How To Survive When Disaster Strikes

What you need to know to survive 3 disasters: fire, car accidents and plane crashes. These simple steps will keep you and your family safe.

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We don't like to think about them, but catastrophic events such as fires, car accidents, and plane crashes kill tens of thousands of people every year. Experts believe one-third of those deaths can be prevented if you know what to do. So add a few things to your shopping and to-do lists, and take a little time to make sure you, and your family, are ready for anything.

Almost all fatal fires occur in a home with no smoke alarm, because the #1 threat from a fire is not heat or flames, but smoke, which can suffocate you in minutes. Follow this guide to get out quickly and safely.

How to Prepare

  • Smoke detectors: Check with your local fire marshall to learn the laws about how many you must have. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends having one in every bedroom, outside each separate sleeping area, and on every floor. Change batteries twice a year when you change your clocks.
  • Fire extinguishers: Like smoke detectors, the more, the better, but the NFPA advises that they should only be used for small, contained fires. To use, pull the pin, stand back, and spray in sweeping motions over a large area.
  • Escape ladders: Every bedroom above the first floor should have a folding escape ladder. They're inexpensive, but fire departments often give them out to families who can't afford them.
  • Home escape plan: Create a floor plan with all doors, windows, and escape ladder locations clearly marked. Convene a family meeting twice a year to review the floor plan, practice turning the thermostat off while blindfolded (AC systems feed fires and spread smoke), and discuss your escape plan.

What to Remember

  • Check the door: If it's hot, step away. If the door is open and you see smoke or fire, close it.
  • Block the smoke: Using blankets or towels, cover the bottom of the door to slow the smoke's entry.
  • Get low: The temperature near the ground can be 600 degrees cooler than near the ceiling and the air is clearer.
  • Crawl to the window: A room can fill with smoke in as little as 3 minutes, so move quickly. Stay low, crawling on knuckles and knees (the synthetic fibers of rugs can burn your palms). Open the window, and if you're on the first or second floor, jump (a broken bone is better than the other option). If you're higher, stay crouched below the windowsill--it's the first place rescuers will look for you.