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Ultimate Guide to Disaster Preparedness

This guide summarizes the basics of disaster preparedness and safety best practices before, during, and after tornadoes, wildfires, earthquakes, and hurricanes. Nature’s most violent phenomena, these disasters are frequent in the U.S. and cause severe destruction and human fatalities each year.

It's important to plan for evacuations, prepare and protect your property, yourself, your families and pets, should you need to evacuate or seek shelter immediately. Share these step-by-step instructions with your family, friends, and community to raise awareness about personal safety rules in the face of a major disaster.

As a general rule of thumb, following a disaster, you must be able to survive and be self-reliant during at least 72 hours. Depending on the size of an affected area, disrupted infrastructure, and blocked roads, you may be on your own until rescuers can get to you.

Hurricane Preparedness​

America is no stranger to hurricanes. On average, the U.S. coastline is struck by 3 hurricanes over a typical 2-year period and at least one hurricane of those three is classified as major. Every year, all of the U.S. Atlantic regions and parts of the Pacific Coast brace for the hurricane season that lasts from early-June through late-November. With mile-long lines for fuel and bottled water, the pilgrimage to community shelters and the blustery wrath of endless rains and storm surge, preparing for storms is almost a tradition in many coastal areas.

Hurricanes come bundled with destructive winds, rip currents, high surf, storm surge flooding, inland flooding and tornadoes, causing widespread electrical outages and landslides. As such, it’s vital that families and communities are prepared to:

  • Be self-reliant before, during, and after the disaster
  • Know where to go for help
  • Help their community​

Meteorology is far from predicting a hurricane well ahead of time, but 2-3 days forecasts are fairly accurate. That's why it's important not to just keep track of the weather, but to carefully follow the directions of officials.

Before a Hurricane

Awareness is the first step toward an actionable and effective hurricane preparedness plan, so start by assessing your risks. The top U.S. cities most vulnerable to hurricanes based on their location and other geographic factors are: Miami, Tampa, and Key West in Florida; Cape Hatters in North Carolina; and New Orleans in Louisiana.

To properly prepare for a hurricane:

  • Know the difference between a hurricane watch (which is an indication a hurricane might be forming and is normally issued 48 hours before dangerous winds start) and a hurricane warning (which is a direct indication you need to get moving because a hurricane is heading your way)
  • Tune in for alert updates when a hurricane watch or warning has been issued. Local television and radio stations are good sources. you can also keep track of approaching storms via www.weather.com, www.nhc.noaa.gov, and www.windy.com
  • Prepare your hurricane safety kit
  • Secure your property
  • Draft your emergency plan

Build your hurricane safety kit

One common thing that spreads like a plague in the face of a hurricane is panic. When people succumb to panic en masse, they rush to local supermarkets and grocery stores, sweeping supplies and hoarding whatever they can. Shelves are empty within hours of emergency warning, and logistically retailers can’t keep up with the increased demand. If you prepare your hurricane kit ahead of time, you won’t be stressing over emergency shopping as a hurricane approaches. Instead, you’ll be securing your home. Your hurricane kit should be comprehensive in nature, but also lightweight enough that you can take it with you if you need to evacuate.

Include the following items in your hurricane safety kit

Secure your property

​Provided your emergency kit is ready, you can secure your home in the face of the approaching disaster. To protect your property against damaging winds, flooding and storm surge, consider the following recommendations.

Secure your home

Secure your yard

Secure your car

Prepare for power outages

A storm could cause a lot more distress if you lose power. There are a few important precautions that will make your deprivation days a lot less stressful:

  • Buy a full tank of gas well in advance of an approaching storm as gas stations will run out very quickly.
  • Fill fuel tanks of your outdoor grills (they could become your primary cooking appliance).
  • Have cash on hand, since ATMs won’t be working if the power is out.
  • Charge your cell phones and limit their usage.
  • Fill your bathtub and sinks with water for basic necessities like washing and flushing. Note: sterilize your bathtub first.
  • Air conditioners won’t keep you comfortable during power outages, so consider covering your windows from the inside.
  • If you expect a power outage, freeze as much water and food as you can. Fill coolers with ice to cool food and drinks after the power has been out for 4+ hours.

Create emergency plan(s)

You may have to evacuate if state officials issue an evacuation order. If you're prepared with an evacuation plan, you'll avoid a disorganized, panic-driven hassle. Also, a thought-through communication plan will help your family members reconnect if they get separated.

Hurricane communication plan

“If you wait for an evacuation order to be issued before beginning your preparation, it may be too late,” warns the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. Ideally, you should know your evacuation routes at all times, so that when authorities order mandatory evacuation you’re not wasting time on research. Also, emergency services will be greatly delayed during an evacuation order, so anyone with health issues must evacuate well ahead of the storm.

Hurricane evacuation plan

Don’t forget to plan for your pets

  • Pets may not be allowed in shelters and some hotels, so research these things in advance. Contact local animal shelters for availability if you are unable to take your pets with you. Do not leave them behind.
  • Service animals assisting people with disabilities are allowed in Red Cross shelters.
  • Don’t forget to include your pet’s leash, ID, travel crate, food, water, and a warm blanket in your emergency kit, as well as their photo, all of their vet records and a toy or two that will remind them of home.

Keep a list of the following contacts

During a Hurricane

During a hurricane, apply some common sense to your activities and follow authorities’ recommendations. If sheltering at home, stay inside but secure your dwelling. If evacuating, do so well in advance.

If you evacuate

  • If advised to evacuate, do so immediately
  • Don’t wait. If you need to leave, do so as soon as possible, since traffic gets snarled during evacuation
  • Avoid flooded roads – six inches of water is enough to float a car
  • Watch out for bridges that may be compromised by floodwaters
  • If you are unable to evacuate for whatever reason, but need to do so, call the emergency hotline – responders will schedule for your evacuation
  • If there are people with special needs in your family, call the hospital and/or police for advice on how to help
  • If you decide to drive or walk to a shelter, lock your home, take your emergency kit, bedding, and clothing with you
  • Note: a lull is often a sign of the storm’s eye – not its end. When riding out a hurricane, listen to announcements from authorities to confirm the danger is over.

If you stay

  • Make sure your family and pets stay indoors
  • Don’t wait for the floodwater, move your pets and valuables to higher locations in your home
  • Stay away from windows and doors
  • Keep your emergency kit nearby
  • Stay tuned in to local radio

Hurricane Do's

  • ​Stay indoors
  • Use a TV or battery-powered radio to stay on top of the emergency alerts
  • Use the FEMA app, weather radio apps, and Red Cross apps to stay informed
  • Watch out for structural damage and downed power lines
  • Stay alert for potential gas leaks
  • Take photos for insurance purposes

Hurricane Dont's

  • ​Don’t ignore evacuation orders
  • Don’t go surfing or boating – get out of the water
  • Don’t sleep in rooms susceptible to falling trees
  • Avoid your basement and move valuables to a higher floor while you still can
  • Don’t assume floodwater comes gradually 
  • Don’t drink tap water until authorities say it’s safe
  • Don’t use indoor generators without carbon monoxide detectors

After a Hurricane

A lot of people are killed while cleaning up after a hurricane. From 2000 to 2014, 1,853 deaths were caused by hurricanes and tropical depressions. More than half of these deaths were caused by indirect factors during cleanup.

Returning home safely

  • ​Keep monitoring local radio and official community and authorities’ Facebook pages for alerts and announcements
  • Only return once authorities have announced it is safe to do so
  • Avoid using the phone, except for emergencies. This will keep the network less clogged for emergency responders and those in dire need.
  • When you return, open windows and doors to ventilate and dry your home
  • Be careful – snake and spider bites are common after floods
  • Check your water lines – if you suspect any damage, don’t use toilets

Gas leaks

  • ​Enter your home with caution and check for gas leaks
  • If you suspect a gas leak, get outside
  • If possible, turn off the gas line at the cut off valve, and call the utility company

Fire prevention

  • Avoid using candles and other open flame sources for light or heating, especially if you have small children and pets​
  • Don’t burn charcoal in enclosed spaces, as carbon monoxide buildup is deadly

Electrical safety

  • ​Check your property for damaged electrical wiring
  • Be on the lookout to sparks and frayed wires
  • If you suspect any damage, cut off the power at the circuit breaker box or the fuse. Do NOT touch the box if you need to stand in water
  • Don’t use wet electrical equipment
  • Avoid downed power lines and loose wiring
  • Don’t step in puddles near downed power lines

Food safety

  • ​Throw away all spoiled food and drinks
  • Throw away any food supplies that have been soaked in floodwater, including canned foods
  • Don’t eat vegetables from a flooded garden
  • Don’t drink tap water until authorities have inspected it and confirmed it is safe
  • Disinfect everything that was wet, as floodwater contains chemicals and bacteria from the sewage

For insurance purposes

  • ​Take photos of every damaged item for insurance purposes afterward
  • Place damaged items outside if you think you can’t salvage them, but don’t discard them until an insurance adjuster takes a look

How you can help

Volunteers help respond to more than 64,000 disasters every year, according to Red Cross. Since hurricanes bring massive destruction, and a lot of people need assistance in shelters, there are many ways you can contribute to your community’s disaster relief efforts during and after a hurricane. You can help provide the affected families with food, shelter, and care. Or you could take a proactive approach and become a part of your community preparedness committee and help educate individuals and groups on hurricane safety. 

Earthquake Preparedness

Earthquakes are a major risk in the U.S. The seismically active San Andreas, San Jacinto, and New Madrid faults and the Cascadia Subduction Zone span most of the national territory. Even though seismologists can predict where earthquakes may happen, they can’t predict when they are going to happen, or how strong they are going to be.

Almost all earthquakes happen when accumulated stress in rocks along active faults gets released. In simple terms, an earthquake is what happens when large rocks break. And when they break, they make noise and send seismic waves that make the ground shake and cause the destruction we see on the news.

What to expect during an earthquake

  • They occur without warning
  • Small and moderate earthquakes usually last less than one minute
  • Strong earthquakes last up to several minutes
  • The ground will move
  • Expect to feel dizzy and unable to walk
  • You may feel the ground shaking and rolling, much like being at sea
  • In high-rise buildings, you may experience sway, since the building may move from side to side
  • Furniture and unsecured light fixtures and ceiling panels may fall or topple violently
  • Windows may break
  • Fire alarms may go off
  • You may lose power
  • Hours, days or months after the initial earthquake, there may be even more destructive aftershocks​

Effects of an earthquake

  • Human and animal casualties
  • People and animals trapped under the debris
  • Immediate impacts on buildings, bridges, roads
  • Fires and explosions as gas pipes are often damaged
  • Landslides
  • Tsunamis and flooding in coastal areas
  • Disrupted transportation, communications, water, gas, and electricity supply
  • Long-term impacts as all structures may have damage that is not apparent in the aftermath of an earthquake
  • Economic impacts, as infrastructures and logistical chains are disrupted
  • Environment pollution and water contamination​

With all of this in mind, take the following precautions to ensure that you’re ready if and/or when an earthquake hits.

Before an Earthquake​

Begin your earthquake safety preparations by knowing your risks. Check the U.S. Geological Survey National Seismic Hazard Map, which is an annual forecast highlighting the high-risk zones prone to earthquakes.​

Secure your home

There is unfortunately no one-size-fits-all solution to preparing your home for an earthquake. Depending on when, where and how it was designed and built, your home may have structural weaknesses that make it particularly vulnerable to earthquakes.

Buildings without proper anchoring to their foundations, weak crawl space walls, unreinforced masonry walls, and unbraced pier-and-post foundations will require professional assessment and help.

When renting, ask your landlord what has been done to strengthen the structure against earthquakes. If you are building or buying property, have a professional review the structure and its design and see if it’s built according to the local building codes.​

The good news is that there are plenty of steps you can take to prepare the interior of your home:

  • Note potential hazards – tall, heavy items such as bookshelves, mirrors and pictures, home electronics, and anything that is hanging from walls and ceilings
  • Secure these items – consider flexible fasteners, or closed hooks
  • Install flexible connectors on gas appliances
  • Relocate potentially hazardous items such as heavy book shelves away from beds, sofas, and chairs
  • Anchor overhead lamps to joists
  • Latch wardrobe doors
  • Strap the water heater to wall studs​
  • Anchor heavy and tall furniture to wall studs
  • Learn how to shut down the gas supply in your home
  • Have your house evaluated by a professional structural design engineer and ask about strengthening tips for your porch, deck, sliding glass doors, and garage doors

Prepare your family and pets

As is the case during any emergency, your worst enemy is panic. If an earthquake strikes, your family will not have time to calm down and think – they will need to act quickly. Proper safety planning and preparation will ensure that injuries are minimized.

Earthquake preparedness plan

  • In your home, identify the safest places during an earthquake
  • Practice Drop → Cover → Hold On drills, especially with young children
  • Keep a family emergency kit somewhere accessible
  • Establish a communication plan ahead of time so that everyone knows how to stay in touch, especially when parents are at work and kids are at school
  • Learn CPR and first aid, as well as how to use a fire extinguisher
  • Know how to shut down your home utilities such as water, gas, and electricity
  • Plan out where you will stay if your home is damaged and you need to shelter elsewhere
  • Make preparations for pets in advance, since they may not be allowed in hotels or emergency shelters
  • Consider having earthquake insurance if you live in a high-risk zone​
  • Ask your children’s schools or daycare centers about their earthquake emergency plans
  • Check your office emergency plan; know your escape routes
  • Know how to find NOAA radio stations in your area
  • Keep a flashlight and comfortable shoes by the bed at all times (these are useful in any emergency, not just earthquakes

Earthquake emergency kit

72 hours – that’s how long you need to be self-reliant after an earthquake occurs. So, when you’re assembling your emergency kit, make sure you have enough food, water, medication, and other supplies to sustain your family – and pets – for at least three days.

Also, consider keeping additional, smaller kits in your garage, cars, and office.

Include the following items in your earthquake emergency kit

Earthquake emergency communication plan

Infrastructure disruption after an earthquake can leave entire communities without roads, bridges, electricity, Internet, and wireless networks. Families can get separated. Knowing how to reconnect and where to find each other is a vital part of your family safety plan.

Earthquake communication plan

During an Earthquake

Even though what you do while an earthquake is happening is critical, this section is short because you’ll have very little time to actually think about what you’re going to do.

  • Whatever you decide, act quickly
  • Do not hesitate
  • Don't panic​

Earthquake Do’s

Depending on where you are when an earthquake hits, your actions may differ. But the logic behind them must follow the same rules – get away from anything that can fall on you, and seek something solid to use as a short-term cover.

If you're in a building

  • ​Drop down to your hands and knees before the earthquake drops you
  • Crawl under a sturdy desk or table, if possible
  • Cover your head and neck with your arms
  • If no sturdy desk is around, crawl to an interior wall, away from windows
  • Stay away from glass, outside doors, outside walls, windows, furniture, and light fixtures
  • Stay put until the shaking stops
  • If you smell gas, get out as quickly as possible
  • ​Stay in bed until the shaking stops
  • Use a pillow to cover your head and neck

If you're outside

  • ​Move away from buildings, bridges, utility wires, and streetlights
  • Move to an open space and Drop → Cover → Hold On
  • Stay put until the shaking stops

If you're in a car

  • ​Stop as quickly as possible, and preferably in an open area
  • Avoid stopping near bridges, buildings, trees, utility wires, and overpasses
  • Stay in your vehicle until the shaking stops
  • If a power line falls on your car, wait for help. Do not get out.
  • In mountainous areas, watch out for landslides and falling rocks

Earthquake Don’ts

Earthquakes are surrounded by myths and misconceptions, many of which are extremely dangerous if you follow them as “best safety practices.”

  • ​Don’t use elevators. Even if they don’t collapse, they’ll probably get stuck due to power outages.
  • Don’t stand in a doorframe. In many homes doorframes will collapse easily.
  • Don’t shelter next to furniture as opposed to under it
  • Don’t go back to sleep without checking for gas leaks after an earthquake
  • Don’t use matches or lighters until you are certain no gas pipes are damaged
  • Don’t go surfing or boating, as earthquakes can trigger tsunamis
  • Don’t ignore abnormally anxious pets. Animals detect approaching earthquakes better than seismological equipment.

After an Earthquake

After an earthquake, the danger is far from over. Debris may fall from buildings. Structures may collapse. Landslides and tsunamis may follow. So once the shaking stops, be cautious.

  • ​Check yourself, your family members, and your pets for injuries
  • Provide first aid, if needed
  • If you’re in your home, go outside. If you’re in an office building, go out to the parking lot. Get to an open space, away from damaged structures.
  • Look up and around for falling debris – or the potential of it
  • Check on your neighbors; they may need help
  • If you choose to stay inside your home, shut down the gas supply
  • Check water and electric lines for damage. If you suspect any leaks, shut off the valves.
  • Do not use matches or turn on the lights until you are certain there is no gas leak
  • If tap water is still available, fill your bathtubs and sinks
  • Be careful around chimneys and stairs, as they may collapse
  • Stay away from brick walls, as they often become weakened
  • Only use phones for emergency calls
  • If you need assistance, but cannot get outside, place a HELP sign in your window

If trapped

  • ​Do not try to move.
  • Do not kick dust
  • Whistle if you can. Tap on a pipe or wall to help rescuers find you
  • Try to reach your cell phone to call for help
  • ​Turn on the radio, monitor local news for tsunami alerts
  • If you live in a coastal area, move inland and to higher ground immediately
  • Be alert for aftershocks, as they may be even more destructive
  • In case of an aftershock, Drop → Cover → Hold On
  • Assist rescue workers, if you can
  • Don’t try to remove heavy debris by yourself
  • If helping rescuers, wear work gloves, long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and sturdy shoes
  • If you can’t assist in clearing out debris, but want to help, take part by bringing emergency supplies to the rescuers and volunteers
  • Be vigilant of people who may seek to take advantage of the situation and, disguised as volunteers, go looting in unattended houses and shops, or worse, physically harm disaster victims

It is possible that after a major earthquake you may need to leave your home and spend several days in a shelter. Consider downloading one of the American Red Cross or FEMA mobile apps so that you’re constantly getting live updates.

  • Take your emergency kit with you
  • Post a note in a clear view indicating where you can be found​

Wildfire Preparedness

Every year, devastating wildfires burn across the U.S. In fact, according to Weather.com, around 1.2 million of acres of U.S. woodland burn each year, while the National Fire Protection Association estimates that nearly 45 million homes border with forests and heavily wooded areas. More than 72,000 communities are located in areas prone to wildfires.​

Did you know?​

  • Wildfires can happen at any time throughout the year
  • Weather factors like drought conditions, high winds and lightning cause only 10% of wildfires
  • The other 90% are caused by humans, either accidentally—from cigarettes, campfires, or outdoor burning—or intentionally. Careless and uninformed actions like equipment fires from lawn-mowers, fireworks and improperly discarding of ashes can also result in massive forest fires.
  • Wildfires can happen anywhere in the country – in remote wilderness areas, in national parks, or even in your backyard
  • Federal suppression costs typically range from $1 billion to nearly $2 billion annually​

According to Verisk’s Wildfire Risk Analysis 2017, losses from wildfires amounted to $5.1 billion over the course of the past ten years.

  • Wildfires can cause death or serious injury to both people and animals
  • Structures may be significantly damaged, and often are destroyed
  • Transportation, gas, power, and communication services may be disrupted for extended periods of time
  • Flying embers can set fire to buildings more than a mile away from the wildfire itself
  • Smoke causes health issues even for those who live far away from where the actual fire is located
  • Extensive acreage can be devastated, watersheds and critical natural areas can be damaged
  • Flash flooding and mudslides can result from fire damage to the surrounding landscape

Unfortunately, wildfires can affect the land for many years. Trees, shrubs, and grasses roots stabilize the soil while leaves and stems slow the water. During wildfires, trees burn to the roots, and the litter layer is destroyed. When a fire destroys plant material, it can cause severe soil erosion, which increases the risk of future floods.

Compounding the situation is that megafires – those that consume 100,000+ acres of land – are becoming increasingly more common. There are roughly ten megafires a year in the U.S. Prior to 1995, there was an average of 1.

Do you know what to do to when a wildfire happens, and you need to evacuate in a matter of minutes?

Do you know how to protect your family, pets, and property?

Preparation is critical, so follow these recommendations to ensure your loved ones and your property are protected during wildfires.

Before a Wildfire

To be prepared for a wildfire, you need to start now by following FEMA landscaping recommendations to give your property a better chance of making it through a wildfire without severe damage.

Additionally, you need to understand wildfire warnings and know your reliable sources for weather updates, as well as have a detailed plan that covers personal protection. You also need to plan ahead for all household members, especially young children, seniors, and pets, and account for their needs when buying items for your emergency kit.

Stay informed

Awareness saves lives in any emergency but during wildfires, every second counts. Weather alerts are the first source of reliable information you need to make a timely decision to stay, evacuate, or call 911.

  • Regularly scan your local TV and radio stations for severe weather alerts
  • ​Stay alert to notifications issued by the National Weather Service (NWS) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
  • Know the differences between:
    • A Fire Weather Watch – potentially dangerous fire weather conditions are possible over the next 12 to 72 hours​
    • A Fire Weather/Red Flag Warning – the danger of a wildfire exists, and weather patterns that increase the probability of wildfires are either occurring or expected to occur within 24 hours
    • An Evacuation Notice – the danger is imminent and local authorities may issue an evacuation notice
  • Evacuation orders range from voluntary to mandatory and vary by state
  • When authorities issue a mandatory evacuation notice, LEAVE THE AREA IMMEDIATELY

Establish an evacuation plan

Everyone on an evacuation alert must be prepared to leave on short notice. Your evacuation may be organized, or it could turn into a panic-driven mess. It all depends on how prepared you are.

  • Plan two ways out of your area and assign a meeting place if you need to evacuate in different cars
  • Know how you will evacuate people with disabilities, as well as pets, and livestock
  • If you plan to evacuate by car, keep your car fueled and in good working condition. Don’t leave your planned evacuation vehicle unattended for months on end. Start it regularly. The last thing you need during an emergency is a vehicle with a battery that’s dead.
  • Keep your emergency kit and a change of clothes in your car
  • If you plan to share transportation, such as help neighbors or relatives who don’t drive, or on the contrary, if you need someone to help you, make arrangements with your friends or neighbors now
  • If you plan to use public transportation, contact your local emergency officials to ask how an evacuation will work, how you will receive timely information, as well as the location of staging areas
  • Arrange for a place where you could stay if you have to leave for an extended period. Consider a relative or a friend outside of your area.
  • Consider installing The American Red Cross Shelter Finder App to receive live updates on available shelters at all times​

Have a communication plan

In a wildfire emergency, your priority will be the safety of your family and friends. If you are not together when officials issue an evacuation order, practice how you will communicate with each other.

  • Decide where your household members will meet if separated
  • Keep important numbers written down in your wallet, not just on your phone. Include all family members contact details, emergency contacts and medical facilities, schools, and service providers
  • Add a reminder to your emergency contact list that texts often get through faster than phone calls
  • Have your children memorize the phone numbers, addresses, and the emergency plans
  • Have all family members carry a copy of this list
  • Post a copy of this list in a central location in your home where everyone can find it
  • During an emergency, it can be easier to reach people outside of your area, so assign an out-of-area friend or relative for all family members to call. Consider using social media to keep in touch.​

Build your wildfire emergency kit

Store emergency supplies in an easily accessible location so that you can grab your go-bag quickly if you need to evacuate. Consider having several emergency kits - one in your house, one in your car, and one in your office.

Items to include in your wildfire safety kit

Prepare your property

If possible, choose fire-resistant materials for renovation, repairs, and construction, and practice good maintenance.

  • To prevent embers from igniting your home, clear dry leaves and debris from gutters, porches, and decks and within 10 feet of your house​
  • Dry grass is fuel for wildfires, so keep your lawn hydrated. Cut it down when it turns brown.
  • Dispose of debris and lawn cuttings quickly
  • To prevent debris from accumulating around your house, screen areas below patios and decks with wire mesh
  • Remove firewood stacks, propane tanks and other flammable materials within 30 feet of your home, garage, and sheds
  • Since wildfire easily spreads to treetops, make sure the lowest branches are always pruned to 6 to 10 feet from the ground
  • To prevent ember penetration through your roof, inspect shingles or roof tiles and repair the loose or missing ones
  • Consider covering exterior attic vents and under-eave vents with metal wire mesh to prevent ember entry
  • ​Know how to shut off gas and electricity quickly
  • Learn how to use an ABC-type fire extinguisher
  • Consider having an insurance covering damages caused by wildfires

As you are preparing your property, here are a few landscaping tips to keep in mind:

  • Keep an area 30’ away from your home free of wood piles, brush, dried leaves, newspapers, and anything that burns easily
  • From 30’ to 100’ away from your home, reduce the flammable vegetation as much as possible
  • Create “fuel breaks” on your property, such as driveways, gravel walkways, and ponds
  • Work with neighbors to create spaces up to 200 feet around your homes free of dry vegetation. Prune trees so that they don’t touch and create continuous canopies.​

During a Wildfire

Leave as early as possible. Do NOT hesitate once evacuation orders have been issued. You need to leave promptly and clear roads for firefighters to get equipment in place to fight the fire. Leaving early is also vital to getting your loved ones to safety.

Note: if you see a fire nearby or approaching, call 911 and report. Do not assume someone has already done it.​

Tips to help firefighters protect your house

  • Leave the lights on to make your house visible in heavy smoke
  • Remove curtains from your windows
  • Move furniture away from windows and doors
  • Close all doors, windows, vents, and fireplace screens
  • Move patio and deck furniture, as well as potted plants either indoors or away from the house, shed and garage
  • Connect garden hoses
  • Fill large containers, garbage cans, sinks and bathtubs with water

When leaving

  • Close all car windows and air vents
  • Expect reduced visibility, so drive slowly with headlights on
  • If possible, do not drive through heavy smoke
  • Watch for pedestrians and fleeing animals​

If trapped at home

  • Call 911 ASAP
  • Turn on the lights to help firefighters find your home in heavy smoke
  • Breathe through a moist cloth
  • Cover your head and body with wet towels made of natural fabric
  • Seal doors, windows, and vents with plastic sheets and duct tape
  • Fill whatever you can with water
  • Move furniture away from windows and doors
  • Remove curtains
  • Stay away from outside windows and walls

If trapped in a car or outdoors

  • Immediately call 911 to provide your location
  • Stay low to decrease the effects of heat and smoke
  • Steer clear of fuel sources, if possible
  • Stay in a near a water source, in a rocky area or roadway
  • Breathe through moist cloth to avoid inhaling smoke
  • If possible, cover yourself with a wet towel, coat, or even dirt​

After a Wildfire

Once the local fire or law enforcement authorities say that it’s safe, you may return to your home. Because fire damages the stability of a structure, have a professional examine your home or office and certify that it’s safe before entering.

Returning home

Be vigilant when returning to your area, as hidden dangers such as ash pits, hidden embers and hot surfaces can cause grave injury.

  • Keep a "fire watch" for several hours after a fire. Check and double-check for sparks or hidden embers throughout the house, including the roof and the attic
  • Be careful when entering burned areas as hazards may persist, such as hot spots that can flare up
  • Do not walk on smoldering surfaces as the ground may contain heat pockets that can cause severe injury or spark another fire
  • Check the attic, but if you spot smoke or fire, get out and call 911
  • Wear leather gloves to protect your hands and heavy, thick-soled shoes to protect your feet

Cleaning your home

Expect the environment to be filled with smoke, dust, and inspect your property for possibility of live embers, which can cause another fire.

  • Wear a NIOSH certified-respirator (dust mask)
  • Wet debris down to reduce inhaling dust particles
  • Be on the lookout for power lines that may be unstable due to the fire. Do not approach downed power lines and report them to 911.
  • Watch for ash pits (holes created by burned tree roots that are filled with hot ash), charred trees, smoldering debris, and live embers, and mark them for safety. Warn family and neighbors to stay away from them
  • Check the roof and gutters. If possible, hose them down to completely smother any remaining smoldering sparks or embers
  • Photograph damage to your property for insurance purposes​

Keep in touch

Expect power outages to linger for several days following a disaster. The portable battery-powered radio from your emergency kit will provide you with news updates when nothing else works.

  • Use other information sources, such as FEMA or American Red Cross apps, to get current information
  • Use texts and social media to communicate with family and friends
  • Telephones and cellular phone systems may be overwhelmed following a disaster, so use phones only for emergency calls​

Stay healthy

A wildfire may drastically alter the environment, and when it’s over, contaminants can be found in soil and water. If possible, wait for the local authorities to confirm the soil is not contaminated and the water is safe.

  • Immediately call 911 if you or someone you’re with has been burned. Cool and cover burns to reduce the chance of further injury or infection
  • Discard food exposed to heat, smoke, or soot. When in doubt, throw it out
  • Do not drink, brush teeth, prepare food, or wash/bathe in water you think may be contaminated
  • Follow the recommendations from your local health department (for example, authorities may recommend tetanus vaccines because the contaminated soil may contain bacteria)​

It is possible that during and after a wildfire, you may need to spend several days in a shelter. Download one of the American Red Cross or FEMA mobile apps so that you’re getting live updates on available shelters.

  • Take your emergency kit
  • Post a note in a clear view indicating where you can be found
  • If you have pets, call to inquire whether the shelter can accommodate pets. Red Cross shelters accept service animals
  • Contact out-of-area animal shelters for availability if your public shelter can not accommodate your pets with you. Do not leave them behind.​

Tornado Preparedness​

Although tornadoes touch down in many parts of the world, the greatest number of them hit the United States.

Because the Rocky Mountains and the Gulf of Mexico create conditions that favor tornadoes.

Each year, 1,200 tornadoes cause 70 human fatalities and 1,500 injuries nationwide on average. The tornado season peaks March through May in the southern states and June through August in the northern states. It’s important to note, however, that tornadoes can happen at any time of the year, not just during the peak season. But typically, they strike between 3:00 pm and 9:00 pm.

Categories of tornadoes​

  • Weak Tornadoes (EF0 or EF1): winds less than 110 mph, and last 1 – 10+ minutes
  • Strong Tornadoes (EF2 or EF3): winds 111-165 mph, may last 20 minutes or longer
  • Violent Tornadoes (EF4 or EF5): winds greater than 166 mph, can exceed 1 hour, cause 70% of all tornado deaths, but are rare​

Always remember

  • Tornadoes may look almost transparent until they pick up dust and debris or cloud forms within the funnel
  • On average, a tornado moves from southwest to northeast, but they can move in any direction and can suddenly change their course
  • Tornadoes can follow tropical storms and hurricanes as they move onto land

A tornado's destructive course can be more than one mile wide and 50 miles long and can devastate entire neighborhoods within seconds. You may have little warning, so be prepared to act quickly. After all, thorough planning is key to reducing injuries.

It's extremely important to know what to do before, during, and after a tornado if you want to stay safe.

Before a Tornado

To ensure that you can act quickly and get the best available protection during a tornado, you need to plan ahead. Know where you would go to have the highest possible level of protection from a tornado for every location where you spend a lot of time, such as home, office, school, or house of worship.

  • Find out whether you live, work, or frequently travel through regions prone to tornadoes
  • Stay informed and monitor weather reports
  • Know the difference between a tornado WATCH (a tornado is possible) and a tornado WARNING (a tornado is already happening or will hit soon)
  • Tornado warning means you need to GO TO YOUR SAFE PLACE IMMEDIATELY

Identify your tornado safe location

Plan with others and conduct tornado drills regularly. You will have greater success in getting to a shelter or other protective location quickly if you have identified this area in advance and practice getting there. Be sure to consider people with disabilities and others with access or functional needs, as well as pets.

  • Practice moving quickly to the safe location in the places where you live, work, or study
  • If you live in an area prone to frequent tornadoes, consider building or installing a FEMA safe room
  • If you live or work in mobile homes or buildings with long-span roofs, your community should consider building a community safe room or shelter
  • Identify possible safe locations. In a sturdy building, it should be a small, interior room without windows on the lowest level of the building. It could be as a closet or bathroom – preferably underground
  • If there are young children, seniors, people with access or functional needs in your family, as well as service animals, or pets, plan now how they can get to a protective location quickly
  • In most cases, when someone is hurt, a person on the scene will need to be able to provide the first assistance, before professional help arrives, so make sure you practice your first aid skills

Have a communication plan

In case your family members are not together when authorities issue a tornado watch or tornado warning, plan for how you will communicate with each other.

  • ​Keep important numbers written down in your wallet
  • Have children memorize the phone numbers and addresses, and know the emergency plans
  • Have a plan for how family members will contact one another during an emergency
  • Assign an out-of-area contact (such as a relative or family friend) who can coordinate family members' locations and information should you become separated
  • Make sure everyone is aware that sending texts is often faster than making a phone call
  • Decide on the location where your household members will meet after the tornado

Tornado emergency kit

Identify the things you would need most when you emerge from your protective location to find severe damage, no power, and no water. If possible, keep some of these items in your pre-identified protective place at home, work, school, or your place of worship. Have your children create their personal packs.

  • Battery-powered flashlight to inspect your home or office after the tornado has passed. Note: Do not use a battery-powered flashlight inside because, if gas is present, the battery could produce a spark and cause a fire. Have spare batteries
  • Battery-powered radio to listen for emergency updates
  • First aid kit
  • Warm clothing, including a long-sleeved shirt, and long pants made of natural fabric. Also include work gloves and sturdy, thick-soled shoes to protect you from possible injury by broken glass or exposed nails
  • Whistle or air horn to help rescuers find you, should you get trapped by debris
  • Protective dust mask
  • Food and water supplies for a day or two; account for specific dietary considerations
  • Your medications and medical supplies
  • If you have children, a special item (toy, book, game) to provide comfort​
  • Include pet food, water, medicines, health records, a blanket, and a toy in your emergency kit​

During a Tornado

When the weather is warm, humid, and windy, or skies are threatening, monitor for severe weather watches and warnings. Staying on top of weather alerts and acting quickly is vital to your safety.

During a tornado watch

A tornado WATCH is issued when a tornado is possible, so you should stay alert and monitor further updates for severe weather notifications.

  • Remain inside, away from windows and doors
  • Listen to the radio or TV
  • Make sure your emergency kit is complete
  • Be vigilant during a thunderstorm watch as severe thunderstorms can cause tornadoes. Being prepared will give you more time should the conditions turn severe

During a tornado warning

​Officials issue a tornado WARNING when a tornado is already happening or is expected to occur soon.

At home​

  • Take shelter immediately! Go to your basement, safe room, or an interior room
  • Watch out for flying debris
  • Stay away from doors, outside walls, windows, and corners
  • Pick an interior wall and crouch on the floor near it or under a heavy table
  • Bend over, place your arms on the back of your head and neck to protect the vulnerable parts of your body
  • Cover yourself with any materials that may protect you from debris, such as cushions, a sleeping bag, or a blanket​

At work or school

  • Stay calm, act quickly
  • Follow your tornado drill and go to your tornado shelter location
  • ​Stay away from windows and large open rooms such as cafeterias, gymnasiums, or auditoriums

Outside

  • Sheds and storage facilities are not safe
  • Seek shelter in a building or a basement
  • Do not leave a sturdy building to try to escape a tornado
  • If getting quickly to a shelter is impossible, immediately get into a vehicle and try to drive to the closest sturdy building. Buckle your seat belt.​

In your car

  • The best course of action is to drive to the closest shelter
  • Stay away from highway overpasses and bridges
  • Do not attempt to drive through violent winds and flying debris. Pull over, keeping your seat belt on and engine running. Lower your head below the window level, and cover it with your hands or a blanket
  • Alternatively, get to a flat location lower than the level of the roadway such as a ditch, and lie down, covering your head with your hands​

Pet safety

  • Get your pets to safety at the first sign of an approaching tornado
  • Put your cat in a carrier, your dog on a leash
  • Move your pets to the shelter well ahead of the storm

Tornado myths and facts

Tornadoes are surrounded by myths and misconceptions. Some of them are very dangerous and can urge you to make the wrong decision in a critical situation.

Myth 1: Rivers, lakes, and mountains protect areas from tornadoes.

Fact: No location is safe from tornadoes.

Myth 2: You should open windows before a tornado to equalize pressure and minimize damage.

Fact: All buildings leak air. Don't waste precious time opening windows. Leave them closed and get to safety.

Myth 3: Highway overpasses are safe places during tornadoes.

Fact: The area under a highway overpass is extremely dangerous during a tornado.

Myth 4: Bathrooms, hallways, and closets of a mobile home are safe areas during a tornado.

Fact: Mobile homes are not safe during tornadoes! Immediately seek shelter in a sturdy building.

After a Tornado

Tornadoes can cause death and serious injury and can make buildings and roads extremely unsafe. Once the tornado has passed, and the warning is canceled, use extreme caution. Continue to listen to the news and weather updates.

After a tornado has passed, exercise extreme caution when leaving your shelter or safe room. Hazardous debris will be scattered around, while gas pipes and electrical lines may be downed and damaged.

  • Use extreme care when leaving a building
  • Avoid debris and sharp objects
  • Stay away from broken glass, power lines, and chemical spills
  • If you smell gas or chemical fumes, immediately evacuate the area and call 911
  • Do not use matches or lighters inside

If you're trapped

A severe tornado can destroy buildings and sturdy structures. If you get trapped under the debris, do not panic, scream, or start moving debris by yourself. Instead, make it easier for the rescuers to find you.

  • Stay where you are and cover your mouth with a cloth or mask to avoid breathing dust
  • Try not to move the debris around you or stir up dust
  • Send a text, if possible, or bang on a pipe or wall or use a whistle instead of shouting so that you do not breathe in dust

Cleanup safety

During post-tornado cleanup, some recovery and repair operations can cause injury. Be cautious around damaged buildings and exercise caution when removing debris.

  • Do not enter damaged buildings until professionals deem them as safe
  • Use caution when removing debris, doing repairs, and using chainsaw
  • Wear boots or sturdy shoes with heavy soles to protect your feet; injuries from exposed nails and debris are common after tornadoes
  • Take photos of damage to your property for insurance purposes​

Helping others

During the initial hours after a disaster, the first person to find someone injured is the person who should be administering first aid. Know the following basics to help those in need of immediate assistance.

  • When providing first aid, do not move anyone who is seriously injured unless they are in danger of further injury or death
  • If you must move an injured person, hold their head and neck in the position in which you found them
  • If an injured person is wearing a helmet, do not remove it; this could cause further injury

Infographic: Fire Safety Tips

It’s easy to see why fire safety is so important, especially since most fire-related deaths are preventable. Fires can start suddenly and spread quickly. A small flame can turn into a devastating fire in under 30 seconds, so preparation is key. The following can help families prevent fires, stay organized, and act fast if the unthinkable should occur.

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Infographic: Halloween Safety Tips

Most children go into hypermode on Halloween while parents put their worries on overdrive -- and with good reason. Halloween warrants precautions that go beyond candy inspections. Stranger Danger and killer candy aside, parents need to make sure they're doing all they can to keep their children safe, and that includes considering the safety of costumes, makeup, and possibly a rebreather in cautionary driving. Even "walking" transforms into its own kind of monster on Halloween. Check out the stats below and help spread the word. 

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The Ultimate Guide to All Things Safety

Emergencies happen. It could be a robbery, a house fire, a flood, a car crash, or a cyber stalking. No one likes to think about disasters and accidents, or worse, have to assess the likelihood of one actually happening. But being prepared and knowing best safety practices in various scenarios can – and often does – save lives.

​The whole point of a safety plan and emergency preparation is to:

  • Know what the danger is
  • ​Get as much done as possible before something happens
  • Avoid life-threatening situations
  • Know best practices
  • Avoid the most common mistakes that people make

This guide summarizes effective, actionable steps citizens can take to properly prepare for an emergency, as well as what to do if an emergency arises, and most important, how to prevent them from occurring in the first place.

Share this information with family, friends, and neighbors. It’s important for families and communities to work together so that they can be aware. Preparation saves lives.

Personal Safety

Violent crime increased in many U.S. cities in the past few years. According to the Major Cities Chiefs Association, an increase in robbery, aggravated assault, and homicide in the U.S. might be shaping into a trend.

At the same time, Pew Research Center notes that many crimes are never reported. According to a recent survey conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, only about 47% of violent crimes and only 35% of property crimes are reported to police. So, at least 30-40% of violent crimes in the U.S. never make it to the official statistics.

Under the circumstances, it comes as no surprise that Americans feel increasingly concerned about their personal safety - 57% of registered voters said crime had gotten worse since 2008.​

In the context of personal safety, knowledge is power. Knowing how to reduce the risk of violence – and how to face it – can have an empowering effect. On the contrary, not knowing what to do in a dangerous situation when there is no time to think, can cause panic and paralyzing fear.

​So, personal safety is about avoiding danger in the first place. Reduce your chances of becoming a victim by knowing how criminals single out victims, where they ambush easy prey, and what behavior can avert an incoming threat.

If danger strikes, however, there is only a fraction of a second to make the right decision. So, knowing how to act when confronting violence reduces your chances of freezing in panic.

The following personal safety tips will help you minimize the threat of violence, and be prepared to act in any situation.​

Avoid becoming a victim​

A recent study revealed that criminals are often able to spot an easy target within seconds, just by observing body language and facial expressions. The chances of someone becoming a victim of a violent crime doesn’t depend on how strong or weak some is, or whether they are male or female. It’s about confidence and composure.​

When followed by a criminal, Hollywood movies have a tendency to portray victims in a very stereotypical sort of way: they look sheepish, walk fast, and duck their heads. That is exactly the kind of behavior that signals – easy target.

​Former CIA agent Jason Hanson says the best way to prevent being attacked when followed (in a parking lot, mall, on the street, when jogging) is to:

  • Turn around and make eye contact.
  • Let the person know they’re on your radar.
  • Say loudly, “Can I help you?”, “Is there you want?” or simply yell “What?!” 

Don’t be afraid to appear odd by calling someone out for following you. An innocent person will probably think that’s odd behavior on your part, but a person with bad intentions will display guilty behavior, such as turn around and walk or run the opposite direction.​ This way, the offender realizes they picked the a target who is going to put up a fight, and that it’s much safer to simply find another victim.

How to NOT walk like a victim:

  • Turn off zombie mode. Put away smartphones when out and about.
  • Only text and check on social networks when in a safe place.​

Most crimes are opportunistic – when criminals spot easy targets. Easy targets are distracted and don’t maintain situational awareness. The greatest distraction is cell phones.

Situational awareness and self-defense tips

At home, as well as when out and about, the best way to deal with a dangerous situation is to maintain situational awareness and avoid danger… not confront it.

Safety in the home​

  • Install security systems and cameras. Homes without a security system are 300% more likely to get robbed.
  • Enable home mode alarm. It doesn’t go off when people move around the house, but it does go off when somebody opens one of the doors.
  • Keep some basic self-defense tools around. It can be a kitchen knife, a tactical pen, a pepper spray, or a gun, but it should be something familiar and easy-to-handle.​

Safety when out and about

  • Look around and be vigilant. Make eye contact with those around you to make it clear that you are aware of their presence
  • Park in well-lit areas, close to an entrance. When getting back to the car, look around the car – including underneath it and inside it, especially the back seat. If anything is off, listen to your gut feeling and don’t approach the car.
  • Keep in mind that any object can be used as a weapon. A metal nail file, a plastic credit card, a key, even fingernails and teeth can be helpful in a life or death situation.​

Safety when children are involved

  • Know where your self-defense weapons are and how to protect your children.
  • Establish a safe room. It should be a room with the weakest – or the youngest – member of the family. That way, if an intruder ever breaks in, children stay in their room and parents rush to make sure they’re safe.
  • Practice handling all your kids at once. Drop whatever you were carrying or doing – grab and pull your kids as quickly as possible, even if it’s uncomfortable or painful. It’s better to be safe than sorry. Scream and yell at the top of your lungs.
  • ​Teach your kids a code word that triggers “alarm mode.” It’s difficult to predict how a dangerous situation would develop and the best way for them to react – hide, run for help, or yell. Just make sure they know the options.
  • Make sure older children know how to protect younger siblings if/when you are on the frontline and trying to stop an attacker or intruder.

What to do when confrontation is unavoidable

  • Punch the intruder in the throat, gouge out their eyes and kick them in the groin – do all three things because one might not work.
  • Turn to Mother Nature for help. Throw sand or dust in the attacker’s eyes. Rocks and fallen branches can be used to knock them over their head. Smaller sticks can be used for gouging softer tissue like the eyes and throat.
  • Spray deodorant – or any flammable substance – into the attacker’s eyes, and couple it with a lighter for a better effect.
  • Other often overlooked weapon options include a tea pot with boiling water, a hair comb with sharp bristles, and pencils that are sharp enough to cause significant damage to the eyes or nose. A Coke can inside a sock works well too.​

Carjacking prevention

Increased accessibility of tracking sensors, kill-switches, and other car theft prevention devices have led to an increase in carjacking incidents, when criminals steal a car in the owner’s presence. And because of its violent nature, carjacking often leads to kidnapping and hostage scenarios that are far more dangerous than the car theft itself.

Simply knowing where carjackers like to ambush unsuspecting victims can be enough to steer clear of danger, so take a mental note of the following scenarios.

Common carjacking places and scenarios

  • At stoplights and gas stations – and often within sight of other drivers and gas station employees – assailants approach a vehicle and either force the driver out of the car or coerce the driver into giving them the key.
  • At a minor accident scene, carjackers steal vehicles while both drivers wait for the police.
  • In a mall parking lot, assailants steal cars while vehicle owners are placing their purchases in the trunk.
  • In front of people’s own homes, carjackers demand the keys to parked cars at gunpoint.
  • At ATMs, residential driveways, highway exit and entry ramps, as well as any place where drivers slow down or stop – assailants force the driver out of the car or coerce the driver into giving them the key at gunpoint.

How to prevent carjackings

  • Park in secure, well-lit locations
  • Avoid parking near large vans or trucks, wood areas, dumpsters and anything that limits visibility.
  • Don’t leave valuables on car seats in plain view. Put them in the trunk, or out of sight.
  • Maintain line-of-sight between your car and entrance or exit.
  • When approaching your car, be vigilant.
  • Trust your instincts. When in doubt, do not approach your car. Get help or wait in a secure place.
  • Before unlocking the door and getting inside, look closely around and inside the car, especially at the back seat.
  • Try to get inside your car as quickly as possible and lock the doors. Don’t wait for the auto-locks to engage.
  • Drive with the doors locked and windows closed.
  • Try to minimize time at intersections and parking lots whenever possible. Slow down well in advance of stoplights to keep moving slowly, as opposed to spending so much time idle.
  • Choose the center lane when possible (away from foot traffic).
  • Avoid unfamiliar or high-risk areas, especially at off-peak hours.
  • Minimize activities that take you outside your vehicle in unfamiliar places and in darkness (stopping for gas, for example)
  • Never exit your vehicle unless instructed by a law enforcement officer.
  • If a traffic accident occurs, exchange insurance and license information with another driver by pressing them against a closed window.
  • Never leave children or the elderly unattended inside a vehicle parked in front of a shopping mall or gas station.
  • Be wary of people handing out fliers, or asking for directions. Instead of getting out of the car to help a stranger whose car is broken down, call the police instead.
  • Work with your local automobile club, Neighborhood Watch groups, and other community organizations to spread the word about carjacking prevention.

How to handle a carjacking situation

  • Criminals aren’t used to somebody speaking up and being assertive since they are looking for easy targets. So, don’t do what the criminal commands. Don’t open the door for them to get inside your car. Remember – your car is your most valuable weapon right now.
  • Use the space around your car to maneuver out of harm’s way. This may mean your vehicle gets a few scratches and maybe even take more substantial damage, but your life is more important.
  • In a situation when there are multiple assailants and no room for maneuvering out of harm’s way, just get out and let them have it.
  • When children are involved, don’t succumb to threats and let the assailant in the car until you get your children out. Remain calm and speak up in a confident tone - “I’m taking my kids out first.”
  • Sometimes, adrenaline rush helps make the right decision:

​Family Safety

Local, state, and federal authorities have emergency plans to protect the public as a whole. But each family is responsible for their own safety during an emergency.

Should an emergency happen at home, work, school, or on the go – know what to do, where to go, and whom to call. All families’ need to:

  • ​Develop a family safety plan
  • Have a safety kit at home and in each automobile
  • Have a sound communication strategy
  • Know where to get emergency information in real-time (radio, mobile apps, community pages on social media)

Family safety plan

Irrespective of the type of emergency, all family members – including children and the elderly – must know the safety basics, including:

  • Where to meet in the event an emergency arises when dad is at work, mom is at the doctor with grandma, and the kids are at school. The same is true for in-house emergencies like fires and burglaries.
  • Try to establish two meeting areas inside the home, and two outside of the home for major events like earthquakes and floods. Public libraries and nearby schools are always great options.
  • Equally important is knowing where public shelters will be located, should an evacuation be necessary due to a hurricane or forest fire.
  • Where emergency exits and fire escapes are at home, school, and the office.
  • Where the safest area is in different scenarios. For tornadoes, it’s the lowest floor in an interior room with no windows. For fires, it’s the room closest to the ground with no windows. During earthquakes, it’s under a strong table.

In addition:

  • Plan safe evacuation routes, and make sure all family members are familiar with them.
  • Practice safety drills to make sure children feel confident and know what to do.
  • Print or draw easy-to-understand maps, diagrams, and checklists for every family member.
  • For young children, as well as the elderly and disabled, make sure a note with all contact details is in their pocket or wallet at all times.
  • Identify a family contact or close friend who can help. For natural disasters, pick someone outside your area who probably won’t be affected. For scenarios like an assault, home fire, or burglary, pick someone who is located nearby.
  • Keep an up-to-date list of health conditions, allergies, and medications for each family member, and carry it in a wallet or purse at all times.

Discuss:

  • What disasters can potentially occur in your area, and how to respond to each one.
  • How and when to call 911.
  • How to respond to power outages.
  • What skills your neighbors have that may be valuable in the event of a disaster (for example, a doctor next door, an electrician down the street and/or a plumber the next block over).

Communication plan

Ability to communicate in critical situations is vital, so have a sound communication strategy in place as well:

  • All family mobile phones should have emergency contacts programmed into the contact list, including family members, close friends and out-of-area contacts
  • Remember – and remind family members – that text messages often get through in situations when a phone call can’t

All children should know:

  • Their full name, home address and phone number.
  • How to dial 911.
  • How to reach family emergency contacts.
  • Family meet-up locations.
  • The odor of gas, the sound of fire alarms and smoke detectors.

Special considerations for the elderly:

  • Have a trusted neighbor or friend to check in on your elderly family member if an emergency occurs while no one else is home.
  • Install backup power support for medical equipment.
  • Update the supply kit with extra medications regularly.

Family safety kit

Every family needs a safety kit stored somewhere accessible. It’s difficult to predict under what circumstances it will be useful, but using standard safety kit calculators, families can come up with a reasonable list of items to include in their safety kit.​

What to include in your family safety kit

The safety kit can be expanded to include an inflatable boat and life jackets if in a flood-prone area. Depending on family needs, extra supplies for babies, seniors, pets, and family members with special needs may also need to be included:

  • Syringes and insulin
  • Baby food, diapers, bottles
  • Pet food, collar with the pet’s owner name and phone number, leash, carrier
  • Extra set of house and car keys

​Home Safety

​A recent report from the Injury Prevention Research Center found that more than 18,000 deaths and 21 million injuries are attributed to in-home accidents each year, with falls, burns, and firearms-related accidents being the leading causes of death and injury.

​At the same time, house burglaries affect 2.5 million homes each year, which equates to one house every 13 seconds in the United States alone.

Statistics prove home safety should not be treated lightly. The good news is the majority of house burglaries and in-home injuries are preventable when due precautions are exercised. Follow these simple, yet actionable, tips to make your home a safer place, both from the inside and the outside.

Home safety checklist

Home is traditionally one of the biggest and most important family investments, so it only makes sense to make it as safe as possible for everyone. Fortunately, home safety is not as much about investment as it is about common sense and planning. Consider following these simple precautions to reduce the chances of accidents in and around the house.​

Falls

  • Stairs and steps should be well-lit.
  • Install handrails and banisters since they provide an extra element of support when going up and down stairs, especially for children and the elderly.
  • All railings should span the entire length of the staircase and be easy-to-grab.
  • Stairs should have safety gates installed if small children are around.
  • Install night-lights to improve visibility in the dark.​
  • Keep a flashlight close to your bed.
  • Floors and stairs should be clear of clutter.
  • Keep electrical and telephone cords out of narrow walkways.
  • Improve bathtub and shower safety with non-slip mats and grab bars, and bathroom floors with non-skid bottom bath mats.
  • Replace glass shower doors with a safer, non-shatter material.
  • Consider placing non-skid pads under all rugs to decrease the chances of slipping.
  • To prevent young children from falling out the windows, install window guards with emergency release mechanisms.

Fires and burns

  • Install smoke detectors on every floor, especially near sleeping areas. Check batteries every 6 months and replace as needed.
  • Don’t overload electrical outlets.
  • Keep electric appliances, matches, lighters, candles, out of the reach of children and pets.​

Poisoning

  • Keep household chemicals where children and pets can’t reach them.
  • Keep a first-aid kit somewhere that’s easily accessible.
  • Learn CPR and the Heimlich Maneuver.​

Firearms

  • ​Keep firearms locked and unloaded.
  • Always keep ammunition in a separate place.
  • Firearms must be stored somewhere inaccessible for children and persons with mental disabilities.
  • Teach your kids gun safety – to NOT touch guns without parental supervision, never go snooping for firearms at home nor when visiting friends.
  • Consider investing in a safe biometric gun vault that comes with a fingerprint scanner. That way, firearms are quickly accessible if an intruder should ever break in, but at the same time, stored securely away from the reach of children.

Home invasion prevention tips

A security alarm and a large dog are two basic things that reduce a household’s attractiveness to burglars. Having a realistic action plan – and sticking to it if an intruder ever breaks in – is the difference between getting out of harm’s way, or not.

In addition, some small, yet meaningful, precautions can reduce the chances of a home invasion by a mile:​

  • Install a monitored security system. Homes without a security system are 300% more likely to be burglarized.
  • Homes should look occupied, even when there’s no one inside. So, consider programming lamps and the TV to turn on at times when homes are normally active. Also think about leaving your car in the driveway.
  • Keep doors and windows locked, and ensure that the area around your house is well-lit.
  • Trim bushes around your house so that thieves can’t use them for cover.
  • Have a trusted friend or a neighbor check in on your house when traveling.
  • Make sure the alarm keypad is not visible through the front door. Sometimes the decorative glass of the front door makes it easy to tell if the alarm is activated or not, which can be a recipe for disaster.
  • After a stranger visits your house – for example, a plumber, electrician, or construction worker – check all windows and doors to make sure they are still locked.
  • Vet anyone who knocks on the door before opening. When in doubt, don’t open.
  • Don’t announce your travel plans on social media, and keep your photos off the Internet while traveling.​

Action plan

Given the number of home robberies that take place every year, families need to be prepared. Here’s a quick run-down of tips that’ll keep you and your loved ones safe:

  • Choose a safe room, and make sure your children know where to run in the event your home is broken into.
  • Know how to communicate from the safe room – have a backup phone with 911 and emergency contacts saved in the contacts list.
  • Make sure the backup phone is charged at all times and doesn’t have a complex lock code so that if your children need to make the emergency call, they can easily unlock it.
  • Agree on a code word for house intrusion.
  • Keep a stun gun, bat, or any other object that serves as a self-defense weapon in every room. That way, if a standoff occurs, a basic self-defense weapon is nearby.
  • Make sure a few self-defense tools are in the safe room as well .
  • Know all possible escape routes (through windows, on the roof, down a fire escape ladder, or through the back door).​

What moms in particular need to know:

  • Moms, especially single, need to have an action plan since burglars often target households without a male presence.
  • Practice an intruder action plan with your kids. Teach them where to run if running is possible, and how to get help. Also teach them how and where to hide inside the house, and stress the importance of staying quiet, no matter what.
  • Practice handling all of your kids at once. Work out a way to get all of your kids out of harm’s way quickly. There is no easy solution here, and most likely grabbing the youngest children with one hand and pulling the eldest with another is the fastest way to get to the safe room.
  • Decide on the best way to face an intruder. Self-defense classes and tactics books are a good place to start

Facing an intruder

Only fight when running and hiding is not an option. Experts agree that a victim’s survival chances increase when they attempt these three steps in that exact order. ​In addition:

  • If you have children, get them to the safe room as quickly as possible. Then call the police and leave the phone on. Don’t yell that you’ve called the police and give away your location.
  • When hiding, don’t try to locate the intruder. Wait till they leave.​

If a face-to-face encounter is unavoidable:

  • Don’t freeze or panic.
  • Consider faking an asthma or heart attack. Avoid eye contact, which may be viewed as submission, and do NOT confront.
  • Despite what many self-defense schools teach, locks and grappling work in movies and sports, but not in real life. Instead, aim for the eyes, nose, groin, throat, or testicles, and scream as loud as possible. Run and hide if feasible.
  • Don’t be civilized, use your nails and teeth – bite and scratch but aim for the sensitive body parts.
  • Consider purchasing self-defense products like a stun gun, self-defense stick, pepper spray, military flashlight and a defense kit.
  • If no weapon is around, use keys, pencils, plastic credit cards, or spray deodorants and a lighter.
  • Find something to hold on to for balance and don’t let go.
  • Position yourself between your children and the intruder. Keep your kids near walls where danger won’t strike from behind.

While home burglaries have declined in recent years, it’s still important to be vigilant. Common sense and home safety best practices can – and will – make your home as unattractive to thieves as possible.

Fire Safety

Fires claim around 3,000 lives in the U.S. annually and cause another 17,000 injuries.

Children under 5 and seniors over the age 54 are at the highest risk for fire-related injuries and deaths, as well as pets since their safety is often an afterthought.

Residential fires cause 75% of all fire-related deaths. Nonresidential and outside fires, like wildfires, account for the remaining 25%.

What’s more, over 100,000 wildfires destroy around five million acres of land in the U.S. annually. Sadly, humans start 90% of them.

With statistics like these, it’s easy to see why fire safety is so important, especially since according to FEMA, most fire-related deaths are preventable. This fire safety guide can help families prevent fires, stay organized and act fast if the unthinkable should occur.

Fire safety at home

Homeowners can decrease the risk of fires significantly if they follow the following basic fire prevention recommendations based on common sense. But just fire-proofing one’s home is not enough – back up your fire safety strategy by educating your children and being vigilant at all times.

Top causes of residential fires

  • Cooking – 50.8%
  • ​Heating – 10.8%
  • Electrical malfunction – 6.4%
  • Careless or unintentional – 6.4%

The good news is that there are a few simple safeguards you can take that will significantly reduce the chances of a fire occurring in your home.

Home safety tips

  • Install fire extinguishers in several key areas of the house.
  • Know how to turn off gas quickly.
  • If a gas leak is suspected, open the windows, turn off the gas supply and call the gas company. Avoid using switches as a single spark can ignite the gas.
  • Never leave pans on the stove unattended.
  • Install smoke detectors on each floor, and check the batteries every 6 months.
  • Test smoke alarms regularly, and clean them by vacuuming the grilles.
  • Consider adding an electrical outlet where there are currently extension cords.
  • Consider using an RCD (residual current device) for electrical safety, and never overload electrical sockets.
  • Repair or replace loose and/or frayed wiring.
  • Check electric blankets regularly.
  • Regularly inspect water heaters and outside vents in home heating systems.
  • Don’t smoke in bed.
  • Never leave candles burning overnight or attempt to dry clothing over an open fire.
  • Position candles and space heaters away from curtains and furniture.
  • If children are present, surround space heaters with a nursery guard with side clips that can be attached to wall brackets.
  • Keep matches, lighters and flammable liquids well out of reach of children.​

Plan an escape

​Fires can start suddenly and spread quickly. A small flame can turn into a devastating fire in under 30 seconds, so preparation is key.

  • ​Develop an evacuation plan and practice it regularly so everyone in your home knows what to do if there is a fire. Also establish one main meeting place, as well as a backup area.
  • The best rule of thumb is to get out, stay out and call 911.
  • It only takes minutes for a house to be completely engulfed in flames, but the thick black smoke kills even faster since it’s toxic. So, get low and try to exit the house by staying below the smoke.
  • Also consider wrapping a moist towel around your head and face.

Fires and children

Over 100,000 residential fires are accidentally set by children under 5 years old. So:​

  • Teach your kids fire safety rules.
  • Visit a local firehouse and have firefighters explain the basics of fire safety.
  • Consider investing in fire safety games like KidsZone Games, Be Fire Safe! and Sparky's Arcade, since they can help explain important safety concepts.​

Also, children should know not to hide when the smoke alarm goes off, and to feel the door to know if it’s hot or not before opening it

Fires and pets

Homeowners usually don’t see their pets as a contributing factor to house fires, but pets accidentally cause over 1,000 house fires a year. So, make sure to:

  • ​Put out open fires.
  • Use flameless candles.
  • Cover stove knobs.
  • Store flammable items out of reach of pets, and never leave them unattended.
  • Crate young pets when not at home.
  • Secure wires and outlets.

Wildfire safety

It’s critically important to know wildfire safety best practices, since wildfires are devastating, fast-moving and lethal.​

Wildfires claims lives and burn millions of acres of land each year, and destroy hundreds of homes in the process. For example, a 2014 wildfire in Colorado destroyed 600 homes and 244,000 acres of land. 2017 is riddled with natural disasters. While Southern states battle storm surge and hurricanes, Western states face extreme heat and dry conditions causing widespread forest fires.

Understanding the contributing factors, safety precautions, and response tactics is important to keep families, pets, and communities safe, even if your area is not wildfire-prone. Sometimes, all it takes to face a wildfire is being in the wrong place, at the wrong time.​

Wildfire facts

  • 90% of wildfires in the U.S. are caused by humans. Campfires, cigarettes, arson, and the burning of debris during extremely dry weather can easily trigger a small fire that explodes in size in a matter of hours. Careless and/or uninformed actions like equipment fires from lawn-mowers, fireworks and improperly discarding of ashes can also result in massive forest fires.
  • Weather factors like drought conditions and lightning cause only 10% of wildfires.
  • A wildfire moves at 14 miles per hour, and consumes everything in its path, including plants, wildlife, homes, and human lives.
  • Megafires – those that consume 100,000+ acres of land – are increasingly common. Currently, there are 10 megafires a year in the U.S. Prior to 1995, there was an average of one.​

This US Wildfire Activity Map by Esri Disaster Response Program provides live updates on locations currently or recently affected by forest fires. It also provides direct access to other sources related to wildfires – YouTube videos, live streaming videos, and social media. If your area is prone to wildfires, be sure to bookmark this map.

Prepare your home

The following recommendations offer guidance on general wildfire safety rules, including helpful tips on how to prepare your home and property if your area is prone to wildfires.​

  • Keep a fire-free area around your home. In urban areas, the “home ignition zone” is 100 feet around the house whereas in rural areas prone to wildfires that zone extends to 200 feet beyond the home structure. According to Firewise, the primary goal here is fuel reduction, so limit the amount of flammable materials and vegetation around the house. For the remaining vegetation, increase the moisture content – water regularly and generously, especially under extreme heat conditions.
  • Control vegetation along fences – trim it, and don’t let it grow dry.
  • Clear dry leaves and other debris from porches, patios, and decks, as well as from under your porch and within 10 feet of your home.
  • Keep woodpiles, sheds, and fuel tanks away from any residential structures.
  • ​Know how to shut off utilities include gas, water, and electricity.
  • Know how to use an ABC-type fire extinguisher.
  • If your area is prone to forest fires, know your risks and prepare accordingly. Consider insurance that covers damages caused by wildfires.

Build a family emergency kit

Being prepared to survive for several days during an evacuation requires sufficient food (non-perishable), water (one gallon per person per day) and medication for at least 72 hours. 

What to include in your family emergency kit

Establish a communication plan

  • Print out a paper copy of all family members contact details, emergency contacts and other important contacts, such as medical facilities, schools, and service providers.
  • Don’t forget to include emergency contacts outside your area.
  • Make sure all family members carry a copy.
  • Post a copy in a central location in your home such as a refrigerator or a bulletin board.
  • Include a reminder in your emergency sheet that text messages get through when phone calls fail, since SMS requires far less bandwidth. Also, SMS messages can be saved and often send automatically once bandwidth is available.

Develop an evacuation plan

When drafting an escape plan, consider the following:

  • Agree on two established escape routes.
  • Have two meeting areas outside the house in case an emergency occurs during work/school hours.
  • Identify possible shelter locations in the event of a wildfire in your area.
  • Have a plan for young children, people with disabilities, and high-risk older adults who can’t get outside by themselves.​
  • For masks and respirators, consult CDC to know which ones are suitable for different age groups, as well as based on health conditions.
  • Include pets in your emergency plans, and consider developing a standalone safety kit just for pets. Never leave them behind. If it’s not safe to stay for humans, it’s not safe for animals either.
  • Make sure your pets wear a collar with an identification tag.
  • Give a set of house keys to a trusted neighbor or friend who is willing to rescue your pets in case a wildfire strikes and you’re not at home.

Evacuation tips

​If authorities say to evacuate, do so immediately. If time allows, complete these simple steps to help firefighters save your house:​

  • Leave the lights turned on to increase visibility in heavy smoke.
  • Close all windows, doors, fireplace screens, and vents.
  • Remove flammable curtains.
  • Move flammable furniture away from windows and doors.
  • Connect garden hoses.
  • Fill large containers, garbage cans, and tubs with water.​

When leaving your home:

  • Roll up car windows and close air vents.
  • Drive slowly with headlights on since visibility will probably be reduced.
  • Avoid driving through heavy smoke, if possible.
  • Watch for pedestrians and fleeing animals.​

If trapped at home:

  • Call 911, and provide your location.
  • Turn on the lights to increase your home’s visibility in heavy smoke.
  • Keep doors, windows, and vents closed or sealed with plastic sheets and duct tape.
  • Move flammable furniture and curtains away from windows and doors.
  • Fill whatever you can with water.
  • Stay away from outside windows and walls.
  • Breathe through a moist cloth, and cover your head and body with moist towels made of natural materials.

Gun Safety

Gun safety is the responsibility of the owner, and no one else. It’s also not something that should be taken lightly, since the destructive potential of firearms is huge.

According to CDC, 77 minors were killed by unintentional gun discharges in the U.S. last year. However, when the Associated Press and USA Today conducted an independent review of shootings-related deaths nationwide, the results were nearly double as those of the CDC. AP found that at least 141 deaths of minors are attributed to accidental shootings for the same period.

CDC officials acknowledge their statistics are lower because of how coroners classify fatalities on death certificates. For example, coroners classify deaths in which one child unintentionally shoots another as a homicide – not an accidental discharge. They can also classify death in which a minor accidentally shot himself as undetermined since the intent – suicide or accidental discharge – is unclear.

Accidental discharge-related deaths of minors are most common among 3-year-olds. Most accidents follow the same scenario – children pick up unsecured, loaded guns in their homes and shoot themselves.

Another troubling trend is amongst 15-to-17-year-olds who are shot by another teen while playing with a gun.

Former director of CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Mark Rosenberg, says “it’s crazy” that the government isn’t researching more into how to prevent these accidental discharge deaths because the bottom line is – 100% of them are preventable.

At home and while carrying, follow these gun safety rules no matter what – it’s your responsibility.

Gun safety at home

Anyone who decides to purchase a gun must accept the responsibility that comes along with it. The number one way to prevent gun-related accidents is to ensure that firearms are always properly stored in the home.

Ensure that guns are stored so that they won’t be accessible to unauthorized persons. Hiding a gun in a drawer, closet or underneath a pillow does not make your house a safer place. Safe storage requires precautions and critical safeguards that create barriers to unauthorized use, including accidents.

S.A.F.E.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) suggests a S.A.F.E. strategy to gun safety:​

S – secure your firearms when not in use​

A – maintain awareness of people in your proximity and prevent unauthorized access to guns​

F – focus on your responsibility as a gun owner​

E – educate yourself and others about gun safety​

Safe gun storage

  • Firearms should be stored unloaded.
  • Good storage places include in locked cabinets, gun vaults, safes, and storage cases.
  • Gun storage must be inaccessible to children.
  • Ammunition should be locked in a separate location.
  • When removing firearms from storage, double-check to make sure they are not loaded.
  • Gun-locking devices render firearms inoperable and serve as an additional precaution against accidents.
  • Cable-style locks aren’t a substitute for safe storage. They are simply a way to discourage unauthorized access to guns by young children.​

When firearms are kept for home security

Gun owners must commit to learning how to safely use their firearms, especially if they plan on using them for home security. NSSF’s “Firearms Responsibility in The Home” brochure [PDF] might prove particularly useful for beginners. The objective here is to keep firearms somewhere where they are readily available to the owner, yet inaccessible to others. Keeping a gun to defend your family makes zero sense if that same gun puts your family at risk.

In these types of situations, consider special lockable cases that can be quickly opened by authorized individuals.

Children and gun safety

Several studies have found that gun accidents claim at least one child’s life every other day. Self-inflicted child shootings send shock waves across communities nationwide, with victims often as young as 3 years old. Yet, nearly all firearm accidents are preventable when gun owners take basic precautions.

Teach your kids

If you have firearms in the home, you need to teach your kids about them. In many cases, children find firearms because they go looking for them out of curiosity or because one of them dared the other to find it. Provided the firearms in your house are stored safely, make sure your kids:​

  • Never go snooping for guns in your home or at a friend’s home.
  • Never allow other children to go looking for guns in your home.
  • Know that if they find a gun, they are not to touch it or let others touch it, but they are to tell an adult about it immediately.
  • Never touch a firearm, even if it looks like a toy. They should always ask permission first.​

Sleepovers at a friend’s house

  • Whenever your kids are going to a sleepover at a friend’s house, ask the parents if they have a gun in the house.
  • If the answer is yes, ask how the firearms are stored, and where the ammunition is kept.
  • It doesn’t matter if it makes someone feel uncomfortable or offended. If they choose to have a gun in their home, they must respect what that entails, and be able to have a healthy conversation about it, especially with parents of visiting children.​

Use a retention holster

  • Use a retention holster to prevent small children from drawing your gun accidentally – or intentionally – from your holster.
  • Small children tend to climb their parents, so a retention holster is a must. Be it while wrestling on the floor, or running across the yard, the holster needs to protect your gun from children – and vice versa – at all times.

Carrying a gun safely

​Before carrying a gun, you should know:

  • Safety precautions
  • Federal, State, and Local laws
  • How to maintain situational awareness​

A majority of negligent discharges occur when the person handling the gun is not paying attention and doesn’t maintain situational awareness. Keeping a finger near the trigger, and not checking to see if the gun is loaded is a route to disaster.

Practice safe handling and situational awareness

  • Practice carrying an unloaded gun first.
  • Get used to its weight, and how it feels in your hand. Develop a sense of protectiveness for the area of your body where the gun is stored. For example, when choosing a seat in a restaurant, sit with your gun side away from the person sitting by your side. When hugging someone, keep your arms low so that the other person puts theirs high and has no contact with the firearm.
  • Use a good holster and a rigid gun belt. Experts suggest carrying a gun only in gear specifically designed for it. Holsters and belts are the basics. Holsters should be made of Kydex or leather and fitted to the individual gun model. Holsters made of cloth and generic one-size-fits-all holsters don’t hold a gun as they should, and should be avoided at all possible costs. Gun belts should be made of leather or nylon. Regular belts are too flimsy to hold a gun throughout the day.
  • Consider using a retention holster with a locking mechanism to protect your gun from unauthorized access and theft.​

Practice, practice, practice

  • Practice correct finger placement while drawing your gun – off the trigger. This is paramount to prevention of accidental discharge.
  • The index finger of the shooting hand should be straight during correct gun drawing.
  • Minimize unnecessary handling when the weapon is in a ready state to avoid a negligent discharge. Definitely don’t show it off to your friends at a barbecue.​

Closing thoughts

  • Treat every firearm as if it’s loaded.
  • Always keep the weapon’s muzzle pointed in a safe direction.
  • Know how to use your gun, how to open and close its action safely, and how to remove ammunition from the gun, as well as its magazine. Give the owner’s manual a thorough read.
  • Don’t rely on safety mechanisms. Mechanical safety isn’t foolproof. Learn the intricacies of the mechanical safety on your gun.
  • Keep your firearms in good working order. Regular maintenance translates into a more reliable, safer firearm. When carried, guns develop rust even faster than when stored at home. So, clean your firearms regularly, even if they are never used.
  • Have your gun serviced by a gunsmith regularly. A qualified technician should do everything that goes beyond basic cleaning. Don’t be tempted to disassemble and reassemble a gun without proper knowledge and skills.​

Driving with a gun

​When driving with a gun, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Sit properly. Correct seating position improves your driving abilities and also makes it easier to draw your weapon, if needed.]
  • Practice your seated draw.
  • Maintain situational awareness and control your emotions. An emotional response on the road can have devastating consequences if both drivers are armed. So, whenever facing danger or confrontation on the road, try to avoid it.
  • Defensive driving is more effective – and important – than defensive gun use.
  • There’s no reason to access the gun while out and about, except for self-defense. So, put it in your holster when leaving home, and don’t touch it again until you’re putting it back in the safe box at night.
  • Sometimes, when entering restricted areas, gun owners must remove their weapon and lock it in a secured container inside their vehicle. If this happens to you, do it without distraction. Then, upon returning to your vehicle, re-holster the gun safely.

Children's Safety

The time when parents felt it was safe from their kids to play on the streets is long gone. Misguided escape attempts pop up on the news all the time as frightening accounts of kidnapped children. Horror stories of child molesters living next door and pedophiles teaching at local schools send shock waves across communities. Unsupervised use of the Internet opens up a backdoor for creeps to prey on child victims on social networks. When it comes to parenting in the 21-st century, child safety is always top of mind.​

In a world where schools teach young children how to hide from mass shooters, movies instill fears of “stranger danger,” and neighborhood watches are on the constant lookout for child predators, it’s easy for parents to project all their fears onto the outside world.

Domestic accidents like choking, falling, poisoning and drowning cause more than 12,000 child deaths and another 21 million medical visits each year, however. So, when addressing the highly nuanced topic of child safety, don’t forget safety around the house too.

Thankfully, in most cases, awareness alone is enough to prevent a tragedy. Unfortunately with children, awareness doesn’t always come easy.

Talking about safety might not be enough

One of the most important conversations parents can have with their children relates to safety. Unfortunately, talking alone isn’t always enough, and not everyone is into structured learning and safety drills. Still, preparing kids for a variety of life-threatening situations often means the difference between them getting to safety or not.​

One of the greatest challenges parents face is making sure children get the message. A quick reality check proves that conversations about safety just don’t work for many kids:​

​Unfortunately, there is no single strategy that will successfully deliver the message to every child. Visual learners need emotionally engaging videos. Logical learners grasp ideas when they understand the logic and/or physics behind events and people’s motivation. The bottom line is that parents must have realistic expectations of their children, and not expect a single conversation to address a complex issue like safety.

Ways to teach safety to children

Children learn best when playing, and teaching kids safety is particularly efficient with a playful approach. Remember not to scare children too much nor scold them for not following the rules.​

  • Play What If… games. These types of games will teach your children about the dangers they face at home, and what to do to stay safe. Act out situations that include someone getting hurt, playing with fire and electric appliances, bathing, and answering the door. You can also practice fire evacuation and intruder drills, without scaring them in the process.​
  • Go danger hunting. At home, go on a hunt with your kids to identify hazardous situations and objects like wires and electrical sockets, stairs, and windows. Challenge your children to go through the house and point out potential threats, while practicing safe habits at the same time, like covering electric outlets, hiding cords, and clearing stairs of toys.
  • Visit a local firehouse. Have firefighters give your children demonstrations about home and fire safety, and explain how to recognize dangerous substances, as well as what to do in a fire.
  • Play fire safety games like KidsZone Games, Be Fire Safe! And Sparky's Arcade.
  • Practice the Freeze! game. Play a game in which your child is lost in supermarket, and make sure she follows the Freeze rules. A lost child should stop, stay put and not go anywhere with anyone. Parents get to trace back and find her instead of everyone wandering opposite directions. Should someone offer help, the child can ask the stranger to wait with her.
  • Play the Stranger Danger game. Former CIA agent Jason Hanson recommends playing out kidnapping scenarios at home, where you teach your kids to scream, kick, bite and yell, which makes it more difficult for someone to abduct them.
  • Practice the Safety Code Word. In an emergency situation, when parents send a friend or a neighbor to pick up their kids from school or practice, kids need to remember to:
    • Keep their distance and ask for the safety code word.
    • Run away and tell a teacher or other trusted adult if the person does not know the code word.
  • Force them to learn the “White List.” Agree on a short list of five or six trusted people. If anyone outside the list asks your children to do something, the answer should be “I have to ask my Mom/Dad first.” Period.
  • Put them through tests. Some teenagers act like they listen to their parents, but when it comes to dealing with a serious situation, they do the exact opposite of what their parents told them to do. Unfortunately, social experiments prove that teens ignore safety, especially when breaking the rules to try and improve their status among peers. Some parents go as far as to ally with trusted friends to run a test on their teens and see what their actions would be in a real life situation. Many parents will find these social experiments insightful, if not troubling:

Child safety around the house

The home is where children grow and learn, as well as find love and comfort. Home injuries are a leading cause of accidental death in children, however.

In fact, a recent report published by the Home Safety Council found that in-home accidents account for almost 21 million pediatric visits per year and 12,000+ deaths. Sadly, most are avoidable through prevention and education.

Remember – adult supervision is key to child safety at home. So, it makes sense to scan your home with a magnifying glass, and safeguard it against such common hazards as slips and falls, poisoning, suffocation, drowning and firearms-related accidents.

Slip- and fall-proofing the house

  • If there are young children in the house, install baby gates across all entries to stairs and balconies.
  • Consider placing non-skid rugs in slip-prone areas.
  • Remove unnecessary clutter from hallways and balconies.
  • Lock windows and keep hallways well-lit at all times.
  • Put bright stickers on glass doors at child’s eye level.
  • Apply shatter-resistant film to glass windows and doors or install safety glass.

Preventing burns and scalds

  • Make sure your hot water heater is set to below 122°F (50°C).
  • Keep matches, lighters, cigarettes, incense, and candles out of reach of children. This will also prevent accidental fires.
  • When cooking, don’t leave young children unsupervised in the kitchen.

Preventing accidental poisoning

  • Store common medications, liquid glue, and other household chemicals like dish washing liquid and detergents out of the reach of children.
  • Use childproof locks on cabinets.
  • Lock medicine cabinets at all times, if possible.

Preventing suffocation

  • Some bedding items, blinds, cords, and packaging can cause deaths in babies and young children, so be sure to check for these items around your home and remove them if you can.
  • Make sure that plastic bags are ALWAYS out of reach for small children.

Preventing drowning

  • Make sure children can’t access pools, ponds, and rivers without adult supervision.
  • Pools should always be fenced in, and fences should have self-locking gates.
  • Never leave young children unsupervised in the bathroom, and don’t give older siblings the responsibility of watching over younger brothers and sisters when bathing.

Gun safety

  • Store firearms in a safe place, away from the reach of children.
  • Keep ammunition stored in a separate location.
  • Use a gun-locking device, which renders the firearm inoperable when it’s not in use. Also remember that a gunlock should never be substituted for secure storage.
  • Children may be tempted to go snooping for guns in the house, and possibly even invite other kids to go snooping with them. Teach your kids to stop → leave it and → tell an adult if they find a gun in the house.

Child safety outside the house

Children rely on adults in many things, and even though their innocent, trusting nature is sweet, parents need to teach children to be safe. Unfortunately, some people would harm children if given a chance. When teaching kids about stranger danger, however, it is important to strike that tricky balance and help children understand safety without making them overly scared of everyone they meet.

Teach children about strangers

Children must understand that sometimes strangers may know their names, their parents’ names, where their parents work, and/or where they live. It’s important to teach them to never trust strangers, especially if they claim to be a friend of the family. In fact, the more lucrative a stranger’s offer (find a Pokemon, get a ride home, pick up a surprise present), the louder the alarms should ring that something is wrong. Equally important is making them understand that many predators look totally normal, decent, and trustworthy, and that strangers should never be asking them for help or to go anywhere.

A lost child will have to ask strangers for help, so you’ll need to teach your children the concept of relatively safe strangers. If a police officer or firefighter is not around, a safe stranger may be a parent with children, a cashier or a security guard, a teacher, or a librarian (depending on the environment). Show your children places they can go for help, like local stores, restaurants, or family friends in the neighborhood.

Other things to teach your children should include:

  • A code word for danger that only family knows.
  • Never giving out important information to strangers on the telephone or to people beyond a trusted circle of friends.
  • Memorizing their full name, address and at least one parent’s phone number.

Recognizing danger

Parents can protect their children by teaching them how to recognize potentially dangerous situations, as well as people. Help children identify suspicious behavior, like when an adult asks them to do something without their parents’ permission or tells them to keep a secret. Children must know that it’s okay to say NO to an adult in a suspicious situation and to yell if necessary, even if they are indoors. A child who says NO when an adult tries to cross the line is not an attractive target for kidnappers and child molestors. They are looking for someone they can control and manipulate.

Common kidnapping scenarios

  • A good-looking stranger asks for help to find his lost dog.
  • A barely familiar neighbor invites your child into his house to have a snack or pick up a surprise gift.
  • A stranger claiming to be a family friend offers your child a ride home and/or follows your child by foot or in a car.
  • A car pulls over, and a stranger asks for directions.
  • A familiar person or a family friend does – or says – something that makes your child feel uncomfortable.

In addition, teach them to recognize grooming. Many child molesters first “groom” a child to test their boundaries to see what a child might do, as well as how much they can get away with. For example, “Your Mom told me not to give you candy, but that’s a boring rule. Let’s keep it a secret!” is a way of testing your children. If boundaries are not strong, the molester will continue to push until your children feel cornered and there is no other option but to obey.

Reducing the chances of kidnapping

Kidnapping happens very quickly. And what happens as the events are taking place can – and often does – determine whether a child sleeps at home that night.

Teach your children to:

  • Make noise, scream, and yell when attacked.
  • Fight back, bite, and scratch as hard as possible. In February 2017, a 16-year old girl was able to escape a kidnapping attempt by screaming, scratching and biting the attacker.
  • Aim for the attacker’s eyes and/or throat since eye trauma is very disorienting.
  • Throw sand or dust in their eyes.
  • Run in the opposite direction of a car that is following them. If the car turns around, switch directions and run for safety.
  • Trust their instincts! If they ever feel scared or uncomfortable, they should run for safety as fast as possible and tell a trusted adult.

Online safety & ways parents can protect their kids

Online safety should be a high priority since social networks are home to both bullying and stalking. Child molesters use social networks to find easy targets. Since most children don’t understand why they need to exercise caution online, it’s up to parents to be responsible for their safety.

Things to watch out for 

When scanning your teen’s friend list on social networks, make a mental note of common symbols pedophiles use to signal their sexual preferences:

  • A triangle inside a triangle – boys​
  • A triangle inside a triangle as if drawn by a child – very young boys
  • A heart in a heart – young girls
  • A butterfly – any gender

  • The symbol below is the Childlove Online Media Activism logo used by pedophilic lobbies to promote their "cause,” namely that sexual relationships between adults and minors should be decriminalized.

  • Sexting is common among teenagers, and is not necessarily a sign that something potentially dangerous is going on, unless there is an adult on the other end. Check out this useful roundup of sexting code words and know with whom your teen communicates.
  • Cyberbullying is more difficult for parents to identify as around half of cyberbullied kids never tell their parents. Nonetheless, the telling signs are almost always there:
    • Your child begins to avoid using their mobile device or computer, or quite the contrary, begins spending too much time gaming.
    • Your child suddenly deletes their profiles on social networks, or blocks some phone numbers or emails from their contact list.
    • Your child appears upset, angry, or withdrawn after receiving messages or emails.
    • Your child becomes more secretive about their online activities, and reluctant to discuss them.
    • Your child starts falling behind at school, becomes reluctant to go to school, and withdraws from social and family activities they used to enjoy.
    • You child may start to have trouble sleeping, as well as display no interest in eating.

There are a variety of mobile apps that allow parents to monitor their children’s online activities in stealth mode. Most kids these days know how to hide their chats and browsing history from their parents. So, parents need to be up-to-date with technology.

  • Know your children’s location at all times. Smart watches and location sharing apps allow parents to set up location sharing with their kids. Your safest bet is to go with the native Apple, Google or Samsung location sharing features rather than a third-party app like Facebook or Snapchat that might reveal too much to the public.
  • Consider installing parental control apps on home computers, laptops and tablets. These apps allow parents to blacklist certain apps, IPs, and connections, as well as set time limits for different activities like gaming and chatting.
  • Never tell a cyberbullied child to “just ignore it.” Talk about it, try to establish their trust and do not over-react making matters even worse. If possible, gather proof by making screenshots of chats and emails, and a) report it to digital providers and social networks’ support, b) to school authorities if classmates are involved, c) to law enforcement.
  • Online safety is nothing to be treated lightly as threats delivered electronically can have physical consequences. When facing a situation that requires technical knowledge you simply don’t have, get outside help to deal with it. CyberSmile Foundation and StopBullying.gov are two good places to start when looking for outside help.

Senior Safety

Wisdom, experience and an abundance of free time go hand-in-hand with aging. Unfortunately, aging is also accompanied by health issues that can transform trivial tasks into aggravating challenges.

The loss of mobility and flexibility as people age means they often have difficulty taking showers and baths, walking up and down stairs, and safely using kitchen cutlery. If mental impairment is a factor, elderly friends and family members may start wandering off, becoming disoriented or getting lost.

According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the number of Americans aged 65 and older is projected to grow to 55 million by 2020. Many have expressed an interest in continuing to live in their homes for as long as possible, as opposed to assisted living facilities.

On the other hand, CDC recently reported that one in three older adults fall each year, which amounts to a staggering 2.5 million seniors being admitted to the ER and over 25,500 dying as a result of a fall. More than 250,000 hip fractures are reported, with 95% resulting from falls.

Considering the troubling statistics, seniors need to take into account some common safety hazards in and around the house. Irrespective of whether elderly family members plan to continue living in their homes or in assisted living facilities, or have someone take care of them, their environment must be reviewed for potential hazards.​

Falls – both fatal and non-fatal – are by far the leading cause of injuries in the elderly. When falls occur, 30% of seniors suffer moderate to severe injuries that can cause sprains, hip fractures, lacerations, and head trauma.

Reducing the risks of falls

Simple home modifications can significantly reduce the risk of falls in older adults, including:

  • Reducing trip hazards by removing clutter from hallways and balconies.
  • Removing high, trip-prone door thresholds.
  • Adding non-slip surfaces to steps.
  • Securing loose rugs, or installing non-slip rugs for slippery floors.
  • Avoiding to use wax on floors.
  • Adding grab bars and railings in slip-prone areas, like bathrooms, stairs and porches
  • Improving lighting throughout the home.

Additional tips for safety throughout the home

Here are some additional tips for senior safety throughout the home:

  • Purchase a medical alert system. They provide two-way communication with certified operators in the event of a health crisis.
  • Install a burglar alarm.
  • Add peepholes to outside doors.
  • Keep a smoke detector and fire extinguisher on every floor. Make sure the smoke detector’s sound is loud enough to be heard.
  • Make sure hallways, stairs, and rooms are well-lit.
  • Use non-glare 100+ watt incandescent bulbs.
  • Make sure there’s a telephone in each room, and that they are placed low enough that they can be reached from the floor (in case of a fall).
  • Program phones with emergency and family numbers and post a list of these contacts by each phone.
  • Replace round doorknobs with lever-style handles.
  • Add eye-level decals or reflector tape on glass doors.

Safety tips for bathrooms

  • Add rails and grab bars in the bathroom and shower.
  • Install grab bars on the sides of the toilet.
  • Add a shower seat, if necessary.
  • Skid-proof the tub.
  • Place non-slip bath mats in the bathroom.
  • Ensure door locks must are unlockable from both sides.
  • Replace glass shower doors with shower curtains or unbreakable plastic doors.

Safety tips for the kitchen

  • Use microwaves if at all possible, since they are safer than stoves and don’t overheat.
  • If cooking on the stovetop is a must, make sure that pots are always positioned with handles pointing outward and that sleeves are pushed up.
  • Make sure there’s adequate lighting.
  • Mark ON and OFF positions on electric appliances with bright colors.
  • Consider using a kettle that shuts off automatically.
  • Store heavy objects at waist level.
  • Use unbreakable dishes.

Safety tips for the bedroom

  • Keep a flashlight, lamp, and telephone on the nightstand.
  • Keep pathways clear around the bed.
  • Use nightlights to illuminate the hallway from the bedroom to bathroom.
  • Remove casters from furniture.
  • Consider replacing electric blankets and heating pads for much-safer hot water bottles.
  • Remove cords from high traffic areas like around the bed, as well as from underneath rugs and furniture.

Medication safety

  • A compartmentalized pill boxes or an automatic medication dispenser to eliminate many potential medication mistakes.
  • Keep medicines clearly labeled and complete with doctor’s instructions.
  • Dispose of any medications that have expired by flushing them down the toilet.

Technology and senior safety

Technology is making homes safer than ever, particularly for seniors who aren’t quite ready to give up their independence in favor of assisted living. For example:

  • Door guards and GPS smart watches are great for seniors who are prone to wandering.
  • An anti-scalding device helps prevent burns for people who have reduced tactile sensitivity.
  • Wall-mounted speakers can help seniors communicate with other people in the house if there’s an accident or potentially dangerous situation.
  • A monitoring system inside the house can help families check on their elderly loved ones to ensure they are safe, as well as call for help during emergencies.
  • Trained service dogs and therapy assistance dogs are excellent companions for seniors living alone, since they provide support, comfort, and unconditional love.

Phone scams

Telemarketing scams often target the elderly because they get confused and often share personal, health, Social Security and financial information easily. Credit card fraud and identity theft are the 2 most common outcomes.

Most people have caller ID so the best course of action is simply to not answer phone calls from numbers that are not recognized. If calls from unrecognized numbers are answered, it’s important to make sure that elderly loved ones know that it’s OK to hang up if a stranger is asking for personal information.

Elder abuse

​If you have loved ones who have home health aides or live in assisted living facilities, consider installing a few stealth web cameras to protect them from abuse. Unfortunately, physical abuse is common since caretakers and sometimes even disaffected relatives take advantage of the declining physical and mental capacity of elderly friends and family members.

Common signs of physical abuse include:

  • A decline in communication, as well as personal hygiene.
  • Withdrawal from normal daily activities.
  • Bruises and scratches.
  • Weight loss, since abusive caretakers often practice food deprivation.​

Anyone suspecting elder abuse – even without tangible proof – must notify law enforcement and/or local Adult Protective Services for further investigation.

Travel Safety

​Security has been the number one concern for vacationing U.S. families in the past few years. Many Americans choose to vacation closer to home due to fears of terrorism, crime, anti-American sentiment, political unrest, and personal safety concerns. Safety anxiety even outweighs fears of epidemic hazards, as many people would pay more for a vacation with “increased security.”

Safety is a complex issue for travelers since quite a few things can go wrong and spoil a fantastic vacation. But with the right planning and packing, international vacations and domestic road trips can make an enjoyable and memorable experience.​

Safety starts at home

​What’s worse than coming home after a fantastic vacation and finding your house burglarized, devastated by fire, or flooded by a burst pipe? It is impossible to predict and prepare for all sorts of disasters that can happen to your house while everyone is on a vacation. However, the following simple steps will greatly increase your chances of returning to a safe, clean, and orderly house.

Unplug​

Basic house safety precautions should be top of mind, even if a trip is spontaneous. So, before heading out:​

  • Unplug small appliances like coffee makers, toasters, and computers.
  • Shut off circuit breakers where they aren’t needed.
  • Turn off water valves to the washing machine, dishwasher, and sinks when going on an extended vacation.​

Use common sense

​From teen vandalism to professional burglary, home invasions are often destructive and expensive. The following tips can reduce the chances of a home robbery, as well as minimize the impact if one does occur while you’re away:

  • Many people like to announce their vacation plans on social networks, which is exactly the opposite of what they need to be doing. Thieves often monitor potential targets’ social profiles for exact travel dates.
  • If no car is visible, the message is clear: no one is home. Your house needs to look habitable, so leave a car in the driveway, and keep some blinds open or semi-open (instead of completely closed). If all family cars are gone, ask a neighbor to park in your driveway.
  • Put lights on a timer so that it looks like somebody is your home. Floor lamps plugged into inexpensive programmable timers are a fantastic option.
  • Install a home security system. Over 60% of convicted burglars pass on a house with a security system.​
  • Invest in extra Wi-Fi cameras so that you can monitor your house and its exterior from a laptop or smartphone. Footage is available in real-time but can also be pulled from an archive. Some systems can also detect movement and send out a text alert.
  • Remove hidden spare keys, as experienced burglars will find them. Give them to a friend or a trusted neighbor instead.
  • Keep valuables in a home safe that bolts to the floor or in a bank safe deposit box.

Plan wisely

  • ​Try to avoid traveling at night.
  • Avoid seedy areas of destination cities, especially at night.
  • Ask your hotel manager for recommendations on what is considered safe and unsafe in the area.
  • When no other indicator is available, use this as a general rule of thumb: streets and restaurants with lots of children and women are generally safe for families.
  • Don’t use ATMs at night. Try to use ATMs during the day, when there are people around.

Practice hotel safety

  • When choosing your accommodations, opt for hotels that have unmarked swipe cards instead of numbered room keys. That way, if a swipe card gets lost or stolen, thieves won’t know which room to rob.
  • Lock your hotel door for the night, including the deadbolt. Use the chain, if available.
  • Don’t leave valuables in hotel rooms when going out. Use the safe in your room or at reception desk instead.
  • Take note of hotel’s emergency exits, and fire escapes.
  • Always carry your hotel’s address when going out and about.​

International travel tips

For international travel, the CDC recommends a proactive approach, irrespective of destination. Research laws and traditions. Exercise caution if there are alerts for terrorist attacks. Check weather forecasts. The U.S. Department of State is a great resource for learning about foreign countries.​

Investigate thoroughly

A trip requires careful planning, and getting informed well in advance is key to a safe and enjoyable vacation. Get informed, research destination information, safety and security warnings and health precautions.​

  • Check for travel warnings and on travel alert pages for detailed information about your final destination.
  • For international road travel safety information, bookmark the Association for Safe International Road Travel.
  • Know cultural norms and the local laws of the host country. Check the U.S. Department of State’s country-specific guides and the UK Government’s Foreign Travel Advice pages for additional insight.
  • Study all the clauses of your travel insurance so you have a clear idea of what it covers.
  • Research CDC vaccination recommendations for international travelers, and see a doctor, if necessary.
  • Consider any recent illnesses, surgeries, or injuries and account for potential complications.
  • Address special needs of your most vulnerable family members, including babies, children, the elderly, people with disabilities or weakened immune systems, and pregnant women.​

Pack wisely

​A sound approach to crisis planning is also necessary when preparing for a vacation. Remember – a crisis that happens abroad is not the same as a crisis back at home, and lost ID or a sudden fit of asthma can very well ruin an entire vacation.

  • Make copies of all travel documents and passports, and place them in each piece of luggage. Originals can – and often do – get lost or stolen. Also make sure you have photographs of each on your smartphone.
  • Pack a travel health kit that includes medications for allergies, diarrhea, head and chest congestion, food poisoning, motion sickness, fevers, pains, coughs, and insect bites.
  • Always pack items like insect repellent and sunscreen protection, antibacterial hand wipes or hand sanitizer, aloe gel for burns, oral rehydration packets, digital thermometer, bandages and antiseptic. It’s better to be safe than sorry.​

Health safety

When vacationing abroad, exercise health precautions and avoid taking unnecessary risks. Exploring foreign cuisine and trying exotic meals is exciting, but spending the rest of vacation with a severe diarrhea is not. For certain international destinations, vaccinations may be essential. See the following subsection on necessary vaccinations for specific regions.

  • Don’t drink tap water, even if locals say it is 100% safe.
  • Always use insect repellent and sunscreen.
  • Talk to locals about specific health issues you should know about. For example, sand fleas in some tropical countries propagate dangerous diseases.
  • Limit alcohol intake.
  • If food smells rotten or looks odd, it’s probably best to avoid it.​
  • Zika virus infection poses serious risks towards pregnant women and their unborn children. The virus is transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes that are most active during daylight hours. As no proper vaccination for the virus yet exists, pregnant women are STRONGLY advised not to travel to risk areas. You can view the CDC’s list of risk areas here.

Vaccinations

In addition to making sure you and your travel companions are up-to-date on all routine vaccinations (chicken pox, tetanus, HPV, hepatitis A & B, flu), certain destinations necessitate additional vaccination against locally prevalent ailments. Such vaccinations will dramatically reduce the risk of you or your companions catching a potentially serious disease sure to ruin any trip. Below is a list of the vaccinations recommended by the CDC before traveling to specific nations and regions. In some cases, proof of receiving vaccinations may be required to enter a country. Depending on the illness, you should receive the vaccine anywhere from three months to ten days before travel. Note: There’s no true vaccine against malaria, yet taking antimalarial medications reduces the risk of infection by about 90%.

  • North America: routine vaccinations
  • Central America: routine vaccinations, yellow fever, typhoid, rabies, diphtheria and tuberculosis
  • South America: routine vaccinations, yellow fever, typhoid, rabies, malaria, tuberculosis
  • Western Europe: routine vaccinations, rabies (if planning to travel or work within areas populated by bats)
  • Northern Africa: routine vaccinations, rabies (if you’d like to be extra cautious)
  • Sub Saharan and tropical Africa: Due to the frequency and unpredictability of disease outbreaks in these regions of Africa, it is very important to research the most up-to-date list of necessary vaccinations for your destination. Make sure you aren’t traveling into an Ebola outbreak. Beyond that, meningitis, malaria and the routine vaccinations are strongly advised.
  • Middle East: polio, typhoid, routine vaccinations
  • South and Southeast Asia: polio, typhoid, Japanese Encephalitis, routine vaccinations
  • East Asia: tetanus, diphtheria, routine vaccinations
  • Australia: routine vaccinations
  • Pacific Islands: polio, yellow fever, routine vaccinations

Road trips

According to the Liberty Mutual Insurance New Beginnings report, half of Americans don’t check that basic emergency items are in the car before hitting the road. And yet, it is so easy to run a quick check of the car and make sure the first aid kit is complete and in place. After all, these basic precautions could save travelers a major headache if an emergency happens on the road.​

Emergency kits

Emergency kit for road trips should include:​

  • Review your first aid kit to make sure it’s complete.
  • Consider taking a small flashlight, alcohol swabs, Band-Aids and water bottles.
  • Pack a cell phone charger.
  • Make sure all cell phones are fully charged.
  • Also, include warm blankets and pillows.
  • Maps! GPS is not infallible, so make sure to have a detailed map or road atlas as a backup option.​

Car safety check

  • Check wiper blades. For long road trips, consider having an extra set in your car.
  • Check your GPS unit to make sure it’s in working order and has up-to-date maps.
  • Check headlights for dimness, washer fluid level, tire pressure and oil change.
  • Make sure to have a spare tire and tools to change it.
  • Consider including jumper cables and a multi-purpose tool that can be used on many parts of a car.
  • Also, check battery, belts and air conditioner.
  • If there are babies on board, check if the baby seats are properly installed.​

Plan wisely

  • Map out your itinerary with gas stations and pit stops.
  • Check out weather forecasts for your itinerary.
  • Know the laws along your route concerning phone use while driving.
  • Get a good night’s sleep before leaving. Driving while drowsy is a major factor contributing to more than 100,000 accidents annually.​

Driving safely

To make sure you arrive at your final destination safely:​

  • Use hands-free devices, and never text and drive.
  • Always buckle up.
  • Never drink while driving.
  • Use properly installed child safety seats.
  • Always remember that the middle backseat is the safest spot for children in the car.
  • Pull over and take breaks every couple of hours. Grab a snack, stretch your legs, get some fresh air – not feeling tired or sleepy doesn’t mean you’re not losing focus.​
  • Share the driving responsibilities with someone else, if possible.
  • Lock your valuables in the trunk or glove compartment.
  • Don’t wait until the gas gauge gets to E to refuel. On an unfamiliar road, start looking for a place to fill up once the gas gauge hits a quartet of a tank.

Traveling by train

Traveling by train can be enjoyable and affordable, and a few extra precautions will minimize your risk of illness, theft or injury. Rule of thumb – plan ahead, research your itinerary and destination, be punctual, keep an eye on your valuables, and avoid solitary areas.​

  • Plan your itinerary in advance and try to to avoid train changes late at night, especially if long layovers are involved.
  • Research train stations so that you’re aware of it’s a haven for pickpockets or provides covered shelter for the homeless after a certain time at night.
  • Put locks on your luggage.
  • For longer train rides, consider using straps or cords to secure your bags to the overhead racks. Bundled luggage is harder to steal.
  • Keep your tickets, documents, money, and credit cards in a money belt or pouch. Organize everything so that you’re not fumbling around for things when you need them.
  • For long layovers, find a place to sit that is well-lit but not solitary, and never leave your luggage unattended.
  • Board your train as early as possible, and check to make sure you’ve board the proper train car since not all cars may be going to your final destination.
  • While sleeping, keep your compartment locked.
  • Don’t trust strangers, and don’t leave valuables behind when going to the restroom.
  • Don’t drink tap water, and avoid accepting food and drinks from strangers.​

Traveling on cruise ships

Cruising is considered one of the safest ways to travel, but common sense and basic safety precautions will make for a much more enjoyable vacation.​

  • Attend a muster drill before going on a cruise. Knowing where your muster station is, how to put on a lifejacket, and what the alarm sounds mean is important. Most cruise ships will not leave port unless all passengers on the ship go through this exercise.
  • To avoid potential pirate attacks, skip cruises through the North Indian Ocean, Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Malacca Straits, and South China Sea.
  • Go easy on the alcohol. The leading cause of death amongst American tourists isn’t terrorism or violent crimes, but drowning and car accidents. Alcohol is a major contributing factor in both.
  • Be mindful of all drinks and don’t accept food or drinks from strangers.
  • If you become inebriated, don’t let a stranger walk you back to your room.
  • If you become inebriated, don’t let a stranger walk you back to your room.
  • If traveling solo, don’t advertise it by walking alone late at night around solitary areas.​
  • Keep in mind that not all cabin doors close automatically. When leaving, give it tightly shut and then check to make sure it’s closed. When inside, push to make sure it clicks to close. If the door has a dead bolt, use it. It’s there for a reason.
  • Don’t leave your order outside the door since it typically lists the number of people in the cabin. Call for room service directly.
  • Don’t advertise your room number to strangers.
  • As tempting as it is to leave the balcony door open at night, lock it. Also, lock it when leaving your room, especially in ports.
  • Use your room safe for storing valuables.
  • Get to know your steward.
  • Don’t carry large amounts of cash while on board or during shore excursions.
  • Never accept invitations to the crew quarters.

Traveling by air

Many of the pitfalls that cause vacationers a headache while traveling by air are beyond their control (delayed flights, bad weather). But many precautions can improve travelers’ chances of having a safe and hassle-free flight no matter what. The rule of thumb – stop making all-too-common blunders like getting to the airport too late, or not checking what items are prohibited on planes.​

Safety when booking​

​A safe flight begins as early as booking, so make sure to follow these recommendations and get more involved with your safety as an airline passenger.

  • Non-stop flights are safer since 79.9% of all airline accidents happen during a takeoff and landing phase.
  • When booking itineraries, don’t go for tight connections. Rule of thumb – the less time between connecting flights, the more risk is involved. So research before booking, especially when heading to unfamiliar and super-sized airports.
  • Some items, as well as medicines, may be prohibited on planes, so check the Transportation Security Administration guidelines ahead of time. If traveling internationally, check Customs and Import Restrictions for items that may not be allowed inside the borders of your final destination as well.
  • When choosing airlines, check their safety record. If the record is not good, choose another airline.
  • If possible, pre-book your seats and opt for those that are no more than five rows away from an emergency exit.
  • Also keep in mind that statistically, the rear part of the aircraft is safer and aisle seats allow passengers to get out quicker.​

Safety at the airport

Not factoring in things like check-ins, customs, and security checks, or not arriving at the airport well ahead of time is a route to disaster. So, plan accordingly:​

  • Check-in online – usually 24 hours ahead of departure, since many airlines have strict check-in cutoff times. Travellers failing to check in on time run the risk of losing their seat.
  • Account for heavy traffic when planning on when to leave for the airport.
  • Try to get to your hub ahead of time – two hours in advance of domestic flights, and three hours ahead of international flights.
  • Mind your gate – it’s not uncommon for a flight to wind up at a different gate at the last minute. So, keep an eye on departure boards.
  • Factor in security and customs checks for international flights, as these can take forever. Leave plenty of time to deal with customs and security delays, especially if connecting flight is involved.
  • This is probably self-evident, but don’t leave your luggage unattended, and don’t get drunk.

Safety on the plane

It’s astonishing how little details affect survivability. From keeping a clear head to wearing proper clothes, it’s the little things that count when it comes to flying safely.​

  • Know the location and distance to the nearest emergency exit.
  • Read the safety card, and pay attention during the crew’s safety demonstration.
  • Check to make your life jacket is where it should be.
  • Don’t take off your shoes, especially before the plane leaves the ground. If you’ve taken them off mid-flight, make sure you put them back on before landing.
  • Dress as if you were planning for an emergency – avoid traveling in sandals or high-heeled shoes, shorts, and sleeveless shirts. Instead, wear hard soled shoes and practical clothes made of natural fabric since synthetic material will melt under high heat.
  • Don’t self-medicate with a preflight tranquilizer or alcohol – this will only muddle thinking but won’t help.
  • During a flight, minimize movement around the plane, and keep seat belt fastened.
  • If chartering an aircraft, flying in a light aircraft, or bush flying, fly in daylight and good weather. Also, remember that safety records are poorer in mountainous areas. Never urge the aircrew to fly against their sound judgment.
  • Keep an LED torch when traveling.​

During an emergency or crash landing

Don’t freeze or panic, and do as instructed by flight attendants. Try to understand the logic behind every instruction.

  • Listen to the instructions of the cabin crew and follow them.
  • Leave all belongings behind. Carry-on bags slow people down and create hazards for others.
  • Don’t wait for others to move. Many people might get paralyzed by fear.
  • Smoke aboard a plane is one of the greatest dangers as it disables people quickly. So get low immediately, and grab the oxygen mask as soon as it drops. There is a reason why flight attendants instruct parents to put on their oxygen mask first, and then help their children – that’s because children will be left helpless (and most likely die) if parents get unconscious due to hypoxia.

Crime-proofing while traveling

Pocket theft and purse-snatching is rampant in places with lots of tourists. All over the world, Americans are thieves’ favorite targets because they have all sort of good things in their bags and wallets. Be smart, don’t stick out, keep your guard on, and be wary of strangers, especially the ones offering drinks and unsolicited help.​

  • Before leaving your hotel, double-check maps, itineraries, and schedules.
  • Don’t hitchhike. Always use official taxi services, sit in the back seat and close the windows, especially when going through crowded streets where there’s a lot of foot traffic.
  • Never walk blindly into a noisy crowd. Maintain situational awareness at all times. If anything is off, walk away.
  • At ATM’s, avoid anyone offering unsolicited “help.”
  • If you’re approached by someone wearing an unfamiliar uniform, always ask for their ID. Imposters are rampant.
  • Signs like “Watch out for pickpockets!” often prompt travelers to check to make sure they are still in possession of their valuables. This is how pocket thieves know where tourists keep their valuables.
  • Lower your tourist profile. Blend in and wear clothes like the locals. Don’t broadcast your wealth, jewelry, or political opinions.
  • Never leave your drinks unattended. Be wary of accepting beverages, gum, and snacks from strangers.
  • Be wary of new friends since human traffickers often “groom” their victims before attacking.
  • When using hotel nanny services, leave a hidden nanny cam in the room.
  • Don’t hesitate to make a scene when in danger. A healthy scream can ward off an attacker and summon help.
  • Consider wearing a whistle or a personal security alarm that emits a shrill sound.
  • Stay connected and warn your relatives back home about your itineraries and plans, but do not post this information publicly on social networks.

Traveling both domestically and internationally can be fun and exhilarating, but there are also inherent risks involved. Proper research and planning, coupled with common sense, will help ensure you stay safe as you embark on new adventures.

Internet Safety

Many Americans feel they have lost control of their private information online and worry about corporations and government agencies being unable to protect all of the consumer data they collect, according to a recent report published by the Pew Research Center. And data breaches at places like Bank of America and Equifax are proving these fears to be completely justifiable. At some point or another, unfortunately your sensitive data may end up on the dark market.

64% of Americans have personally experienced a major data breach in their lives. Of those 64 percent:

  • ​41% had to deal with fraudulent charges on their credit cards.
  • 35% had their sensitive information compromised by an institution or business.
  • 15% had their Social Security number compromised.
  • 14% had someone attempt to take out loans in their name.
  • 16% had their email hacked.
  • 13% had a social network profile hijacked.
  • 6% had someone impersonate them to file fraudulent tax returns.

Compounding this problem is the fact that individuals do a great job of exposing their most sensitive data and helping hackers because they fail to follow basic safety precautions online.

Don’t be negligent when it comes to online security, and follow these tips to safeguard your privacy and protect your online presence.

Use strong passwords

If there is one online safety precaution that millions of Internet users keep getting wrong year after year, it is the use of passwords. People reuse passwords, rotating them across profiles. They use their birth dates and local football team names as passwords, and even share their passwords with others.

After the LinkedIn breach, security scientists analyzed the dumped passwords to see how many were weak. The results were staggering – 63,588,381 weak passwords in a single data dump alone. So, start reviewing your online habits by bringing your passwords – all of them – into order.​

Here’s an example of a strong password: N{>{0Psyd7wqz|3=YXPxyGK;IscQ.?{

And here are examples of weak passwords: qwerty, 12345678, password, Facebookpass, june151960.

When it comes to password safety:

  • Use password generators and password management software to store your passwords in a secure, encrypted database with a master password.
  • Never store your passwords in a Notebook file on your desktop.
  • Don’t use personal information in your passwords.
  • Don’t recycle the same password across different accounts. If one account gets compromised, this means the rest can easily be hacked.
  • Use long passwords (at least 12 characters).​

Consider multi-factor authentication

​Multi-factor authentication (MFA) grants user access only when the user presents several required means of authentication. Usually, MFA combines two or more independent credentials – what the user knows (such as PIN, password, or pass phrase), and something the user has (security token, verification code sent via SMS). Sometimes, a third layer of authentication is added – something the user is (biometric verification as in fingerprints, eye retina).

MFA creates a layered defense, which is significantly more difficult to crack. If one layer is compromised, the attacker still has one or two layers to breach before breaking into the target database or email account.

For average users, however, MFA is rather hassle-free, as it consists of a password and a verification code sent via SMS. MFA is a must-have feature that should be enabled for all accounts holding your sensitive information – email, cloud storage, health and fitness apps, accounting software, and social networks.​

Invest in security software

​Antivirus alone is not enough anymore, so you should seriously consider investing in a variety of other programs to boost your digital security.

  • Firewalls are electronic barriers that block unauthorized access to your devices.
  • Most people rely on antivirus ignoring a slew of anti-malware suites that scan computers for known malware, which often goes undetected by antivirus programs. Malwarebytes, Spybot Search and Destroy or SpywareBlaster come in free and paid offers, and significantly improve your resistance to malware.​
  • Anti-keylogger apps scramble your typing and make it impossible for someone to take a screenshot of what you are typing or track it.
  • Encryption programs encrypt your local files and store them in a safe vault that opens only with a correct password (which you set).
  • Avoid over-sharing your real email address when signing up for services online. Instead, use masked emails whenever possible. For example, masking apps like Blur allow users to create masked – anonymous - emails that are completely functional. They look like [email protected] and therefore, reveal no personally identifiable information, but redirect all incoming emails to your real email address.
  • A Virtual Private Network, VPN, encrypts and tunnels your traffic through its remote servers so that neither your ISP (Internet Service Provider) nor hackers preying on easy targets at public Wi-Fi hotspots can intercept your data.

Safe online behavior tips

​Unfortunately, a lot of opportunistic and targeted attacks are facilitated by the victims themselves. People routinely click on links in emails from unverified senders, and get addicted to sharing every bit of their private lives on social networks. They don’t double-check websites’ addresses when entering their credentials, and neglect installing important security updates on their computers and smartphones. Start improving your online security posture by following these simple recommendations.

  • Be careful with your clicks - Don’t invite trouble with careless clicking. Many of today’s digital threats come with fraudulent emails (phishing) and chat messages (social engineering). Phony free offers and online quizzes entice users to reveal personal information and click on dangerous links. Caveat Emptor: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.​
  • Protect what you share - Don’t share personally identifiable information online. Real names, addresses, phone numbers, birth dates, mother’s maiden names, kids’ names – impersonators and fraudsters can use this data to steal your identity.
  • Pay attention to detail - Watch out for websites that have misspellings and bad grammar, as these are typically copycats of legitimate sites. When shopping online, or visiting online banking websites, make sure the site’s address starts with “https” and not “http.” When installing mobile banking apps, make sure that you download them from a legitimate source and check the developer’s details. Many mobile banking apps have fraud clones that collect user logins and passwords.
  • Protect your smartphone - Smartphones are extremely vulnerable to online threats, as malicious apps and games crop up on app stores daily. Be careful when installing apps and games, and granting them permissions. Encrypt your smartphone, and scan your privacy settings to disable everything that is over-sharing your personal information (location tracking, connection to public Wi-Fi).
  • Be prudent with updates - Software updates aren’t just for new functionality – they fix security vulnerabilities in your programs and devices too. So, install new updates when prompted, and make sure your security software scans all of your devices weekly.
  • Backup regularly - Regular backups save a lot of time when something major goes wrong, like a hardware failure or ransomware attack. Consider having an offline backup of your critical data too.
  • Stay in-the-know - Don’t wait for major news outlets to tell you about the latest online scams. Always exercise caution instead.

Know the most common threats

​There is a common misconception that online security is rocket science, and many people tend to feel intimidated by the cyber jargon, thinking they can’t master the basics. So, many users just assume they’re too insignificant of a target for hackers to be interested in their data. Wrong. Identity theft in the U.S. is at an all-time high, with an estimated 15.4 million consumers hit by some kind of ID theft last year alone.

Ransomware attacks rise 250 percent in 2017, and U.S. is hit the hardest. At the same time, large majorities of internet users have heard about trolling (86%), hacking (95%), doxing (73%), and swatting (55%) - and 18% have experienced one of the online harassment forms personally.​

So, knowing the threats and taking safety precautions to protect your sensitive data is paramount in digital age, especially since it really is not rocket science.

Identity Theft

​Monitor your bank statements for suspicious activity and don’t share personal information online. When there are signs of unauthorized charges on your account, even small $1 transactions, contact your bank immediately.

​Monitor your bank statements for suspicious activity and don’t share personal information online. When there are signs of unauthorized charges on your account, even small $1 transactions, contact your bank immediately.​

Phishing Emails

​Phishing emails look highly credible and are designed to gather your information. A phishing email urges victims to download malware or make a transaction.

​Smart Tip: always double-check the sender’s email, and call them personally to confirm the transaction request. Never download files with .exe, .vbs, and .scr extensions.​

Ransomware

​Ransomware is malware that encrypts your hard drive. Hackers then demand ransom (usually in Bitcoin) in exchange for the password.

Smart Tip: regularly backup your data to the cloud and/or an external hard drive​.​

Cyberstalking

​Cyberstalking is currently a digital plague, with faceless pranksters destroying the lives and careers of entire families.

Stalkers often:

  • Dox – post victims’ personal information online for public access.
  • Swat – call 911 anonymously and reporting gunshots at the victim’s address.
  • Order flowers/pizzas/pool cleaning at the victim’s address, seven days a week and often at bizarre hours of the day and night
  • Hack victim’s office systems (to urge the employer to get rid of the problematic worker).
  • Camfect – hijack victim’s web cameras to snoop on them, take compromising pictures and then blackmail them.​

Smart tip: don’t engage in online squabbles with so-called trolls (people who make deliberately provocative or offensive statements with the aim of upsetting someone, or provoking an emotional response from them). Learn to identify trolls and ignore their comments no matter what.

  • Avoid posting personal data on your social media accounts.
  • Run an Internet search of your name regularly to identify if someone is spreading false information about you. If so, contact the blog/website/forum administrator to request that the content be immediately removed.
  • Change all your passwords, especially when breaking up with an abusive partner.
  • Seek outside help if you are cyberstalked.
  • Put a non-transparent duct tape over your web camera to prevent camfecting (webcam hacking that allows the hacker to snoop on the victim).

Social networking safety tips for adults

Online harassment is a common feature of online life for adults and teenagers. 41% of American adults have experienced online harassment first-hand, and 66% have seen it happen to others. Nearly half of those who’ve experienced online harassment know their harasser.

Worse, sexual predators and traffickers prey on the young on social networks and community chats. Over-sharing their personal information online, kids give stalkers, molesters, and mean pranksters the keys to their online and offline lives.

  • Look at the settings for all of your profiles, and disable everything that is “public” in them. Limit your posts to a closed circle of relatives and friends.
  • Don’t share your location via social media networks.
  • Don’t advertise you’ll be out of town through social media – burglars and stalkers will take note.
  • Don’t post full names, birth dates, phone numbers, and addresses of your family members. This information alone is enough for full-scale identity theft.
  • Don’t let potential stalkers identify your daily routines and itineraries. Don’t share your work and home addresses publicly. Don’t broadcast frequently visited places through your social profiles.
  • If you have children, don’t overshare information about them, including their routines and locations. Child molesters use social networks to profile minors.​

Protecting kids online

​Kids are more tech-savvy than their parents these days, and in most families, they can hide what they’re doing online from their parents. Parental control software is a viable option, but only when children don’t know how to bypass or disable it, or access the Internet from a different device.

Online safety education should be an ongoing process for families. Setting boundaries and rules is not enough, since it often provokes anger and resentment. Instead of trying to explain the dangers, show examples, and don’t try to sugar the pill and conceal the harsh reality. The Internet is a wild place full of child molesters, human traffickers, rapists, extremists and troubled people who like to stalk and bully others. Your children need to know this. 

  • Installing a stealth-monitoring app on your family computer, as well as your children’s smartphones.
  • Keeping children under the age of 13 from using social media networks and having personal emails addresses. Explain that they can only socialize online with the people they know in real life.
  • Setting up safety measures so that children can’t download and install software and media content without parental supervision.
  • Monitor your kids’ online activities for signs of cyberbullying.​

Combat cyberbullying

​Of all online threats affecting adolescents and teens, cyberbullying is by far one of the most widespread. Over half of teens have been bullied online, and just about the same number have engaged in cyberbullying, according to statistics. One in three young people experience threats online and over 25% of teenagers have been bullied repeatedly through their cell phones and the Internet.

To combat cyberbullying:

  • Block the bully’s phone number, email, and social networking accounts.
  • Make sure your child knows not respond to bullies, ever.
  • Screenshot threats for evidence and report them to the police.
  • ​Unplug from the Internet for a while. A complete disconnect from social networks might do wonders for your child’s emotional and mental health.