It’s 2 AM. You hear the fire alarm go off. Before you can dismiss it as a mistake, you smell smoke.
In the split-second before you open your eyes, hundreds of questions rush through your mind:
“What is happening?”
“Where are my shoes?”
“How do I get out?”
You don’t need to turn on the news to know natural disasters and emergencies happen year-round all over the world, but have you asked yourself what you’d do if they happened in the middle of the night? Rather than living in fear, you can create an emergency-proof bedroom long before disaster strikes.
Before you go all out at Costco, it’s probably a good idea to do a personal risk assessment for your home. While some threats, like a home invasion or house fire, could happen to anyone, others, like tornadoes, hurricanes, and tsunamis, are pretty location-specific. So even if you hear about hurricanes on the news constantly, you’re probably more at risk for tornadoes if you live in the midwest.
If you’re unsure or new to your area, check out the table below to learn about potential local risks. Keep in mind that the regions are general—while California may be at high risk for wildfires, Washington may not be. Additionally, random events like home invasions and accidental house fires can happen anywhere, so just because you may not be at high risk doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared.
|Northeastern US||Southern US||Midwestern US||West Coast US||Northern US|
|House Fire||Average Risk||Average Risk||Average Risk||High Risk||Average Risk|
|Wildfire||Low Risk||High Risk||HIgh Risk||High Risk||Low Risk|
|Earthquake||Low Risk||Low Risk||Low Risk||High Risk||Low Risk|
|Tornado||Low Risk||High Risk||High Risk||Low Risk||Low Risk|
|Hurricane||Average Risk||High Risk||Low Risk||Low Risk||Low Risk|
|Flood||Average Risk||High Risk||High Risk||Low Risk||Average Risk|
|Extended Power Outage||High Risk||High Risk||High Risk||High Risk||Average Risk|
|Home Invasion||Average Risk||High Risk||High Risk||Average Risk||Average Risk|
Sources: “National Environmental Public Health Tracking Network” — CDC; “Facts + Statistics: Wildfires” — Insurance Information Institute; “Top five U.S. states with the longest power outages” — Cummins; “Burglary rate per 100,000 inhabitants in the US in 2018” — Statista.
Additionally, if you live on a hill or near a river, you’ll want to research your local history to learn about your risks for landslides and flooding. Once you’ve identified which risks could affect you, check our guide below to know what you can do to emergency-proof your bedroom. Keep in mind that while this guide focuses on the bedroom and how to prepare for emergencies that happen at night, there are other measures you may need to take in other areas of your home.
Below we’ve identified some common emergencies that may occur in the United States and outlined a few ways you can prepare for the event as well as what you can do after a disaster occurs.
House fires can happen to anyone, no matter where you live or how new your home is. Whether you live in a house or an apartment, here are a few ways you can prepare your bedroom before it happens.
The most important thing is that you wake up as early as possible. If a fire happens at night, you should avoid excess smoke inhalation and increase your odds of escaping.
Before it Happens:
According to the American Red Cross, it's a good idea to make sure your smoke detectors are up to date and test the batteries every month, and you’ll probably want one near or in your bedroom. Additionally, if you sleep with a noise machine, you’ll want to be sure you can hear the alarm over any noises in your bedroom.
You might remember the elementary school training about feeling the door with your hand before opening it, and that’s still good advice. If there is no fire on the other side of the door, the stairs or front door may be the safest ways to escape, and we wouldn’t want you to injure yourself jumping out of a third-story window if it weren’t necessary.
If your bedroom door is blocked or your stairs have caught fire, creating an escape plan now could make a big difference in the event of an emergency. For ground floor bedrooms, an escape plan could be as easy as selecting a window and ensuring you can get it open and fit through it to escape to a safe space. It’s probably a good idea to do this in every bedroom of your home so there are no surprises in an emergency.
If you have little children, you may need to have them practice what to do in case of an emergency and help them recognize a dangerous situation. If there are any bedrooms above the first floor, you may consider buying an escape ladder like this one that you can set up quickly if there is a fire. Some ladders are even simple enough to teach children to use themselves if you can’t reach them.
Once you know how you’re going to get out, you’ll want to set an easily accessible meeting point for members of your family so you can regroup and identify any missing people.
In the event of a fire, you’ll want to get to safety as soon as possible. If you have a fire extinguisher that you can reach, take it with you as you escape, but don’t try to battle the fire yourself. It’s a good idea to yell “Fire!” several times to alert anyone who may still be sleeping.
Once you get to your meeting point, you should do a headcount and call 911 for help. If you notice anyone is missing from your group, do not re-enter the building. Firemen should be on their way with safer equipment to retrieve anyone who could be missing.
While some areas have days or hours notice that they are in danger of a wildfire, other times it can strike quickly in the middle of the night. If you live in an area that’s prone to wildfires, we’ve looked into a few ways you can protect your home and yourselves.
Before it Happens:
Waking up is important, so you’ll want to subscribe to your community’s alert system to ensure you don’t sleep through your escape time. In some communities, sirens will alert residents, and in others, you’ll want to pay attention to the news. If you live in a dry, hot area, lightning strikes can cause fires quickly, and having a plan is key.
In some cases, you live near wildfires, but you haven’t been ordered to evacuate yet. To preserve your indoor air quality and ensure you sleep safely, you’ll want to make sure your doors and windows can be sealed shut. You may want to invest in an air purifier like this one that can detect and clean smoke from the air.
It’s a good idea to keep enough gas in your car to get you to a safe location at all times, as you won’t always be able to stop for gas in an emergency or there may be long lines. During wildfire season, you may want to keep a backpack in your bedroom with a few changes of clothes, a flashlight, water bottles, and some high-calorie snacks in case you need to be gone for a few days.
If you have family members in the area, you may need to send out text messages rather than calling because phone lines may be down or busy. In case your children are away from home in an emergency, it’s a good idea to set a meeting point so you can get into contact with them.
Once you’ve been ordered to evacuate, we recommend doing so as quickly as possible and not delaying for any reason. A few minutes could make a big difference in an emergency. Once you wake up to an alert, you’ll want to put on shoes, grab your emergency bag, lock up your home, and get to your car as quickly as possible.
If all of your essentials are easily accessible from your bedroom, you could save yourself a few precious minutes. While evacuating, you may want to listen to the radio to hear the best routes to safety so you don’t drive toward the fire.
Earthquakes can be some of the most dangerous natural disasters because it can be difficult to know what to do in the heat of the moment. That’s why preparation is so important.
If you know you live in an area prone to earthquakes, like Southern California or a volcanic island, here are a few rules to live by.
It may feel normal to run to the window when you feel an earthquake, but this is one of the most dangerous places to be. You’ll want to keep your bed away from windows; this way if the glass breaks, it’s less likely to land on you, and falling debris should be less likely to injure you. Similarly, if you have heavy objects in your bedroom, secure them or remove them from high shelves to prevent them from falling on you.
If you live in a high-risk area, avoid hanging heavy picture frames and decorations that hang above your bed, as them falling could knock you unconscious or cause serious injuries.
To make matters more difficult, there are many myths about earthquakes that could put you in more danger. Here are a few bad ideas we’ve heard:
Bad Idea: Stand in a doorway.
Better Idea: Stay where you are and hold on tight. The safest thing to do in an earthquake is usually to find something to hold on to, cover your head, and crouch, especially if you’re inside.
Bad Idea: Get under the bed.
Better Idea: Stay in bed and cover your head with pillows, as recommended by Ready.gov. If the ceiling were to collapse, the small space under the bed may not be strong enough to protect you and might make it even more difficult for you to free yourself.
Bad Idea: Go outside.
Better Idea: Stay where you are. Trying to run in an earthquake is dangerous, and falling glass and debris could still fall outside.
The best thing to do in an earthquake is to find something to hold onto, crouch down, and cover your head. In many cases, smaller aftershocks may follow an earthquake, so it’s probably best to stay where you are rather than trying to change locations or get in the car to drive for the next hour or so following the earthquake.
Aftershocks may happen up for the next few days, so it’s probably still a good idea to keep heavy items secured and off shelves.
Unlike earthquakes and house fires, there is, unfortunately, a tornado season, especially if you live in the midwest. However, tornadoes can strike at any time of the year, so it’s always important to be prepared.
Like most emergency preparation, it’s important to have a safety plan for tornados, though in this case, it may be safer to stay indoors. While occasionally meteorologists may be able to predict weather patterns that lead to a tornado to give you time to evacuate, usually you’ll need to find the safest place in your house.
The best place to be in a tornado is in a storm cellar, basement, or the lowest floor of the house in a room without windows. When it comes to tornado-proofing your bedroom, there isn’t a lot you can do other than sleeping in your safe room. If you decide to sleep in your cellar or safe room, there are a few things you can do to help ensure your safety.
When you hear tornado sirens, you should find shelter immediately. If you’re already in your safe room sleeping, avoid the impulse to go to a window to see the tornado—it’s probably best to stay put unless you are advised to evacuate.
Hurricanes usually come with plenty of warning time, and we suggest evacuating at the first recommendation when possible. However, in some cases, storms may quickly change trajectory and make it difficult for you to leave. In the event of a hurricane, here’s how to prepare.
If you live in a hurricane zone, it’s a good idea to keep an emergency bag packed and in your bedroom at all times throughout the year. You’ll want to keep your important documents where you can easily access them in a waterproof case and have some water and snacks stashed as well. If you plan on staying in your bedroom during the storm, you’ll want to either cover the windows with safety fabric like this that will keep them from shattering inward or place boards over them that are drilled into the walls.
If hurricanes are common in your area, you may even want to install storm shutters that could stop debris from entering through a window. If you have any heavy tree branches extending over your home or near your bedroom, cutting them down should prevent them from tearing through your home in high winds. Additionally, you’ll need to secure any loose items in your lawn that could become loose and dangerous in high winds.
If you are trapped in your home during a hurricane, you should sleep in a room without windows or as far from the windows as possible. You may want to keep your valuable items upstairs in case of flooding and be sure you have access to higher ground.
In case you become trapped or lose power, you may want to keep emergency flares with you for rescue teams as well as flashlights and life jackets if you live very close to the water.
Floods can be the result of a variety of natural disasters, from hurricanes to tornadoes and even earthquakes. Sometimes they can happen from dams overflowing or just too much rainfall. If you live near a river, lake, or the ocean, you could be at an increased risk, but floods can happen anywhere.
Floods are common in the rainy season—from early spring to fall—but they can happen year-round. In some cases, when the snow melts too quickly and it rains for a few days, water could invade your home and wash out roadways. To learn about the flood risks in your area, go to the FEMA Flood Map Service.
For minimal flooding that happens seasonally, you could save yourself sleep by investing in a submersible sump pump in the basement of your home. These connect to power to pump water away from your home, and some even run on backup batteries in case you lose power. This way, you shouldn’t need to stay up all night waiting to see if you need to dump water to save your flooring.
For major flooding, a pump may not do it. When it comes to your bedroom, you’ll want to keep your mattress off the floor, preferably with a bed frame and additional lifters. Once a mattress gets wet, it can be difficult to dry, and you may need to replace it. Expensive items and electronics should be kept off the ground or on the upper floors, and you may consider mounting your speakers on the wall.
To avoid electrical shocks, you’ll want to unplug all of your electronics and turn off the power to your home or apartment if possible. Once your outlets become wet, you’ll want to stay away from the breaker box and avoid plugging anything in. There should be a built-in circuit breaker to protect you against floods, but it’s better to be safe.
If your area frequently floods, you may want to keep important items in a waterproof safe and keep clean water, food, and flashlights in an easily accessible location. Additionally, you may want to subscribe to local alert programs so you aren’t caught off guard.
If it’s too late to evacuate, the Department of Homeland Security recommends staying where you are and finding higher ground if possible. As little as one foot of moving water can wash your car away, so it’s probably not a good idea to drive. It’s also important that you don’t try to swim through floodwaters because there is often dangerous debris and there may be undertows that could drown you.
For emergencies, it's not a bad idea to keep a lifejacket on hand just in case, and you may consider using inflatable or floating cushions in your bedroom.
There are many causes for power outages nationwide, the most common being winter storms, thunderstorms, and occasionally dry weather when the state deems power lines a fire hazard. Power outages affect more than just your lightbulbs; they can affect your ability to heat and cool your home, heat water, and keep your food refrigerated. When power outages happen in the middle of the night, you might not even notice, but sometimes they last for days.
To prepare for an extended power outage, you’ll want to be aware of the risk factors that often lead to outages. In areas with lots of snow and freezing rain, snow and ice can build up on trees and power lines, causing branches and trees to fall and cars to crash into power lines. In these cases, power might be out for a few hours to a few weeks depending on the amount of damage and road conditions.
If you know there is a storm coming, it’s a good idea to stock up on some items for your bedroom that could keep you safe.
Whether you plan on using battery-powered flashlights, candles, or a gas lamp, it’s important that you have a way of providing light for your home. Keep in mind that candles could pose a fire hazard and batteries eventually run out, so you might want to store some extras.
Because you aren’t likely to make use of the frozen beef and chicken you have stored away, (especially if it thaws out) canned and other non-perishable foods could be helpful if it takes a few days for your roads to be cleared.
It might sound like overkill, but pipes only take a few hours to freeze and could cost a few thousand dollars to repair once you get heating back. Plus, blankets aren’t always enough to keep you warm.
If your pipes freeze while you wait for power to return, melting snow isn’t always easy or safe. Having a backup supply of water could help you stay hydrated if power is out for more than a few days.
When you lose power, be careful not to wander around in the dark. Having a flashlight or candle near your bed could help you get around without falling down the stairs or causing other injuries.
It might not be a bad idea to huddle together for warmth in cold weather. If the heat or cold is extreme, you may want to take your water supply with you and travel to a community location with a generator.
You’ll probably want to unplug most of your electronics, as power surges may occur when the power returns and fry your devices. Be extremely cautious not to drive on unclear roads. Getting trapped in a snowdrift is not preferable to waiting it out in your home, especially as snow could hide your car and cause an accident when the roads are being cleared.
We’re talking robbery, abduction, and people you don’t know entering your home without consent. If that sentence was as uncomfortable for you to read as it was to write, you might need some preparation for this dangerous occurrence.
From defensive weapons to added security measures, in your home, there are plenty of ways to deter intruders, though keep in mind that the rules may vary by state on what you’re allowed to do to defend yourself. We’ll leave those decisions up to what you’re comfortable with, though it’s never a bad idea to be prepared.
When it comes to your bedroom, here are a few options that may help you feel safer.
Calling for help is going to be your best bet in this type of emergency, especially because you won’t know if the intruder is armed. It can be easy to freeze in the moment, which is why you may want to practice using your phone’s security features for emergencies. In some cases pressing the lock or end button a certain number of times will automatically call 911 without requiring you to type in the numbers.
Keep in mind that if your sound is on, this feature may make noise, giving away your location.
Doorbell cameras or alarms may deter an intruder once they try to break in. In some cases you can monitor security cameras from your bedroom, allowing you to dismiss non-threats that may trip your sensors.
Even if your dog isn’t big and scary, their bark may wake you up in an emergency, deterring potential intruders. You could also buy a motion sensor that plays barking noises to discourage intruders.
This may convince potential intruders that you’re home and awake and deter them from attempting to break in. It’s probably a good idea to frequently rotate these timers so they don’t seem automatic.
If someone has broken into your home, call 911 immediately so they can send help. It’s probably not a good idea to engage with intruders, and in most cases, they will leave you alone, especially if they only want your things. With that in mind, we recommend staying put in your bedroom and waiting for the authorities. If you have security equipment installed, you may be able to set off an alarm that may convince the invaders to leave.
The best thing you can do to prepare for an emergency is to make a plan beforehand. When you’re afraid, tired, or stressed, decision-making skills could be impaired, so having a plan already spelled out could speed up the process and help keep you safe. Your plan may need room for adaptation depending on the type of emergency and extenuating circumstances, but we’ll go over a few common concerns below.
Wherever you live, it’s probably a good idea to have an evacuation plan that includes options on where you would stay as well as the route you would take to leave. If you don’t have friends or family nearby, do some research on cheap hotels and shelters, and have their phone numbers written down in advance so you can make reservations before they are full.
Having a bag ready in your car is a good way to cut down on the time it takes to leave, but depending on the emergency, you may want to keep it closer to you. Evacuation can be stressful, so it’s a good idea to go over your plans with every member of your household, especially children.
Once your plan is nailed down, you may want to conduct a few run-throughs in case there is anything you forgot to account for. Depending on where you end up, there may not be sleeping accommodations, so you may consider keeping some sleeping bags or an air mattress in your car as well.
If you’re a senior living independently, disaster preparation is especially important, as it may take you longer to clear out in case of an emergency. You may also need more resources. If possible, talk to your doctor about having an emergency supply of some of your medications in case you are ever unable to access them for a while.
Additionally, you’ll want to keep warm blankets, water, and a few changes of clothes in your car if you need to leave suddenly. Consider any items you may need that may not be readily available to you. In some cases, this may be hearing aid batteries, syringes, alcohol swabs, a medical ID band, glasses, or contacts.
The last thing you want to worry about when you need to evacuate is gathering all of these materials in a hurry.
Pets are a part of the family, and when you need to evacuate, it’s important that you take them with you. Pets left behind in homes and yards often die in disasters or may leave looking for food if you are unable to return immediately. In any case, if you become separated from your pet, you’ll be glad you kept up-to-date contact information on their collars so they can be returned to you.
In emergencies like home invasions, dogs may be important deterrents for potential burglars. In other cases, service animals or emotional support animals may help you through a difficult time. Many disaster shelters like the Red Cross do not allow pets unless they are service animals, so you’ll want to keep their documents with you and in an easily accessible place for when you need to leave.
If your pet is not a service animal, you’ll need to research places you can board your animal out of town or find accommodations with friends or family.
If you are disabled and are unable to drive or evacuate yourself, you’ll need to have an emergency contact who can help you who is preferably nearby. When it’s time to evacuate or extreme weather is approaching, you may want to stay with them or evacuate with them. You don’t want to wait until the last minute before finding someone to help you.
When it comes to vital medications, talk to your doctor about developing a short term supply in case you are unable to access them for a while. Additionally, you may consider wearing a medical ID bracelet in case of an emergency. First responders are often taught to look for these in an emergency. Having your medications, dosages, and emergency contacts all updated in the emergency section of your phone may help as well.
In case of any emergency, we created a list you can reference for important materials you should have in your bedroom. Some may require adaptation according to your potential for risk.
Your home can become a dangerous place if you can’t see where you’re going. When the power goes out, flashlights with backup batteries could help you stay safe, find your household or family members, and get you where you need to go. Preferably, keep them in an easily accessible place from your bed.
Not only is it the law in most buildings but having working smoke detectors can also keep you safe. However, not everyone knows they should keep a smoke detector in the bedroom. If you’ve ever slept through a fire alarm, you’ll understand the importance of having one within earshot, especially if you sleep with earplugs in or ambient noise.
Keep an exit plan written down or practice and memorize one from each bedroom in your home. If something were to happen to you, you’d want your children to know how to escape in an emergency as well. While windows might be the safest option in a fire, in some cases an exit plan will require you to identify the fastest way to get to your basement or out the door.
Disasters can strike at any time of the year, and you don’t want to be caught outside in the snow, broken glass, or debris without shoes. You’ll want to keep a pair of shoes ready by your bed at all times of the year. It’s probably better to choose closed-toed shoes that don’t require a lot of effort to put on.
While you could easily pick up a ready-made first-aid kit for a few dollars at the store, we recommend you consider making your own based on your needs. While bandaids help with slivers and smaller cuts, you may want large bandages, gauze, antiseptic ointment, butterfly bandages, superglue, medical tape, and your specific prescription medications. While we hope this guide combined with your common sense and the advice of local emergency experts will keep you from getting seriously injured, it’s always a good idea to be prepared.
For the ultimately prepared bedroom, you should charge your phone every night and probably keep a charged-up portable battery ready as well. Keep in mind that in emergencies it is normal for phone lines to be down or busy, so you’ll want to communicate via text or email as much as possible. Though the important phone numbers are likely already on your phone, it’s never a bad idea to keep a written copy for if your phone dies or you lose it.
While we aren’t trying to scare you, we think it’s important to be aware of all of the risks so you can prepare yourself and your home. As disaster can strike at any time, it only makes sense to prepare for the time when you’re most vulnerable: when you’re sleeping. Even the most perfect disaster preparation probably won’t account for everything that could go wrong, but we aim to help you stay safe and as informed as possible.
We hope this information steers you in the right direction in creating your emergency-proof bedroom and that your preparation helps you sleep more soundly—just not when it comes to hearing the fire alarm.