Post by phones emergency telephone numbers (fire, police, ambulance, etc.). You may not have time in an emergency to look up critical numbers.
Teach all responsible family members how and when to turn off the water, gas, and electricity at the main switches or valves. Keep necessary tools near gas and water shut-off valves. Turn off utilities only if you suspect a leak or damaged lines, or if you are instructed to do so by authorities. If you turn the gas off, you will need a professional to turn it back on. Paint shut-off valves with white or fluorescent paint to increase visibility. Attach a shut-off valve wrench or other special tool in a conspicuous place close to the gas and water shut-off valves.
Check if you have adequate insurance coverage. Ask your insurance agent to review your current policies to ensure that they will cover your home and belongings adequately. Homeowner's insurance does not cover flood losses. If you are a renter, your landlord's insurance does not protect your personal property; it only protects the building. Renter's insurance pays if a renter's property is damaged or stolen. Contact your insurance agent for more information.
Install smoke alarms on each level of your home, especially near bedrooms. Smoke alarms cut nearly in half your chances of dying in a home fire. Smoke alarms sense abnormal amounts of smoke or invisible combustion gases in the air. They can detect both smoldering and flaming fires. Many areas are now requiring hard-wired smoke alarms in new homes.
Get training from your fire department on how to use your fire extinguisher (A-B-C type), and show family members where extinguishers are kept. Different extinguishers operate in different ways. Unless responsible family members know how to use your particular model, they may not be able to use it effectively. There is no time to read directions during an emergency. Only adults should handle and use extinguishers.
Conduct a home hazard hunt. During a disaster, ordinary objects in your home can cause injury or damage. Anything that can move, fall, break, or cause a fire is a home hazard. For example, during an earthquake or a tornado, a hot water heater or a bookshelf could turn over or pictures hanging over a couch could fall and hurt someone. Look for electrical, chemical, and fire hazards. Contact your local fire department to learn about home fire hazards. Inspect your home at least once a year and fix potential hazards.
Stock emergency supplies and assemble a Disaster Supplies Kit. (See the "Disaster Supplies Kit" section.) Keep enough supplies in your home to meet your needs for at least three days. Assemble a Disaster Supplies Kit with items you may need in case of an evacuation. Store these supplies in sturdy, clearly labeled, easy-to-carry containers, such as plastic totes, backpacks or duffel bags.
Keep a smaller Disaster Supplies Kit in the trunk of your car. If you become stranded or are not able to return home, having these items will help you to be more comfortable.
Keep a portable, battery-operated radio or television and extra batteries. Maintaining a communications link with the outside is a step that can mean the difference between life and death. Make sure that all family members know where the portable, battery-operated radio or television is located, and always keep a supply of extra batteries.
NOAA Weather Radio with a tone-alert feature. NOAA Weather Radio is the best means to receive warnings from the National Weather Service. The National Weather Service continuously broadcasts updated weather warnings and forecasts that can be received by NOAA Weather Radios, which are sold in many electronics stores. It is recommended to purchase a NOAA Weather Radio that has both a battery backup and a Specific Area Message Encoder (SAME) feature, which automatically alerts you when a watch or warning is issued for your county, giving you immediate information about a life-threatening situation.
Take a First Aid and CPR class. Have your family learn basic safety measures, such as First Aid and CPR. These are critical skills that can save a life.
Plan home escape routes. Determine the best escape routes from your home in preparation for a fire or other emergency that would require you to leave the house quickly. Find two ways out of each room.
Find the safe places in your home for each type of disaster. Different disasters often require different types of safe places. While basements are appropriate for tornadoes, they could be deadly in a major chemical emergency.
Make two photocopies of vital documents and keep the originals in a safe deposit box. Keep one copy in a safe place in the house, and give the second copy to an out-of-town friend or relative. Vital documents such as birth and marriage certificates, tax records, credit card numbers, financial records, and wills and trusts can be lost during disasters.
Make a complete inventory of your home, garage, and surrounding property. The inventory can be either written or videotaped. Include information such as serial numbers, make and model numbers, physical descriptions, and price of purchases (receipts, if possible). This list could help you prove the value of what you owned if your possessions are damaged or destroyed and can help you to claim deductions on taxes. Be sure to include expensive items such as sofas, chairs, tables, beds, chests, wall units, and any other furniture too heavy to move. Do this for all items in your home, on all levels. Then store a copy of the record somewhere away from home, such as in a safe deposit box.