A Drill for Each (Likely) Disaster

map of of the USA on fire
But where do we go when everywhere is on fire?

As you’ve noticed if you’ve seen any other part of this website, there are a lot of potential disasters out there. What disasters are most likely and which drill would be best for each of those?

Living in California, for years I was sure that my next disaster would be a big earthquake. That’s why our earthquake kit includes booze.

Surprise, surprise, pandemic eked out the win in 2020! Which, honestly, was a pretty mild disaster in the grand scheme of things. So much baking!

We should be so lucky that our next disaster will include so much time at home.

Rule of Thumb

Secondary disasters were a major threat during the COVID-19 pandemic. People were so disgusted by the slow-moving terror of a dead economy and the eternal blankness of their living room walls that they started doing reckless things like turning glass jars into bombs full of over-fermented sourdough starter!

Some disasters can be much more, well, disastrous.

The disasters that require you to leave everything behind in a hurry are the ones that can really leave a mark. Running drills for likely emergency scenarios makes sure that everyone in your family knows what to do when panic gets real.

While you were creating your disaster plan, you clicked your state to find out which disasters are most likely for you. Since house fires are (sadly) likely everywhere, every house should practice fire drills, but the other drills you run with your family should be based on which disasters you think you’re likely to experience. Revisit the drills you laid out in your disaster plan and fine tune them so they’re ready to practice.

If you live on the coast, preparing for a tsunami is a higher priority than it would be if you’re inland. If you live in the woods during a major drought, wildfire is probably at the top of your list. Disaster planning is highly personal, which is one of the reasons it’s so complicated.

Consider the following situations and what the corresponding drill would look like for your family.

Take the types of disasters one at a time. What is most likely where you live? Which drills would be most useful to practice every year?


Most Americans have an escape plan in case of a housefire, which is great, but only 47% of those with a plan have practiced it. How good is a plan if you don’t know how to execute it? Luckily, running a fire drill at home is simple. Here are the steps:

  1. Set off smoke alarms: Once your ears are ringing, start timing.

  2. Follow the evacuation plan: Everyone should calmly evacuate the house/building using the designated routes in your emergency plan. Remember to stay low and cover your mouth to avoid breathing imaginary smoke. Lightly touch any doors before entering. If they’re hot, there could be a fire behind them, and you should choose a different evacuation route. Of course, they won’t really be hot, but it’s good to practice.

  3. Wait at the designated meeting place: If everyone gets to the meeting place within two minutes, good job! Gold medals all around. If they didn’t, try again. During a real emergency, call 911 and wait at the meeting spot until firefighters arrive.

Practice your fire drill at least twice per year. Not only will it keep your family members sharp on the emergency plan, but it’ll also remind you to test your smoke alarms. If you keep a calendar on your phone or computer, set a recurring reminder to make sure it pops up when the time is right!

And if you ever do find yourself literally on fire, remember the mantra we all learned in school: stop, drop, and roll.

Fire fighter putting out a house fire with a hose

A wildfire drill is similar to a housefire drill, except on a larger scale. Instead of evacuating your house, you need to evacuate your neighborhood, city, county, or state—depending on how widespread the fire is.

Designate an emergency meeting location outside of the hazardous area and create multiple routes to get there; you never know when a road might be blocked.

Rule of Thumb

You could probably tell us ten different ways to get to Starbucks; get to that level of familiarity with your emergency location!

To practice a wildfire drill, follow your evacuation routes to make sure you know them by heart. If an emergency strikes, you won’t have time to plug an address into Google Maps.

If you have family in the area, create a family communication plan to keep everyone in the loop. Come up with a call/texting tree so one person doesn’t have to spend precious time calling every person on the list. This will help everyone stay connected, even if separated. Practice your family communication plan during your drills.

Smokey landscape with wildfire

You’ve heard of “stop, drop, and roll.” Get ready for “drop, cover, and hold on.”

Most earthquake injuries are a result of falling, whether the victim falls down or something falls on them. The goal of an earthquake drill is to reduce the risk of injury by quickly finding cover and anchoring yourself until the shaking stops.

  1. Drop: Hit the ground! Get on your hands and knees to lower your center of gravity and avoid falling.
  2. Cover: Crawl underneath something sturdy. Tables and desks make excellent hiding places. Once you’re safe, cover your head and the back of your neck with one arm for added protection.
  3. Hold on: While under the table or desk, hold on to one of the legs. This will help keep you steady. If your cover moves, either hold it in place or go with it. Don’t come out until the imaginary earthquake is over. Stick around for a few minutes to practice waiting for immediate aftershocks.

Once your drill is complete, look around you. What could have fallen off the walls? What would you do if you were surrounded by broken glass and barefoot? Talk to your family about the big post-earthquake dangers like unstable structures, broken water mains, downed power lines, and leaky gas lines.

Building that has partially collapsed after an earthquake

To prepare for a hurricane, you need to run two different drills. The first one is an evacuation drill. If the hurricane is powerful, the best thing you can do is get away. Just like the wildfire drill, come up with multiple routes to safety and practice them regularly.

The second drill you need to practice is sheltering in place. If the hurricane is less serious, or you truly can’t get away, you and your family need to know how to stay safe at home. Designate a spot in your home as a “safe meeting space.” The basement or innermost part of your house/apartment is the best place to hide from a hurricane. Practice gathering in your safe place so everyone knows where to go if a hurricane hits. There are a few extra steps you can take to protect your home if you have time, so include those in your drill if you like, but make sure the main focus for the drill is getting to safety.

Luckily, hurricanes aren’t very sneaky, and you’ll usually have a few days’ warning to prepare. You won’t need your stopwatch to practice a hurricane drill. Just make sure everyone knows where to go and what to do.

Scrap metal in front of a house that has been transported there by a hurricane
Floods & Tsunamis

While you might have plenty of warning for a hurricane, floods are a different story. Floods are unpredictable. They can appear slowly—sometimes along with a hurricane—or show up without warning as flash floods.

If you have enough warning, evacuation is the best plan. Practice your evacuation routes and make sure you know them by heart. Similarly to a hurricane, if you have some time to prepare, you might want to place some sandbags and tarps around your doors and vents; include these tasks in your drill if you’d like to see how much time they’d take to complete. Keep the main focus on getting to safety, though.



No, I don’t care if your car has four-wheel drive. No matter how shallow you think it might be, find an alternate route. Turn around; don’t drown.

Tsunami warnings will usually give you ten to fifteen minutes to get to high ground, so use a stopwatch to time your drills if you live in a tsunami-prone area.

For flash floods that come without warning, you’ll likely need to shelter at home. Designate a safe place at the highest part of your house and stay there until help arrives. If you’re near a flash flood, don’t try to evacuate unless authorities explicitly tell you to do so. It’s usually safer to stay where you are, since traveling puts you in greater danger. Practice so everyone knows where to go.

There are a few extra steps you can take to protect your home if you have time, so include those in your drill if you like, but make sure the main focus of your drills is getting to safety.

Flooded street with cars underwater

Tornados require a fun (read: not fun at all) mixture of the disaster drills we’ve just talked about. You’ll need to shelter in place like there’s a hurricane, take cover like there’s an earthquake, and do it fast like there’s a fire.

Identify a safe place in your basement or the innermost part of your home. Being underground is ideal, but the most important thing is to stay away from windows. Strong winds can shatter glass and throw objects into your house. First floor bathrooms are a popular option, since tiled walls and bathtubs can offer good protection.

To practice a tornado drill, move quickly to the designated safe place. Surround yourself with objects like furniture or heavy blankets for protection from flying debris and stay there until the fake tornado watch is declared to be over. Since you should never try to outrun a tornado, you don’t need to worry about evacuation routes. But do watch out for witches and flying monkeys.

House wrecked by a tornado
Home Invasion

Home invasions are the most common disaster on this list, so it’s important to be prepared. According to the FBI, one property crime occurs every 4.1 seconds in the United States. Drills can help keep your family safe in the event of one.

To run a home invasion drill:

  • Choose a safe place: This should be a place with added security features like deadbolts or extra locks, a method of communication like a phone or laptop, and some instrument(s) for self-defense. If you don’t own a gun, anything hard—like a baseball bat—will do.
  • Come up with a code word: This will be the equivalent of your fire alarms going off. When someone in your family says the word, it means it’s time to move.
  • Give everyone a job: Home invasions are a frantic affair. You can’t defend your house if you’re worried about your kids, so to keep things in order during the chaos, give everyone a job. Put the 13-year-old in charge of the 2-year-old, while the 7-year-old runs straight to the safe place and calls 911. Then, the parents can check the house and make sure it’s safe. If everyone has a job, there won’t be any meaningless scrambling.
  • Get to your safe place and be quiet: Once everyone makes it to the safe place, stay there, don’t draw attention to yourself, and call 911. Hiding is always the best option during a home invasion. Attack the intruder only as a last resort.

Run through your drill regularly to make sure everyone knows his or her job and can get to the safe place quickly and quietly.

Person with ski mask and large gun on a motorcycle

Check out our guides to specific disasters to get more info on how to prepare your drills for those scenarios.

Now that you’re familiar with what a drill for each likely disaster looks like, it’s time to start practicing.

About the Authors

It takes a village! We are researching, writing and fact checking as a family. Collaboration is the name of the game, whether we’re running from a zombie horde or finding the best way to turn a complex concept into a deliciously digestible set of bullet points.

Professional worrier. Mom, entrepreneur. Lifetime student of brain science. Passionate about surviving what's coming (climate change, wtf) and staying as sane as possible. Determined to make the best of the end of the world.