Basic Shelter

If you are staying in your house during a disaster, make sure it is going to shelter you from the disaster as well as give you a place to stay. Ask yourself whether your house is truly a safe shelter. Will you be stuck in the attic if floodwaters come into your house?  Could the roof blow off in a windstorm?  Are the windows going to blow in and pelt everyone with glass?  Is the house going to burn down if the wildfire gets close?  Is the weight of the snow going to bring the roof down on you?  And the most important question: will you be trapped if something goes wrong?  If the answer to any of these questions is "yes" or even "maybe" then get out. You cannot protect your house if it cannot protect you.

Learn how to do the basic preparation for the house. Every adult should know where the utilities are and how to shut them off. Make your preparations in advance, and check them regularly. Then if a disaster threatens or happens, recheck every thing. The supplies you need are fairly consistent from one type of disaster to another. The preparation of a house is not. With earthquakes and fires, you want to turn off the gas to prevent fire. With floods and winter storms, the gas may be your only source of power for heat and cooking and the last thing you should do is turn it off.

Know the breaker box and how to recognize whether a breaker is thrown or is still connected. Like the water, it is almost always OK to turn off the electricity. Have a flashlight turned on and then throw the main breaker. Everything should stop running except things with battery backups. If you have a power outlet near your breaker box, get a light that comes on when the power goes off. That way you won't be standing in the dark trying to deal with breakers.

If you can turn off the water without danger, do so. You can turn the water back on later, if everything is fine. If the city water is contaminated, you will protect what is in your house for use later. Learn where the main shut off valve for the water is and how to turn it on and off. This is also useful if a pipe breaks or the water heater springs a leak. Approaching fire is the exception. You will need the water to fight the small fires.

Know how to shut off the gas to the house but be careful about this. Gas requires constant pressure to assure that the lines are intact and that the pilot lights are lit. If you turn off the gas, do not turn it back on until the utility company or a plumber can test the lines and make sure they are safe. In a disaster situation, it may take days for them to get to you. If your house is not seriously damaged, do not turn the gas off unless you can smell gas or there is a clear disruption of a gas line or connector. If your house is obviously damaged or likely to be damaged by a fire or storm, turn off the gas.

When disaster threatens, check all your supplies and make a reasoned decision about whether it is safe to stay or you need to evacuate. Is the food fresh enough and fit to eat?  Do you have enough water stored and when does it expire?  Are the flashlights and radio working?  Is the house in shape to protect you and provide for your needs?

If you decide to stay at home, make contingency plans. Make a list of things you need to take with you if you have to retreat to the attic or the cellar. Pack the car with everything you plan to take if you have to evacuate quickly. Plan your escape route and decide when to leave instead of sheltering at home if things get worse. Then check in with your contacts and let them know your plans.

Know how to shut off the utilities