Natural disasters don’t strike homes nearly as often as the TV news would have you believe. And even when a true disaster strikes, many homes and their inhabitants come through just fine. But it’s not all due to sheer luck.
Some advance preparation will help your house and family successfully deal with a storm, fire, or earthquake. Here are the first steps to take:
- Check smoke detectors and sprinkler systems. Even though your home inspector should have told you whether your smoke detection or sprinkler system meet local codes, it’s up to you to keep them in good working order. All smoke detectors have a test button, which, when pressed, should cause a shrill, obnoxious noise or a flashing light that tells you it’s working. The battery normally lasts no more than a year. If the unit has no battery, it’s wired into your home’s electrical or fire alarm system, so you’ll need to check the circuits or get a new unit. In addition, no matter what the codes say, consider installing smoke detectors in every bedroom or in hallways that lead to bedrooms. And if you’ve bought a condo or co-op in a building with a sprinkler system, make sure you know how it works and where your unit’s sprinkler heads are.
- Learn where your shutoff valves are. Every member of your family should learn how to shut off the gas, water, and electricity in case of pipe leaks after a disaster, or in situations where electricity may either come into contact with water or spark gas fires. Your home inspector may have pointed out your gas and water shutoff valves, or you may need to ask your utility company to help you locate them. (Don’t turn the gas off for practice—only a professional can turn it back on.) Your main electrical panel may be inside the house or on an outside wall. It’s best to shut off the individual circuits before the main breaker. Unplug appliances before you turn the power back on, to avoid a surge.
- Clear dead brush. To reduce the impact of fires, it’s wise to create “defensible space” around your home by clearing away brush and keeping your roof clean of dead leaves and pine needles.
- Plan an escape route. In a panicked situation, your halls might feel like a labyrinth — especially for children. Make sure every family member knows all entrances and exits, how to get out from the second floor, and where to meet up or who to call (preferably someone who lives far away and wouldn’t be affected by a local disaster) if separated.
- Childproof everything. If you’re a parent, you’ve probably done this before. Put chemicals and cleaning supplies out of reach, and add child safety locks to all cabinets. Also put important phone numbers (your cell phone, police, fire department, health care providers, and more) as well as your address on a bulletin board or refrigerator for babysitters.
- Read the directions on your fire extinguisher. If you don’t have one, buy one right away.
- Evaluate the need for additional changes. For example, if your house has a swimming pool, make sure it has child-protective gates.
After taking the above steps, you'll be much better able to deal with whatever Mother Nature throws your way.