Tag: smoke alarm

Apartment Safety and Security

Image by zephylwer0 from Pixabay 

Why, some of my best friends live in apartments (and condos)!

So much of what we read about preparedness and survival assumes a rural or at least a single-family-home setting, where there is room for a survival garden, water barrels, storage shelves in the basement, etc. There may even be nearby woods where you can practice building shelters, cooking over a campfire, etc.

But what about the 37% of us who live in rental properties, mostly in multi-family buildings? What about our safety and security? We have no room for many of the preparedness activities mentioned above. No place to practice outdoor survival skills. And we can’t just run outside if a fire threatens or we smell a gas leak.

And what role does the property owner play in taking care of safety and security items? Time to find out!

Let’s make sure renters are as prepared for emergencies as anyone else! Starting with . . .

Easily overlooked apartment safety and security recommendations.

Is your apartment secure?

Door locks. Whether you’re moving into a new unit, or have been there for years, take a look at the condition of your locks. Today, reasonable security for an apartment includes a deadbolt and a peephole. In fact, a peephole may even be required by your local building code! Find out before you make any assumptions, of course. And be sure to ask the landlord for help or at least permission to make any changes. You may be able to do these installations yourself, or you may have to pay to get them done. Read below for some ways to save money.

Oh, and while you’re talking with management, be sure to find out the property policy for management or maintenance to enter your apartment.

Balcony security. Don’t forget the locks on your balcony windows and doors, even if you are on the second level. Sliding glass doors are particularly vulnerable. Consider a security bar, or at the very least, a rod cut to the exact length of the sliding door’s track. Here’s an example of an adjustable bar that also locks to keep children from lifting it out.

Securityman Sliding Door Security Bar-Child Proof Sliding Door Lock Bar with Anti Lift Lock – Fits Most Doors & Windows-Adjustable Patio Door Security Bar (19″- 51″) (White)

Security system. If neighbors and/or the police records show danger of unwanted activity in your neighborhood, consider installing a security system. For a more detailed discussion of options, check this Advisory. For your apartment, there are many battery-operated systems that won’t damage the walls, and that you can then take with you when you leave.

Here’s a sample of a simple, battery-operated security system that could be mounted outside or in your apartment for additional safety and security. Click the image for price and full details. (The more options you want — lights, camera, audio, etc. — the more expensive the system, of course. This model is a good start for comparison shopping.)

Are you prepared for fire?

Does your apartment have a sprinkler system?  Starting in 2003, all apartment buildings were required to have sprinklers (but smaller and older buildings may have been grandfathered in). If you are moving to a new apartment, check closely. If it doesn’t have sprinklers, you may want to reconsider. (You may recall the story of how Trump Tower only has sprinklers on the lower floors. A fire there in 2018 killed a resident and injured six firefighters.)

Smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors? Do they work? Don’t take a chance. Test, require they be replaced or replace them yourself. Depending on the type of sensing equipment you choose, you can get alarms for around $15-$20. (Here’s a link to our alarms reviews.) According to The U.S. Fire Administration, more than one-third (38 percent) of home fire deaths result from fires in which no smoke alarms are present!

Do you have a home fire extinguisher? More than one? Are the extinguishers located where kids or someone in a wheelchair can reach them? Does everyone in the home know how to operate the extinguisher?

Can you get out of your apartment safely?

Getting out of a large complex is a lot different than fleeing a burning home! So, lots to think about.

Just as you want to know that your doors and windows can be locked, you want to test to be sure they all OPEN in case of emergency.

The standard “Family Evacuation Plan” calls for you to identify two ways to exit every room. Obviously, in a rental apartment, that may be tough, because the second exit is probably though a window. Can you actually get out your window? Can you get down to the ground safely? Does your family plan have a place for you to reassemble after having evacuated?

If your apartment is no higher than 4 stories, consider an escape ladder. Escape ladders are available in 2 to 6 story lengths, but the longer ones become quite a bit more expensive, and of course are more demanding in terms of required strength and agility.

Since in an emergency you could get trapped in an elevator, do you have more than one stairwell as an option for your family? Do all family members know where other stairwells are located? Are these stairwells well marked? If a family member is unable to get down stairs, do you have a plan for carrying that person down? Do you have the equipment that would make carrying possible?

Evacuation chairs and evacuation sleds may be the only way to get someone who is ill or unable to walk down stairs safely in an emergency. Find out about costs and capacity (different sizes for different sized people), note whether equipment takes two people or just one person to operate. Here is a place to start your research. And below see a 4 min. video that will give you a good idea of just how an emergency sled works.

I have not personally used this item, so I can’t recommend it. But the video is useful.

Do you have renter’s insurance?

Worth it. Check with neighbors to see what they have. The discussion alone will add to the safety and security of your apartment! Bring up the topic at a community meeting. Bring up the idea in the next paragraph at a community meeting, too!

Does your community have a community emergency response plan?

Knowing your neighbors is the best defense. They will be the best source of help in an emergency!

Put in the effort to create a community emergency response group and a plan. Engage management’s support and assistance – they have everything to gain by keeping tenants safer, too. Together with management, learn more about your buildings, security, utility service, maintenance, etc. Agree on emergency procedures – who will be responsible for what.

Added benefit of having a group for apartment safety and security

Working together, you will have more power to negotiate with the property owner. And you may be able to save money by buying locks or security lights in bulk. You may also be able to arrange with a handyman or contractor to install them for everyone in the group. Best of all, you could provide a job if that handyman or handywoman is one of your own neighbors!

We’ve written a book to get you started on putting that neighborhood group and plan together.

Emergency preparedness for apartment communities
“The more we all know, the safer we all will be!”

Thanks for taking action on this.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

Travel safely by RV



RV camping

Summer’s coming! Are you planning a vacation that includes travel by RV?

(If that would NEVER be in your plans, keep reading anyway. You may get some hints for other people you know and care about!)

In this article, I’m defining RV as including motor homes, 5th wheels, trailers or pop-ups. Our emphasis is on being prepared for emergencies, no matter what your rig!

Disclaimer: Joe and I aren’t RV vagabonds but we have driven across the country and back a couple of times in a 32 ft. Fleetwood, towing a car trailer. That doesn’t make us experts, but at least I’m writing with the benefit of some experience, plus a lot of story-telling friends and online research.

Getting started by being prepared as a driver

As you might expect, RVs get into accidents because they are big, have big blind spots, aren’t as maneuverable as a car, and are sometimes driven by inexperienced and elderly drivers.

Moreover, when an RV does get into trouble, it can cause a LOT of damage.

That being said, it turns out that fatality rates for RVs are less than half the rate of auto accidents. Still, with over 75,000 accidents a year, if you are planning an RV trip, be sure to get some real practice behind the wheel before you set out!

(Joe and I have taken hours and hours of driver training as members of a sports car club. Can’t express how valuable it has been over the years! A class may cost $100 but when you compare that to the cost of an accident . . .!)

Loading your RV

It just makes sense that you organize your RV so that the load is equally distributed or, if it’s a trailer, that heavier items are in front and not in back. Note: if you’ll have water at your destination, wait to get there before filling your tank completely. No use driving with that extra weight or with water sloshing around!

Check with other drivers with the same set-up (same type and size of towed vehicle, same kind of car or truck doing the towing) to see what they recommend. You can always hang out at an RV sales lot or visit a nearby campground to find friendly people to talk to!

Resource: As for what to pack, you’ll find some excellent and very comprehensive lists at http://www.rvforum.net.

The biggest risk for your RV — Fire!

Fire is usually caused by overheating in the engine compartment, wheel bearings and tires, battery compartment, propane system or refrigerator or by having something catch fire (curtain, paper towels, etc.) while you are cooking.

And as one RV blogger says, “Everything in an RV is an accelerant!” (We know from personal experience that older trailers and mobile homes burn to the ground in less than 10 minutes.)

Four recommendations for safety

1-Stop and check your entire rig on a regular basis.

Before you start, within 20 minutes of taking off, at every rest stop, when you get gas, etc. Walk all around, check the hitch, eyeball the tires and undercarriage, test to see that latches are secure, look for leaks, etc. You will likely be able to spot and smell leaks or friction before flames burst out! If you own a diesel pusher, you may want to investigate installing an engine fire suppression system.

2-Install smoke detectors.

If you’ve read our earlier Advisories about smoke alarms, you know there are a couple of types. One type (ionization) is activated when smoke gets into the detector and blocks the electrical current. The other type (photoelectric) activates when smoke blocks light receptors. Whichever type you have, it is likely to go off more frequently in the confined space of your RV, so be sure to have plenty of ventilation when you are cooking. (Use the exhaust fan!)

Two leading brands of smoke detector are Kidde and First Alert. We have used both. For your RV, you’ll want battery-operated models (not hardwired). Here are some examples. Click on the images to go to Amazon where you can look at a number of models.

3-Install a carbon monoxide detector.

Your RV will likely use propane for cooking and heating, and you’ll have a gas generator. Anytime there is an open flame, carbon monoxide is being released.

In November, 2017, 2 people were found dead of carbon monoxide poisoning in a mobile home in Hays, Kansas. They had left their generator running overnight . . .

Here’s an example of a well-regarded carbon monoxide alarm from First Alert.

You can also get combination alarms that warn of both smoke AND carbon monoxide, like this one, also from First Alert.

4-Install fire extinguishers.

Plural! If a fire starts, get people to safety immediately. Then, you can attempt to control the fire if possible. Have an extinguisher in the driver’s area, one in the bedroom and one in the kitchen area so you’ll be able to react immediately to a threat.

Because space is limited, and because we know that shelves are often crammed full, INSTALL your extinguishers so they are visible and will be where you reach for them in case of an accident!

We recommend two types.

First, consider aerosol extinguishers. They are easy to pack and work instantly and instinctively. I’d want several, and I’d prefer the comprehensive A,B and C models. Also, be sure the one you buy is allowed in your state.

Here’s an example. It comes in a 2-pack with brackets for mounting:

Second, get a larger extinguisher of the traditional type that you’re probably familiar with. Yes, it’s heavier, but also has more fire-extinguishing power. We own several similar to the one below, of different sizes – 2.5 lbs., 5 lbs., 7 lbs.

And the extinguisher below comes in a 4-pack – one or two for your RV, the other two for your home!

A few other safety tips for vacation travel by RV.

• Get in the habit of locking your RV or trailer every time you leave it – whether that’s on the street in front of your home, or in the national park. Close the curtains. Discourage the casual thief or mischief maker.
• Invest in a trailer hitch lock. Serious thieves have been known to hitch up and pull away homes that didn’t belong to them!
• While we’re on hitches, practice so you can unhitch your rig quickly to move your car away from it in case of a fire or other emergency.
• Be sure everyone in the family knows how to open the door (some door and screen latches are complicated!) and how to close the propane valves and unhook the electricity.
• As always, keep your gas tank half full so you have more options in case of something unexpected happening.

Final suggestion: Consider your vacation travel and camping as practice for sheltering in place.

In a disaster, you may want to use your personal RV as a bug-out vehicle, or as a temporary home if your house has been damaged. Assume you would have no hook-ups. You can pick a day or two on your trip to “camp dry” as a test for what might happen in a real emergency.

The dry run exercise will be challenging! You can test all your gear (lanterns, generator, whatever) and you will learn things you maybe never knew. (On our first dry run, we discovered that the gray water and the clean water spigots under the RV were reversed . . .!)

You can make it fun!

All this makes me want to plan another trip myself.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team


5-point Safety Checkup for Daylight Savings Time Change


Emergency waiting to happenJust waiting for you to make a mistake!

It’s “Spring Forward, Fall Back” time here again this weekend. Along with re-setting the clocks, this time of year now has expanded to include reminders for emergency preparedness.

Of course, you know about checking the batteries in your smoke alarm. But that’s just the start! So read on, for some simple actions that if overlooked could put you in BIG trouble.

To the extent that your safety and security depend in part on your neighbors’ preparedness, be sure you share this list with them, too!

1-Change the batteries in your smoke alarm.

You should know this statistic from the National Fire Protection Association by heart: Three of every five home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms.  Nuff said?

And here’s a real life story to go with the statistic.

A couple of years ago on a Saturday, the local fire department, police department cadets, some EMTs, and the Red Cross, supported by our Neighborhood Emergency Response Team, installed 461 new smoke alarms in our neighborhood! (Funded by a grant, in case you’re wondering.)

The alarm packaging said, “10-year guarantee” so naturally we were all annoyed when people began reporting that their smoke alarms were “chirping.”

Here’s what we discovered about alarms chirping:

  • Nearly all people who heard the chirping incorrectly identified where it was coming from! In nearly every case, it was from an already installed OLD alarm, and not the new one.
  • The 10-year guarantee works for the mechanism. When it comes to the battery, the guarantee applies only to alarms that have sealed lithium batteries. If your smoke alarm has a replaceable battery, check it and replace it or it will surely start chirping, like ours did, in the middle of the night!
  • Every battery has an indicated life. Just remember, you may buy new batteries today but you don’t know how much of that “life” has already expired while the battery was on a shelf somewhere.

Upshot? Simply replace your alarm batteries twice a year when the time changes. A few dollars invested can save your life.

2-Change the batteries in your walkie-talkies.

Same concept: when the emergency hits, if you don’t have fresh batteries, you may have lost an important tool.

Walkie-talkies take AA or AAA batteries. Over the years we have tested different brands and over the years the “winner” in the test has been different every time!

Get the right size, get the longest life available, and TEST them regularly. Every month we catch a couple of dead Walkie-Talkies during our monthly drill. (Of course, if people forget to turn the Walkie-talkies off after the drill, the chances of the batteries going bad are about 100%.) (And corroded batteries can destroy the walkie-talkie, too.)

Don’t have Walkie-talkies for your group or family? Here’s our walkie-talkie reviews to get you started on adding some.

3-Check your fire extinguishers and replace if they have lost pressure.

Fire extinguishers can last many years, but – Do you really remember when you bought yours?

A good extinguisher has a pressure gauge to help you track its functionality. Check the gauge when the time changes, if not more frequently. Not sure if the extinguisher is any good? Get a new one.

Looking to re-charge your extinguisher? We’ve looked, and haven’t found a reasonably-priced service. Maybe you can find one, but chances don’t seem to be very good.

4-Refresh your first aid kits.

We’ve written before about the drawbacks of most purchased first aid kits.

Still, you’ll want to start with a basic kit, and add your own enhancements.

At the left is a starter kit, available at Amazon, that looks even better than ones we’ve recommended before. Click on the image to get full details, but note to start with that this kit has soft sides with pockets labeled so you can see everything at a glance.  (Most of the inexpensive kits that I see are simply a zippered container with contents thrown in.)

Any first aid kit needs customization, and that’s where a regular check-up is important. At the time change, pull together all your kits (from your cars, your Go-Bags, etc.) and look in particular for . . .

  • Small medicine bottles whose contents have dried up completely.
  • Tubes of medicine that have been accidentally crimped or punctured and are oozing gook.
  • Band aids that have torn packaging and thus have lost sterility and stick.
  • Pills that have expired.
  • Scissors or other tools that have mysteriously developed spots of rust.

Repeal and replace as appropriate!

5-Clean out coils and filters to prevent fire.

We’re talking refrigerator, heater, and clothes dryer. All these collect dust and lint in hard-to-see and harder-to-get-to places, and can overheat or even (in the case of the dryer) burst into flames.

Enlist help to move or open any pieces of equipment or access doors, and attack with the wand and the crevice tool of your vacuum cleaner.

When you’ve finished vacuuming, empty its dust container and replace the filter in the vacuum, too.

While we’re on vacuum cleaners, a couple more safety notes:

  • Don’t leave a vacuum cleaner running while you go to another room. It can overheat and start a fire! (Just go onto YouTube to see a number of dramatic examples. . .!)
  • Check the cord and plug of your vacuum to be sure they aren’t damaged or frayed. These cords get hot! (Even the cord of my quite new Navigator gets really warm, just from being in normal use.)

That’s it.

You may have discovered that your 60 minute time change job has turned into a multi-hour project!

However, once you’ve gone through the steps once, it’ll be easier next time. Also, you may be able to turn the whole thing into a family bonding exercise by delegating different jobs to different family members, and presenting it as a contest!

However you get through the 5-point list, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing your home is good to go for another six months. And you won’t be caught by an emergency just waiting to happen — as represented by the eager dinosaur in the picture!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

5 Ways to Create Your Own Home-Grown Disaster


Danger, Not a Step.

Look familiar? See #4 below.

Not knowing is one thing. Just not thinking is another.

Here are five really dumb things that people do that lead to emergencies and even disaster.

Don’t do any of them, please.

 Dumb Act #1: Mix household cleaners.

The classic mistake is to mix household ammonia (like window cleaner spray) with liquid bleach — “because two cleaners ought to work better than just one.”

The result: a gas that can cause nausea, eye irritation, sore throat, headache, cough, and difficulty breathing.

In fact, the chloramine gas that’s released could even send you to the hospital for an emergency tracheostomy — surgery to create a hole through the neck into the trachea (windpipe) to allow you to breathe.

OK, so you know about not mixing.

Did you know that you can create the same noxious gas by simply using two cleaning agents one after another on the same surface?

Every cleaning agent should be suspect:

  • liquid cleaners for the toilet bowl
  • gel for unclogging drains
  • powdered cleansers for counter tops and grout
  • spray foams for the shower.

Check the label for ingredients (look for sodium hypochlorite) and warnings.

If you smell or feel ANY strange or strong fumes, get out of there immediately and allow the space to air out thoroughly before allowing anyone into the area. Rinse everything completely with water and let it dry out some more before you attempt to finish your cleaning job.

Dumb Act #2: Work alone.

Most of us are happy to work alone for some time during the day!

But most of us are not engaged in high risk activities like using dangerous tools, working around machinery, electrical wires, scaffolding, trenches, high pressure materials, hazardous substances, at height or in closed spaces like grain elevators or tanks, etc.

For the 15% of people who do find themselves in these situations it’s important to have some sort of check-in procedure.

This isn’t just for construction or agricultural or other special industries. Office workers like receptionists or parking attendants who work alone may face potential violence from the public. They need a check-in procedure, too.

If your workplace doesn’t have a policy about working alone, get one.

Dumb Act #3: Underestimate a portable generator.

We’ve talked a lot lately about how a portable generator can be a great emergency preparedness tool if the power goes out. We’ve even made some recommendations about which kind to consider, how much to expect to pay, etc. (See footnotes for links.)

We have certainly talked about the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning from setting up a generator indoors. That extends to having it in the garage or even locating it too close to an open window.

There are other dangers associated with generators that you would know if you thought about it – but sometimes, people just don’t think.

Consider these possibilities:

  • Fire. Like any motor, your generator can get overheated. Don’t spill gas on or around it!
  • Electrocution.  A generator produces – electricity! If your power cords are too light, frayed or kinked, or not properly grounded, you could get the shock of your life. Electricity can kill.
  • Electrocuting someone else. The fifth leading cause of occupational deaths is what is termed “back-feeding.” This occurs when a power company worker touches a wire that should be inert but isn’t because it is carrying power from an unanticipated source – like YOUR generator.

This is why you don’t plug your generator into a wall outlet in your house. The power goes into the house and right through the house into the power grid where the unsuspecting worker is busy trying to fix the outage!

Yes, there is a way to power your house with your generator, but it requires a special “power transfer switch” installed in advance by a qualified electrician.  (A solar array with battery backup requires the very same type of switch.)

Dumb Act #4: Disrespect a ladder.

We are all pretty familiar with ladders, and have probably used at least a couple of different types — step ladder, extension ladder, etc.  (There are many types. Wikipedia lists 21 different ones!)

But for all its familiarity, a ladder can be very dangerous.

If its feet aren’t solidly placed, the ladder can tip over backwards or slide down frontwards. You come down right with it, flat on your back or your face or tangled between the rungs.

Second, a ladder can break. Like any other piece of equipment, ladders simply wear out.  Got an old one in your truck or garage? Before you use it the next time, check out the rungs, the rails, the spreader bars and locks and the feet to be sure they all function as designed.

Finally, can you read? I’ll bet your ladder has a sign somewhere that reads, “Not a step.” (I took the photo above of my own well-used step ladder.)

In simple English, that means “Do not stand on this.” Get up too high on a ladder and you will overbalance the whole thing. Stand on a paint can shelf instead of a step, and the shelf will break.

Every year, more than 90,000 people end up being treated in the emergency room from ladder-related injuries!

Dumb Act #5: Disconnect smoke alarms.

This is simple. Once again, the statistics tell you everything you need to know.

Half of U.S. fire deaths occur in houses where a smoke detector is installed but has been disabled because it beeps.

Of course, nuisance chirping from a smoke alarm is awful. And yes, it always seems to happen in the middle of the night.

Just take the time to fix it. Either put in a new battery or replace the whole thing, preferably with a photoelectric alarm (instead of the cheaper ionization model). If you’re not sure how to do it, go online to YouTube and search for “How to change the battery in a smoke alarm” or “How to install a smoke alarm.” Some videos are boring and some are better; any of them will guide you in making the fix!

As you read this, I hope you are saying to yourself, “Heck, I knew that!”

The key thing is, not everyone does know it! When you have the chance, share this information with children, co-workers, members of your club or church — anyone, in fact, who might have missed it. These are NOT emergencies you want people to learn about from experience.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team


Looking for more info on some of these topics? Here are other Advisories we’ve written over the past year or so.

The Best Generator for Emergencies

Portable Generator for Power Outage — Safety Update

Carbon Monoxide Alarms and Detectors

What you didn’t know about Smoke Alarms


Don’t miss the NEXT safety Advisory. Sign up below to get them all.


Whoops, did you miss it like I did?


(This article first appeared in 2014. As you can imagine, it has been updated since then — mostly because I have learned more about the ins and outs — or offs and ons and chirps — of smoke alarms!)

We remind everyone that when Daylight Savings Time comes round, it’s time to check the fire alarms.

So it’s now two weeks after the date, and I finally got around to practicing what I preach. Keep reading for what turned out to be an eye-opener!

Just looking up at the smoke alarm tells me nothing.

Testing Fire Alarm - Emergency Plan Guide

I seem to recall that my old alarms had a blinking light, but I see nothing like that on this one. My old alarm also once emitted a chirping sound — but I have heard nothing from this one.

Anyway, on with the test.

  • I haul out my trusty step stool, position it properly and climb up.
  • I look for the round test button (while being careful not to overbalance).
  • Hey, look there! I discover a green light, deep in a recess. Is this what I was looking for?
  • Well, since I’m up here . . .I press and hold the round button.
  • Eeeeehhhh!

O.K., we know it’s working!

Now what about the other alarms in the house? Before I take a look at them, let me do some quick research.

I always thought fire alarms were pretty straightforward.

Here’s what I discover about the alarms in my house.

  1. Code for fire alarms changes on a regular basis. My home is relatively new, so it has hardwired alarms that have a back-up battery. It’s that battery that we’re testing. (There are also alarms that operate solely on batteries. I used to have that kind.)
  2. In my home, all the alarms all connected. If one goes off, so do the others. Still, I have to check each one individually to be sure about the batteries.
  3. The requirement for alarms in California indicates that starting 2015 new battery-operated alarms must have a non-replaceable battery that will last for 10 years. After ten years, the whole alarm will simply be replaced. Some of those alarms are already on the market. So the question then becomes, do I have one of these models in my house? It’s back up the ladder. And the answer is no.

But here’s the discovery of the day . . .

I have always used the words “fire alarm” and “smoke alarm” and “smoke detector” pretty much interchangeably. It turns out that alarms are NOT all the same.

According to the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) there are two main technologies at work in fire alarms: ionization (alarm is set off when ion flow is interrupted by smoke) and photoelectric (alarm is set off when light is reflected off smoke).  (You can get the whole scientific description at http://www.nfpa.org/safety-information/for-consumers/fire-and-safety-equipment/smoke-alarms/ionization-vs-photoelectric

Ionization technology works best on a fast, flaming fire; photoelectric works better on slow, smoldering fires.

Logically, the very best fire alarm combines both technologies!

And also, logically, the combination models cost more.

So what alarm technology do I have in my home?

Ta da! . . .Looks like ionization smoke sensing technology! (This model seems particularly made for home builders, since it comes in a six pack.)

Where does all this take us?

  1. Check your own fire alarms to be sure they are working.
  2. Check to see how old the alarms are and if they are over 10 years old, get rid of them an install new ones.
  3. Get the best replacements you can.I just added the best photoelectric/ionization model I could find at Amazon to our own list of recommended products. Here’s a link to that model.

Let me know how your alarm testing goes!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team