Skip to Main Content

Creating an Emergency Plan: How to Handle Unexpected Situations

Renters Warehouse Blog

Back to Posts household emergency plan

As a renter, you may have slightly fewer household responsibilities than a homeowner. But one responsibility both homeowners and renters have in common is making sure you’re prepared for emergencies. Life is unpredictable, and emergencies can happen to anyone at any time, even when you’re in the safety of your own home.

A recent survey by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) says that only 45% of Americans think they’re prepared to handle a disaster emergency, and 14% don’t see the need to prepare at all. However, a little bit of preparation can go a long way in helping to make a stressful situation, a little less stressful.

Don’t have a home emergency plan yet? Let’s see why it’s important for renters and explore the steps you can take to start drafting up an emergency plan that’s tailored to your needs. 

While being prepared isn’t a guarantee that everything will go smoothly, it can help you to navigate an emergency more easily. Keep in mind that emergencies come in all shapes and sizes, but by doing your best to ensure preparedness you can give yourself the best chance at navigating an emergency and coming out the other side safely.

What Happens If You Don’t Plan for Emergencies?

Aside from helping to keep you and your loved ones safe, an emergency plan may also help to protect you from unexpected financial costs. 

Without a home emergency plan, you could be more likely to face the following:

  • Increased Risk: Without a plan, you may waste precious time deciding what to do during an emergency. Delays in taking action can increase the risk of injury or harm.

  • Property Damage: Without an emergency plan, you may not know how to protect your property during disasters. This can lead to more extensive damage to your home, belongings, and assets.

  • Stress and Anxiety: Emergencies can be paralyzing, and a lack of a plan can intensify this feeling. You may experience stress, anxiety, and a feeling of helplessness during emergencies.

  • Inefficient Resource Utilization: Resources such as emergency services, local shelters, and community support are out there, and they’re extremely helpful if you know about them in advance. Not knowing how to efficiently use resources in your area can further exacerbate the challenges you face.

  • Longer Recovery: After an emergency, the recovery process may be prolonged if you don’t have a plan or insurance. This can mean extended periods of displacement, disruption to your daily life, and financial setbacks.

Is this your first rental experience? Learn more here: Tips for First-Time Renters - 5 Things New Renters Should Know.

Steps to Take to Handle a Potential Emergency as a Tenant

Step One: Conduct a Rental Property Assessment

Before creating a plan, assess your home’s specific features and potential vulnerabilities, such as:

Location: Is it in an area prone to specific natural disasters, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, or tornadoes? Do you live next to a river or in an area susceptible to wildfires? Understanding the risks associated with your location will help you tailor your plan accordingly.

Property Type: There are different types of rental properties, from single-family homes, apartments, and condos, to townhouses. High-rise buildings and condos often have their own evacuation procedures, so it’s important to be aware of these beforehand. The type of property can influence your emergency plan, especially when it comes to evacuation or sheltering in place.

Property Features: Familiarize yourself with the layout of your rental property. Identify emergency exits, utility shut-off points, and any safety equipment provided by your landlord, such as fire extinguishers or smoke detectors. Know how to turn off the gas, electricity, and water supply to your rental property. 

Local Resources: Research the local emergency resources available in your area. This includes nearby hospitals, fire stations, and emergency shelters. You may not need to use them but knowing where these resources are can be invaluable during a crisis.

Step Two: Identify Emergency Contacts and Get Alerts

Effective communication leads to quicker action during emergencies. Establish a communication plan with these elements:

Emergency Contacts: Compile a list of important contacts and share this list with your family or housemates. Keep digital and printed copies in a safe, easily accessible location. 

Here’s a list of important emergency contacts you should have:

  • 911

  • Local police department

  • Local fire department

  • Emergency medical services (EMS)

  • Local hospital

  • Poison control center

  • Primary care physician

  • Family, friends, and neighbors

  • Landlord or property manager

Emergency Notifications: Make sure to sign up for wireless emergency alerts and notifications. Many municipalities offer text or email alerts to keep residents informed about potential threats.

Assign Meeting Points: Identify safe meeting points both inside and outside your rental property. In case of an evacuation, choose a designated spot where you and your family can reunite.

Out-of-Area Contact: Select an out-of-area contact person who can act as a central point of communication in case local lines are down or overloaded.

Step Three: Make an Evacuation Plan

In certain emergencies, you may need to evacuate. Develop a clear evacuation plan that includes the following:

Informing Everyone: Check that everybody who resides in the home is aware of the evacuation. If applicable, make sure you have a list of phone numbers of those who live with you so you can quickly inform them of the pending evacuation. 

Escape Routes: Look for the quickest and safest ways to exit your rental property. Identify a primary, secondary, or even tertiary escape route. Be sure to have a route mapped out to your safe place as well. 

Emergency Supplies: Prepare a “go bag” with essential items. 

“You have short-term and long-term evacuations. Short-term evacuations last roughly seven days or less—these are the vast majority of evacuations,” says Patrick Hardy, former FEMA representative and disaster expert. 

He says that the best way to prepare is to have a packing list that can work for either response, with essential basics and personal items that you may need in a shelter or a temporary home. 

Here are some important things that you can put inside:

  • Water

  • Non-perishable food

  • Medication: both prescription and other

  • Flashlight

  • Batteries and power banks

  • Battery-powered radio

  • First aid kit

  • Multi-purpose tool

  • Basic set of utensils

  • Extra cash

  • Important documents (e.g., identification, insurance papers

  • House and car keys

See the complete list.

Transportation: Consider transportation alternatives in the event that you don’t have access to your vehicle. Know public transportation routes, nearby taxi services, or ride-sharing options.

Pets: If you have pets, have a plan in place for their evacuation. Ensure you have pet carriers, food, water, and identification for your animals.

If time allows, make sure to secure the rental by closing and locking all doors and windows. Be sure to unplug small electrical appliances. Leave a note informing others where you’re going and the date you left.

Step Four: Create a Shelter in Place Plan

Sometimes, it may be safer to stay indoors such as scenarios where there’s air contamination or large debris in the air. Create a shelter-in-place plan with:

Safe Rooms: Identify the most secure rooms in your rental property for sheltering during extreme weather or external threats.

Emergency Supplies: Keep essential supplies on hand, such as water, non-perishable food, a battery-powered radio, flashlights, and first aid supplies.

Ventilation: In some emergencies, officials may instruct you to “seal the room”, or block outside air from coming in. Ensure that you can seal off your safe rooms by using duct tape or putting plastic sheeting on cracks and windows. Turn off appliances that move air between inside and outside like air conditioners.

Information: Stay informed about the situation through a battery-powered radio, TV, or your smartphone.

Step Five: Know Guidelines for Common Household Emergencies

While floods or tornadoes can be predictable to an extent, some household emergencies can catch you completely off guard. 

Having guidelines for common household emergencies can help you act quickly. 

Include these in your emergency plan and inform other members of your household as well.


  • If safe and appropriate, use a fire extinguisher. Fire safety is everyone’s responsibility. You may want to consider purchasing a fire extinguisher, or checking with your landlord to see if they can supply one for your rental. Identify and know where all fire extinguishers are located.

  • If the fire stays uncontrolled and there’s smoke, try to stay low to the ground where the air is less toxic.

  • Evacuate your home, closing doors behind you to slow the fire’s spread.

  • Do not use elevators during a fire.

  • Once outside, go to your designated meeting point.

Small Kitchen Fires:

  • If the fire is small and contained, you may be able to manage it yourself. If it’s spreading rapidly, or getting out of control quickly, call 911 immediately and leave the premises.

  • If the fire is caused by your stove or oven, if safe to, immediately switch off the heat source.

  • Cover the fire with a metal lid or a metal cookie sheet. This will help smother the flames by cutting off the oxygen supply. Do not use glass lids which can shatter or anything made of plastic.

  • As an alternative, you can use a box of baking soda or salt to extinguish a small grease fire. Sprinkle it generously on the flames. Never use water or flour on grease fires, as they can make the fire worse.

  • After the fire is out, check for smoke or signs of structural damage in the kitchen.

  • Ventilate the area by opening windows and turning on exhaust fans.

Gas Leak:

  • If you think you hear or smell a gas leak, do not turn lights on or off or use any open flames, including matches and lighters.

  • Evacuate the premises immediately without using any electronic devices or appliances that may generate sparks.

  • Call your gas company or emergency services from a safe distance.

  • Do not re-enter the building until authorities confirm it’s safe.

Water Leak or Burst Pipe:

  • Turn off the water supply at the main shut-off valve.

  • Open faucets to drain the remaining water in the pipes.

  • If the leak is due to a burst pipe, use a pipe clamp or wrap it with rubber and hose clamps to stop the water flow.

  • Place buckets or towels to collect leaking water and minimize damage.

  • Contact your landlord or a plumber for repairs.

Power Outage:

  • Check if the outage is limited to your home. If it’s a broader outage, contact your utility provider.

  • Unplug expensive electronics and appliances to prevent damage from power surges when the electricity is restored.

  • Use flashlights or battery-operated lanterns for lighting.

  • Keep your refrigerator and freezer closed to preserve perishable food.

  • Follow local news and social media for updates on power restoration.


  • Check with your landlord or property manager to see if they have a spare key.

  • Contact a locksmith if necessary for professional assistance.

Additional Tips for Emergency Preparedness

There are a few more steps you’ll want to consider taking ahead of time to help with emergency preparedness. 

  • Make Sure Everyone Is Informed

An emergency plan is only effective if you and your family members are familiar with it. Make sure your family is aware of designated meeting places and procedures to follow in case of an emergency. Consider conducting drills with young children to ensure that everyone knows what to do in different emergency scenarios.

  • Consider Renters Insurance

Review your rental insurance policy to understand what it covers in case of an emergency. If necessary, consider purchasing additional coverage for specific risks that your area might face, such as flood or earthquake insurance.

Read more about The Benefits of Renter’s Insurance: Protecting Your Belongings and Liability.

  • Collaborate With Your Landlord

Being proactive can help to prevent certain emergencies, and can help to prevent other emergencies from escalating out of control. 

Discuss your expectations and responsibilities regarding emergency preparedness with your landlord or property manager. Share your emergency plan and inquire about any specific requirements or guidelines they may have for you. You may also want to consider asking your landlord or property manager to keep a copy of your house key for you, in case you happen to get locked out.

As a tenant, you should also ensure that regular property maintenance and inspections are done. This is one of the best ways to avoid a potential emergency. Regularly test smoke detectors to ensure they are working, and replace the batteries at least once a year. Maintenance issues or repair needs should also be communicated to your landlord promptly. When your rental property is in good condition, the risk of accidents can be reduced.

Emergencies can come in various forms. From natural disasters like earthquakes and wildfires to accidents such as grease fires. While you might not have control over when these events occur, you can control how prepared you are to handle them. Remember that your emergency plan should not be a set it and forget it task. Be sure to periodically review and update it to reflect any changes in your living situation.

Want more tips for renters? Check out the Renters Warehouse Resident Resources for more articles on a hassle-free renting experience. If you’re looking for your next rental home, have a look at our available listings in your area.

Back to Posts