How to Prepare Your Home for Emergencies

Recent events in Japan remind us of the importance of preparing homes for disasters

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The worsening crisis in Japan has caused many people around the world to pause and consider their own preparedness plans. For instance, if Japan's crisis was happening close to your home, would you be able to cope? Do you have enough supplies on hand to keep your family safe and fed through a disaster?

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Many people don't, in large part because no one wants to think about the worst happening. But as we've seen time and time again, sometimes the worst does happen. Whether you get stuck in a winter snow storm emergency, or you face a large-scale disaster like what's happening in Japan or what recently happened in New Orleans, preparing for such events is not only smart but it could save your life. So how can you prepare your home for emergencies?

Step 1: Prepare an Emergency Kit

The Federal government's emergency preparedness site, Ready.gov, recommends that every household have an emergency supplies kit on hand. The kit's purpose is to have everything you would need to survive for several days in one central location. If you have to leave quickly, you can grab your kit and go. Or if you end up sheltering in your home, you'll have your supplies in your home waiting for you. So what should be in your emergency kit?

  • Water. You should have one gallon per person, per day, in your kit. And, don't forget to have enough water on hand for pets as well.
  • Food. You should have enough non-perishable food to feed your family for at least three days.
  • A hand crank or battery-powered radio.
  • Flashlights and extra batteries.
  • Plastic sheeting and duct tape in case you have to shelter in place.
  • A first aid kit.
  • Moist towelettes and garbage bag for personal cleaning and sanitation.
  • Local maps.
  • A can opener for food.
  • Cell phones and chargers. If you have a solar charger, even better.
  • Prescription drugs and medication, enough to last for a week or more.
  • Cash or traveler's checks.
  • Pet food and supplies for your pets.
  • Household bleach, for disinfecting water, and a medicine dropper. Use 16 drops of bleach to treat one gallon of water.
  • Sleeping bags or blankets for everyone in your home.
  • Infant formula, diapers, and other baby items - if you have infants or small children.
  • Paper plates, cups, and utensils.
  • Matches in a waterproof container.
  • It's also important to consider your area. For instance, are hurricanes a threat where you live? What about winter storms? Flooding? Every year we see people scrambling to buy plywood for storms at the last minute, or they're stuck at home without a snow shovel because the hardware store sold out. Don't wait until the last minute to stock up on emergency supplies. Buy them now so you're prepared for natural disasters that might hit your area. It might also be a good idea to look into homeowners insurance coverage options if you don't already have a policy in place.

    Step 2: Create a Plan

    In the event of an emergency, do you know how you'll connect with your family? For instance, who will pick your kids up at school? Will you all meet at home, or in another location? What if cell phones aren't working? Creating a plan to connect with your family is vital, especially if the disaster won't allow you to return to your home. Start by agreeing on two central meeting points where you'll connect if there is a sudden emergency. The first choice will likely be your home.

    But what if that area is being forced to evacuate? If that's the case, then you should always have a secondary meeting place where you'll all go in case your home is off-limits. It's also important to choose a friend or family member outside the area who will function as a central contact person. Sometimes in emergencies, it's easier to make out-of-area calls than it is to call locally. This person can help relay messages to your other family members in case you're separated.

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    Step 3: Know in Advance

    In the event of an emergency, you might have to shut off your home's electricity, gas, and water. Find out now where those shutoff valves are located, and learn how to turn them off safely. You don't want to have to learn how to do this when you're facing an emergency situation. It's also important to find out where the nearest emergency shelters are, what your city's warning signals sound like (and what each one means), and any evacuation routes you might need to take. Learning all this information before an actual emergency will help prevent panic and give you and your family a feeling of control.

    Final Thoughts

    An emergency situation will always be a stressful and sometimes difficult situation to endure. Why not reduce your panic level and the potential for preventable mishaps by taking some steps to prepare for an emergency situation? All it takes is some careful planning and communication between you and your family and friends. Then, in the unfortunate event that a catastrophe does strike your area, you will be extremely thankful that you and your family were prepared and ready to respond.

    What are you doing to prepare for potential emergency situations?

    Heather Levin contributes regularly to Money Crashers, one of the top personal finance blogs. You can also read more of Heather's work related to green living and saving money on The Greenest Dollar.