Don't panic. Just prep.
The following piece comes from Hippo Insurance.
Regardless of whether you're a planner or more of a "go with the flow" type, it's important to have a good idea of what your family would do in the case of an emergency. Knowing where you would go, what you would take from your home, whom you would call and even how you would evacuate your furry friend ahead of time can save you valuable moments during an emergency and reduce stress.
That's where an emergency preparedness checklist comes in handy. Luckily, we've made it easy (and even fun) to prepare your home for all sorts of unexpected events.
Simply print these checklists and keep them handy so that you can relax knowing that you're prepared for almost anything that comes your way. (Also, make sure your home is as protected as it can be — check to see if you have enough homeowners insurance.)
Build a family emergency preparedness binder
There are many specific emergencies that your family should prepare for — fires, hurricanes and earthquakes, for example. However, let's first explore how to create a general emergency binder to prepare for just about any situation that comes your way.
This emergency preparedness binder should include important contacts and documents, evacuation plans and meeting locations. Everyone in your home should be very familiar with the binder's contents and where it lives in your home. Ideally, you should store it in a safe that's both water- and fire-proof.
Here's an in-depth look at exactly what you should put in your emergency preparedness binder. You can download the templates below. (To get your kids involved, have them help draw your home's floor plans and encourage them to go on a scavenger hunt locating important items like fire extinguishers and smoke detectors.)
- Emergency contacts: In some emergency situations, you might not have access to your phone. That's why you should write down several important phone numbers in your binder—numbers for out-of-state loved ones; VIPs who live nearby; administrators at your kids' schools; your colleagues at work; your doctors and dentists; your utility providers; and non-emergency police and fire officials in town.
- Reunion locations: Determine where your family members should meet up if you're separated from one another. Is it a neighbor's home? A park? Another building in town? Make sure that everyone knows how to get to this location and that you write down the address and phone number.
- Home floor plans: This doesn't have to be anything fancy. Simply draw out the rough outlines of the rooms in your home and note the locations of fire extinguishers, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, first aid kits, gas and electricity shut offs, ladders and safe rooms to settle in during emergencies. Also draw all available evacuation routes from each room in your home.
- Important documents: Include copies of passports, birth certificates, recent photo IDs, Social Security cards, adoption documents, insurance documents (like your home insurance declaration page and life insurance documents), home and car deeds, and wills. You never know when you might need to fill out important paperwork with information from these documents.
- Medical records: You'll also want to include copies of your immunization records, medical insurance cards and prescriptions. This will help ensure you can get your medications refilled as soon as you need them if you're unable to return home.
- Financial information: Certain emergencies can leave you without access to your wallet or the internet. That's why it's smart to include your credit card information, bank routing and account numbers, investment and 401(k) information in your emergency preparedness binder. (Remember that your binder might be one of the only items you have time to grab from your home in the event of an emergency. You'll want easy access to your financial information.)
- Pet emergency information: Don't forget about your furry friend. Make sure to include the name and phone number of your veterinarian, copies of your pets' medical records and vaccine information, current photos, microchip identification numbers and contact information for local animal shelters.
Tailor your family's plan to specific emergencies
After you've compiled your emergency preparedness binder, you should explore which emergencies are most common in the area where you live and prepare for each individually. Unsure of what emergencies are common in your area? Check out this interactive map of common disasters across the U.S. created by the American Red Cross.
We have you covered with emergency preparedness checklists for fires, hurricanes and earthquakes. Print them below and hang them on your refrigerator, your family bulletin board or wherever you'll see them on a regular basis. It never hurts to get your family thinking about emergency preparedness.
Fire preparedness checklist
Even if you don't live in an area where wildfires are common, creating a fire plan for your family is a must (after all, there are about 360,000 home fires across the U.S. every year, according to the National Fire Protection Association).
Luckily, most standard home insurance policies include fire insurance and cover damages to your home and belongings. However, you might need to purchase a separate policy for fire coverage if you live in a fire-prone area—for example, near a canyon or in a forested area.
Here's what you should do to make sure your family and home are prepared for fires:
- Place fire extinguishers on every level of your home. As an added bonus, owning a fire extinguisher can also shave off 5% from your home insurance premiums. Check out these other unique home insurance discounts.
- Install smart smoke and carbon monoxide alarms on each level of your home and in each bedroom. These devices send important safety alerts to your phone and can earn you savings of 5–15% on your premiums.
- Purchase collapsible ladders for each upstairs bedroom. Typical ladders measure 15 feet and cover two stories of your home.
- Plan two evacuation routes in each room of your home.
- Keep a whistle in each of your bedrooms to wake up your family members in the night if there's a fire.
- Remove clothes, rags and other materials from 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.
- Clean your chimney every year.
- Make sure your electrical cords don't run under carpets or against your walls.
- Place space heaters at least three feet away from your bed and curtains. This also applies to other heat-producing appliances like toasters and hair dryers.
- Teach your family 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.
Hurricane preparedness checklist
Depending on where you live, hurricane season runs from mid May or early June to the end of November, and the busiest month is typically September, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. To keep you and your family prepared, and make sure you can evacuate in time, you'll want to pay special attention to weather reports throughout the season.
Standard homeowners insurance policies cover wind and other damages from hurricanes. However, you should keep in mind that they don't cover flood damage in the wake of hurricanes. This is because standard insurance doesn't cover floods or certain other incidents like earthquakes and sinkholes. For flood coverage, you'll need to look into a separate flood insurance policy.
Here are some helpful tips to prepare your home for hurricane season and when a hurricane is on the way:
- Purchase a weather radio to stay up-to-date on the most recent developments.
- Sign up to receive alerts from local authorities and area newsrooms.
- Remove or bolt down loose items outside your home (things like bikes, tables and chairs, trash cans and your kids' toys) that could be carried by strong hurricane winds.
- Trim the tree branches close to your home to prevent damages from high winds.
- Unplug your small appliances. That way they won't be damaged by electricity surges when your power is restored.
- Keep your refrigerator and freezer at their coldest settings to reduce food spoilage.
- Keep your car's tank at least half full in case you have to quickly evacuate.
- Familiarize yourself with your town's evacuation route. Also be sure to investigate alternative routes as well.
- Install a sump pump with a battery backup in case your power goes out.
- Learn how to shut off your gas (main supply and valves near specific appliances).
- Turn off your water supply if you evacuate your home.
- Consider purchasing a smart water shut-off valve, which will automatically shut off your water supply if a pipe bursts. (Installing these devices can also save you money on your home insurance premiums.)
Earthquake preparedness checklist
California and Alaska have the highest numbers of natural earthquakes, according to the United States Geological Survey. However, earthquakes can happen just about anywhere, so you should be prepared.
Many people are surprised to learn that standard homeowners insurance policies don't cover earthquakes. If you live in an earthquake-prone area or if you'd like a little more peace of mind, you'll want to look into earthquake insurance to keep your home and belongings safe. Here are some good pointers for preparing for earthquakes:
- Stay informed by tuning into a weather radio.
- Identify safe spots in your home that are against walls and away from windows or any pieces of furniture that could fall on you.
- Bolt down your water heater, gas appliances, refrigerator and tall furniture pieces to wall studs.
- Place breakable and heavy items on lower shelves of your cabinets.
- Secure your light fixtures to overhead beams.
- Avoid hanging pictures, mirrors and other heavy wall fixtures above couches or beds where your family sits or sleeps.
- Secure flammable or harmful materials like paints and cleaning products in locked cabinets or on low shelves.
- Lock your filing cabinets and attach latches to your drawers.
- Learn how to shut off your gas. This is good to know how to do even if you're not facing an earthquake.
Assemble an emergency kit for home
In addition to preparing your home's structures and appliances for specific emergencies, you should also gather certain essential items into an emergency kit that would give you everything you need if you can't leave your home (or if you have to leave your home and live somewhere else for a bit).
You can buy a pre-made emergency kit, but it's often better to make your own. That way you can customize it and make sure you're prepared for all types of emergencies. As a bonus, you can also put in items that could comfort your family during times of crisis: your favorite snacks, cozy blankets and even special books or toys.
You should store your kit in a cool, dry place and replace expired items regularly. Here are the emergency supplies that every well planned-out kit should include:
- One gallon of water per person (and one-half gallon per pet) per day for three days
- Three-day supply of non-perishable food per person and a manual can opener
- Prescription and non-prescription medications (and extra medical supplies during seasons when natural disasters are common)
- Your family's emergency preparedness binder
- Weather radio
- First aid kit
- Flashlight and batteries
- Multi-purpose tool and scissors
- Wrench or pliers (to help you turn off your gas or water supply)
- Cell phone chargers
- Cleaning wipes and garbage bags
- Plastic sheets and duct tape
- Sleeping bags
- Blankets for each person
- Additional clothes
- Masks to filter air
- Printed maps of your area
- Extra cash
- Pet food
- Toys, blankets and other comforting items
Keep track of your valuable items before an emergency
After you make sure that your loved ones are safe and healthy in an emergency situation, you'll likely need to file a claim with your homeowners insurance company for damaged items. It makes the process a whole lot smoother if you know what you had before an emergency strikes and approximately what it was worth.
Go room to room in your home, take note of major items in each room and try to estimate their worth. (Or, even better, if you still have receipts, record what you paid for them.) Be on the lookout for valuable pieces of jewelry, electronics, collectibles or antiques, and outdoor equipment.
That way you'll have an idea of what it'll cost to replace your items and, if needed, you can chat with your insurance company about extending your coverage limits before disaster strikes.
You should also take a video of each room of your home as a quick way to document what belongings you have for your insurance company.
How to keep your home protected
The prep work doesn't stop after you've created your emergency preparedness binder or assembled your kit. You should make it a family habit to review your emergency preparedness plans every few months. You should also test your smoke detectors, water shut off valves and other safety equipment frequently.
Better yet, you might consider investing in smart home technology for real-time updates on everything from water leaks to abnormally humid conditions in your home. Since insurance companies love these smart home devices, you can even save quite a bit on your home insurance premiums.
Even if you're not sure what emergencies to prepare for, it never hurts to prepare for as many as possible. And though it can take a bit of time and effort, your home's worth it, right? (After all, it's the place where you watched your kids grow up, cared for an aging loved one and hosted more family board game nights than you could ever count.)
Looking for more tips to keep your home running smoothly? Check out our comprehensive home maintenance checklist. Keep up with basic home care tasks like dusting your countertops and other surfaces, as well as several less-common — but still important — steps like descaling your coffee machine.