Take the time now — when, perhaps, you have a little more spare time — to prepare for a potential emergency like a fire or earthquake.
Emergency preparedness experts suggest, at minimum, three actions you need to do to improve your family’s safety during and after a disaster: Sign up to be informed of oncoming hazards, have an escape plan and build a go-bag stocked with essentials.
The American Red Cross’ interactive map (rdcrss.org/3gEXAUM) of potential disasters across the U.S. has information on which emergencies may strike your area so you can best prepare.
Enroll in Public Alerts (publicalerts.org), AlertSeattle (alert.seattle.gov) or a similar service to be notified by emergency response agencies via text message, phone call or email when you need to take action such as sheltering-in-place or evacuating.
The National Weather Service website (weather.gov) posts information about local wind speed and direction, which may inform your fire evacuation route. Follow the instructions of local officials.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Weather Radar Live app offers real-time radar images and severe weather alerts.
A portable emergency radio, like the Kaito KA500, provides real-time NOAA weather reports and Public Emergency Alert System information, and can be powered by a hand-crank generator, solar panel, rechargeable batteries or wall power adapter.
Have an escape plan
Make sure everyone in your home knows how to safely exit a building, where you will 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 and the American Red Cross (ready.gov/kids/prepare-pedro).
Older children can draw your home’s floor plans, which will help them locate first-aid kits, fire extinguishers, and smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. They can also draw evacuation routes from each room and learn where to find the gas and electricity shut offs.
Use the ASPCA Disaster Preparedness guide (bit.ly/3wtnamh) to help you plan how you will care for your pets in an emergency. Update the information on your pet’s ID tag or microchip if you have changed your address, phone number or emergency contact recently.
Place a rescue alert sticker (bit.ly/3gRoqtd) near the front door or window so it’s visible to rescue workers and they will know what type of pet is inside.
Check your go-bag
It’s hard to think clearly when you’re told to evacuate. This makes it critical to have a duffle or backpack filled with essentials that you can grab as you race out the door.
Keep the bag as lightweight as possible in case you must evacuate on foot or via public transportation. It’s also a good idea to have an emergency kit in your car. Find a list of items to include at ready.gov/car.
Pack a lightweight travel bag for your pet, and identify housing or a shelter that will accept animals. The FEMA app should list open shelters during an active disaster in your area.
People trained by the Community Emergency Response Team and other volunteer groups are advised to follow a preparedness calendar (bit.ly/3gs3aez) that breaks down supplies to acquire and actions to take over 12 months, so the preparation work is not overwhelming.
Print out the American Red Cross’ emergency preparedness checklist (rdcrss.org/3wvkq8f) 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 (rdcrss.org/3iHYMJR) and Ready.gov (ready.gov/kit), or you can buy a premade or customized survival pack online.
Consider the color of your go-bag. Some people want it red so it’s easy to spot, while others buy an ordinary-looking backpack, duffle 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 your essentials in one place. Many of the must-have supplies may already be in your home, like hygiene items, but you may 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 go-bags as light as possible by including only essentials:
• Protective gear: Pack face masks, N95 and other respirator masks, full-face smoke mask, goggles, work gloves and disinfecting wipes.
• Extra cash, eyeglasses, medicines: Ask your doctor, health insurance provider or pharmacist for an emergency supply of prescription and nonprescription medications.
• Food and drink: If you think stores will be closed or you’ll be somewhere without food and water, pack half-cup pouches of water and non-salty, nonperishable packets of food.
• First-aid kit: Look for a lightweight kit of essential supplies, including aspirin, triple antibiotic ointment and bandages, to treat injuries. Add a pocket-size American Red Cross Emergency First Aid Guide (rdcrss.org/3wxDH98) or download the free Red Cross emergency app.
• Simple backup light, radio and charger: If there’s no place to plug in a device, you’ll appreciate a crank-powered, flashlight and phone charger. Cranking for one minute produces power for 10 minutes of light on most devices.
• A multitool can provide a knife, pliers, screwdriver, bottle and can opener, electrical crimper, wire stripper, file, saw, awl and ruler in one small package.
• Build a family emergency preparedness binder: Keep copies of important contacts and documents together in a safe, waterproof box.
• 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 if you have gas lines to your home.
• Consider purchasing a smart water shut-off valve, which will automatically stop your water supply if a pipe bursts.
• 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.
Fire preparedness checklist
Portland Fire & Rescue has a safety checklist (bit.ly/35oMXAl) 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 3 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.