Accidents and disasters are traumatizing partly because of the fact that they are largely unpredictable and partly because of the devastation and havoc they can wreak on families and even entire cities.
There isn’t one way to avoid or guarantee that you won’t be involved in an accident or in the area when a disaster hits, but there are some general steps you can do to prepare and steps you can take to increase your odds of surviving such an event.
Table of Contents
#1. Home Invasion
Steps to Prepare
- Fortify your home against intruders. Remove shrubs around the home or replace them with thorny shrubs. Reinforce door jambs and use high quality locks. Keep entry points well-lit and windows covered. Consider a dog as an early alert to any intruders on the property.
- Consider building or reinforcing an existing room as your designated safe room. This could be a storage room, bathroom, or even a walk-in closet.
- All first aid supplies and extra weapons, ammo, a secondary land line telephone and back-up cell phone should be stored in your safe room.
- Plan and practice both evacuating your home and getting everyone to a safe room.
- Have an audible alert or sound that signals to everyone in the house to get to the safe room.
- Keep a flashlight and telephone within easy reach at night.
- Store your weapons in a secure place that is easy for you to get open if half asleep but not accidentally accessible to children. Consider a vehicle-style shotgun lock with hidden switch which can be secured to a bed frame and hidden by the bed skirt.
- Get training in self-defense, firearms, and first-aid before you need these skills against an intruder.
How to Survive a Home Invasion
Early detection of a possible home invasion is absolutely a necessity. If you have planned correctly, you will have a light come on, your alarm will go off, or your dog will growl or bark while intruders are still outside your home.
As soon as anyone in the family is alerted to a possible intruder they should use an audible sound like a whistle to signal other family members in the home. Do not count on being able to have time to run from room to room alerting people.
Do not try to confront intruders or stop them from taking items from your home. Your goal during a home invasion is to avoid confrontation, to call or signal for help, escape the home, or as a last resort get your family to a safe room.
Contrary to popular belief, safe rooms can trap your family. Every safe room should have a second exit point that you can use that will take you and your family out of the house and away from the danger.
The only guaranteed way to avoid a confrontation and protect your family is to keep the intruders from entering your home. The second safest thing is getting your family out of the house and as far away as possible.
#2. House Fire
Steps to Prepare for a House Fire
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- Make sure your home has fire sprinklers and every family member knows how to operate them.
- Have a regular maintenance schedule for all furnaces, clothes dryers, chimneys, smoke detectors, and fire extinguishers to ensure they are in good working condition. Make sure that gas valves and electric shut offs are not obstructed from view of the fire department.
- Copy all important documents along with an inventory list of valuable items in the home and keep at another location or in a fireproof safe.
- Have a family evacuation plan, practice it with family until everyone can get out of the home quickly.
- For homes with multiple levels, a rope ladder that can be quickly anchored from any window is a great idea. If it’s in the budget, you can get something like this
How to Survive a House Fire
Evacuate according to your family plan as quickly as possible. Stay low, crawling on hands and knees to avoid smoke until you are out of the home. Tie a bandana or any cloth or piece of clothing over your mouth and nose to prevent smoke inhalation. Feel doors with the back of your hand before opening. Do not open a door that is hot to the touch!
Call for help as soon as possible but do not wait to evacuate. Never go back into the home for any reason once you are outside. If your clothes do catch on fire, stop, drop to the ground, and roll until the fire is out.
#3. Terrorist Attack
Steps to Prepare for a Terrorist Attack
- Create a terrorism plan with your family in advance that includes criteria for bugging in or bugging out as well as how to communicate with other family members and where to meet up if separated.
- In any place you visit, know where the nearest exits and emergency exits are located.
- Stay away from crowded public areas such as malls. For example, with the recent attacks and tensions, the Tomorrowland festival in Belgium would not be a good event to attend.
- Get in the habit of carrying an EDC (every day carry) kit.
- If you must go into a public place, practice situational awareness by paying attention to body language, movement and noise within the crowd around you. If you train yourself to pay attention to what a normal crowd sounds like, your mind will quickly alert you to anything that seems abnormal. You will be able to react more quickly and/or get out of the area when you sense danger brewing.
- Practice becoming a gray man (being invisible within a crowd) to keep from becoming a target of potential terrorists.
- Prepare an emergency kit that includes food, water, a weapon, and medical supplies.
How to Survive a Terrorist Attack
Remain calm, be patient, and follow any instructions by local authorities.
In some terrorist attack situations that involve an active shooter still in the vicinity, some people were able to survive by pretending to be dead to avoid being shot.
If you are near to an event when it occurs and can do so safely, give first aid for anyone that may be injured.
Check for damage to your location using a flashlight. Avoid turning on lights or using matches or candles. Turn off any utilities to your home that you suspect are damaged or hazardous.
If safe to do so, secure family pets and check on elderly or disabled neighbors.
#4. Motor Vehicle Accidents
Steps to Prepare
- Stick to a regular schedule of maintenance for all motor vehicles.
- Follow manufacturer recommendations when making repairs and replacing parts.
- Have a car bug out bag that includes a first aid kit.
- Consider taking a defensive driving course.
- Make sure seats, head restraints, car seats, and seat belts are properly adjusted for each person.
- Remain visually alert to the road, keep your hands on the wheel and avoid distractions like cell phone use, applying make-up, or texting, etc.
- Avoid operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs.
- Keep all needed repair and emergency supplies well-stocked and in each vehicle.
- Secure all loose items like laptops, pets, etc. that could cause injury if thrown around during a crash. The glovebox or trunk of your car is safest for larger items. Use safety belts to secure backpacks and pets.
- Learn and practice providing first aid for things such as cuts, broken bones, and shock.
Steps to Survive
Always wear your safety belt and a helmet if operating a motorcycle or ATV.
If you are alerted that impact is coming, put your back against the seat, try not to tense up, keep wrists flat and not bent around the steering wheel.
Remain calm, call for help, give your location details.
Assess any injuries, remain in your vehicle if it is safe to do so. If your vehicle seems unsafe, get off the road to an area where you can be easily seen by rescuers but are away from harm.
#5. Outdoor Recreational Accidents
Steps to Prepare
- Keep all recreational vehicles such as boats, bicycles, ATV’s, as well as camping, and hiking gear in tip top repair.
- Know the terrain and area including potential hazards like bodies of water, swampy areas, or boating hazards.
- Avoid operating recreational vehicles while under the influence of alcohol or other substances which can impair your judgement or delay your reaction times.
- Have a bug out bag that includes a communication device like a cell phone and a basic first aid kit on your boat, ATV, or with your hiking and camping gear.
Steps to Survive
Immediately call or signal for help even if you think you are alright. Give your estimated location, they type of accident and indicate any possible injuries. Agree on periodic check ins every 10 or 15 minutes until you return safely.
Weather Related Disasters
Weather related disasters and geological events can truly wreak havoc on not just your household but also entire cities or regions of land.
Common Steps to Prepare for Most Disasters
- Familiarize yourself with county and city warning systems and evacuation procedures.
- Understand the difference between a Flood Watch and a Flood warning. A watch means conditions are right for an event, a warning means the event is already occurring or will happen very soon. The same system applies for storms, floods, tornadoes, etc.
- Plan for and practice fortifying your home against storms
- If you are bugging in during a storm, fill the sinks, bathtubs, and any other containers with water while it is still uncontaminated or before it stops running.
- Turn off gas and electrical utilities and unplug appliances to avoid any power surges.
- Plan and practice evacuating your household using different routes.
- Keep a good quality portable radio with a weatherband on hand, and in working condition.
- Know and practice proper safety procedures for any weather events or geological events that can happen in your area. (Floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, wildfires)
- Identify “safe” spots in your home or other areas where you spend time. Make sure your family knows which spots are “safer” cover for each type of storm or geological event.
- Make sure you have a comprehensive first aid kit in your home and that all family members know where it is located and that older children and adults know how to use the supplies inside.
- Have a plan for how you will communicate with family members and other relatives in the event traditional communication systems are not operational.
- Prepare a Disaster Event Kit which includes items that can help protect you from collapsing ceilings and flying debris and glass. Include things such as durable shoes or boots for each family member in case the event happens while you are sleeping. A padded carseat for small children. Heavy coats or blankets that can be thrown over you for added protection from the elements but also from flying glass and wood splinters, etc.
- Prepare a BOB (bug out bag) with emergency food, water, medicine, important papers, cash, and other supplies. Store in a water tight container if your area is prone to floods or tsunamis.
Steps to Prepare for an Earthquake
- Know in advance if your home or other buildings you frequently spend time in are earthquake resistant.
- If you live in an area prone to earthquakes, anchor items that could fall over and hurt someone. Heavy furniture such as armoires and bookcases as well as mirrors, light fixtures, and appliances should be anchored or secured in advance.
- Make sure you have a secure stockpile of supplies, including plenty of water, any medication needed, and copies of important documents in a water resistant bag or pouch.
How to Survive an Earthquake
Drop to the floor immediately on your hands and knees if you feel an earthquake begin. The immediate danger to you during an earthquake is being thrown to the ground or being hit by debris that is being thrown around.
Dropping to the ground immediately prevents you from being forcibly thrown to the ground and risking serious injury. Do NOT stand in a doorway as you risk being thrown into the frame.
Crawl along the floor or ground to your pre-identified safe spot to take cover. Stay away from glass tables or shelves and windows or anything that might fall onto you. If you are in a strange place or didn’t prepare a cover spot, get underneath the nearest sturdy table or corner furthest from windows for cover. Crawl, do not walk.
Place your arms or a pillow or blanket over your head and neck to protect yourself further while in your cover spot. Hold on to something until the movement stops. You want to be as close to the ground as possible. If you are in bed, stay in bed and cover your head and neck with a pillow.
In a moving vehicle, stop the vehicle safely but stay inside. Try to avoid stopping near tall buildings, bridges, or overpasses that might collapse, utility wires and large trees. Try to avoid being underground such as in a basement or parking garage where debris can collapse onto you and trap you.
Steps to Prepare for a Flood or Tsunami
- Know how to turn off the electrical, gas, and water supply to your home or office. If you need a tool to be able to turn off these utilities, make sure you have it in a secure location. Every family member should know and practice turning off utilities.
- Plan and practice a family evacuation plan including a designated higher ground safe spot and a plan for communicating with family and relatives.
- Make a list of items to be brought inside the home or garage whenever flooding is possible. Time is of the essence when evacuating, having a list will help you be able to bring items inside efficiently.
- Prepare a bug out bag (BOB) complete with emergency supply of food, clean water, medicine, first aid kit, and copies of important documents.
- If you are in an area prone to flooding, keep an axe or hatchet in your attic along with other supplies and extra clothing stored in a watertight container. If you awakened to water flooding your home, with no time to evacuate, you can go into the attic or highest point of the house and call 911. The hatchet will allow you to cut a hole in the roof if needed.
- If you live on or near the coastline, consider elevating your home to protect against damage resulting from a tsunami or getting professional advice about how to reinforce walls and other components.
How to Survive Flooding or a Tsunami
Protect home and valuables. Bring outdoor items inside whenever flooding is possible. Doing this early will prevent loss of valuable time you may need if an evacuation order is issued.
If you are certain water is slow moving and you have enough time, turn off all electric, gas, and water to the home. If water is already entering your home, do not risk electric shock by touching electric panels. If there is time, move any valuable items that you cannot take with you to the highest floor in your home.
Evacuate. If authorities deem it necessary to issue an evacuation notice, begin evacuation right away, do not wait to see if you really need to leave. Always head to higher ground but listen to alerts as you travel to make sure you are aware of any blocked routes.
Avoid water if at all possible. Do NOT attempt to wade through or drive through standing water on roadways, bridges, or any other area. It is difficult to judge water depth and moving water is very swift and can easily knock you down or overtake even a large SUV or van.
#8. Volcanic Eruption
Steps to Prepare
- Prepare a bug out bag (BOB) with emergency food, water, and other supplies. Include safety goggles for each member of your group as well as disposable breathing masks to keep airborne volcanic ash and gases from entering your eyes and lungs.
- Prepare and practice an evacuation plan. Include a plan for covering or moving any equipment and other outdoor items into the garage or other building to protect them from damage resulting from ash buildup.
How to Survive During a Volcanic Eruption
Follow advice of authorities and either remain indoors or evacuate the area to avoid hot gases, lateral blasts that can send debris flying, and lava flow.
If you are remaining indoors, close all windows and turn off or close any ventilation systems that would allow outside air into the home. Be alert to signs that the roof may be giving way to ash build up and periodically clear the roof of ash and gutters.
If you must evacuate, wear long pants and long sleeved shirts or a jacket or a protective suit. Remove contact lenses and wear glasses or safety goggles instead. Wear an n95 or n99 respirator or if possible an actual gas mask.
Avoid driving if ash fall is heavy unless required. If you must use a vehicle to evacuate, drive at 35mph or slower to avoid stirring up ash that can clog and damage engines, moving parts, and even stall your engine and leave you stranded.
Watch for mudflows as well as lava flows. Mudflows are more likely near streams, during or following heavy rain. You cannot outwalk or outrun a mudflow, if you see one upstream, do not attempt to cross a bridge. Avoid low lying areas, valleys, and areas that are downwind from the volcano.
Steps to Prepare
- Prepare a BOB and an evacuation plan.
- Install smoke detectors and fire extinguishers on every floor and make sure they are kept in good working condition.
- Use a landscape design that discourages fire from reaching your home. For example, pine, fir, evergreen, and eucalyptus trees are more flammable than hardwood trees.
- Build your home or fortify the outside of your home with materials that are fire resistant.
- Have a regular maintenance routine that prevents build-up of any flammable materials in gutters, chimneys, on the roof and along the edges of your home.
- Make sure your garden hose will reach any area of the house. Consider freeze-proof spigots in on each side of the home and other buildings.
- Prepare a wildfire fighting kit that includes at least one rake, shovel, several buckets, and a chainsaw or axe as well as a ladder tall enough to reach the roof.
- Identify an alternate source of water that could be used to fight wildfires such as a lake, stream, pond, or rainwater catchment container. Have a plan for being able to pump this water from the source to the house both using an electric pump and using a non-electric pump in case power is out.
Steps to Survive
If you have not been ordered to evacuate protect your home by removing flammable curtains and closing any attic and basement vents, doors, windows, and shutters. This includes closing all doors inside the home. Leave the damper on your fireplace open but close the screen.
Turn off any natural gas, fuel oil, and propane utilities at the source. Leave a light on in every room and outside to make your house more visible to fire fighters in heavy smoke. Connect garden hoses and fill any pools, tubs, or other large containers with water. Disconnect your garage door opener and close it.
Turn on lawn sprinklers and leave them on to douse the ground around your home. If possible, position the sprinklers on your roof or so they are dousing the exterior of your home.
Evacuate immediately when advised and take your BOB. Whenever possible, notify someone that you have evacuated, the route you are taking, and your destination.
Learn more about how to prep for and survive wildfires here.
Steps to Prepare
- Keep an emergency weather radio on hand and either keep it on all the time or get in the habit of turning it on whenever weather looks like a storm could be brewing.
- Know where underground shelters are located in your area. If you live in a mobile home community, approach officials about building an underground shelter to be used by residents.
- Create an evacuation plan and practice getting family members, pets, and supplies to shelter quickly.
How to Survive
Begin preparations to take shelter as soon as a watch is issued. Gather any supplies, wake or otherwise alert family members, etc. Seek shelter immediately if a warning is issued.
Safest Places in a Tornado
Underground shelters--Hands down the best option if this is feasible. The issue is that many times a tornado hits without much warning at all which means you may not have the precious time needed to get safely into a nearby underground structure.
Basement--The next best option according to experts is the basement if possible but be sure to take cover under a large table or stairwell in case the floor above collapses.
Above Ground Safe Room--The third option is an above ground safe room. The safest option if you are above ground is to build or reinforce a small interior room (closet or bathroom) within a larger room.
You are least safe in a mobile home, in your car on the highway, or in an open field. If you have no suitable structure available, lay flat on the ground at the lowest point of land, preferably in a deep ditch. Cover head and neck with your arms or a coat or blanket as protection against debris.
Steps to Prepare
- Prepare a BOB and a plan for taking shelter. Unless in a mobile home, you will remain indoors.
- Know your property elevation to gauge how it will be affected by tidal flooding or storm surges.
- Pre-cut storm shutters out of plywood and have a way to install them quickly and securely.
- Keep your home well-maintained including keeping debris out of gutters so they are clear and trimming trees so they are less susceptible to high winds.
- Make a list of all outdoor items that need to be brought inside if time allows.
- Determine a way to reinforce and anchor your garage door to prevent it being blown open.
- Secure any recreational vehicles
- Fill bathtubs, sinks, and any other containers with water.
- Consider building a safe room or fortifying a closet or small room within your home.
- Turn off utilities and any oil or propone tanks.
Steps to Survive
Once your home is secured from the outside, remain indoors. Close all interior doors, curtains or blinds and brace any external doors.
Retreat to your safe room. If you have not built a safe room, go to a small interior room on the lowest level of your home. This would be a closet, bathroom, or hallway. Lay flat on the ground, under a piece of sturdy furniture if possible.
Mobile homes are not safe during a hurricane. Seek cover in the nearest underground shelter or a neighbor’s home.
There is no way to always predict when you will be subjected to natural disasters, geological events, criminal acts, or an accident. cannot usually be prevented or easily avoided.
In all cases, advanced preparation and early warning will provide you with valuable time to get to a safe location. Knowing and practicing what to do in advance will help you remain calm, act quickly, and give you the best chance of survival for you and your family.
More on hurricanes in a previous article.
Dan’s Note: If you want a full list of disasters you should prep for, stats for each plus a beginner’s plan, read my article on the topic.
Born and raised in NE Ohio, with early memories that include grandpa teaching her to bait a hook and watching her mom, aunts, and grandmothers garden, sew, and can food, Megan is a true farm girl at heart.
For Megan, the 2003 blackout, the events of 911, and the increasing frequency of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, spurred a desire to be more prepared for whatever may come along. Soon to be living off-grid, this mother of four and grandmother of nine grandsons and one granddaughter, is learning everything she can about preparedness, basic survival, and self-sufficient homesteading. She is passionate about sharing that knowledge so that others can be increasingly prepared to protect their families.