Emergency Preparedness Plans

The official logo for National Preparedness Month 2017. [High Resolution JPG]
(Photo Credit: Department of Homeland Security)

Sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Homeland Security, National Preparedness Month is observed annually during the month of September. The initiative aims to drive education and awareness surrounding disaster preparation and to encourage citizens to take steps that will prepare them for disasters at home, work, school, or while away. Knowing what to do in the event of an emergency can save time and lives.

Know What To Plan For:

While certain types of emergencies, such as fires, thunderstorms, heat waves, and power outages can occur just about everywhere, your preparedness plan should be tailored to the types of disasters specific to your geographic location. For example, people living in areas where hurricanes or flooding are common will have a different evacuation or preparedness plan than people who live inland. Businesses along active fault lines should be retrofitted for earthquake protection and be prepared to suspend operations for extended periods of time if an earthquake takes place. And those living near nuclear power plants should be aware of what to do in case an emergency alert is activated.

Make A Plan:

A comprehensive emergency preparedness plan will incorporate a list of important info (contact, medical, etc.) for family members or coworkers and contact info for various people/places such as hospitals, doctors, schools, or caretakers. The plan will outline things such as evacuation protocol, where to find emergency supplies and equipment, and disaster specific info (how to prepare a home for a hurricane, where to shelter for a tornado, the location of life jackets, etc.). Keep adequate supplies, emergency and medical equipment, and cash on hand.  An outline on how to create an emergency plan can be viewed here.

Consider Backups:

Your plan should include contingencies for what may arise based on the type of emergency. For example, during a power outage, you may not be able to receive alerts on TV or your cell phone. Gas, water, or food shortages may happen during events such as a mass evacuation. Make alternative evacuation routes in case of traffic, blocked roads, or flooding. Around the home or office, it’s important to know where every fire extinguisher, AED, first aid kit, and emergency exit may be in case access to the nearest one is blocked. Think of the potential issues that may arise for each type of emergency.

Communicate The Plan:

Whether it’s for home, work, or elsewhere, a disaster plan is only effective if everyone who may be involved is informed. At home, this will include all members of the household as well as a babysitter, neighbor, or a nearby relative who may be an emergency contact. Include emergency contacts out of town as well, if an evacuation is ordered. Having all members of the plan informed of what to do helps save time and avoid confusion in times of panic and dangerous conditions.

Run Practice Drills:

Once everyone understands their role in the emergency plan, the next step is to practice and test the plan. Simulating a real emergency, such as an incoming hurricane, will help members of the plan become more familiar with their responsibilities and identify any potential issues or conflicts. Run practice drills for each type of major emergency that you can expect in your area.

Review The Results:

After running your practice emergency drill, review the results with your team. Identify any bottlenecks, shortcomings, and/or vulnerabilities (single points of failure) that the plan may present and come up with solutions to these issues. If needed, rerun the drills and reassess the results, keeping in mind that the conditions present during the practice drill will probably be different during a real emergency.

To learn more about creating your own emergency preparedness plan, visit the Department of Homeland Security’s Ready.gov website.

Fire Extinguisher Safety

fire extinguisher safety
(Photo Credit: Jared Bartlett)

When they are used correctly, fire extinguishers can save both lives and property, but many adults do not know how to properly use one. It is important to know how fire extinguishers work, how to use them, how to identify which type to use, and how to maintain them before a fire takes place.

Before Using an Extinguisher

While it is necessary to act quickly in the event of a fire, education also goes a long way in fighting hostile fires. Knowing what to do in an emergency before it happens will help make firefighting quicker and safer:

  • Pull the alarm – If you see a fire, always activate the fire alarm to alert both the occupants of the building as well as the fire department (call 9-1-1 if your alarm system doesn’t do this automatically).
  • Plan an escape route – if you plan on fighting the fire, know how to leave the area quickly in case the fire gets out of control. Only fight the fire if you have a clear escape route.
  • Know how to use the extinguisher – take time to learn how to properly aim, sweep, and extinguish a fire; many offices and companies have annual employee safety trainings which include fire extinguisher exercises.
  • Assess the size of the fire – fire extinguishers are only meant to put out small, single-location fires; never attempt to put out a large conflagration with a handheld extinguisher.
  • Determine the fuel source – it is important to know what kind of fire is burning before you use an extinguisher – using the incorrect extinguisher can be extremely dangerous – by spreading the fire or causing flare ups. For example, using a water-based extinguisher can spread an oil fire or electrocute a user fighting an electrical fire, and Carbon Dioxide extinguishers can actually fuel certain types of fires.

Types of Extinguishers

A fire’s fuel source will determine what type of fire extinguisher needs to be used to extinguish it. In the United States, there are five classes of fires as defined by the National Fire Protection Association:

  • Class A – Common combustibles such as wood, paper, most plastics, rubber, and fabric. Symbols: Triangle with letter A and picture of burning wood/trash can.
  • Class B – Flammable liquid such as gasoline, oil, paint, and kerosene. Symbols: Square with letter B and picture of burning gasoline jerry can.
  • Class C – Electrical fires and electrical equipment. Symbols: Circle with letter C and picture of burning electrical plug and socket.
  • Class D – Combustible metals such as lithium batteries, sodium, magnesium, and potassium. Symbol: Five-Pointed Star with letter D and picture of burning machine gears.
  • Class K – Cooking oils and fats such as vegetable oils, margarine, butter, animal fats, and grease. Symbol: Hexagon with letter K and picture of pan/pot on fire.

Each class is marked on an extinguisher by both a letter (class letter), and a symbol. Most homes and offices contain multi-purpose “ABC” extinguishers which can be used for those three classes of fire. The contents of fire extinguishers vary depending on the class of fire being put out. Some materials can put out multiple classes of fire, while others are used for only a specific class. These include dry chemicals, foams, Carbon Dioxide, halon gases, compressed water, and pressurized metal based powders. It is important to know what is in your building’s extinguishers so they do not cause more damage than necessary (especially when used around electronic equipment). It is also important you never use the incorrect class of extinguisher as it may exacerbate the fire.

Using an Extinguisher

When using an extinguisher, remember the acronym “PASS”, which stands for, Pull, Aim, Squeeze, and Sweep. Stand between 6 to 8 feet away from the fire and:

  • Pull the safety pin to release the trigger.
  • Aim at the base of the fire (where the fuel source is).
  • Squeeze the trigger continuously until the spraying stops.
  • Sweep from side to side until the fire extinguisher is empty.

An average size fire extinguisher dispenses its contents within 8 to 10 seconds – if the fire does not disappear, leave the area immediately.

Proper Maintenance

Fire extinguishers need to be routinely checked for adequate pressure and cleanliness.

  • Make sure there is no visible rust or dents on the extinguisher and the handle/trigger are clean and free of dust and debris.
  • Fire extinguishers should always be kept in easy to reach, clearly visible (and marked with signage), unobstructed places, evenly distributed among floor plans and throughout multiple floors of a building. Keep in mind the typical hazards located around the building – keep Class K extinguishers near the kitchen, Class C extinguishers near the computer room/server room, and class A extinguishers near the dumpster.
  • Depending on the type of chemical/gas used, the fire extinguisher will need to undergo hydrostatic pressure testing by a professional on a varying schedule: between 5 years for wet contents, CO2, & foams, and up to 12 for halon gases, dry powders, and dry chemicals.
  • Extinguishers exposed to elements such as vibrations, extreme heat or cold, or ones stored on vehicles should be inspected/tested more frequently.
  • Regular maintenance such as visual inspections, cleanings, and pressure checks should be done every month.
  • In areas with many kids and teenagers, fire extinguishers should be kept in protected cabinets (where glass must be broken or an alarm sounds if opened) to deter vandalism.

While fire extinguishers can be the first line of defense against a fire, they have their limitations. Never use a fire extinguisher without training and only use it to combat small fires. Handheld extinguishers are ineffective against conflagrations, so the best course of action when confronted with a large fire is to leave the area immediately and wait for the fire department from a safe distance. Most importantly, always activate the fire alarm and if for any reason you cannot fight the fire, leave the area at once; you can replace property, but you can’t replace lives.

“Choosing and using fire extinguishers.” U.S. Fire Administration, FEMA, 29 Dec. 2016, www.usfa.fema.gov/prevention/outreach/extinguishers.html. Accessed 10 Mar. 2017.

Preventing Water Damage From Plumbing

mold and water damage from basement leak
(Photo Credit: Fotolia)

Plumbing fixture failures and faulty installations are a leading cause of interior water damage in homes and businesses. Even in the warmer months, when frozen pipes are not a threat, costly losses can arise from what would appear to be simple plumbing problems. Minor leaks and clogs should be taken care of properly as they may be signs of more serious issues.

If a pipe, appliance, hose, or fixture contains running water, it needs to be properly maintained to prevent any water related losses. The list below contains the places where failures are most likely going to happen if not kept in working order.


Clogs and overflowing toilets made up 33% of all toilet failures that led to water damage. The valves and flushing mechanism of every toilet in your building should be inspected every six months to ensure they are working and show no signs of wear. The shut off valve should be easy to turn and the supply line should be able to be turned off as well.

Drains & Pipes

Banging pipes, increased water bills, rust stains, and moisture on walls and floors are all signs of plumbing and drain problems. Keep drains and pipes clear of obstructions, and never pour grease down a drain. Have a backflow prevention system installed in your sewer connection if your home or business is located downhill or below street level. For an extra security measure, have a house leak detection system installed.

Washing Machines

Failure of the hose which supplies water to a washing machine is a leading cause of water damage. The hose should be replaced if there are cracks or blisters, and/or if the tubing appears worn. This should be done every five years or when the situation merits. If you are planning on vacating the building for a long period of time, turn off the water supply valves. When doing the laundry, do not overload machines and only use detergents designed for this type of use.

Water Heaters

Like any piece of equipment, age is an important factor in the odds of a mechanical failure. Even with proper maintenance, water heaters need to be replaced after they reach their life expectancy (typically around 10 years – check your manufacturer for model-specific information). In addition, water heaters should be inspected by a plumber every year for broken valves, loose joints, and rust.

You can learn more about how you can prevent plumbing systems from causing water damage to your building by accessing the IBHS’s website.

Plumbing Archives – IBHS.” IBHS. Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, 2016. Web. 13 Dec. 2016.

Protect Your Home from Wildlife Entry

(Photo Credit: Flickr)

During the spring and summer months, the Northeast sees a dramatic increase in wildlife activity as animals come out of hibernation. Mating season for most small mammals and birds occurs around this time and as a result, there is a higher possibility of homeowner property being damaged. Mothers looking for safe nesting space for their babies will look to sheltered and secure areas. Unfortunately, this can mean the walls of attics or underneath porches. This activity can also cause both interior and exterior damage to your house – damage that is usually not covered under Section I of the Homeowners’ policy. Loss caused by animals such as birds, vermin, rodents, or insects that attempt to access shelter by utilizing pre-existing structures is not covered under most standard policies. Damage caused to your dwelling by large mammals such as bears is covered under your policy, but otherwise, it is good to take steps in order to limit the ability of animals to enter and possibly damage your home.

Here are some steps that homeowners can take to “animal proof” their home:

  • Make sure that screens, windows, and sliding doors are free of holes or tears
  • Seal possible exterior entry points in places such as roof openings and vents or holes near the base of the house
  • Adding screens over vents and placing chimney caps over chimneys will help prevent entry while maintaining smooth air flow
  • Remove any hanging tree limbs and other vegetation that is very close to the house
  • Add sturdy screening to the bottoms of porches and decks

Taking these measures could greatly reduce the risk of possible damage caused by animal activity over the next few months and into the fall, saving you time, money, and a lot of frustration in the long run.

Spring Cleaning For Insurance Policies

house and garden
(Photo Credit: Fotolia)

Once all of the snow melts and the temperatures begin to rise, it’s always a good idea to conduct a bit of spring cleaning. And while you and your family are dusting around the house and donating old clothes, it is also a good idea to review your current insurance policies and make sure their coverages are still adequate. If you have recently made improvements to your home, bought an expensive piece of jewelry, or plan on going somewhere for vacation this summer, now is a good time to talk to your agent to ensure you’re fully covered. The Insurance Information Institute has a quick spring cleaning insurance coverage checklist to help you decide if your policies need a bit of spring cleaning this year. You can view the list here.

Preventing Frozen Pipes

Frozen Pipes
(Photo Credit: IBHS)

Pipes that freeze and burst can result in extensive property damage. Once a pipe freezes, continued expansion and freezing causes pressure to build up in the pipe between the blockage and the faucet. This pressure causes the pipe to burst in areas where little or no ice has actually formed. Here are some precautions to help avoid frozen and burst pipes and water damage.

Be prepared:

  • For pipes most vulnerable to freezing—in attics, crawlspaces, and outside walls—insulate with foam sleeves or wrapping.
  • Caulk cracks and holes in outside walls and foundations to keep cold wind away from pipes.
  • Purchase a backup generator to keep your furnace running when power fails.
  • Know where to turn off the water supply or water pump.
  • Drain outside faucets and use insulated faucet covers (found at home improvement stores).

During periods of severe cold:

  • Keep cabinet doors open to let the warm interior air circulate around pipes under sinks and adjacent to outside walls.
  • Turn on all faucets to a slow drip to prevent pressure from building in the pipes.

Before leaving for an extended period of time:

  • Set the thermostat no lower than 65 degrees.
  • Ask someone you trust to check the property while you’re away.
  • Consider turning off the water and draining the system. Shut off the main water valve and turn on every water faucet—hot and cold—until the water stops running. You can then shut off the faucets since there will be no water, and therefore no pressure, in the system. When you return, turn on the main value and let faucets run until the system is full and pressurized.
  • Consider installing a temperature-monitoring device or using an app on your smartphone.

My Pipes Froze. Now What?

Turn on all faucets to release pressure. Turn off the water supply and call a plumber. Do not try to thaw the pipe using an open flame, as this will cause damage to your pipe and may cause a building fire. You might be able to thaw the pipe with a handheld hair dryer but do so slowly to avoid super-heating any adjacent wood and creating a fire hazard. Start at the faucet end of the pipe, with the faucet open. Never use electrical appliances while standing in water as you could get electrocuted.

For additional information on preventing or dealing with frozen pipes you can read more from the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety.