Emergencies are no respecter of persons. From a simple power outage to a devastating house fire, natural disaster, or terrorist attack – we could all become players in a life-threatening drama on any day of the year. When trouble comes knocking, how well we fare may be determined by how well we have prepped our home – not just our 72-hour kits, but our home, its structure and surroundings.
By becoming more aware of conditions around us, we acquire a giant advantage by simply acting on common sense observations. When we look at our home and neighborhood, do we really “see” what an outsider might see in their first impression? Do we live in a high fire risk area? Have there been floods, earthquakes, or hurricanes where we live? Is the land around our house stable, or subject to landslides? Have there been natural or man-made disasters in our town? What is the history of our home area? What would the old-timers tell us about past emergencies in our town?
To protect the safety of our homes and families, there are a few things we can do now to prepare our house and property for trouble tomorrow:
Clear the area: Consult a landscape expert to determine how fire resistant the plantings are near your home. If they are highly flammable, remove them and add more “fire friendly” planting. Clean brush, dead trees and foliage from around your home for at least thirty feet. Make sure wood piles are not stacked next to your home.
Clean the garage: Discard any old chemicals, oily rags, stacks of newspaper or any other flammable items stored in the garage that are not being used. Clearing room in the garage now will ensure you will be able to move outdoor items such as picnic tables and toys inside your garage quickly as a storm approaches. Any of these items can act as missiles during a major storm, smashing through windows and walls.
Fire Extinguishers: Purchase a few good fire extinguishers if you don’t already have them. If you have them check them – make sure they are still charged. Make sure every member of the family knows how to use one.
Fire/smoke/carbon monoxide detectors: If you don’t have them, now is the time to get them. We are all candidates for a house fire. If you have detectors, check them every six months to make sure they are working properly.
Escape: Make sure there are two escape routes from each room in your home. If you have a second story, invest in at least one fire escape ladder. A ladder for each second floor bedroom is an even better idea.
Brace water heaters: Check the building codes in your area and strap water heaters accordingly. There may not have been a code in place when your home was built, and following the current code is a smart thing to do.
Elevate: Build a raised platform for your furnace and water heater, and raise your electrical panel if they are in areas that may be flooded.
Valve wrench: Place a gas shut off valve wrench on a hook next to the valve and teach your family how to use it. In an emergency, you may not have time to search for a wrench. If you are not at home, your family or neighbor may not know where to search for a wrench.
Anchor foundations: If you live in an older home or are unsure if your foundation is well anchored you should have your home inspected and correct any problem that may exist. Read the Meridian article, Safe Havens and Safe Rooms to better understand why this is so important.
Strengthen walls: Do you remember the scene in the movie Mr. Blanding Builds his Dream House when Mr. Blanding (Cary Grant) is asked if he wants lintels between the lally columns? He has no idea what they are talking about, but seeing dollar signs he answers “no”. Immediately the builder yells to take out the lintels and 2x4s start falling from above. Make sure your home structure is properly built and reinforced to withstand the pressures of a storm or earthquake. When you build, use an architect or engineer, and avoid shortcuts.
Strengthen foundation: Check your foundation. Is it cracking? Is your home still level in all directions? Do some of your floors sag, just a little? It is time to have your foundation inspected. Some fixes are expensive, but will save you money in the long run since neglected repairs can lead to more costly consequences.
Chimney Inspection: How often do we have our chimneys cleaned and inspected? This one task can greatly reduce the risk of a home fire (ask your neighbor the fireman about chimney fires). It can also help save your home in an earthquake, wind storm or hurricane. Additionally, if you should ever have to heat your home using your fireplace, you will be grateful it is working properly. What an awful time to discover there is a problem.
Organize cupboards: Place fragile or heavy items on lower shelves. This will greatly reduce the risk of injury from falling objects during a weather emergency or earthquake. This may be a completely foreign way of thinking, but it makes perfect sense. When my children were young I put our dishes in a bottom cupboard so they could set the table without having to climb on a chair to reach the shelves above a counter. They are still down there today. Now the grandkids can set the table, and in an emergency they won’t be falling out and hurting anyone.
Add child safety locks for safety: We are all aware that cupboards where medicines, chemicals and cleaners are stored should have child safety locks. Upper cupboards should also have these locks to keep the contents from falling out in an earthquake. They may take a little getting used to, but it is a small inconvenience compared to the potential injury from falling objects.
Check each room for water leaks: You may not even notice the small things that are in need of repair in your home. We become so accustomed to living in our homes that we sometimes ignore small things that can make a big difference.
Repair any leaky pipes or roof leaks. Even a small leak can create a huge mold problem.
Check each room for wiring problems: Repair frayed wires on lamps and appliances. If you don’t know how to do this check with a handyman or lighting fixture store. Fixes can be made for a nominal cost.
Secure unstable furniture in every room: Many large pieces of furniture such as bookcases and hutches are top-heavy. They could easily kill someone if they fall during a storm or earthquake. Hold the furniture and carefully rock it back and forth. If it moves at all it should be secured to the wall by adding straps, bolts, or braces. In earthquake country all large furniture should be secured to walls.
Look around: Remove or bolt down heavy items from over sofas and beds as they could seriously injure someone if the item were to fall.
Heads up: Are your ceiling fixtures bolted or secured to a wall stud?
Check shelves and ledges: In Mark Twain’s “Letters from Hawaii” he wrote about the humorous art of dining on a ship as it tosses in the waves. Your home in an earthquake will be very much like that. Consequently, items displayed or stored on open shelves or ledges should be secured. You may need to add a molding or wood strip to the front of a shelving unit to act as a restraint for shifting items. Items on plant ledges should be very lightweight, or they should be secured making it impossible for them to fall.
Secure propane tanks: If you have small propane tanks stored for emergency cooking on a camp stove or barbecue, make sure they are properly stored. Always store tanks upright in a well ventilated cupboard with a door that closes securely to prevent the tank from falling during a storm or earthquake. The door should be ventilated – chicken wire works well. Tanks should be stored in areas that will not exceed 125 F. This may seem like an extreme temperature but it is possible for garages, sheds and car trunks to reach those temperatures in many areas of the world. Never store tanks inside your home. Always check tanks to make sure the valves are off before storing and never store an extra tank under a barbecue grill. Using soapy water you can check the tank and valve for leaks. The soapy water will bubble if there is a leak.
Check your mobile home tie downs: If you live in a mobile home or have one on your property check the tie-downs often. Even if no one is living in it, a mobile home can become life threatening as it may be torn apart by a storm and generate debris if it is not in good repair.
Check appliances: Install flexible pipe fittings and hoses, as they are less likely to break.
Stock up: Store extra water, food, toiletries, medicines, pet foods, and cleaning supplies now in case you are unable to travel to the store after a storm. In some cases there may not be a store left to travel to.
Take cover: Plan now how you will board up windows and doors if you have warning a hurricane or powerful windstorm is approaching. Store sheets of plywood that are pre-drilled to make installation faster. Store extra duct tape to help prevent glass from breaking and becoming flying debris. Store nails and screws to secure window coverings. At the very least, prepare to cover windows with blankets and sheets to help stop airborne glass from entering your home.
These common measures of preparation can make our homes safer and more secure for the uncertain timing of emergencies. Is it worth the trouble? You bet!
“Home is a shelter from storms – all sorts of storms.” ~William J. Bennett