The average basement in a single-family detached home can easily be modified for all sorts of purposes. In the event of a tornado or similar type of weather disaster, basements make acceptable living quarters. After an earthquake, when fires often rage and the food supply chain is cut, a family can easily survive in the basement of their home in comfort and safety.
While not good refuge in the event of a nuclear accident or attack, a standard basement has multiple uses in many kinds of emergencies, from terrorist attacks and food-supply interruptions, to tornadoes and hurricanes. Note that living below ground during floods and some types of hurricanes can be an impossible proposition.
How to make your basement a safe place during disasters
Not every home’s basement is ready for long-term habitation. Some homeowners will need to patch wall cracks, seal door frames and maybe even add a more substantial roof to keep out water, flying debris and pests.
To make a basement ready for a one-month stay (for four people), the first steps are:
Get an inspection
Have a licensed home inspector or contractor look at the basement and identify any problem areas, like old ceilings, improper ventilation, cracked flooring and unsupported interior walls. Anything that needs attention should be taken care of before beginning the transition to “bunker conversion.”
Add bedding, shower, toilet, food-prep area, and furniture.
After the basement is structurally sound, add carpeting, a sleeping area, a toilet/shower area if needed, and plastic lining for the walls and ceiling. The addition of bathroom facilities in the basement might require expert help if you cannot do it yourself, but is a small job and a necessary one.
The key concepts to keep in mind when converting a basement into a disaster room are safety and comfort. Camping supplies are excellent, low-cost items that can serve as a makeshift kitchen. Even a chemical toilet and a camping shower can serve for personal needs if you choose not to install a small restroom in the area.
Use furniture you already own, or buy a few pieces from second-hand stores to equip your new disaster room. Try to leave areas of open space and avoid clutter.
Calculate your needs for food, water and medical supplies.
There is no need to spend excessively, but a good combination of disaster food, sealed jugs or tubs of water, and a very good first aid kit are highly recommended by most disaster experts. Track your family’s consumption of food and water for a month or so to get a good idea of how much, and what, you will need.
Some “survival” foods are sufficient for calories and nutrients but can become very boring in a matter of days. Make certain that you have enough comfort food for everyone, as well as enough drinking water.
Don’t forget important documents, matches, candles, batteries, and a hand-cranked radio and flashlight. Solar-powered items are good as long as you have access to an exposed panel on your roof via wiring.
Other factors to consider:
Most people who convert their basements to emergency rooms, and later use them for such, find that planning is of paramount importance. Just having the written plan and essential items on hand is good for the family’s collective peace of mind and helps teach children how to deal with life’s less-than-pleasant realities.