-cleaning kit
- Cotton gloves
- Ear protection
- Eye protection
- Rifle scope
- Boar spear
- Meat grinder (hand-cranked)
- Meat saw
- Skinning knife
Garden seeds (non-hybrid, open-pollinated)
- Grain grinder (hand-operated)
- Spare set of coarse burrs for grain grinder
- Mortar and pestle
- Food preparation items:
- Stainless steel bowl
- Large skillet
- Large stew pot
- Mess kits
- Can opener
- Cooking utensils
- Eating utensils
- Camp stove
- Dutch oven
- Coffee pot (French press, reusable filter with holder)
- Bay leaves
- Canning supplies
- Mixing bowl
- Wire whisk
- Muffin tin
- Baby food
- Pet food and bowls
- FUEL & POWER
- Propane cylinders
- Storage tanks
- Siphoning tube
- Motor oil
- Generator (tri-fuel)
- Photovoltaic power system
- Photovoltaic battery charger
- Rechargeable batteries
- HEAT & WARMTH
- Toilet paper
- Soap (Fels Naptha®)
- Baking soda
- Feminine hygiene products
- Straight razor
- Bucket toilet
- Garbage bags
- Powdered lime
- IDENTIFICATION & DOCUMENTS
- Birth certificate
- Drivers license
- Insurance policies
Candles (beeswax is best)
- Lantern oil (clear)
- Lantern wicks
- Quick clot sponges
- Rubbing alcohol (Pure grain from the liquor store comes in a glass bottle and will last forever)
- Tincture of iodine
- Tincture of benzoin
- Potassium iodate tablets (to prevent thyroid damage from nuclear fallout)
- EMT shears (stainless steel)
- Burn treatment kit
- Oil of cloves
- Temporary dental filling kit
- SAM® splint
- Witch hazel
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Calamine lotion
- Aloe vera gel
- Grapefruit seed extract (nutribiotic, liquid)
- Hot water bottle
- Spare prescription eyeglasses
- Birth control
- Medical prescriptions
- Bug repellent
SHELTER & COMFORT
- Tent seam tape
- Plastic sheets
- Ground cloth
- Folding/camp chairs
- Folding/camp tables
- TOOLS & SUPPLIES
- Duct tape
- Cable ties
- Sharpening stone
- Buckets with turn lids
- Radiacmeter (hand-held Geiger counter)
- N95 respirator masks
- Bolt cutters
- Other hand-powered tools
- Large adjustable wrench (to shut off gas and water service)
- Jumper cables
- Local maps
- Diesel pickup truck
- Tire chains
- High-lift jack
- Transfer pump