Emergency preparedness sounds daunting, but the truth is it can make extreme situations more approachable (and less scary). As you probably already know, emergency situations tend to strike with little or no warning. Since you can’t count on having time for last-minute preparations, save yourself anxiety by coming up with a plan that will help you protect your family and property if something unexpected does happen.

Your home is the environment where you have the most control, which is why it’s a great place to start with emergency preparedness. Since you’re already deeply familiar with every part of your home, this is a chance to layer on local information to understand the resources and options you have should you need to take quick action.

Disasters can happen anywhere. Taking some time to prepare can greatly reduce your risk of injury or property loss.

Determine Evacuation Routes and Neighborhood Points of Shelter

A good time to establish or review your emergency response plan is when you move into a new home. This is the perfect opportunity to evaluate potential evacuation routes in case of a natural disaster. At the same time, think about the best ways to survive in your home for a period of time following a disaster, if that becomes necessary.

While exploring your area and getting settled into your new neighborhood, take note of local points of interest that may be important during an emergency, such as storm shelters and fire stations. Reach out to your new neighbors to find pre-determined and vetted shelters.

This is also a good time to do a home safety inspection. It should go without saying that you should always having working smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms in your house, along with a fire extinguisher.

Ward Off the Biggest Threats from Mother Nature

Many natural disasters involve a double threat: wind and water. Do everything you can to protect your property from both at the get-go.

Secure water heaters and gas appliances using inexpensive strap kits available at home supply stores. Ruptured gas lines can start explosions and fires, and a busted water heater can cause a destructive flood. Likewise, brace heavy furniture and light fixtures so they are less likely to fall or become airborne during an earthquake or heavy winds. Following basic maintenance routines and keeping your place hazard-free can also greatly reduce risks.

One of the biggest dangers during a high-wind storm is breaking glass, so you should have some plywood or heavy-duty plastic to cover windows. Even so, make sure everyone knows to stay far away from windows during a storm.

A flood is among the most common disasters that can strike your home, especially since it is often a byproduct of another event such as a hurricane or even a heavy snowstorm. Consider ways to protect your property from flooding, such as by making drainage upgrades direct the water away from your home. Elevate your furnace and other critical home components off the ground, and keep important items sealed or stored in a waterproof container.

Practice Your Response

Have a procedure in place that you can go through quickly. Write it down, and practice with an occasional “drill.” Establish a designated meeting spot outside of the house where everyone will meet up after they have gotten out of the home. This is a great time to encourage neighbors to join in so that if an emergency response is needed, familiar and friendly faces can be a point of relief and assistance.

In the event of a disaster or emergency, you will have two main options: flee or “shelter in place.” Often, the decision won’t be up to you—it may depend on how much warning you have, whether your evacuation routes are blocked, and what directions you are given by local officials. Your preparation strategy must include a plan for either scenario.

Be Ready to Make a Fast Escape

If you must make a hasty exit, you can’t waste precious time running around trying to figure out what to take or gathering up supplies.

Have a portable safe or lockbox that contains important documents like passports, birth certificates, social security cards, insurance policies and other critical paperwork you might need if you have to travel or stay in another location, or if you need to file any sort of insurance or disaster relief claims.

Each household member needs their own “go bag,” an overnight bag or backpack with a change of clothes and other essentials. Important: be sure to have an emergency supply of medications and other medical supplies.

Stay Safe if You Cannot Leave

Evaluate your home and identify the safest place to retreat if you need to ride out a storm. This is usually the basement, or an interior room such as a bathroom. Obviously, if you have a storm shelter, that would be the preferred option.

Prioritize what needs to be addressed first. At the top of your list: know what must be shut off or disconnected immediately, and be sure you know how to do it. This means knowing the shutoff process for the main water valve, electrical power and natural gas line (if applicable).

Stash flashlights in strategic locations throughout the house, such as near the electrical panel. Make sure you have necessary tools such as wrenches near utility shutoff valves.

Create a disaster preparation kit or station. This should include flashlights, matches, first aid kit, rechargeable batteries (kept fully charged), and a battery-operated radio. You also want to store enough (non-perishable) food and water to last the entire household for at least several days.

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