CHECKLIST FOR DISASTER PREPAREDNESS 25 September 2021 Please send ideas and questions to


People can learn how to recover after a disaster. Fires happen faster than most other disasters. You must get outside without stopping for anything except to help others. So the first priority is to prepare your home, and store some items offsite. US residents have a 4% chance of a residential fire, per decade. Check off the items you've done, and do 2-3 more each week until you're fully prepared.

FIRE often happens at night. You may have to leave your house with nothing but your pajamas. Do not count on having your wallet, purse or cell phone.

Install smoke detectors ($10 each). Let children hear you test them (you can wear earplugs), to remember what they sound like. If they chirp, replace the battery immediately. Replace detector itself 10 years after manufacture date printed on it. For sleepovers, check detectors and exits.

Make sure house number is very visible day and night from road(s) and alley(s) next to your house, so fire fighters and ambulances find you EASILY. ($20) If a street sign is stolen or unreadable, call local government until it is fixed.

To escape, tell children they may break windows and push air conditioners out if necessary. Do not flee through fire, which has "tremendous heat, smoke, and a toxic atmosphere that can render a person unconscious." Have flashlight by each bed to get out if power is off and shoes or slippers in case of broken glass or hot floor. If escape includes going on a porch roof, can you keep an extra ladder on that roof?

Have fire extinguisher(s) on each floor and in the kitchen (metal cover over a burning pot can also work). Buy one to practice outdoors, maybe with your friends or neighbors. You will be amazed how fast it gets empty ($20 each). If in doubt, get out, do not fight the fire. Shake it monthly to keep powder loose and replace after 12 years (NFPA10

LOCK THE FOLLOWING ITEMS OFFSITE. A safe deposit box, self-storage unit, or locked drawer at work are possibilities if you have them. Otherwise a lifelong friend or relative, if they can lock your private papers away from children, visitors and contractors. You can put most in an email to yourself, if your email and computer are secure, and access the email from a friend's computer.

Recent photos of pets with you in the picture, and any unique marks, to prove ownership if separated.

Names & numbers of relatives, doctors, drug store, eyeglass store, veterinarian, schools, bosses, accountant, lawyer, bank. Fill all prescriptions at one drugstore, so they will have prescriptions and can refill them. If you have an address book, take 10 minutes to photocopy it; also useful if you ever lose it. ( easily stores & prints doctors, drugs etc, for participants.)

Computer backups, most easily done by an online service (often free). Store offsite your user id and instructions on how to get your data into a new computer after a fire.


Put in your cell phone a contact called Ice (In Case of Emergency) and write it on paper attached to the back of your ID. Medics can call the number if you cannot speak for yourself.

Sign up for text and email alerts for your area at Less detailed than NIXLE, and without signing up, most smart phones sold since 2012 will get Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) from nearest cell tower, but not TracFone and some Jitterbug. ATT, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular, Verizon. Local officials may put messages on NOAA Weather radio. Some weather radio receivers ($40) have "standby" mode to turn on when an alert is sent, and customer can choose which topics and which counties to get alerts for.

Know the closest 24-hour urgent care clinic or emergency room. You can often text to 911, if calls don't go through.

2ND PRIORITY and 3RD PRIORITY If you think any are higher priority, do them first!


Make sure everyone living with you knows where to meet offsite and whom to call or text. That person needs to be someone who keeps his/her cellphone on and answers it. In a big disaster or storm, phone lines will be full, but text messages may get through. If you have pets, plan for an offsite location which will accept them in an emergency (most hotels and shelters do not).

Get renter's insurance if you have valuables ($100 per year). Most owners have insurance but need to add earthquakes and floods.

Take photos or video of all rooms, basement, garage, house, etc. to document possessions. Store offsite; also any appraisals. Photograph the receipt when you buy something over $100 or $1,000, depending on your resources, and back up those photos offsite.


Previous ID or color copy of current ID to prove who you are while you get documents replaced, car key, and a key to any locked storage you have.


Copies of other important papers which would be hard or slow to replace: work IDs, lists of immunizations & allergies, certificates of birth, marriage & divorce, wills (not the original), powers of attorney, advance directives, titles (especially cars), last tax return, pet paperwork. Bank records are less urgent, since banks can find your records by social security number.

Computer user ids, (hard to remember if you're used to your computer filling them in for you automatically) and your password for email. Most websites can send a password to you if you have your user id and can reach your email through a friend's computer (if yours burned up).

Insurance policy numbers and phone numbers

Credit and debit card numbers and phone numbers

Loan due dates and phone numbers. Frequent flyer numbers; airlines can have trouble finding these.

Keys, checks, extra credit card from an account you use actively (ask bank not to cancel the card for inactivity).

Copies or negatives of favorite photos and clippings.

A few mementos, so everything is not lost at once.

This list is designed for a fire. It has a wider benefit of helping your family if you have an accident or die. For more benefit, add things which others may not know: social security number, names of banks, IRAs, pension account number & address, locations of will and property, date of birth. Be sure your relatives know where to look for the information. People in the US aged over 45 have a higher chance of dying each year than having a house fire, and a much higher chance of hospitalization (10% per year) and ER visits (20%), so update your information every year.

HOME NEEDS Another type of disaster is flood (4% chance of being affected per decade in the US), storm (3%), or the next pandemic, which might keep you isolated at home, with or without power, or give you a little time before evacuation. A good article in Time describes a disaster expert and his wife who bought a standard list of disaster supplies. It cost $340, and the resulting pack was too heavy for the wife to lift. So the list below is simpler and cheaper. It assumes society will exist after the disaster, with supplies available in a few days. Preparing for the end of society is not the goal here.

Electricity: Have many batteries for your flashlights and radio. Also an inverter ($35) which converts 12v to 120v, to run small appliances and chargers from your car. You need a wind-up or battery radio to get emergency broadcasts, and a corded phone ($15) if you have a landline, not just cordless.

Water: The hot water heater will give you plenty of fresh safe drinking water. Know how to turn off your hot water tank's water supply and electricity or gas, open a hot water faucet, and draw water from the valve at the bottom of the tank as needed (refill before restart; let gas company turn gas back on). Know how to turn off the water supply coming into the house, in case it gets contaminated. If you do not have a hot water tank (apartment building or tankless heater), store about 3 gallons of water per person. Mark the date on it. Drink and replace within a year if commercially bottled, or within 6 months if you put tap water in bottles (such as clean 2-liter soda bottles or gallon vinegar bottles)

Food: Most people have a couple of weeks of food; keep yourself stocked with food you can eat cold or on a camping stove if the power goes out: nuts, vegetables, canned stews, etc. with a manual can opener or inverter (above).

Know how to turn off gas and electricity if storms or floods endanger you, or in case of electrical fires. Written steps help in stress and dark.

People with wells can use a 240-volt generator to run the well pump (and refrigerator, etc.) when power is out, but have to store fuel safely and test the generator annually. A solar system means a low-current pump or large expense to handle the start-up current.

Know how to drain your pipes if temperatures stay below freezing.

Evacuation Pack: Keep a list inside your medicine cabinet door of things to take if you have time before you leave the house: medical needs (pills, glasses, hearing aids...), pet carriers, extra leash and collar, cell phones and chargers, whistle, flashlight, radio, warm clothes, underwear, valuables, keepsakes, etc. Items must fit in a bag that's easy to carry. Some can stay in a bag in your car. If there is time before evacuating, snap new photos of each room and outside to update your inventory.

If you live in a big city which may have a mass evacuation, list whatever might be scarce for a few days and is portable, so you're ready to grab & go: soap, mattresses (inflatable pool rafts are small and light), snacks, games, mp3 players, inverter.


After a disaster hire a "Public Adjuster" to help document losses & negotiate with insurance:

Time 10/25/07 questions the common advice about evacuation packs which are too large to carry.,33009,1675600,00.html

Good list and ratings of items:

Red Cross advice: and

US government advice:

Canada government advice:

Australia government and Red Cross advice:

New Zealand government advice:

Number of people affected by disasters for each country and type:

Insurance industry advice:

Insurance claims,

US advice on fire prevention:

Financial records

Supplies families set aside for disasters (few) and likelihood of disaster (low)

US government advice on

San Diego advice on wildfires:

Louisiana advice on evacuations:

Limits of Emergency Alert System

Advice on fire extinguishers

Advice on chemical and nuclear contamination: get clean air immediately (go indoors if contamination is outdoors), decontaminate soon:

Advice on mercury vapor from broken fluorescent bulbs:

Advice on fire safes: $80 to keep papers dry and below 350F for an hour; $2,000 to keep video tapes or computer disks below 125F for an hour, which is why we recommend offsite backup instead

Advice on escape ladders Advises practice with escape ladders on first floor, and overall fire drill twice a year. But risk of injury or death from practicing seems higher than risk from not being able to escape a fire, which is 1 in 27,000 per year: 2,300 deaths and possibly 10,000 injuries where exits were blocked (2017-19: 61% of 3,700 deaths and 17,000 injuries per year), among 330 million people.

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