It’s 2 a.m. and disaster strikes. Do you know where to find a flashlight? Is there a gas shut-off valve you should know about?

According to the National Fire Safety Association, a home fire is reported every 81 seconds in the United States. Eight out of 10 deaths occur at home, and nearly half result from fires that strike between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Armed with a little knowledge, prevention is the best weapon against disaster. Here’s a list to start:

Keep flashlights handy and check frequently for battery charge. Consider plug-in type lights that provide emergency light when power shuts down. Most hardware stores carry a variety ranging from nightlight to spotlight power. Don’t use candles for lighting.

Having emergency supplies is a good idea. Packaged, dried or canned food should be kept with a non-electric can opener. Water supplies may be tainted or cut off in an emergency. Keep spare drinking water in closed, clean containers. Supply one gallon per person per day for at last three days. Store emergency supplies in a dry, safe place.

Brace for an earthquake. For example, check that water heaters are braced to the walls with earthquake straps. Large furniture should be secured with wall braces.

Don’t hang or place anything containing glass that could shatter and cause injury – especially when heading for the door. Framed posters and art can easily be reframed in Plexiglass.

Create an exit plan in case of emergency – and practice it with everyone who lives in your place.

Check for fire extinguishers. Most rental properties should have them located outside in an easy to spot location. Note the tag on the extinguisher itself – it should be date-stamped to confirm if it is effective. If not, notify the management in writing at once.

Kids start nearly 100,000 fires a year, according the United States Fire Administration (USFA), and should be kept away from radiators, heaters and stoves when in use. Kids have a special site at

In a building of 16 units or larger, a resident manager should be available in case of emergency. If not, ask the owner or manager whom to contact for emergencies, especially situations that may require turning off the main gas, electric or water service for the property.

Do not keep flammables, such as gas or some cleaners, in the laundry room or near any type of heater, including water heaters.

No one officially available on-site at a rental? Especially in case of earthquake, someone may need to shut off main gas service. Fires have erupted from gas lines that create a leaking “bomb” when ignited. Ask the owner or manager for permission to shut off gas service if needed, especially if you smell gas or suspect electrical wires are damaged.

Water pipes may burst and cause flooding. A simple twist of the wrench in the right location could save you from being knee-deep in trouble.

Review the position that indicates when the line is on and off. You may need to call the gas company for details on service shut-off. Simple tools, such as a crescent wrench, should be kept near the water and gas lines at all times. Have them adjusted for size and ready for the job. Having a photo or diagram above the meters helps orient the proper shut-off position. When panicked, it’s hard to remember which way is up – and off.

Know where the main shut-off valves are. Older places may not have a shut-off valve that is easy to find. Newer codes in some areas (and now when sold) require earthquake auto shut-off valves. Be sure they engage properly.

Not sure where to start? Call your local utility for directions. Gas lines are the most vulnerable, since they emit flammable vapors that create a bomb if not ventilated.

There are dozens of valve types and tools to match. Know which type you need by simply checking the line. Simple handles are easiest, while older places may require insert type tools. Once turned off, do not try to turn it back on. Let a qualified service person handle restoring and handling the equipment.

Keep a list of valuables (and photo’s) in a safe place away from home. If disaster strikes, it will be easier to replace items.

Update your insurance and keep it handy – in a safe place. We were amazed that our old policy was out-of date and nearly useless when disaster struck after an earthquake and our home was burned to the ground. The limits were several years old and far below current replacement cost, and the policy had a face-value limit. Check that your policy allows for inflation and current cost upgrade coverage.

Check that you have smoke alarms. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, “When fire breaks out, the smoke alarm, functioning as an early warning system, reduces the risk of dying by nearly 50 percent ( Alarms should be found in all bedrooms and common hallways of the unit. Battery-powered alarms are currently allowed by some state laws, but local ordinances may have stricter requirements. Batteries should be changed twice a year. Check with you city or county for details. Test smoke alarms by simply pushing the “test” button or per instruction on alarm.

Remember, safety begins at home, and should be everyone’s concern.


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