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Dealing With Home Emergencies

Be Prepared


Not every emergency can be prepared for, but if you live in an area prone to hurricanes, floods, earth quakes, or

tornadoes, you should have basic emergency supplies on hand, and your family should be aware of what steps to take when disaster strikes.

Hurricanes. The National Hurricane Center recommends that those living in low-lying areas have an evacuation plan. Find out about the best routes from your local police or Red Cross chapter. Also plan for emergency communication, such as contacting a friend out of the storm area, in case family members are separated. Listen to the radio or TV for warnings; check your emergency supplies, and fuel the car. Bring in outdoor objects such as lawn furniture, and close shutters or install plywood before the storm arrives. Unplug appliances, cut off the main circuit breaker, and turn off the main water-supply valve.

Tornadoes. Have a place ready where you can take shelter--if you donít have a basement, find a windowless spot on the ground floor, such as a bathroom or a closet under stairs. As tornadoes usually happen with little warning, know the danger signs.

Earthquakes. If you live in an earthquake zone, have all shelves fastened securely to your walls, and store heavy or breakable items close to the floor. During an earthquake, the safest place in your home (according to FEMA) is under a piece of heavy furniture or against an inside wall, away from windows or furniture that may topple.

Survival Tips. If you plan to ride out a storm, have basic emergency supplies on hand, including flash lights and extra batteries, a battery- operated radio, first-aid kit, extra nonperishable food and water, and essential medicines. Turn the refrigerator to its coldest setting, and open and close it only when absolutely necessary. Store drinking water in jugs and bottles--and in clean bathtubs.


Severe storms are quantified by their potential for damage.

Temporary Roof Repairs. Itís natural to try to patch an active leak but unwise to work on a wet roof in bad weather.

There are exceptions: mainly, if the house has a low-sloped or flat roof that you wouldnít roll off even if you slipped. When you can work safely, temporarily stem roof leaks using roof cement (not roof coating). On standard shingles, flashing, roll roofing, and even built-up flat roofs, pry apart the leaking seam, and fill the opening with the thick tar. Then, push the shingle seam or flashing edge back in place, and add another thick layer of tar. If a shingle tab (the exposed section) has blown off, cover the area with tar, particularly exposed nailheads on the shingle layers below, and weave in a cover layer--if you donít have spare shingles, a piece of tarpaper or even a plastic bag will work just be sure to overlap them.

Clearing Bottlenecks. To help prevent damage, it pays to regularly check and clear gutters and down- spouts--particularly the S-shaped offset fitting that directs water from roof overhangs back toward the building leader board. These fittings typically are held in place with sheet-metal screws, which you need to remove to gain access for cleaning that section of downspout.

To prevent gutters and drains from becoming laden with ice during the winter, you can install UL approved electric heat cables. These are equipped with built-in thermostats that trigger a power flow when temperatures drop to the freezing point, keeping the gutters flowing.


The natural impulse after your house is flooded is to remove as much water as quickly as you can. .it after a major flood,

you should resist the impulse, and drain the water slowly.

Pumping Out Water. The hidden danger is that the ground outside the foundation wall is saturated and pressing against the masonry with the potential force of a mudslide. In extreme cases, several feet of water inside the wall pressing in the opposite direction may be the only thing preventing a collapse. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), you should wait until water on the ground outside begins to drain away before pumping out the basement. Even then, you should reduce the level only 2 or 3 feet the first day. Remember, donít use a gasoline-powered generator or pump inside the house because it releases deadly carbon monoxide fumes.

Sump Pumps. Check your sump pump; it can prevent major damage from flooding. Many models turn on when a float rises along a wire as water rises in the sump hole. If the sump has not kicked in recently, the float can seize in place. Run it up and down a few times to make sure that the sump, and everything else, wonít wind up submerged.

Foundation Repairs. Interior surface patches wonít work on foundations because leaks have a wall of water behind them--sometimes massive hydrostatic pressure from a yard of compacted dirt that has turned to mud. But there is one material, hydraulic cement, that has the potential to stem an active leak through masonry. The dense cement mix should be forced into wet cracks, packed in layer after layer, and held in place with a cover board. Even if water continues to flow, the mix will harden and swell as it sets up. If you pack the crack tightly, the swelling mix fills nooks and crannies and can stop the leak.

Fire Safety

The most important fire protection is a working smoke detector. Next is a fully charged ABC-rated extinguisher that you

can use against any type of home fire. For fireplaces and stoves, use a special chimney extinguisher. Most look like a road flare. You remove a striking cap, ignite the stick, and toss it into the fire place or wood stove. It can suppress a fire in the chimney by displacing oxygen needed for combustion with a large volume of incombustible gas.

Smoke Detectors. If your smoke detectors are battery-powered, change the batteries on a set schedule. There are also hard-wired smoke detectors that run off house current (with battery back-ups). Install at least one smoke detector on every level of the home.

Chimneys. Have a chimney sweep inspect chimneys, even if you use a fireplace only occasionally. Sweeps have the tools to dislodge hardened creosote, a by-product of incomplete combustion that can reignite and start fires. You can make an unlined flue safer with one of the masonry mix systems that forms a fire-safe shell inside the flue or by running code-approved exhaust ducts through the chimney.

Extinguishers. Mount extinguishers near points where fires may start--one in the kitchen and one at the entrance to the utility room that houses a gas-fired furnace, water heater, and clothes dryer. Check the pressure dials to make sure extinguishers are charged.

Escape Routes. For maximum safety, particularly with children in the house, make sure you establish an evacuation plan with two ways out of every room, and walk children through the routes so they know what to do in an emergency.

Emergency Numbers. Post telephone numbers of local fire, police, and emergency services. Use an extinguisher against small, spot fires, but donít try to fight large, developing fires; leave the house.




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