Apartment Survival Guide

Survival Planning for Apartment Dwellers – Part One:  Storing Supplies

If you’re living in an apartment, pulling together your stash of emergency supplies might be a challenge simply because of the space required.

ApartmentsHere are seven suggestions that may help. If they make sense, consider sharing the list with your apartment management or condo homeowners’ association. The more prepared your neighbors are, the easier and safer it’s going to be for all of you in the face of a real emergency.

1. Store Water — However You Can.

Of course, you probably don’t have a lot of room to spare. But however you store it, you need sufficient water and food to carry you through for at least three days, and up to 10 days is better. One gallon of water per person per day is the standard. Obviously, water in 5 gallon bottles could fill up most of a closet. Why not convert all or part of a closet to an emergency pantry at the very outset?

If you have advance warning of a storm or other emergency, store additional water in your bathtub and fill large containers lined with food-grade plastic. If you have collapsible water bottles, fill them. (Haven’t seen these? Very inexpensive, very practical.)

You MUST have water to survive!

In case you have to carry water from another location to your apartment, be sure to have some sort of container that you can handle, like a 5 gallon bucket. Anything smaller wastes your energy; anything larger may be too heavy to manage, particularly if you are going up stairs.

2. Food Is A Necessity.

You are likely to have some food supplies on hand, but follow the advice of experts: Store extra quantities of what you eat, eat what you store. (Build up a supply of favorite foods in the cupboard; eat from the front, replenish at the back — on a regular basis.) Supplement your usual canned items with freeze-dried or dried-food supplies; they are small and light. Don’t forget a can opener and a knife to help open food supplies packed in rugged plastic, and even a spoon. Pack and store these utensils in that pantry.

In a real emergency, local stores’ inventory will disappear amazingly fast, and even trying to shop for food may be dangerous. Remember that it takes electricity to power ATMs, cashier terminals and, yes, gasoline pumps. Have enough dry or canned food at home so you don’t have to go out unless or until it’s safe.

3. Emergency Communications.

AmbientWeather radio

Hand-crank emergency radio

When the electricity goes out, so does T.V., phone service, and cable internet. So does the door buzzer and the elevator. You may have some sort of smartphone connection but only until your batteries are dead. Thus emergency preparations need to include a battery-operated radio, preferably one whose batteries can be recharged via hand-cranking or solar. (We studied five of the most popular being sold on Amazon. Check out emergency radios here.  Hint: the first one on the list is our favorite!)

4. Emergency Lighting.

Most of us have experienced electricity outages, so we know how dramatic they can be even when announced in advance. Without light in your damaged apartment you have no choice but to curl up and stay still until daylight comes. Your building may have emergency lighting in halls and stairwells, but there’s no telling how long that will last.

With light you can move confidently, prepare your surroundings to be as comfortable as possible, and retain some semblance of normalcy. A flashlight stored in every room is the rule in our house. We also have battery-operated lanterns that, when set in the middle of the room, light it completely, if not brightly. Naturally, a supply of batteries is essential. So your emergency pantry needs to include extra batteries, too — and of the right size — or maybe that solar-powered recharger mentioned above.

Until you know it’s safe, candles are not advised as a source of light. Striking a match can set off a gas explosion! And candles easily burn down and/or tip over. Be extra cautious with their use . . . especially if there is any chance of a natural gas leak in your building or immediate neighborhood.

5. Withstanding the Weather.

An apartment generally has its own heating – electrical or gas – or is connected to the building’s central heating system. In an emergency, all that is likely to go down and stay down. You probably don’t have the luxury of burning wood in the fireplace, and a home generator is out of the question. A generator is too big, too heavy, too loud and dangerous to run in a closed area.

If you live in a cold climate, invest in a cold-weather sleeping bag. There’s nothing as effective. Have a good pair of boots, a cold-weather coat you can put over other layers, and a rain poncho. Even in sunny southern California, where I live, it can get very cold very quickly at night, and many people don’t have adequate clothing.

You may be able to provide a bit of heat, and some comfort, with a propane camping stove if there is a safe way to use it, but remember that any kind of flame also depletes oxygen. (You don’t want to burn anything in a closed area only to end up dying of carbon monoxide poisoning.) A cup of hot soup, hot chocolate or coffee will be mighty welcome. Of course, your stove requires fuel that will also have to be stored.

6. Repairing Damage.

Depending on the situation, you may have to make repairs to your home or to your building to keep it habitable. Some essential tools:

• Hammer, gloves, safety glasses or goggles

• Duct tape, visquine sheet plastic

• Utility Knife with variable blades and tools

• Pliers (maybe a multi-tool), heavy-duty scissors or cutters

• Pry bar, flashlights, battery-powered radio

• Screw driver (an interchangeable phillips head and slot head, all in one)

7. Sanitation

This is likely to be one of your biggest challenges, but critical for health. If the entire neighborhood has been impacted by the emergency, you can assume that within hours your toilet will no longer flush and will begin to back up. The only solution: heavy-duty plastic bags (like the ones used in trash compactors), placed either in the toilet or in a five-gallon bucket, that can be filled with waste and carried to a disposal site outside. Regular plastic bags won’t do, but if that’s all you have double or triple can be used.

What about the neighbors?

Living in an apartment building, you’ll have to consider your neighbors in an emergency. To a certain extent, you will all be in the same boat and dependent on one another for basic survival. But do you even know your closest neighbors? Will they be able to help you? Will they turn to you – or on you — for help?

If you’re not sure about the answers to these questions, then keep reading . . .


Survival Planning for Apartment Dwellers – Part Two:  Counting on Your Neighbors

When the tsunami hit in Japan, people were pulled alive out of wrecked homes not because they were able to signal their location to First Responders, but because neighbors knew where they should have been and went looking for them! It was the personal connections and concern for one another that made the difference, not the size of the home or the level of affluence of the owner.

Living in an apartment building, you and your neighbors will likely be all in the same boat if an emergency strikes.

  • Sure, some of you will be away from your apartment and struggling to get home.
  • Some people will be at home, trying to reach distant family members.
  • Some apartments may be damaged more than others.
  • The entire building may be threatened with leaks, flooding, or power outages.
  • Emergency supplies that you or your neighbor dutifully stashed away may be destroyed or unavailable. Do you and your neighbors have a plan to share?

Whatever the situation, if people are prepared and willing to help each other, you may be able to prevent the emergency from turning into a real disaster.

So how do you go about being “prepared and willing to help each other?”

1. Prepare Yourself

Of course, each family is responsible, first and foremost, for itself. Part One above lists a number of the supplies that you should have to survive in an extended disaster. You will need to add other personal items to the list, too, such as a first aid kit, medicines, baby items, sanitary items, etc. Build lists to know where your family members are likely to be and have ways to contact them in an emergency.

So, Step One in any apartment survival planning may mean simply providing a useful Emergency Supplies Checklist to everyone in the apartment building. The Apartment Owner, Manager or Homeowner’s Association should be able to help duplicate and distribute such a list.

2. Invite Neighbors to an “Informational Meeting.”

“Organizing” your neighbors — and this includes your property manager or even property owner — to work together is a lot more challenging, but very valuable if people actually make plans in advance of any emergency. We know from experience that people WILL come out for a meeting if they . . .

  • See a value to them personally
  • Understand what to expect
  • Are invited properly and often

So step two in organizing becomes, “Set up a neighborhood meeting to discuss emergency response in our building.” Do suggest that people who don’t show up and don’t prepare in advance will suffer more when the emergency hits . . .

3. Hold a Series of Trainings.

Develop a series of trainings (“informal get-togethers” sounds more friendly) where members meeet to assess their risks, take stock of their strengths, and above all, begin to know each other! You may need to offer to bring in a guest expert – perhaps someone from the local Police, Fire Dept. or CERT organization? — and have snack refreshments to get people together the first time.

Over time, you will discover a group of like-minded people. Over time, you will find yourselves connecting with your neighbors and feeling ever more comfortable:

  • Sharing good ideas (like how to develop a Family Communications Plan,  what to put in your Bug-out Bag, where to buy the best freeze-dried food, or how to label your storage bins)
  • Taking stock of special needs and special skills within the group (medical, construction, etc.)
  • Planning to share resources for sheltering in place: buying in bulk, supplementing each other’s stores. (We have a crowbar; you have a hose.)
  • Training people on how to use their emergency radios or other equipment.

There is no specific curriculum for developing a strong apartment Community Emergency Response Team. It will vary, depending on a number of factors . . . the type of building, your neighborhood, management philosophy and more.

You may have to take on developing the program yourself depending on the size of the community, the level of resources available, and your own commitment. (We do have some suggestions for how to plan and conduct a good CERT meeting, and our regular Advisories can serve as topics for group discussion.  In fact, most of them have come from the meetings we’ve already held in OUR neighborhood!)

Don’t look back with “If only I had . . .”

Whatever you can do to raise awareness of the need for preparation and the benefit of working as a group, the safer you will all be . . .

— when the inevitable disaster hits and

— your local first responders are overwhelmed and unable to get to you for days!

Then, it will be up to you. If you could have previously enlisted strong neighborhood support, and you didn’t try, you might find yourself mourning the death of a loved one or living with the result of serious injury that could have been prevented.

Remember the old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It’s especially true of preparing for emergencies.

Joe Krueger and Virginia Nicols


Joe and Virginia

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team


P.S. We have decided that building a TEAM of like-minded neighbors is essential for surviving a BIG emergency. So we wrote an entire guide about it.  Please check out the details of our Survival Guide for Apartment Dwellers.