During and right after a disaster, any household item that can move, fall, break, or cause a fire becomes a home hazard. To minimize possible danger, inspect your home now to find and correct potential hazards.
Check for electrical hazards
- Replace frayed or cracked extension and appliance cords, loose prongs, and plugs.
- Make sure there is only one plug per outlet. Avoid using cube-taps or overloading outlets. If you must use an extension cord, use a cord that’s rated for the electrical load and no longer than is really needed.
- Remove electrical cords that run under rugs or over nails, heaters, or pipes.
- Cover exposed outlets and wiring.
- Repair or replace appliances that overheat, short out, smoke, or spark.
Check for chemical hazards
- Store flammable liquids like gasoline, acetone, and lacquer thinner in approved safety cans in a storage area located away from the home. Place containers in a well-ventilated area and close the lids tightly. Secure the containers to prevent spills.
- If flammable materials must be stored in the home, use a storage can with an Underwriter’s Laboratories (UL) or Factory Mutual (FM) approved label. Move materials away from heat sources, open flames, gas appliances, and children.
- Keep combustible liquids like paint thinner, kerosene, charcoal lighter fluid, and turpentine away from heat sources.
- Store oily waste and polishing cloths in covered metal cans.
- Instruct family members not to use gasoline or other flammable fluids for starting fires or cleaning indoors.
Check for fire hazards
- Clear out old cloths, papers, mattresses, broken furniture, and other combustible materials.
- Move clothes, curtains, cloths, and paper goods away from electrical equipment, gas appliances, or flammable materials.
- Remove dried grass cuttings, tree trimmings, and weeds from the property.
- Clean and repair chimneys, flue pipes, vent connectors, and gas vents.
- Keep heaters and candles away from curtains and furniture.
- Keep portable heaters on level surfaces, away from high traffic areas. Purchase portable heaters equipped with automatic shut-off switches, and don’t use them with extension cords.
Check fire safety equipment
- Install smoke alarms inside each bedroom, outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home. Test detectors every month with the test button on the detector.
- Smoke detectors with non-replaceable, 10-year batteries are designed to remain effective for up to 10 years. If the alarm chirps, it means that the battery is getting low. Since these detectors do not have replaceable batteries, replace the entire smoke detector right away. Smoke detectors with any other type of battery need a new battery at least once a year. If that alarm chirps, telling you that the battery is getting low, replace the battery right away.
- Keep at least one fire extinguisher (ABC-type) on hand. Maintain and recharge according to manufacturer’s instructions. Show all adult family members where it’s kept and make sure they know how to use it. Children should not be trained on fire extinguisher use as they should be trained to get out of the building as quickly as possible.
- Properly trained adults should use a fire extinguisher only when the fire is confined to a small area, such as a wastebasket. Make sure that it is safe to attempt to extinguish the fire. Exit the building immediately if the fire starts to grow or the room starts to fill with smoke.
Check items that can shift or fall
- Anchor water heater, large appliances, bookcases, tall or heavy furniture, shelves, mirrors, and pictures to wall studs.
- Place large or heavy objects on lower shelves.
- Install clips, latches, or other locking devices on cabinet doors.
- Provide strong support and flexible connections on gas appliances, including the water heater.
- Hang heavy items, such as pictures and mirrors, away from beds and places where people sit.
- Repair any deep cracks in ceilings or foundations.
Check your utilities
- Locate the main electric fuse or circuit breaker box, water service shut-off, and natural gas main shut-off.
- Contact local utility companies for instructions on how to turn off the utilities.
- Teach family members when and how to turn off utilities.
- Clear the area around shutoff switches for easy access.
- Attach shut-off wrench or specialty tool to a pipe or other location close by the gas and water shut-off valves.
- Paint shut-off valves with white or fluorescent paint to increase visibility.
Plan how to escape from your home in the event of an emergency. Identify at least two exits from each room. Clear doors, hallways, and stairs of obstructions. Conduct emergency drills. Practice daytime and nighttime escapes, and pick a safe meeting place outside the home.
For further suggestions about what to do if potential disasters, such as floods and hurricanes are coming, visit disastersafety.org and view:
For more information on disaster preparedness and recovery visit the NC Disaster Information Center.
Adapted by Dr. Sarah Kirby, Housing Specialist, NC State Extension, from the University of Florida / Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ Disaster Handbook.
Publication date: May 23, 2014
Revised: Feb. 22, 2019
There is an alternate Spanish language version of this document here: Corrija peligros potenciales antes de un desastre
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