Be ready for winter emergencies

There’s some logic to that old saying that you should get the bread and milk when snow’s coming. In an emergency, roads may be blocked. Stores might be closed. Power may go out. Cash machines might be shut down. And even if you can get to the store, it is open, and you do have cash, other people may have beaten you to the supplies or fuel you need.

So it’s smart to make an emergency kit for your home, your car, your workplace, or your school. Many people also put together general emergency kits and “go bags” of things they need if they have to evacuate due to a gas leak or some other disaster. You can also make kits for pets.1

A few general tips:
  1. Think about what your family would need in a disaster, and keep your emergency supplies where you can get to them quickly.
  2. Fill your car’s gas tank when bad weather is forecast. If you have to leave before a winter emergency, you don’t want to wait in line for fuel.
  3. Keep some cash in a safe place in case ATMs and credit card machines aren’t working due to a power failure.

Good safety practices

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has put together a great list of winter “to-do’s” for your home, car, and family. A few of these tips:

Stay in touch with news, weather, and family members

Make sure you have a cell phone and a portable charger or extra batteries in case the power goes out.

Keep a battery-powered radio, with extra batteries, for listening to local emergency updates. A good choice is a weather radio that lets you listen to National Weather Service broadcasts. Some new radios also have built-in cell phone chargers.

Make a family communication plan. Plan what you’ll do in an emergency, know how you’ll contact each other, and agree on a place to get back together if you get separated.

Check on older neighbors and family members.  Be ready to help if they need you.

Know your winter storm terms, and pay attention to watches, advisories, and warnings. They’re there to save your life.2

Staying warm and safe in your home

First, know that using your cooking stove for heat is not safe. Instead, have at least one of the following on hand in case your electricity goes out:

  • Extra blankets, sleeping bags, and warm winter coats.
  • A fireplace with plenty of dry firewood, or a gas-log fireplace.
  • Portable propane or kerosene heaters and fuel for them. Check with your local fire department to be sure these are legal in your area.

Space heaters are a major cause of fires in U.S. homes. Even “safety” space heaters can be dangerous. So be smart!

  • Use only electric space heaters with automatic shutoff switches and heating elements that don’t glow.
  • Never place a space heater on top of furniture, near water, or on a damp floor.
  • Place heaters at least 3 feet from furniture and drapes.
  • Never leave children near a space heater.

And here are some notes about using a gas-powered emergency electric generator:

  • Never use a generator indoors, inside the garage, or near the air intake of your home. Generators put out poisonous carbon monoxide.
  • Never store generator fuel indoors where the fumes might ignite. Don’t store propane or kerosene indoors, either.
  • Use only individual heavy-duty, outdoor-rated cords to plug appliances into the generator.
  • Never use generators, or any appliances, if they are wet.

Lighting and Cooking

  • Avoid candles. Choose battery-powered flashlights or lanterns instead.
  • Never use charcoal grills or portable gas camp stoves indoors. The fumes are deadly.
  • Candles can lead to house fires. If you do use candles, never walk away from lit candles, and be sure to put them out before going to sleep.

Food and Safety Items

It’s a good idea to have a week’s worth of food and safety supplies. If you live far from other people, have more. Here are items you should have:

  • Drinking water. Pipes may freeze in cold weather, especially if your heat goes out.
  • Canned and shelf-stable food like bread, crackers, dried fruits
  • A non-electric can opener
  • Prescription drugs and other medicine
  • First aid kit
  • Flashlights and extra batteries
  • Battery-powered lamps or lanterns
  • Baby food and formula if you have a baby
  • Pet food if you have a pet
  • Rock salt to melt ice on walkways
  • Cat litter or sand for slippery spots on walkways and steps

Snow can be melted for water. Bringing water to a rolling boil for one minute will kill most germs. However, it won’t get rid of chemicals sometimes found in snow.

Staying safe on the road

If the roads are bad, it’s best to stay home. But if travel is a must, have these in your vehicle:

  • Cell phone, portable charger, and extra batteries
  • Shovel
  • Windshield scraper
  • Battery-powered radio with extra batteries
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Water
  • Snack food
  • Extra hats, coats, and mittens
  • Blankets
  • Chains or rope
  • Tire chains
  • Canned compressed air with sealant for emergency tire repair
  • Road salt and sand for traction
  • Jumper or booster cables
  • Emergency flares
  • Brightly colored flag or help signs
  • First aid kit
  • Tool kit
  • Road maps
  • Compass
  • Waterproof matches and a can to melt snow for water
  • Paper towels 2,3

For more tips and details, the CDC publishes a very helpful guide. A PDF is available for free download at the link below.4

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