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As a renter, the best thing you can do in any emergency situation is be prepared, which means planning carefully and knowing what to expect.  All apartment-dwellers should have a plan for every contingency, from emergencies to severe weather to natural disasters.  Follow these guidelines so you are better prepared for apartment emergencies.

Basic Apartment Safety Tips

There are a few preliminary precautions that every renter should take when it comes to apartment emergencies:

  • Have an emergency kit on hand that is easily accessible at all times.  This kit should include flashlights, batteries, a first aid kit, a battery-powered radio, and at least three days-worth of water and non-perishable food items.  Consider also buying a wireless charger for your cell phone.
  • Establish a family emergency plan by identifying evacuation routes and the best shelter locations in and around the apartment.  Let everyone know where the emergency kit is kept as well.
  • As a renter, you should also consider buying renter’s insurance and, if applicable, flood insurance.  Apartment insurance can help replace your belongings if damaged in a natural disaster.
  • Talk to your apartment neighbors about what to do in the event of an emergency.  Figure out who has the safest shelter locations, if anyone owns supplies like a backup generator, and if neighbors have any medical expertise.
  • Find out if your cell phone can receive Wireless Emergency Alerts, which are a nationwide text emergency alert system.  WEA-capable phones in the vicinity of dangerous weather will receive alerts in the event of impending bad weather.

Tornado Safety for Apartments

Tornados can occur at any time of year, but peak tornado season usually lasts from late winter through midsummer, depending on your location in the U.S.  Remember, a “tornado watch” means that there is a possibility of a tornado in your area.  A “tornado warning” means that a tornado has already been sighted in the area. 

If you receive a tornado warning, don’t take chances.  Apartment-dwellers should avoid windows and head for the lowest floor of the apartment, a small room in the center of the apartment (like a bathroom or closet), a stairwell, or a central windowless hallway.  Once in place, you should kneel and cover the back of your head with your hands.  Most tornado fatalities occur due to flying or falling debris, so you should also protect yourself with thick padding like blankets or a mattress.  Some apartments may also have a community tornado shelter, so find out ahead of time what your location options are.

Hurricane Safety for Apartments

Hurricane season is a dangerous time of year.  The Atlantic hurricane season lasts from June 1st to November 30th, and the Eastern Pacific hurricane season lasts from May 15th to November 30th.  High winds, storm surges, and flooding are all very real dangers to those in areas that are susceptible to hurricanes.  That is why, if your apartment is in an evacuation zone and you receive an evacuation order, it is in your best interest to follow it rather than waiting the storm out.  Oftentimes, those who stay behind in a hurricane suffer much more serious consequences than those who evacuate.  Remember, a “hurricane watch” means a storm is predicted to arrive within 36 hours.  A “hurricane warning” is issued within 24 hours of a storm. 

If you do get stuck in your apartment during a hurricane, stay in a small central room like a bathroom, closet, or windowless hallway on the lowest level of your apartment.  Keep your emergency kit with you and listen to the radio for news.

For more hurricane safety tips from the NOAA’s National Hurricane Center, click here.

Apartment Flooding Safety

There are 2 types of flooding that renters need to worry about.  First, natural floods, which be a problem if you apartment is in a flood zone or near dams or levees.  During flood conditions, listen to your radio or TV for information, and heed any issued warnings.  If you need to evacuate your apartment in the event of a flood, disconnect all electrical appliances that are dry, move essentials to a higher floor, and remember to never walk through moving water or drive into already-flooded areas.

The second kind of flooding that renters need to be concerned about is internal apartment flooding caused by plumbing problems.  If you have a problem with a flooded apartment, notify your landlord and apartment maintenance immediately.  If the problem is a toilet or faucet, find the shutoff valve near the floor or wall and rotate it to the right to stop the flow of water.  If the problem is a burst pipe or other plumbing problem, clear away any valuable belongings and electrical items wait for maintenance to arrive.  

To prevent flooding due to burst frozen pipes in winter, you should keep your thermostat above 55 degrees Fahrenheit, check the insulation around your plumbing, and let your faucets drip to keep water flowing (especially at night).

Apartment Earthquake Safety

If you live in an apartment in an area that is prone to earthquakes, you know that they can be scary, no matter the frequency with which they occur.  As a renter you should prepare your apartment for an earthquake, and know what to do in the event of one.

To make your apartment more earthquake-safe, you should store large, heavy, and/or breakable items on lower shelves.  Make sure those shelves, as well as any mirrors and large picture frames, are securely fastened to the apartment walls.

During an earthquake, drop to the ground and move into a door frame, against an inside wall, or under a sturdy piece of furniture.  Stay clear of windows, heavy lighting fixtures, and doors to the outside.  Never use an elevator during an earthquake.

Get More Apartment Safety Tips

For more emergency preparedness tips, visit FEMA’s Ready Campaign website, which has tips for all kinds of severe weather and emergencies.

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