How to Prepare for (and Prevent) Holiday Emergencies

Alison Kasch
Written by Alison Kasch
Updated November 29, 2021
family together eating during the holidays
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  • Practice food safety.

  • Avoid fire and electrical hazards.

  • Know where emergency shutoff valves are.

  • Keep knives and other sharp objects away from children and party guests.

  • Know basic first-aid and when to call an ambulance.

  • Have a reputable contractor at the ready.

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Holiday emergencies can be funny when they’re happening to people in classic movies, but in your own home, they’re anything but. As you have probably heard, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure—but it’s important to prepare either way. Here’s a guide on what to do during emergencies that can occur during the holidays and the preparations you can take now.

1. Be Mindful of Food Safety

With so many delicious meals to cook and prepare, it’s easy to forget about cross-contamination and safe temperatures. However, the last thing you need is for foodborne illness to strike your party, so there are certain areas where you can’t cut corners. Here are the main rules to remember:

  • Keep raw meat separate from other foods

  • Use a separate cutting board and knife for meat

  • Use a meat thermometer to ensure internal temperatures reach the minimum USDA guidelines

  • Always store meat at the bottom of the fridge, away from vegetables, toppings, and side dishes

  • Ask about your guests’ allergies beforehand

  • Refrigerate leftovers ASAP

2. Avoid Fire and Electrical Hazards

It’s tempting to upstage your neighbors with your holiday lighting display, but it’s important not to create a hazard while you’re at it. Plugging extension cords into extension cords is a major hazard for an electrical fire, as is overloading your circuits. Don’t count on your circuit breaker to make the decision for you—know the limits and don’t push them just to have a few extra lighted reindeer.

3. Keep an Eye on the Tree

 father son hang up Christmas ornaments
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O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, how flammable are thy branches? Extremely, as you may already know. Keep this in mind, and don’t leave any flames or candles near the tree. Also, retire the string lights you inherited from your great grandparents, as these may have shoddy wiring, which can easily spark and set a tree ablaze.

4. Limit the Accessibility of Sharp Objects

Whether it’s the carving knife near your roast turkey or a shattered wine glass on the floor, holiday parties can have many sharp objects that may cause injuries to young or unaware partygoers. Keep knives out of the reach of children and never leave them submerged in sinks of soap water. Clean up any broken glass immediately with protective gloves and a wet paper towel to pick up any unseen shards.

5. Know First-Aid Procedures

In case someone chokes or needs CPR, knowing first aid could help save their life before paramedics can arrive. Here is a helpful guide from the American Red Cross on the basics of first aid. If possible, take a first-aid or CPR class to get yourself better acquainted with the procedures.

6. Familiarize Yourself with the Area’s Hospitals

Despite your best efforts, accidents happen. The last thing you want to do is search for a hospital when you’re in the midst of a medical emergency. Learn more about the area (especially if you’re traveling) and know exactly where to go in case the unthinkable happens.

7. Know When to Call an Ambulance

Even if someone can drive to the hospital, there are certain circumstances where an ambulance is necessary. According to the American College of Emergency Physicians, you should call an ambulance if:

  • The situation appears life-threatening

  • The person’s condition could become life-threatening on the way to the hospital

  • Driving could significantly delay reaching the hospital

  • Moving the person could cause further injury or harm

  • The person’s condition calls for the equipment and skills of a paramedic or EMT

8. Have a Reputable Pro on Deck

Developing an ongoing relationship with a reputable contractor can save the day when your heat goes out in the dead of winter. Keep a trustworthy local plumber, local electrician, local HVAC repair technician, and a handyperson near you saved in your contacts. They may even be able to talk you through any emergency maintenance issues over the phone, which can save you a lot of time and money during holidays or after hours. Many companies offer 24-hour utility repair, so keep a list of these companies handy just in case.

9. Keep a Stash of Emergency Supplies

You don’t want to get left scrambling and furiously digging through drawers if something happens. Make sure you know where emergency items are, including flashlights, first-aid kits, medication, fire extinguishers, and phone numbers to your local utility companies (especially the “after-hours” hotlines).

10. Know Where Your Shutoff Valves Are

The holidays can put extra strain on your plumbing, electricity, and appliances. Be sure you know where your shutoffs are in case of major leaks or gas line and electrical issues. These include:

  • Main water shutoff valve

  • Appliance shutoff valves

  • Gas shutoff valve

  • Circuit breaker box

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