Hurricanes can be dangerous killers. Learning the hurricane warning messages and planning ahead can reduce the chances of injury or major property damage.
Right now is the time to make your plans for contending with a storm. Your main objective, of course, is to make sure you and your family are as safe as possible. Your second aim should be to protect your property.
Your plan should be detailed and cover not just what to do now, but also what to do as the storm threatens and as it hits, and what you should do afterward, when you could be on your own without help for weeks. Here are some things to consider:
Get the whole family involved
It's essential that everyone knows early on what the plan is, and what each person's role is.
Decide where you want to be during a hurricane
This may be the toughest decision to make, so make it early.
Authorities recommend you prepare well and stay home if you are not in an evacuation zone. If you decide to go to a shelter, a friend's house or a hotel, don't go too far away or else you'll risk getting trapped on grid-locked roadways.
You can get out of town, but unless you do it early, it may pose so many problems that home or a local shelter may be a better alternative.
Study all the choices and decide -- now -- which is best for you and your family. Then be specific in your planning.
Have backup plans for shelter
If you plan to prepare your home and stay there, have a place to go in case there's a problem you didn't foresee.
If you're going to an emergency shelter, know which one you're supposed to go to, and know where two others are, for backup.
If you're leaving town, have locations in mind.
Make preparations for children
Decide now who picks them up from school during a storm threat if both parents work. Start helping them now to deal with any fears: Explain what a hurricane is, what it can do, and what preparations your family is making to contend with one.
Prepare for those with special needs Make arrangements right away for family members who are elderly or who have special needs. Remember that if someone depends on electrical life-support, there probably will be no power after a storm. Contact your local Emergency Management Office for details.
Find out if you'll have to work
If your job requires you to work during a storm, make sure that when the hurricane hits at least one parent or adult relative will be at home (or in the shelter) with the children or adults with special needs.
Government agencies can require some people, such as bus drivers and police officers, to work through a storm. If you're in that category, ask your bosses early on to excuse you from work to tend to your family when a storm threatens. If you can't be excused from work, make other arrangements for your family's care. Some companies and government agencies allow emergency workers to bring their families to the job for shelter. Find out now.
Have some emergency cash put away
A hurricane will disrupt banking schedules. Automated teller machines and credit cards, in a world without electricity, will not work or will run out of cash. Don't charge your credit cards to the limit; you may need them to get more cash after the storm.
Plan an evacuation route.
- Contact the local emergency management office or American Red Cross chapter, and ask for the community hurricane preparedness plan. This plan should include information on the safest evacuation routes and nearby shelters.
- Learn safe routes inland. Be ready to drive 20 to 50 miles inland to locate a safe place.
Have disaster supplies on hand.
Buy supplies early. Planning is key to avoiding price gougers who appear after calamity strikes. Buy as many supplies as you can, especially big-ticket items like generators, before a hurricane threatens and demand skyrockets.
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- Portable, battery-operated radio and extra batteries
- First aid kit and manual
- Emergency food and water
- Nonelectric can opener
- Essential medicines
- Cash and credit cards
- Sturdy shoes
Make arrangements for pets.
Pets may not be allowed into emergency shelters for health and space reasons. Contact your local humane society for information on local animal shelters.
Develop an emergency communication plan.
In case family members are separated from one another during a disaster (a real possibility during the day when adults are at work and children are at school), have a plan for getting back together.
Ask an out-of-state relative or friend to serve as the "family contact." After a disaster, it's often easier to call long distance. Make sure everyone in the family knows the name, address, and phone number of the contact person.
Tell at least two family members who live outside your area what you're going to do in case of a hurricane. If you're staying put, let them know and try to communicate with them afterward. If you're leaving town, tell them where you're going. If you change plans, let them know
Make sure that all family members know how to respond after a hurricane.
- Teach family members how and when to turn off gas, electricity, and water.
- Teach children how and when to call 9-1-1, police, or fire department and which radio station to tune to for emergency information.
Protect your windows.
- Permanent shutters are the best protection.
- A lower-cost approach is to put up plywood panels. Use 1/2 inch plywood--marine plywood is best--cut to fit each window.
- Remember to mark which board fits which window.
- Pre-drill holes every 18 inches for screws.
- Do this long before the storm.
Trim back dead or weak branches from trees.
Check into flood insurance.
You can find out about the National Flood Insurance Program through your local insurance agent or emergency management office. There is normally a 30-day waiting period before a new policy becomes effective. Homeowners polices do not cover damage from the flooding that accompanies a hurricane.
Hurricane Watches and Warnings
A hurricane watch is issued when there is a threat of hurricane conditions within 24-36 hours.
DURING A HURRICANE WATCH
- Listen to a battery-operated radio or television for hurricane progress reports.
- Check emergency supplies.
- Fuel car.
- Bring in outdoor objects such as lawn furniture, toys, and garden tools and anchor objects that cannot be brought inside.
- Secure buildings by closing and boarding up windows.
- Remove outside antennas.
- Turn refrigerator and freezer to coldest settings. Open only when absolutely necessary and close quickly.
- Store drinking water in clean bathtubs, jugs, bottles, and cooking utensils.
- Review evacuation plan.
- Moor boat securely or move it to a designated safe place. Use rope or chain to secure boat to trailer. Use tiedowns to anchor trailer to the ground or house.
A hurricane warning is issued when hurricane conditions (winds of 74 miles per hour or greater, or dangerously high water and rough seas) are expected in 24 hours or less.
DURING A HURRICANE WARNING
- Listen constantly to a battery-operated radio or television for official instructions.
- If in a mobile home, check tiedowns and evacuate immediately.
- Store valuables and personal papers in a waterproof container on the highest level of your home.
- Avoid elevators.
- If at home: Stay inside, away from windows, skylights, and glass doors.
- Keep a supply of flashlights and extra batteries handy.
- Avoid open flames, such as candles and kerosene lamps, as a source of light. If power is lost, turn off major appliances to reduce power "surge" when electricity is restored.
- If officials indicate evacuation is necessary: Leave as soon as possible. Avoid flooded roads and watch for washed-out bridges.
- Secure your home by unplugging appliances and turning off electricity and the main water valve.
- Tell someone outside of the storm area where you are going.
- If time permits, and you live in an identified surge zone, elevate furniture to protect it from flooding or better yet, move it to a higher floor.
- Bring pre-assembled emergency supplies and warm protective clothing. Take blankets and sleeping bags to shelter.
- Lock up home and leave.
- Stay tuned to local radio for information.
- Help injured or trapped persons. Give first aid where appropriate.
- Do not move seriously injured persons unless they are in immediate danger of further injury.
- Call for help.
- Return home only after authorities advise that it is safe to do so.
- Avoid loose or dangling power lines and report them immediately to the power company, police, or fire department.
- Enter your home with caution.
- Beware of snakes, insects, and animals driven to higher ground by flood water.
- Open windows and doors to ventilate and dry your home.
- Check refrigerated foods for spoilage.
- Take pictures of the damage, both to the house and its contents and for insurance claims.
- Drive only if absolutely necessary and avoid flooded roads and washed-out bridges.
- Use telephone only for emergency calls.
INSPECTING UTILITIES IN A DAMAGED HOME
- Check for gas leaks--If you smell gas or hear blowing or hissing noise, open a window and quickly leave the building.
- Turn off the gas at the outside main valve if you can and call the gas company from a neighbor's home. If you turn off the gas for any reason, it must be turned back on by a professional.
- Look for electrical system damage--If you see sparks or broken or frayed wires, or if you smell hot insulation, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker.
- If you have to step in water to get to the fuse box or circuit breaker, call an electrician first for advice.
- Check for sewage and water lines damage--If you suspect sewage lines are damaged avoid using the toilets and call a plumber.
- If water pipes are damaged, contact the water company and avoid the water from the tap. You can obtain safe water by melting ice cubes.
Mitigation includes any activities that prevent an emergency, reduce the chance of an emergency happening, or lessen the damaging effects of unavoidable emergencies.
Investing in preventive mitigation steps now such as strengthening unreinforced masonry to withstand wind and flooding and installing shutters on every window will help reduce the impact of hurricanes in the future.
Source: Federal Emergency Management Agency