Depending on where you live, certain types of emergencies are more common. Hurricanes plague the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, blizzards strike the northern states, and earthquakes shake up the West Coast. Some natural disasters, like floods and fires, can happen anywhere.
Although rare, emergencies are likely to happen to all of us at some point. The last place you want to be during an emergency is caught unawares, especially if you are asleep.
Set yourself up for defense by emergency-proofing your bedroom now. Then, you (and your bedroom) will be prepared to meet any kind of emergency.
General emergency preparedness
Below we outline general emergency preparation advice that applies for any kind of emergency, before diving into specific tips for various types of emergencies.
1. Sign up for emergency alerts.
The first step is knowing an emergency is imminent. Activate emergency alerts on your smartphone. Download emergency preparedness apps, like the Red Cross Emergency App or FEMA app, both available for free on iOS and Android. Listen to NOAA Weather Radio and bookmark their website.
Contact your local Red Cross to educate yourself about common disasters that may happen in your area. Take their free informational pamphlets, find out how where your closest emergency center is, and ask how they inform the community about pending emergencies.
2. Prepare an emergency kit.
80% of Americans live in an area that’s experienced a recent, weather-related disaster, but only a third of us have an emergency kit at home.
Don’t join a losing trend. Prepare an emergency kit and keep it somewhere accessible that you won’t forget (like your bedroom closet in an easy-to-reach place). Here’s what to include:
Flashlights, battery-operated or hand-cranked lanterns
Portable phone battery (bonus points for solar-powered options)
A regional map of your city
Hand sanitizer and moist wipes
Nonperishable food and water to last your family and your pets for at least 3 days (or longer, if you have the room! Budget for 1 gallon per person per day.)
Swiss army knife or multipurpose tool with pliers and can opener
First aid supplies
Extra baby supplies, if currently caring for an infant
Extra pair of glasses if anyone is vision-impaired (finally, a way to put those old prescriptions to use)
Key financial information (If you own your home, maintain an inventory of all valuables for your home insurance, and update this list annually. This is also a good place to keep a backup hard drive or photocopies of any important documents, like birth certificates, social security cards, house deed, passports, and cherished family photos.)
Emergency contact information (more on this in the next step)
Test the efficacy of your emergency kit by doing a practice run one weekend. Turn off the lights and pretend there’s a power outage. See if you have everything you need to last you through the day and night.
Each year, review your emergency kit to ensure everything is still working as expected and that none of your supplies have expired. Replace any that have.
Keep all of this in a container that’s easy enough for you to carry on your own. Ideally, it has handles and is fireproof and waterproof.
3. Keep ICE information nearby.
ICE stands for In Case of Emergency. In case you or anyone in your home are discovered unconscious, you want first responders and medical staff to be able to identify you, know who to contact, and be aware of any pertinent health information.
Laminate a piece of paper and title it In Case of Emergency. On it, list the following:
The names of all members of your household (if possible, include a picture, too)
The names, phone numbers, and relationships of your emergency contacts
Any pertinent health information such as allergies, medications, and health conditions
If you sleep with your wallet in your bedroom, keep a small version of this in there, too. Here’s a printable template you can use from FEMA.
4. Store more throughout your bedroom.
Besides your emergency kit and ICE list, there are a few more things you’ll want to keep closeby, like sneakers. You don’t want to waste time frantically fumbling to put on shoes in the dark or during a fire. Keep a pair of sneakers under your bed or your nightstand, so they’re closeby but not a tripping hazard during times of non-emergency.
Keep extra blankets nearby, too. You can use these as extra layers during colder months or a power outage when the heat goes out. During high wind conditions, you can use them to cover up your windows.
Finally, you’ll want an additional nightstand in your nightstand. If the power goes out, you’ll need something to guide your way toward your emergency kit.
5. Rehearse your escape route.
Draw a map of your home. Plan 2 alternate escape routes for each room, using doors and windows. If you live in an apartment, know where all exit stairwells are located.
Practice your escape plan with all members of your household, at least once a year. Set an outdoor meeting spot if you’ll be exiting multiple bedrooms, close by but far enough away to be safe. During your escape drill, remember to grab your emergency kit.
If your bedroom is on a higher floor, purchase safety escape ladders. These are flame-resistant, roll up to be quite compact, and can easily be stored alongside your emergency kit. Choose ones that are at least 13 feet long for second-story bedrooms.
Always keep your car’s gas tank at least half-full so you can drive away if needed.
6. Plug in your phone.
Even though you should avoid using your electronics before bed (the blue light in these devices tricks your brain into staying up later), you may want to consider keeping them plugged in somewhere in your bedroom. Just make sure you cover up the charging light so it doesn’t disrupt the darkness.
This way, if disaster strikes and a power outage occurs, you’ll at least have a full phone battery, plus the portable one from your emergency kit.
40% of Americans said having a working cell phone during an emergency helped them. Be aware that texting is usually more reliable during a disaster than phone calls, so plan to text.
Earthquakes can happen anywhere and at anytime, with little warning, although they are most common in California, Alaska, and the Mississippi Valley.
Depending on the severity of the earthquake, buildings may collapse, items in your home will fall over or snap from the ceiling, and roads will get damaged. Earthquakes can cause subsequent disasters, including fires, landslides, tsunamis, and avalanches.
Here’s how to earthquake-proof your bedroom:
1. Secure items.
When it comes to preparing your bedroom for an earthquake, you can’t over do it on securing items in place.
Use earthquake putty to help secure items hanging on bedroom walls, such as mirrors, artwork or televisions, or consider relocating any of these potential fall risks to another room. (If you want more restful sleep, you’d be better off removing the television from your bedroom anyway).
Place heavier items on the floor or on lower shelves. If you’re keeping things on shelves, further secure them with earthquake putty or bolts, or install a ledge barrier so they’re less likely to roll off.
Use hooks and nylon safety straps to anchor bookcases, dressers, and other bedroom furniture in place. If you have top-heavy objects like a television, brace it.
Install latches on your dresser and nightstand drawers to prevent the drawers from opening, spilling out their contents, and creating a trip hazard.
2. Secure your home.
If you notice cracks in your bedroom ceiling or home foundation, get them assessed and repaired.
Apply safety film to your bedroom windows and any glass balcony doors in case they shatter.
Review your homeowner’s insurance to see if earthquake damage is included. If not, update your policy if you live in a state where earthquakes are common.
Know your city’s flood zones. If you live near a waterway, dams can break during an earthquake and cause flooding. In that case, you might want to look into flood insurance, as well.
3. Identify safe spots.
Depending on your bedroom setup, certain spots are safer than others during an earthquake.
Generally, if it starts while you’re asleep, you’re safest staying in bed and covering your head and neck with a pillow. But if you have a ceiling fan over your bed, you might be better off getting out of bed so you’re not directly under it. Once you’re out of bed, drop to the floor, crawl to a space away from any potential furniture that might fall, like your dresser or nightstand. Stay near an inside wall, and cover your head and neck with your arms.
Stay away from windows or lights. Do not stand in a doorway, leave your home, or go to another room. You are safest staying where you are until the earthquake ends. Then it is safe to exit.
No matter where you are, remember: drop, cover, and hold on!
Tornadoes are violent columns of air that rotate and spin over an area, destroying buildings in their wake. They can happen anywhere at anytime, although they are most common in the Southeast and Midwest, as this heat map from the National Weather Service shows.
Tornadoes are accompanied by thunderstorms, a loud roaring sound, large hail, dark greenish clouds, and extreme 200+ MPH winds. These create clouds of flying debris that wreck homes.
Here’s how to tornado-proof your bedroom:
1. Prevent tornado damage.
If there are trees outside your bedroom window, keep them in good health and regularly trim dead limbs. Also consider removing additional branches to provide room for the wind to blow through. Otherwise, branches (or the entire tree) may snap off and hurl toward your window.
Replace landscape rock and gravel with mulch or shredded bark to avoid additional projectiles during high wind conditions.
Replace your bedroom windows with impact-resistant windows. Install permanent storm shutters to cover them during a tornado.
2. Know your terminology.
Listen for and heed tornado sirens. A tornado watch indicates a tornado is possible, while a tornado warning indicates the tornado is already happening or is extremely close by.
If you hear a tornado siren or tornado warning, get to a safe place immediately.
3. Go somewhere safe.
If your bedroom is upstairs, relocate yourself to a downstairs room during a tornado. If possible, this is a basement or storm cellar; otherwise, it should be the smallest interior room. If you live in a high-rise apartment building, go to the lowest floor or a hallway towards the building’s center.
If you’ll be staying in your bedroom, lean your mattress against the wall for additional padded protection.
Decide on where you’ll go ahead of time and include it in your escape plan.
Wherever you end up, cover your head and neck with your arms and buffer yourself with blankets and furniture.
Hurricanes are large storms that start over bodies of water and move inward toward land. Hurricanes cause a variety of storm conditions, including heavy rain, high winds, tornadoes, and flooding.
A large part of the US is at risk for hurricanes, particularly the Atlantic Coast and anywhere around the Gulf of Mexico:
Hurricanes typically take place during “hurricane season” between May through the end of November.
Here’s how to hurricane-proof your bedroom:
1. Before hurricane season arrives, prepare your home.
Each year before hurricane season, check the rain gutters and downspouts around your roof. Secure them and clear any debris.
If you plan on using plywood boards to cover up your windows during a hurricane, pre-drill holes and anchors around your windows so you can quickly install the boards when the time arrives. Install hurricane straps to hold your roof against your walls, and place bolts on doors.
If you have any large trees outside your bedroom, regularly trim them and remove damaged limbs to prevent them falling into your bedroom and causing property damage.
If you own your home, invest in flood insurance.
2. During a hurricane watch, secure your bedroom.
A hurricane watch means hurricane-like conditions may occur within the next 48 hours.
Use this time to ensure your emergency notifications are turned on, your emergency kit is near your bed and has everything you need, and everyone in the house is prepared and ready to follow your evacuation plan.
Go out and fill your gas in case you need to evacuate. Know the evacuation route so you can safely get out. Coordinate with a friend or family member who lives far outside of the hurricane area and can offer you a place to stay.
Until officials order you to evacuate, stay at home and secure your bedroom. Stay away from bedroom windows, or sleep in a part of your house without windows or doors, towards the structural center of your home. Close storm shutters and board up your windows or seal them with blankets.
Consider moving valuables upstairs in case it floods. However, make sure none of these are fragile or would otherwise cause an injury risk, if they’ll be staying with you in your bedroom during the hurricane.
3. During a hurricane warning, prepare to evacuate.
A hurricane warning means that hurricane-like conditions are expected to occur within the next 36 hours.
During this time, bring in any outdoor furniture like patio chairs and trash cans. You don’t want these to go flying during the storm and break your bedroom windows.
Bring your mattress with you if you plan on sleeping in another room. It will provide better comfort than your couch and additional protection against shattered glass from windows.
Continue watching the local news and listening to officials, paying close attention to evacuation orders and if they’re being issued for your area. Check in with your emergency contact and confirm you can still stay with them. Charge your phone.
Floods are a common after-effect of natural disasters that are equally disastrous on their own. Floods can occur during and after winter storms, hurricanes, and heavy rains. Flash foods describe floods that occur suddenly due to a heavy rainfall.
Gather flood preparation materials during dry, sunny parts of the year to both save on costs and prevent being caught unprepared. Be ready with sand, sandbags, plastic garbage bags, shovels, and plastic sheeting to protect areas of your bedroom and home.
If your bedroom is located on a lower level, prepare sandbags early and way ahead of time. According to the Red Cross, it takes 2 people one hour to create a one-foot high wall that’s 20 feet long.
Seal and waterproof bedroom windows on lower levels to prevent water leaking in.
3. Know your terminology.
A flood or flash flood watch indicates weather conditions that would make flooding possible, while a flood or flash flood warning indicates that the flooding is already taking place or about to.
During a flood watch, see if your local Red Cross or community government is providing free sandbags to residents.
During a flood warning, remove valuables and furniture from first-floor bedrooms and relocate to higher rooms.
According to Ready.gov, a fire can go from a hazard to life-threatening in a matter of minutes. If a fire starts while you’re asleep, you need to get out fast.
A full quarter of home fire deaths are caused by fires that started in the bedroom, according to the National Fire Protection Association:
Here’s how to fireproof your bedroom:
1. Practice fire drills.
Despite there being over a million residential fires each year, only a third of American households have a fire escape plan. Schedule a twice-yearly fire drill, and make one of those at night. This way you and your family are truly prepared.
With a fire, every second counts, so practice your escape plan quickly. In case smoke makes it dark, practice with your eyes closed or a bandana over your head to see if you can feel your way out.
If a fire starts outside your bedroom, practice crawling low to the ground toward the door. Practice touching the door knob before opening it. If it’s hot to touch, go to your other route and practice unrolling your safety escape ladders. Confirm that you can easily open your bedroom window.
Practice the stop, drop, and roll in case you catch on fire.
2. Regularly maintain smoke alarms.
Keep a smoke alarm in every room of your house, including your bedroom. Smoke alarms reduce your risk of dying by fire by half.
Choose smoke alarms with sealed-in 10-year lithium battery. If your house is currently using hard-wire smoke alarms, replace them with battery-powered models or install battery-powered models as backups.
Each month, test the alarm and clear it of dust. Every year, replace the batteries. Every 10 years, replace the smoke alarm unit.
Get a separate carbon monoxide alarm and place one outside your bedroom so you’ll wake up if it starts to beep.
3. Keep a fire extinguisher handy.
Most people keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen for kitchen fires, but that’s not helpful if a fire occurs upstairs or in their bedroom.
Keep a fire extinguisher in your bedroom or closeby. Buy a fire extinguisher with an ABC rating. This means they are able to extinguish fires caused by the widest variety of items, flammable liquids, and electronic equipment.
Every year, confirm that the gauge reads 100% full, and replace it if not. Train yourself on how to use a fire extinguisher and rehearse the motions during your fire escape plan (but don’t actually squeeze it).
4. Remove obvious fire hazards.
Do not light candles in your bedroom. Avoid using space heaters in the bedroom. Never smoke in your bedroom.
If you have a rug in your bedroom, avoid running electrical cords under it. Regularly check that all of the electronics in your bedroom are not showing frays or damage to the wires, and if so, replace them immediately.
If you live in an older home, hire a professional to come take a look at your wiring and replace anything that’s old.
Caulk and weatherstrip your bedroom windows and ensure they’re properly insulated from cold outside air.
Consider replacing your bedroom windows with storm windows for extra insulation. Alternately, you can take the DIY approach and cover them with plastic on the inside during a storm.
2. Get creative with bedding.
Winter storms often cause power outages. If that happens, you’ll need to prepare other ways to stay warm.
Bundle up in bedding and keep heavy coats, gloves, scarves, and thick socks nearby. Consider using a sleeping bag instead of, or in addition to, your normal bedding. These are designed to trap body heat.
You can also invest in winter bedding, which is normally heavier than regular bedding, before winter storm season, and hang heavy curtains for extra warmth.
During the storm, stay in bed as much as possible to maintain your body heat, even eating your food there, too. Food keeps your energy levels up so your body can properly thermoregulate.
3. Prepare an alternate heat source.
Besides bedding, you can also use an electric space heater for extra heat. Without safe use, though, this can pose a fire risk, so use it only during the storm and remove from your bedroom promptly afterward.
For safe use, place anything that could potentially catch on fire at least 3 feet away. When using an electric space heater, plug it directly into the wall (not through an extension cord). If you start falling asleep, turn off and unplug the heater.
4. Know your terminology.
Pay attention to local officials and heed their warnings:
A winter weather watch indicates winter storm conditions that may affect a large geographic area for a few days or more.
A winter weather advisory indicates winter storm conditions that may be potentially hazardous within the next 48 hours.
A winter weather warning indicates a severe winter storm that will produce heavy snowfall, ice, or windows in a specific geographic area within the next 24 hours.
Now that you’ve fully emergency-proofed your bedroom, refer to the following resources to prepare the rest of your home for any kind of emergency:
For each type of emergency, FEMA provides educational information, facts and statistics, and visualization maps of risk areas by state. They also offer preparedness checklists you can download and print for earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, and more.