Posts Tagged ‘fire’

Preparedness Checklist for 2018

Wednesday, December 20th, 2017

Lists work. They’re easy to figure out, satisfying to check off. Here’s one to get us all going toward some new levels of preparedness for 2018.

Review or reminder?

For a few people, this will be review. But for most of us, at least one of these items will cause a grimace or even a slap of the forehead because we know we should already have dealt with it!

There are more ideas and resources below the chart. But take a quick first look.

Which item should be first on your list?

Preparedness Checklist for 2018More resources for items on the list.

  1. Homeowners’ insurance may not cover water damage to the stuff in your basement. Neither may flood insurance! If you rent, what about the items stored in your “cage” in the parking garage? You will never really know what’s covered until you pull out your policy and go over it with your insurance agent. Here’s an Advisory that will give you more questions to ask about any insurance:
    Flood Damage Not Covered By Insurance
  2. What was a good place to head for last year may have changed. Update your plans, particularly if you have children. Pick an assembly place nearby – like the big oak tree at the back of the lot – and another place further down the block or even across town. Can your family members FIND these places without the maps in their phones?
    Get Out Now — Family Evacuation Plan
  3. Every homemaker knows this, and knows how to do it. In a survival kit, just pull and replace everything! (You may discover that more and more canned items now are self-opening. Yay!) On the kitchen shelves, load at the back, eat from the front. Basta.
  4. I finally got far enough ahead on my blood pressure pills to have 10 days’ worth stored in my survival kit. But they’ve been there a while . . . And as we all know, over time pills lose their effectiveness, band aids lose their stick, bottles dry out, tubes ooze. Your first aid kit could actually do you harm if it’s not up to speed.
    First Aid Kit Failure
  5. Seems as though it would be easy to run outside in a fire, doesn’t it? But people are trapped and burned every day. Practice with your family! Make sure you know two exits from every room, how to get down from the second floor. What’s your agreed-upon signal for a home invasion threat? Every individual needs to know how to respond. If all your children know is to come screaming for you, you have NOT trained them properly.
    Escape from Burning House
  6. People around you could turn into rescuers – and even into friends. It can’t hurt to be open to meeting more of them. Besides, it’s just a neighborly thing to do. And if you have a neighborhood emergency response team, invite them to come and find out more.
    Build a neighborhood team
  7. Memorize important phone numbers. Assume phones won’t be available in a car wreck, a storm, or an earthquake. Memorizing is healthy brain activity, too!
  8. Computer companies compete to be your back-up service. But where do they PUT your files, and how to you access them if your computer has been destroyed? Have at least 3 back-up methods: onto your own computer, onto a separate physical hard drive stored off-site, and into the cloud. Test whatever procedure you have put into place. Just having a COPY of something doesn’t mean you can necessarily start right back up to work.
  9. Did you know that if one roommate applies for relief from FEMA, the other roommate may not be eligible? Do you know who would have to sign off for you to get an insurance payout on your house? We all tend to let legal questions linger . . . 2018 is the year to clean legal issues up for a number of reasons, not least of all to get them off your mind.
    Legal problems surface after flood
  10. Emergency preparedness isn’t supposed to be all long faces and determined expressions. It’s supposed to be positive!  What would be fun for you and your family? Learning to tie knots? Identify edible plants? Start a fire without matches? Operate a HAM radio? Take a course in basic self-defense? Do the CERT training? Every one of these skills will improve your knowledge, improve your confidence, and make you better prepared for any emergency!
    Tie the right knot!
    Ham radio operators play key role
    Self-defense for the rest of us

OK, I think that should do it!  Post this list somewhere handy, so you won’t overlook these items. What else should we add to the list? Just let us know in the comments!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. While we’re still on the positive aspects of preparedness, don’t miss my most recent Top Ten list!  It’s a collection of comfy camping items that would make ANY trip so much more pleasant — and fun!  Here’s the direct link:



Survive An Airplane Disaster

Thursday, August 18th, 2016

Announcement from the cabin attendant, “In the unlikely event . . .”

Last Friday I flew from L.A. to San Francisco. It was an evening flight so before we even started taxiing people had removed their coats and shoes, turned off their overhead lights, and curled up to get in a quick hour’s nap after a long week’s work.

"you have 90 seconds to get 370 people through this doorway . . ."

“You have 90 seconds to get 370 people through this doorway . . .”

Alarm bells started going off in my head!

Why?  Because I had just finished reading a series of articles about airline safety and here are some of the details that stuck with me.

Three Airplane Safety Facts


Fact 1: Most airplane disasters happen between 3 minutes after taking off and 8 minutes before landing.

With that in mind, I was horrified to see that at take-off most of my co-passengers were NOT thinking about emergencies, had NOT taken a look at the emergency brochure, had NOT checked their flotation device, had NOT noted the number of rows to the nearest exit.

Worst of all, many were barefoot.

If we had to evacuate, these people would be groggy, confused, and naturally hesitant to scramble out in the dark onto a strange, maybe hot or broken surface – or into the ocean!

We were set to fail the 90 second evacuation test.

Airplanes are designed to get everyone out within 90 seconds. To accomplish that, over the years airplane designers have widened the galley ways (to 30 inches), widened evacuation slides to handle 70 people a minute, etc.

The 90 seconds isn’t an arbitrary number.

It’s about how long you can keep moving to save yourself if you can’t take a good clean breath of air.

And that’s because, in the case of a crash, more people perish from smoke inhalation than from injury.

Well, our flight didn’t have a problem (after all, I’m writing this) and when we landed, I witnessed an orderly exit. Still, it took a long, long time for everyone to dig out their hand luggage from under the seats and from the overhead racks. And this reminded me of the second thing I learned.

In an evacuation, people naturally want to bring the stuff they boarded with. The problem?

Fact 2: Evacuation slides on modern passenger aircraft are designed to rapidly remove human bodies from a plane that may be as tall as a two story building.

Key word is “rapidly.” A rapid evacuation works only if you JUMP onto the slide. It won’t work if you attempt to sit down to start your slide.

Jumping and falling that fast means you cannot control suitcases, computer bags, or rolling luggage carts. For sure, slowing your fall means you will be plowed into by the 350 lb. guy coming behind you with HIS rolling cart.

Even in evacuation drills, trained volunteers with nothing in their hands get injured sliding that fast and that far.

Luggage on the slide makes injury inevitable.

Fact 3: Once you’re on the ground, the next sensible thing to do is get away from the airplane. Fast!

We have all seen movies where the heroes run away from a burning car, house, or boat and it blows up behind them. (Great special effects.)

This image could just as well be an airplane loaded with aviation fuel.  Do our heroes stop to take a video of the flames behind them . . .?

While we’re on the subject, here are just . . .

A Few More Airline Safety Tips


Negotiating Emergency Doors and Exit Rows

Apparently getting an emergency door open isn’t always as simple as it looks in that brochure. (“Pull down on handle, lift up door.”) In fact, some airline industry professionals suggest that you anticipate that half the emergency doors won’t be able to be opened at all – due to location of a fire, a damaged frame, whatever. That’s why you need to

  • Identify the two closest emergency exits as soon as you are seated.
  • Count the number of rows to the emergency exits so you can get there in the dark.
  • If you can choose your seat, get one within 5 rows of an exit.

(During my research I came across stories of people attempting to open the emergency doors during flight. Mostly, it’s because they (1) were drunk or (2) had never been on an airplane before. Unbelievable.)

Managing Yourself

In a crash, your goal is to get up and get out right now! Do not sit there checking to see if you are OK or waiting for your breathing to return to normal all while wondering what is going to happen next.

Remember that 90 second rule and get yourself and family members moving to the nearest exit!

Leave your luggage behind.

You are going to have to launch yourself off the side of the plane. Extra weight and/or encumbrances will slow your passage to the door and threaten your ability to slide safely and to negotiate your landing.

Of course, crew members will guide the evacuation. The more assertive they are, the better it will go, so don’t get huffy at being yelled at. Get off the plane!

“In the unlikely event . . .”

. . .is the subtitle for this Advisory, because air travel is still statistically safer than other modes of travel.

Even with all the bad news of recent months, a CNN update published in May 2016 for the first half of the year stated: “We are ahead of the 10-year average with eight accidents and 167 fatalities compared to the average of 10 accidents and 205 fatalities.” (Source was aviation expert Geoffrey Thomas, editor of

When there is a crash, though, death statistics can be dramatic. Being aware and taking immediate action may keep you from becoming one of them.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team


P.S. The Number 1 airline fact above – the 3 minute 8 minute rule – came from a book that we have read with great interest. It’s called Spy Secrets That Can Save Your Life: A Former CIA Officer Reveals Safety and Survival Techniques to Keep You and Your Family Protected. The travel safety tips are just a small part of what is fascinating reading about protecting your home and yourself from people out to get you.

P.P.S. If you want to get regular tips and recommendations, be sure to sign up for our weekly Advisories below. There’s no cost, and you never know when one of our Advisories will be enough to save your life.

Stay Safe in Hotels

Thursday, June 9th, 2016

Summer may find you traveling to new places, and staying in new hotels.

Hotels have their own risks

. . . worth noting and being aware of.

Smoke in hotelFire:

High-rise hotels (or any high-rise building, for that matter) are vulnerable to fire. The causes? malfunctions in electrical equipment, carelessness, smoking (in bedrooms), temporary decorations for festivities, use of combustible cleaning materials, and, of course, arson and sabotage.

In a hotel, fire danger is increased because guests, people attending conferences, patrons at restaurants and bars, etc. probably don’t know the layout of the property and have no idea about security or emergency policies.


Particularly in developing countries, hotels have become the popular target for terrorists. There are a number of reasons why.

  • Over the past couple of decades, embassies and military buildings have been “hardened” against attack.
  • Hotels remain areas where many people come and go, where entrance to the building is seldom restricted, and where politicians and other high-profile individuals are likely to be found.
  • Even when security is improved, by definition a hotel is a “soft target.”

If you are traveling and can make a choice about which hotel to stay in and where in the hotel to sleep or conduct your business, you may wish to consider these recommendations, culled from a variety of sources including the Stratfor Weekly, National Fire Protection Association, and Siemens Switzerland Ltd.

What to do to reduce the risks

Before you arrive

  1. Find out about hotel security. Is parking secured? Is the desk manned 24 hrs. a day?
  2. Ask about smoke/fire alarms and sprinkler systems. There is no guarantee that they will work, but if they are absent altogether, you may wish to look for another hotel.
  3. Choose a room between the 3rd and 5th floor, where terrorists can’t easily reach you from the street and fire department ladders can reach if you need to evacuate.
  4. Choose a room away from the street to avoid an explosion or violence at the entrance, which is where most terrorist activity occurs.
  5. On your floor, confirm the location of fire extinguishers. Have they been certified?
  6. Check on emergency stairs, exits and signage. Confirm that there are no items stored in stairwells.
  7. Keep emergency items next to your bed: shoes, a flashlight, and a smoke hood if you carry one. See below for more details.

If there is a fire in the hotel

  1. Grab your smoke hood and be ready to put it on if you smell smoke.
  2. Escape from your room if you can safely.
  3. Stay low and use walls as a guide.
  4. Use stairs; do NOT use elevators.
  5. Do not enter a staircase or hallway if it is filled with smoke. Try to find another path.
  6. If you must, stay in your room. Protect against smoke by sealing the door with duct tape and/or wet towels; stay low to the floor.

If you suspect terrorist activity

  1. Escape from the hotel if you can.
  2. If you are trapped in your room, protect yourself. Lock the door. Use a door wedge. If you can do it quietly, move furniture in front of the door for further protection. Turn off the lights. Turn off the TV and silence your cell phone. Close the drapes to protect from explosions that might create broken glass, and stay away from the windows. YOUR GOAL IS TO MAKE THE ROOM APPEAR EMPTY so terrorists will go on to an easier target.
  3. If terrorists are evident, and you cannot escape and cannot hide, you must fight. Improvise weapons with whatever is at hand – a lamp, a piece of furniture, a hot iron, a full water bottle, a battery charger at the end of a cord or in a sock, etc. In this case, your SURVIVAL MINDSET IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN WEAPONS. Fight, and don’t stop.

Emergency items for travelers

In this article we’ve mentioned just a few items that are recommended for travel safety. We haven’t used all of them ourselves, but it they make sense to you, check them out.

Door wedge

You may have a couple of these in the house already! Simple, small, easy to pack. Very effective at keeping any door closed — and you can get a couple of them for less than $10. Here’s an example from Amazon:

Shepherd Hardware 9132 Rubber Door Wedges, Brown, 2-Pack

If you’re traveling by car, you can also consider carrying a sliding glass door security bar. We always have one for peace of mind when we stay in hotels with balconies. Cost is right around $20. Here’s a link to a good one (no photo – I figured you know what a bar looks like!):

Master Lock 265DCCSEN Dual-Function Security Bar


Smoke hood

Rather like a gas mask, a smoke hood goes over your head and seals tightly to protect you from inhaling smoke. A filter allows you to breathe. Smoke hoods cost anywhere from $25 to $150 or even twice that, so you’ll want to shop carefully.

The filters in smoke hoods screen out particulate matter, fumes and gases. Unfortunately, the most deadly gas, carbon monoxide, can’t be filtered out. But carbon monoxide can be converted to carbon dioxide. Look for this feature in the smoke hoods you’re considering.

Other features to consider: How big is the hood — will it go over eyeglasses? Will it fit a small child? How good is visibility? Can others see you in the smoke? How long will protection last?

Here are three different models from Amazon, for comparison. Look at the photos (provided by the sellers) to answer some of the questions above. Click on the links to go directly to the detailed product page.


FIREMASK Emergency Escape Hood Oxygen Mask Smoke Mask Gas Mask Respirator for Industrial and Urban Survival – Protects for 60 Min Against Fire, Gas, & Smoke Inhalation . Great for Home, Office, Truck, High Rise Buildings. Get Peace of Mind 


Firemask claims 60 minutes effectiveness. Of course, it is one-time use, replaced if you need to use it. Its Polycarbonate visor looks to provide good visibility.

Easy to put on, fits children as young as 3. Amazon low cost (as of today), $28.95.








Safescape ASE60A Fire Escape Smoke Hood Respirator Hard Case with Glow in the Dark Side Straps and Labels


From the photos and reviews, it looks as though the hood on the Safescape is bigger and perhaps more heat resistant than other hoods. The hard case can be mounted in a strategic place, and the glow in the dark strips would make it easy to find.  Any hard case might make packing a smoke hood more difficult.

60 Minutes of breathable filtered air. Easy to put on without special instruction.

Five year shelf life – Free Replacement if used in documented emergency.

Amazon price today: $69.95. Note that there is also a less expensive Safescape 30-minute hood.


3 – iEVAC

iEvac® the only American Certified Smoke/Fire Hood


This is most expensive and heaviest of the three hoods here. Notice the reflective tape top and sides, which will stand out in smoke and darkness.

This hood is the only “certified” hood. It gets top reviews and carries some strong endorsements:

  • Designated as an Anti-terrorism technology by the US Department of Homeland Security Safety Act
  • Tested by the US Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, Edgewood Chemical Biological Center
  • Currently being used by numerous Federal, State and local Government Agencies including every branch of the Military

The iEvac costs $149.95 at Amazon (and more in other places).



Of course, you can’t avoid every potential danger when you’re traveling. But some simple, common sense preparations may make your trip a lot more comfortable and safer.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

If you actually live full-time in a highrise building, you may want to take a much closer look at what would happen if a fire broke out. Here’s an Emergency Plan Guide Advisory with more ideas.


Urban Survival Tools to Get a Fire Going!

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

OK, the big danger is over. But the rain is running down your neck. Your fingers are feeling frozen. It’s getting dark very fast. What you desperately need right now is a fire!

MatchbookDo you have what you need?

Two necessities for starting a fire: an igniter and something to ignite.

I grew up in a kitchen that always had a big box of wooden matches above the stove. And my Dad always had a lighter in his pocket. Times have changed!

The only matches we have now is a jar full of souvenir paper match books from restaurants, and we all stopped smoking years ago. So I’ve had to make sure I have fire starters for emergencies.

Igniters I’ve assembled for my survival kit.

It’s so easy top tuck some of these small items into your go-bag, your survival pack, your evacuation pack. And I’d suggest you carry more than one, in case your pack gets wet or damaged. NOTE: If you shop at Amazon by clicking these links, be sure to notice whether the items are “add-on” or “eligible for Prime” and buy enough of them at once so you get free shipping. You’ll want multiples of nearly everything, so free shipping won’t be hard to get!

  • Waterproof matches are the simplest, the most obvious, and the cheapest of all to purchase. You can get them in wax coated boxes, or in neat little aluminum cases. An example: Coghlan’s 940BP Waterproof Matches – 4 Pack This is a four pack, one for each survival kit in the family!
  • Magnesium sticks won’t get damp, and won’t  accidentally light.  In fact, you need to practice using your stick to be confident you can get a fire started when you need it! The trick is to use that attached little saw blade to carve a pile of magnesium shavings (at least the size of a penny) and then stroke down the stick toward the shaving pile. (Don’t STRIKE the stick; that won’t work.) The Friendly Swede Magnesium Alloy Emergency Fire Starter Blocks (3 Pack), New and Improved Version gives you three blocks so you can practice without worrying that you’ll run out of magnesium.
  • Zippo lighter looks sharp (!) and will be familiar to former smokers. It feels good in my hand, too. Zippo Emergency Fire Starter, Black Matte also comes with pre-fashioned tinder sticks. Read on for more about tinder.
  • Magnifying glass would be a favorite  for me. I remember as a child burning holes with a magnifying glass in all kinds of things! Today I could use it to read instruction sheets written in miniature print . . . but of course, it’s not going to work in the rain for starting a fire!

Tinder for the survival kit.

You’ll be excited to see that spark from the igniter, but you’ll get mighty discouraged if it doesn’t “catch.” Here’s where tinder comes in. Tinder is specially prepared very flammable material that will get the fire truly started. You may have used crumpled newspaper or leaves or twigs in the past — but remember, we find ourselves in a WET URBAN SETTING for this blog post. So, what can we prepare in advance to be sure our fire will start?

  • Petroleum jelly and cotton balls (carried in an empty plastic medicine bottle). You may already have the ingredients for these clever items: cotton balls (NOT polyester) and Vaseline. Simply pull cotton balls apart a bit,  smear them with the petroleum jelly, scrunch back up. (Get everything ready in advance, and pull all the cotton first, because once you get the jelly on your fingers they’ll be sticky, sticky!) Here is one brand to give you an idea. Prepping Cotton Ball by Kendall ( COTTON BALL, PREPPING, MEDIUM, NS, 500/BG ) 500 Each / Bag
  • Alcohol wipes also work well as tinder, and you should already have some in your first aid kit!  If you don’t, buy a pack now and separate some out for first aid, and keep some for starting fires. Curad Alcohol Swabs Antiseptic Wipes, 200 Count
  • Waxed paper can be purchased at the grocery store if you don’t have any already in the kitchen. Cut a smallish piece from the roll, fold it over a couple of times, then fold back and forth until it makes an M shape, maybe about 2 inches across. Place the points of the M on top of your igniter material.  Tuck a few of these Ms into your pack and you’ll have tinder!
  • Dried and shredded bark, moss or fluff from cattails can also serve as tinder, but you’ll have to collect it next time you go for a walk in the park, bring it home and stuff it, making sure it’s totally dry, into those plastic medicine bottles that you can then put into your kit! In the city, in the rain, you may not be able to find any natural material to work as tinder.
  • Twine made of natural fibers may also work. Simply untwist it so get a good burning area.

And to keep the fire going: kindling and fuel.

Actually, gathering kindling (small pieces of wood and twigs) and larger pieces of fuel should be step number one, because if you START the tinder and don’t have adequate fuel right there,  the tinder will burn up and you’ll be back where you started. Some people carry dry kindling as part of their kit, but more than likely you’ll be scrounging in your immediate neighborhood for the right material to burn.  Some guidelines:

  • Pick a safe place for your fire. You can make a hearth of stones or concrete to be sure the fire doesn’t spread unexpectedly.
  • Dry sticks, splinters of wood and pine needles can serve as kindling. Have your kindling nearby so you don’t have to get up to fetch it.
  • Once the kindling is burning, add larger pieces of fuel. Wood is obviously the best fuel, but if you’re looking for wood in construction rubble, avoid treated or painted wood and wood look-alikes that are really vinyl.
  • Do not burn items made of rubber or plastic ( bottles, jugs, bags). Although they will burn, you will be creating noxious or dangerous fumes.

We’ve assumed here that your fire is for warmth and comfort.  Cooking over a fire is yet another subject. In the meanwhile, though, go back through this quick list and be sure you have emergency fire starters. As I said at the beginning, all these items are small and inexpensive, so there’s no reason not to have what you need. Your family will be counting on you!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team





Survival Training for Ten Special Hazards

Saturday, December 27th, 2014

Your family may be prepared for common emergencies. But have you taken the time to think about these ten special hazards?

Checklist of Special Hazards

Emergency Planning for Tsunami

Tsunami Siren – New Zealand

1. Emergency siren

We’re all used to the weather alert sound that’s tested monthly on the radio. But what if you suddenly heard a siren going off outside? Would you know immediately what it meant, and what to do? In our part of the world, sirens are associated with just one thing: a leak at the nearby nuclear power plant. In Oklahoma, a siren might announce imminent threat of a tornado. In Asia, sirens are used to warn of giant waves or tsunamis. What sirens operate where you live or where you’re planning to travel?

2. Railroad crash

When the track doesn’t run right next to your house, you may not realize how many trains are traveling through your community. Although train accidents are infrequent, every year we hear of derailments, explosions, fires, traffic disruption, and evacuations. Where could a train crash happen in your local neighborhood? What cargo might that train be carrying?

3. Fire at sea

I’ve personally been through two ferry fires, both in the Mediterranean. Any time you’re aboard a ship, or even a boat, there’s danger from fire. Do you think about this possibility BEFORE you board? Do you think about how to respon

4. Airport/aircraft emergency

As a civilian, you’re not likely to be called upon to respond to an emergency at an airport but do you live or work near an airport?  In the flight path?  What do you know about emergency preparedness at the facility and how you would be impacted if there were a mishap?

5. Unusually heavy rain

Here in Southern California, rain (finally) fell on areas that a year ago had been burned by wildfires. The result: uncontrolled run-off of water and, unfortunately, mudslides. Could you become a victim of such a disaster?  Do you know how to protect your property (as best you can) using sandbags and K-rails?

6. Disabled residents

We’ve said it over and over again: many evacuation or disaster response plans overlook people with disabilities. How have you prepared to assist disabled family members, neighbors or co-workers in the case of an emergency?

7. Dam break

A wall of water from a broken dam is a favorite movie image. Reality might look a little different. (It might not be a flood; it might mean seepage or discharge and contamination of the water supply.) Is there a dam or water supply anywhere near you? Or a storage area for industrial liquid waste? It may be well camouflaged! How would you find out?

8. Explosions or release of toxins from industrial plants

We’re pretty aware of the dangers associated with oil refineries and fertilizer plants. What other industrial activities are underway near your community?  Do you actually work where you have identified hazards associated with the job?  OSHA is the agency where you can seek information and assistance regarding industrial hazards.

9. Dangerous animals

As populations expand, communities come ever more in contact with animals that used to be wild but which now exist nearby. We’ve all seen videos of bears wandering between houses, of coyotes chasing pets and even children, and, of course, snakes that have grown to become life-threatening. Do you and your children know how to recognize a dangerous animal and what to do if you encounter one?

10. Active shooter

Do you know what gunfire sounds like? If you heard it, would you know what to do? What about your children? Your parents? Where might you encounter a shooter? Immediate action could save your life; confusion or a delayed reaction could put you in increased danger.

There is emergency preparedness training available for each of these special circumstances. We’ve discussed some of them here at Emergency Plan Guide and will likely talk about them again.

If you’d like more info on any item in particular, or have personal experience to share, please leave a comment.

Virginia Nicols
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team




Fire in a High-Rise – How to Avoid, How to Survive

Sunday, November 24th, 2013

I think we all can bring up an image of flames shooting out of an apartment or hotel room in a high-rise, with smoke billowing. It’s so that when I travel, I request a room on a lower floor, and near the stairs – all because of those images!

high-rise apartment building

Where are the exits?

The recent fire in West LA got me to look into the realities of emergency preparedness for people living in high-rises, however, and the results weren’t exactly what I was expecting.

Here’s some of what I learned.

The danger of fire in a high-rise is LESS than in other structures!

The National Fire Protection Agency, excellent resource for all things fire-related, reports that only 3% of structural fires are in high-rise buildings. (They define high-rise as 7 stories or taller. There are other definitions; I’m defining high-rise as anything above the height of the local fire department’s highest ladder.)

A fire in a high-rise results in statistically less damage.

Modern hotels and apartment buildings, where about half the high-rise fires occur, are far more likely than other structures to have:

* Construction that resists fire. Steel with spray-on coatings or encased with concrete resists fire far longer than wood construction. If you’re familiar with fire insurance, you know that buildings are rated for how resistive their construction methods are.

* Systems to protect against fire. Depending on size the building, it may have fire alarms and automatic sprinklers. Larger buildings may have camera surveillance, controlled access and even 24-hour monitoring.

OK, that’s great for statistics. But what about me?

If you actually plan to live in a high-rise apartment, what should you find out about the building?

Take a tour of the building with management, and get answers to these five questions:

  1. What fire safety systems does the building have, and who maintains them? Don’t assume anything! The LA fire happened in a building with no sprinklers.
  2. Are exits clearly marked? In an emergency, elevators won’t be available.
  3. Are the fire exits unlocked? Are fire doors kept closed, not propped open?
  4. Does the building have a fire evacuation plan? What about fire drills?
  5. Does the fire alarm system have a public announcement capability?

And if a fire breaks out, what should you do?

The U.S. Fire Administration, part of FEMA, offers guidelines for how to protect yourself and how to save yourself. Here are highlights:

  • Call the fire department yourself to report a fire. Nobody else may have called!
  • When you hear a fire alarm, feel the exit door of the apartment with the back of your hand.

a. If it’s cool, open the door carefully. Do you see smoke or flames? If all clear, head for the nearest exit. If you encounter smoke, turn back! According to FEMA, smoke and toxic gases kill more people than flames do.

b. If the door is warm, or you see smoke, do not go out! Stay in your apartment. Stuff the cracks around the door with towels or bedding. Turn off the air conditioning. Keep smoke from coming into the apartment. To quote again from FEMA, “Asphyxiation is the leading cause of fire deaths, exceeding burns by a three-to-one ratio.”

  • Call the fire department to let them know where you are. Signal from a window. Don’t leave it open if smoke is coming in.
  • Listen for instructions from the fire department.
  • Be patient. It may take hours for a high-rise to be fully evacuated.

Do you live now in a high-rise apartment? If not, who do you know that does?

Since nearly 40% of Americans are renters, and the majority of them live in apartments, you are bound to have friends or family in this category.

Action Item:  Please share this information. You can simply forward the blog post, or copy and paste it into an email or onto an attachment or link to it on your own Facebook page.

Thank you.  Your action may save lives.


Virginia Nicols
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team


Gas Line Leak!

Sunday, January 20th, 2013

High pressure lines are closely monitored by a number of agencies.  Your local utility or city will be the most familiar with the state of high pressure lines in your area, and with the monitoring guidelines and records.

Gas fire in street.

Gas fire erupting through LA street after Northridge earthquake. (photo by M. Rymer)

No matter how carefully lines are monitored, however, leaks and breaks can happen.  Most often, they happen when construction equipment accidentally punctures a line.  They can result from a natural event like a storm, earthquake, tornado, or ice storm.  Sometimes an over-loaded, aged infrastructure is to blame.

Leaks could happen at any time.

How do your local gas lines stack up?

An online search using the National Pipeline Mapping system is a good place to start. Dig deep on that site to find the names of the various operators of the different lines in your area. Contact them to get more details about the age and condition of their lines, their monitoring and safety policies and plans, etc.

If you think you have an emergency…

If you see or hear any of these near a pipeline right-of-way, it could signal a leak:

  • A hissing, roaring sound
  • Dirt or dust blowing
  • Water bubbling or spraying
  • Dead or brown vegetation
  • Flames coming from the ground
  • “Rotten egg” smell

(Typically the “rotten egg” smell is added only to smaller distribution lines. It won’t appear in major transmission lines.)

What’s the right response to a potential gas leak?

Get out! But do it intelligently.

  • Turn off any machinery or motors.
  • Don’t turn on or use any electrical equipment that could create a spark. This includes turning lights on or off, making a cell phone call, closing a garage door, or using a battery-operated radio!
  • Do not allow any open flames, including matches, cigarette lighters, welding equipment, etc.
  • Evacuate the immediate area. If exiting a building, leave the doors open.
  • Keep bystanders away.
  • Do not try to find the source of the leak.
  • Do not operate any valves or other shut-offs.
  • Do not attempt any repairs.
  • Do not attempt to put out any fires.
  • From a safe distance, call 911.

Emergency Preparedness Training

Action Item: Train your Emergency Response Team to recognize this hazard and to respond accordingly. Our “Neighborhood Plan” provides more detailed suggestions for effective training, including experts to invite to an organizational meeting.



Keeping Your Car’s Gas Tank Full

Friday, November 16th, 2012
Cars trapped trying to evacuate

Evacuation nightmare!

It’s More Than a Convenience. It Could Be a Matter of Life or Death.

It used to be a far-fetched fantasy, this idea of evacuating a whole town or city. But after the New Orleans debacle most Americans – and many people around the world – have a vivid picture of the massive traffic jams and cars lined up as far as you could see in either direction on main highways and vehicle arteries. Gasoline and diesel fuel was at a premium . . . if it could be found anywhere.

Rule of Thumb

One rule of thumb in our household is to never let the gas tank on either of our cars fall below ¾ full when parked at home overnight. It doesn’t cost anything extra, but if we ever had to evacuate, the cars each have an emergency pack and extra clothes in the trunk and enough gas to get us at least 200 miles.

And, while “Shelter-in-Place” is normally the recommended action in our community, the full tanks and up-to-date maintenance on our cars are added peace of mind.

Driving After a Disaster 

Delays.  There are safety issues you need to keep in mind when driving the car following an event of major proportions.

First, of course, is to be aware of the condition of the roads.  Traffic lights are likely to be out.  Many streets could be blocked by debris, water or by emergency crews.  Bridges could be down.  Wherever you are headed, it could take hours and hours for you to get there.

Fire.  Second, your car could start a fire! The catalytic converter on most cars runs extremely hot and passing over dry grass or leaves can actually start a fire. Likewise, in many communities – especially where homes are close together – broken gas lines (a real possibility in a major earthquake) can leak gas up through the pavement, making vehicles passing over them a potential fire starter.

We Americans love our cars.  In an emergency, they may save our lives — or imperil us further.  Be prepared!

Joe Krueger
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team


OSHA Fact Sheets

Friday, September 14th, 2012

If you are an employer looking for more guidance regarding workplace preparedness, and are ready to delve into the regulations surrounding this area, OSHA – Occupational Safety and Health Administration — has published a number of informational factsheets on workplace emergencies and workplace preparedness.

Among them:

Planning and Responding to Workplace Emergencies

This two-page overview lists requirements for companies with more than 10 employees. Sections of the report include:

o Planning
o Chain of Command
o Emergency Response Teams
o Response Activities
o Employee Training
o Personal Protection
o Medical Assistance

How to Plan for Workplace Emergencies and Evacuations (OSHA 3088)

A far more comprehensive document, this 25-page report is written for the employer, to make sure the employer is following all required and recommended procedures to protect the business. This document covers all the items listed in the fact sheet above, with particular attention to fires and evacuations. A comprehensive flowchart on page 11 determines just who is required to have a written Emergency Action Plan.

Both OSHA reports are available at

Emergency Plan for Workplace

Step-by-step to workplace preparedness

Simple Plans for Small Businesses

If you own or work in a small business, you may still require a plan.  In the absense of more formal arrangements, download the Emergency Plan Guide’s Seven Steps to Workplace Preparedness.  It will give you a place to start.

Follow up with other Advisories that deal with finding workplace leaders and assembling your workplace emergency response team.