19 Small, Everyday Things You Can Do Now to Prepare for an Emergency

Spending a little extra time on disaster prep now can make a big difference later.

When emergencies strike, it's important to have the big things taken care of—having an emergency checklist, storing supplies, stocking up on emergency food, and knowing emergency contacts, to name a few. But there are actually little things we can be doing, too, to be prepared for a situation like an epidemic, quarantine, or natural disaster.

One aspect is playing the long game of emergency prep, like properly maintaining home fixtures, wiring, and other items you'd find on a home safety checklist. There are many small ways to prepare for emergencies that take less than 10 minutes, and they set us up to be ready for whatever we may face.

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Create a Video and Written Log of Your House

In case of disaster, you'll have a record for insurance purposes after a full-house assessment. Send those videos to your email account for safe storage. This will come in handy when you're trying to deal with the aftermath of an emergency.

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Scope Out Danger

While looking around your house, make sure flammable cleaning supplies aren't near a heat source (which can be a fire hazard), and that artwork or mirrors aren't hanging directly above your bed in case of an earthquake.

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Tend to Your Electronics

Are your appliances and electronics safe? While you should unplug electrical devices during a powerful storm, it's ideal to also purchase a surge protector, which prevents damage to your devices in case the power goes out.

Electronics (and important documents) are susceptible to water damage if they are low to the ground, so move them up to a higher level if you live in an area where flooding is common.

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Print a Family Photo

Store it with your important documents. If your family gets separated and your phone dies, it's good to have a hard copy photo to show first responders.

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Sleep With Your Bedroom Door Closed

Make sure to close all the bedroom doors in your house at night. According to the Firefighter Safety Research Institute, it'll keep you better protected if a fire breaks out in your house and give you extra time to escape.

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Store Closed-Toe Shoes Under Your Bed

In an emergency, you won't want to be looking around for shoes: Put them under your bed for a quick evacuation.

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Stash a Flashlight in Your Nightstand

Keep the batteries unopened in the same drawer to preserve their power until you really need it.

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Have Important Documents by Your Bed

Save printed copies of your most important documents (home deed, license, birth certificate, homeowners insurance, passports, etc.) in a waterproof and (if possible) fireproof safe next to (or nearby) your bed. (In a pinch, a freezer bag can work.) If you have pets, make sure their important information is included, or they may be turned away from wherever you stay.

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Keep an Old Suitcase

If you are in an area that often has evacuation events such as floods or hurricanes and you have extra time to gather belongings, it's not a bad idea to have an old suitcase in an easily accessible spot. You want to be able to throw important info and other essentials into it and wheel it out the door at a moment's notice.

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Never Store Water on the Floor of Your Garage

That floor can leach toxic chemicals and absorb water. Always elevate bottled water off the ground.

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Have a Full Tank of Gas

If you know that an emergency is coming (i.e., a storm is predicted) and it's one you can evacuate early for, keep a full tank of gas in your car. You'll avoid the three-hour lines at the pump and get to safety faster.

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Have an Emergency Supply Kit Stored in Your Car

This mini emergency preparedness kit will be helpful not only if your car breaks down but also if you need to drive a long way to reach safety in an emergency.

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Keep a Charged Phone Near Your Bed

A ready-to-use phone means you are ready to call 911 if a fire or other emergency occurs. It also helps to have a portable phone charger ready to go in case the power goes out for an extended period of time.

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Add Poison Control to Your Phone Contacts

It's a good idea to store the number for poison control (1-800-222-1222) in your phone in case of an emergency: You may not have the presence of mind at the moment to look it up.

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Learn How to Lower the Bandwidth on Your Phone Service

5G may be great for daily use, but it's not ideal for disasters because it's harder for a call to connect. You can manually change your phone settings to 3G or 4G for a better chance of dialing successfully. It's helpful to know how to do this in advance.

Some phone carriers have this happen automatically during a crisis, while others allow users to do this with a few clicks in their cellular settings. (If you still can't connect, send a text—it often goes through faster in an emergency situation.)

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Practice Using Phones in an Emergency With Your Kids

In the event that you are unable to, make sure your kids can open a locked phone, dial 911, give the address, and know what to say to the fire or police department.

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Download Disaster-specific Apps

If you are in an area prone to a certain kind of natural disaster, download the Red Cross app specific to that disaster (hurricane, tornado, earthquake, etc.). An alarm will sound on your phone if one of those disasters is impending, and the app allows you to find safety resources and mark yourself safe in a pinch.

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Change Your Voicemail to Alert Others You Are Safe

If you find yourself in an emergency situation and you want to let people know you are safe, change your outgoing voicemail to "I'm OK" or "I am safe" or direct them to your out-of-state designated contact. (Calls will often go straight to voicemail in an affected area). That way, if your phone dies, people will know you are OK.

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Set a Reminder to Review Your Emergency Plans

Kids get older, medical necessities change, doctors' numbers change, and emergencies change based on geographic location. Set a calendar reminder to review plans at least once a year.

Soraya Sutherlin, MPA, Certified Emergency Manager, Emergency Management Director of JUDY, an emergency preparedness kit provider

Jim Judge, EMT-P, CEM, Emergency Management Director for Volusia County, Florida, and member of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council

George Hernandez, IICRC Master Water Restorer, IICRC Master Fire Restorer, Florida Certified Building Contractor and Mold Remediator, and Vice President of PuroClean, an emergency restoration service

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