21 Affordable Winter Safety Tips for Families

According to the National Weather Service, extreme cold and winter storms in 2013 resulted in 46 deaths and extensive disruptions for thousands of families. Another cold blast this week prompts FLASH to offer 21 winter and power outage safety tips to keep families safe and warm.

Affordable Ways to Protect Your Home

For as little as $1 per 6’ of insulation, you can stop pipes from freezing during winter and even when the power goes out.

1. Insulate pipes exposed to the elements or cold drafts with insulating foam. For as little as $1 per 6’ of insulation, you can stop pipes from freezing and save energy.

2. Place an insulating dome or other covering on outdoor faucets and spigots to reduce the likelihood of the water in your pipes freezing, expanding, and causing a costly leak.

3. Drip faucets to reduce the build-up of pressure in the pipes. Even if the pipes freeze, you have released the pressure from the water system reducing the likelihood of a rupture. If you are going out of town, and suspect that temperatures will drop or a power outage will occur, turn off the water to your home and open all of the taps to drain the water system. This way you won’t return to a frozen, soggy mess.

4. Check for air leaks around windows and doors using a lit incense stick. If the smoke is sucked out of an opening, seal the leak with caulk, spray foam or weather stripping.

Keep Your Family Safe & Warm

5. Keep a supply of flashlights, batteries and a battery-powered radio on hand. Do not use candles as they pose a fire hazard.

6. After the power goes out, make sure to turn off all lights but one, to alert you when power resumes.

7. Resist the temptation to call 911 for information during power outages. Instead use your battery-powered radio for information.

8. Keep your car fuel tank at least half full as gas stations rely on electricity to operate their pumps and may not have back-up power.

9. Keep extra cash on hand since an extended power outage may prevent you from withdrawing money from ATMs or banks.

10. Be a snow angel. Volunteer to check on elderly neighbors, friends, or relatives who may need assistance during the outage.

11. Wear layers of loose fitting, lightweight, warm clothing rather than one layer of heavy clothing. The outer garments should be tightly woven and water repellent. Never burn charcoal for heating or cooking indoors.

12. If you are using a gas heater or fireplace to stay warm, be sure the area is properly ventilated.

13. Arrange ahead of time with family, friends, or neighbors for a place to go if you have an extended outage. If you have nowhere to go, head to a designated public shelter. Text SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find the nearest shelter in your area (example: shelter 12345)


14. Keep a supply of non-perishable foods, medicine, baby supplies, and pet food on hand, and have at least one gallon of water per person per day on hand.

15. Avoid opening the fridge or freezer. Food should be safe as long as the outage lasts no more than four hours.


16. Do not run a generator inside a home or garage. Use gas-powered generators only in well-ventilated areas.

17. Follow manufacturer’s instructions such as only connect individual appliances to portable generators.

18. Don’t plug emergency generators into electric outlets or hook them directly to your home’s electrical system as they can feed electricity back into the power lines, putting you and line workers in danger.

19. Consider purchasing and installing a permanent home generator with an automatic on switch.

When Power Returns

20. When power comes back on, it may come back with momentary “surges” or “spikes” that can damage equipment such as computers and motors in appliances like the air conditioner, refrigerator, washer or furnace. Be sure to install a system of surge protection that consists of point-of-use devices and whole house surge protection.

21. When power is restored, wait a few minutes before turning on major appliances to help eliminate potential problems caused from sharp increases in demand.

For more information, tips and resources for winter safety visit the Great Winter Weather Party preparedness campaign.


13 Affordable Earthquake Safety Tips for Families and Business Owners

The nine earthquakes that rattled Dallas over the past 24 hours are reminders to take steps to protect your family, home, and business before an earthquake hits. FLASH offers the following easy and affordable earthquake safety tips for residents.

Look Up

1. Support ceiling fans and light pendants with bracing wire secured to a screw eye embedded at least an inch into the ceiling joist.

Look Around

Secure hanging artwork and heavy furniture with these easy and affordable steps.

2. Anchor the tops of bookcases, file cabinets and entertainment centers to one or more studs with flexible fasteners or metal “L” brackets and screws to prevent tipping.

3. Secure loose shelving by screwing into the cabinet or with earthquake putty placed at each corner bracket.

4. Secure china, collectibles, trophies, and other shelf items with earthquake putty.

5. Install a lip or blocking device to prevent books or other articles from falling off shelves.

6. Secure televisions, computers, and stereos with buckles and safety straps that also allow easy removal and relocation.

7. Install latches on cabinet doors to prevent them from opening and spilling out their contents.

8. Hang mirrors, pictures and plants using closed hooks to prevent items from falling.

9. Cover windows with approved shatter-resistant safety film to protect against broken glass.

Look Down

Prevent post-earthquake fires with these easy and affordable steps.

10. Ensure appliances have flexible gas or electrical connectors.

11. Strap the top and bottom of a water heater using heavy-gauge metal strapping secured to wall studs.

12. Locate your gas shutoff valve and ensure you know how to turn off the gas supply to your home with the use of a suitable wrench.

13. Relocate flammable liquids to a garage or outside storage location.

For additional resources for businesses visit the FLASH and FEMA QuakeSmart initiative. For more how-to earthquake information, residents can visit the Protect Your Home in a FLASH video library.

Holiday Winter Preparedness Gift Ideas from FLASH

Freezing temperatures and snow arrived earlier than normal this year making it even more important to take steps to prepare for winter conditions during the remainder of the season.

What better way to help your family and friends prepare than giving a gift that keeps them safe, warm, and protected inside their home?

This week, when you begin, or maybe as you finish holiday shopping, consider adding safety gadgets to your shopping list. The list below will get you started if you want to choose gifts for family and friends that will help prepare for weather of all kinds.

Safety and Comfort

  • AM/FM radio with extra batteries
  • Blankets
  • Car power inverters
  • Carbon monoxide detectors
  • External cell phone battery pack
  • Fire extinguisher and fire escape ladder
  • First-aid kits
  • FLASH Weather Alerts app
  • Hand-crank powered appliances such as cell phone chargers, power supplies, radios and weather radio
  • LED flashlights with extra batteries
  • Power generators
    • Portable gasoline-powered generators
    • Permanent LP or natural gas home generators
  • Solar-powered backpack to charge laptops, tablets, and other portable devices
  • Windshield scraper

Home Mitigation

  • Attic insulation
  • Gift certificates for professional home inspections
  • Insulated doors
  • Insulation for hose bibs, exposed plumbing, pool equipment
  • Replacement windows
  • Storm doors
  • Weather stripping

Click here for a complete list of tips on how to stay safe and comfortable during power outages. For more tips and resources on winter safety, visit The Great Winter Weather Party campaign, and for comprehensive information on weather of all kinds, visit FLASH.

Drop, Cover, and Hold On! Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drill Set for October 16


Visit ShakeOut.org today to join millions of people in thousands of businesses, schools, and organizations registered worldwide to practice “Drop, Cover, and Hold On” on October 16. ShakeOut is a fast and fun drill that will help you, your family, and your coworkers get prepared to survive and recover quickly from the next big earthquake, no matter where it strikes.

“Everyone, everywhere, should know how to protect themselves in an earthquake,” said Mark Benthien, global coordinator of Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drills. “If earthquakes don’t happen where you live, they may happen where you travel.”

Registration is free, and the drill will only take a few minutes. The website has resources for planning, getting prepared for earthquakes, encouraging others to participate, and more.

Hurricane Charley and the Tale of Two Homes: 10 Years Later

Rebuilding 188

By Terry Sheridan, FLASH Consumer Blogger

It’s been 10 years since Hurricane Charley tore through Punta Gorda on Florida’s Gulf Coast – a Category 4 monster that was the strongest to hit the U.S. since Andrew in 1992. Punta Gorda homeowner Jim Minardi survived Charley, but he isn’t about to throw any anniversary parties. The August 2004 storm pummeled his 43-year-old home, shearing off the roof, blowing out windows and trashing all of his possessions. Fortunately, he and his dogs were unhurt, and his partner, Teresa Fogolini, was out of town.

When the storm was farther south around Sanibel Island, Jim thought he could make a run for it out of the area. After all, Charley was a Category 1 storm with winds below 100 mph at that point. But, as hurricanes often do, it grew more fierce. By the time it churned through Charlotte Harbor, Charley packed a lot more muscle. By then, it was too late to leave.

Jim hunkered down in a windowless interior bathroom and waited. There was little damage to his home before the calm of the eye passed over. So during “halftime,” as he puts it, Jim went to a neighbor’s shuttered home to wait out the rest of the storm. It was the back end of the storm that ripped into Jim’s home – and his roof crashed into that same neighbor’s pool screening.

Thanks to interest from Home Improvement expert Bob Vila and FLASH, one year later, Jim and Teresa were in a new home built to state-of-the-art building codes and hurricane protective measures. You can see the before-and-after and what was done to bolster their new home’s safety in this “Tale of Two Homes” video. Despite a much more hurricane-resistant home, the Charley ordeal and aftermath left Jim wiser – and worried during hurricane season, particularly for people with older homes.

Retrofit, retrofit, retrofit as much as possible, he urges those homeowners. Roofing tie downs and hurricane shutters are “cheap insurance,” Jim says. The rebuilt home has impact-resistant windows, so Jim believes he can forego shutters.

There’s one thing he considered adding to the new home: a safe room. Punta Gorda officials pointed out it would only be useful for tornadoes, not hurricanes, because the home’s waterfront location made it vulnerable to rising waters from storm surge. Officials warned that Jim and Teresa should always consider evacuation because they could drown if they stayed behind in a hurricane.

So, given that his home is much sturdier than the previous one, would Jim leave or go through another storm? “I ask myself that all the time,” he says. While he believes the reinforced home would withstand the impact, the trauma of what he endured with Charley lingers.

“I think I would leave,” he says. “But I’m pretty confident the home will be there after the next storm.”

Find more information about hurricanes and how to protect your home at flash.org.

Editor’s Note: Terry Sheridan is an award-winning journalist who has more than 30 years of experience in reporting and editing for newspapers in the Chicago and Miami areas. She covered the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew’s devastation in 1992 in South Florida, and has experienced damage to her own homes from two hurricanes. She now lives in New Hampshire.

Disaster Savings Accounts Would Help Shore Up Homes and Finances

By Terry Sheridan, FLASH Consumer Blogger

Residents of Oso, Washington were traumatized on March 22 when a massive mudslide swept through the area engulfing homes and claiming lives.  Months later, residents are still handling the aftermath of this tragedy as best as possible, but the financial burdens of rebuilding often become as traumatic as the disaster itself.

Help could be on the way in the form of proposed federal legislation allowing homeowners and renters to set aside up to $5,000 every year in a disaster savings account – tax-free if the money is used for post-disaster repairs or pre-disaster mitigation.  The money rolls over every year and there’s no limit to how much can be accumulated.

If the Disaster Savings Accounts Act which is still wending its way through Congressional committees passes, homeowners and renters alike could establish accounts to use for future natural disasters.

“Disaster Savings Accounts would provide people the opportunity to protect their belongings and families,” says U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), co-sponsor of the bill with U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.).

While the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other government agencies provide limited relief to disaster victims, “… recovery assistance is after the fact,” Ross says. “We want to equip homeowners so that they can protect themselves before a disaster strikes and not when they’re forced to rummage through the remains of their homes after a flood, hurricane or earthquake.”

Ahead of a disaster, the pre-tax savings can be used to pay for home fortifications such as a safe room, wind resistant windows and doors, or elevating structures in flood zones.  After a disaster, savings can be used to help close the gap between insurance deductibles and other recovery funds.  In that case, the event must be a state or federally declared disaster and the homeowner or renter must have uninsured losses totaling at least $3,000.

“Insurance doesn’t cover all losses or cleanup expenses, particularly personal losses,” says former FEMA director James Lee Witt, Democratic candidate for the 4th Congressional District in Arkansas.  For example, if the bill was in effect at the time of the mudslide, Oso residents with accounts could have used them to cover uninsured personal casualty losses above $3,000 because they are in a formal disaster area.

Supporters for the bill come from all sectors, e.g. FLASH, The Home Depot, National Association of Home Builders, National Association of Insurance Commissioners, The Nature Conservancy and leaders like Moore, Oklahoma Mayor Glenn Lewis and former FEMA director James Lee Witt.

Editor’s Note: Terry Sheridan is an award-winning journalist who has more than 30 years of experience in reporting and editing for newspapers in the Chicago and Miami areas. She covered the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew’s devastation in 1992 in South Florida, and has experienced damage to her own homes from two hurricanes. She now lives in New Hampshire.


Preparedness Tips for Arthur

Now is the time to prepare your family and home for Arthur before the store shelves are empty and conditions are dangerous. FLASH offers the following tips for residents to prepare for severe weather conditions.

Protect Your Home

1. Check your hurricane shutters to make sure they are working properly and fit securely to ensure proper protection.

2. Go Tapeless! Never use tape on windows. If you do not have shutters, install temporary, emergency plywood shutters. Learn how to properly measure and install them.

3. Secure or relocate outdoor items such as trash cans, grills, toys and potted plants.  Remove any dead tree limbs carefully, if time permits.

4. Make sure all doors and windows are properly caulked and/or weather-stripped to reduce potential water intrusion, if time permits.

5. Replace rocks in your landscape with fire treated shredded mulch or other lightweight material, if time permits.

Prepare Your Family

6. Know if you are in a hurricane evacuation zone and have a plan.  Hurricane evacuation boundaries are based on the threat of water, not wind, and nearly all evacuation orders are issued due to threat of inland flooding and storm surge.

7. Make sure your 72-hour emergency kit is complete. Some items you should include:

  • Enough food and water for all members of the family, including pets
  • Extra cash
  • A battery powered NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards or download the FLASH Weather Alerts App
  • First aid kit and toiletries
  • Flashlights and extra batteries
  • Blankets, pillows, extra clothes, toys and games to keep the family comfortable and occupied
  • Special items for babies, pets and family members with special medical needs

8. Gather and store important paperwork like insurance and mortgage documents, and marriage certificates in waterproof containers. You can also scan copies and store them on a USB drive or take a photograph with your smartphone. Include these items in your emergency kit.

9. Fill your gas tank; gas stations rely on electricity to power pumps.

If You Lose Power 

10.  If you have space in your refrigerator or freezer, consider filling plastic containers with water leaving about an inch of space inside each one. This chilled or frozen water will help keep food cold if the power goes out.

11. Never use candles as they pose a fire hazard.

12. Don’t run a gas-powered generator inside a home or a garage – use only in well ventilated areas.

13. Connect only individual appliances to portable generators and never plug a into wall outlets. Plugging generators into the home’s electrical system can feed electricity back into the power lines and endanger both you and line workers.

For more information on protecting your home from hurricanes visit the FLASH hurricane page or Great Hurricane Blowout preparedness campaign.