Winter Safety Guide
It's often said that the only things predictable in this world are death and taxes. But what's left out of this idiom is the very thing it suggests — that what we can expect to expect is the unpredictable. And in the wintertime, this becomes an unavoidable truth: the snow's going to hit, but when? You can get an idea by regularly checking local weather forecasts — and you should do this — but you can never know for sure. And when it does hit, there's always the chance that it'll hit hard. That's why the best thing you can do to keep yourself, your family, and your home safe this season is to act like the proverbial Boy Scout, and always be prepared.
Winter-Proof Your Home
The first step is to prepare your home. Here are some things you can do to ensure that your home will be warm and safe throughout the winter season:
- Make sure your heating system works. Call a professional if necessary.
- If you plan on using a fireplace, have your chimney and flue cleaned and inspected by a professional before the cold season kicks into high gear.
- Install a smoke detector and carbon-monoxide detector near any fireplace, wood stove, or kerosene heater. Make sure to test them monthly and change the batteries at least once every six months.
- Install easy-to-read thermometers both indoors and outside — don't trust your own guesstimates.
- Insulate any water lines that run along exterior walls so that your supply of water is less likely to freeze.
- Weather-proof your home with weather-stripping, storm windows, insulation, and/or thermal pane windows. This will keep your heating bill down and keep you comfortable in the coldest days of winter.
Home Winter Survival Kit
In a worst-case scenario, you may be stuck at home for days at a time. It’s critical to keep at least a week's worth of food and safety supplies on hand at all times. If you live far away from stores and other households, keep even more. Here's a list of essentials:
- Drinking water — either bottled or pre-filtered. This is in case your pipes freeze. A gallon of water a day per person is a good estimate.
- A week's worth of food that doesn't require heating or refrigeration. Canned or dried fruit, nuts, crackers, candy bars, energy bars, cereal, hard candy, and jerky are all good options.
- A non electric can opener.
- Baby food and formula — if there's a baby in the house.
- Pet food if there's a pet in the house.
- A first-aid kit, including at least a week's worth of all prescription drugs needed by members of the house. For a detailed list of what should be included in a comprehensive first-aid kit, click here.
- Keep your bathroom well-stocked with toilet paper.
- Flashlights and extra batteries. Keeping some battery-powered lamps is also a good idea — you should avoid using candles except as a last resort.
- A battery-powered clock-radio is also a good item to keep on hand, in case the electricity goes out for an extended period of time.
- Cell phone and extra batteries.
- Snow removal tools like a heavy-duty snow shovel, and rock salt to melt snow. A snow blower is another option, especially for those physically unable to shovel. For older adults and others who cannot shovel their own walk and driveways, it may be best to hire someone else to do it. Don't risk hurting yourself if you can avoid it.
Car Winter Survival Kit
If you have a car, it's important that you get it ready for the winter. Make sure all your fluids are topped off and that your heater, brakes, ignition, emergency flashers, defroster, battery, and radiator are in good working condition.
Load up your car with the right gear. Keep the following somewhere in your car all season long:
- Cell phone and extra batteries.
- A small shovel and windshield scraper.
- Flashlight with extra batteries.
- Bottled drinking water.
- Extra blankets, hats, coats, gloves, and socks.
- Tire chains.
- Jumper cables for if your car battery dies.
- Basic tools.
- Emergency flares and some reflective or bright colored fabric to warn other motorists should you break down. Alternatively, you can use a small mirror to signal.
- Road maps.
- Towels and/or paper towels.
Another good way to plan for winter is by equipping your car with a survival kit — in fact, it's probably a good idea to have a kit like this in your vehicle all year round. There are lots of ways to put together a portable survival kit; in our opinion, one of the simplest and yet still comprehensive method is the coffee can survival kit. The best thing about the coffee can is that if you have to leave your car, you can easily take all this stuff with you:
- A 2-3 pound coffee can. This will act as the container, and can also be used as a heated pot in which to melt snow for drinking water.
- Fire — a box of heavy-duty matches and one disposable plastic lighter.
- A roll of duct tape to fix just about anything.
- 60-inch length of string or twine, to help construct a shelter and to use in suspending the can over a fire.
- 100-foot length of clothesline. In case of a blizzard, you can tie yourself to your car and venture out without getting lost.
- A pocketknife or other short knife.
- A candle of about 2" diameter. This can be used to heat water in the can to melt snow.
- Two large plastic trash bags (the type used for yard waste). These may be used for shelter or to protect against inclement weather. They could also be used to collect water.
- Food: a few energy bars; several packets of soup, hot chocolate, and/or tea; some fruit-flavored candy (avoid chocolate, which is a diuretic and can leave you dehydrated).
- A first-aid kit including anti-bacterial soap, pain killers, antihistamines, adhesive bandages, and any medication you may need. Tailor this to your personal needs.
- Two quarters, two dimes, and twenty-dollar bill. The coins are for phone calls and the bill is for gas.
It's important to remember that just because you have a car fully stocked with emergency rations and all the gear you could possibly need, it doesn't mean you should unnecessarily drive around in a blizzard. When the weather's bad, try to stay at home; don't put yourself in danger if you don't have to.