How to prepare your family, home and pets for a hurricane
- On: 08/12/2023 11:14:11
- In: News
Powerful hurricanes fueled by climate change have increased in frequency and intensity, causing billions of dollars in damage every year.Despite improved early warning systems, these storms can be unpredictable. Last year, Hurricane Ian killed more than 100 people after the storm suddenly changed its path. This year, NOAA predicts an above-average hurricane season.
One of the best ways to keep yourself safe is to prepare early and heed warnings from public officials.
This guide will show you how to keep your family and home safe before a hurricane hits, what to do if you're caught in the middle, and how to pick up when you return.
BEFORE THE STORM
To stay safe, you must stay informed. Planning sooner than later will save you valuable time.
Local government agencies are your best sources for information. They issue evacuation orders and offer general guidance. You can use FEMA's website to find out how to contact local emergency management offices.
Consider these additional steps:
Sign up for alerts. In a major disaster, government agencies will send you an alert on your smartphone. Make sure you have emergency alerts enabled on your phone.
Know your evacuation zone. Every county has different evacuation orders based on zones, which are determined by elevation levels and your home's distance to water. You can find your zone and your evacuation route through local government websites. Consult your local emergency management office if you rely on public transportation.
Know where to get more help. Local emergency offices and food banks may be able to help if you're short on supplies. Find your local food bank via Feeding America. If you're ordered to evacuate and don't have a place to stay, you can find a local shelter through FEMA or the Red Cross.
Supplies can dwindle fast when a storm hits. Keeping an emergency kit in a plastic bin or duffel bag will help you avoid the last-minute scramble for essential items.
Generally, FEMA recommends having nonperishable food and water that can last you several days. The recommended amount of water is one gallon per person per day.
Make sure to bring cash and any prescription medications you may require. Keep a list of contacts and copies of essential documents such as Social Security cards, birth certificates and pertinent medical information.
Store the information in a waterproof container or save it either to a password-protected thumb drive or an online cloud service.
Read through your renter or homeowner's insurance policies. Policies typically do not cover flooding, so you may need to purchase flood insurance separately. However, it may not cover items inside your home.
After you have prepared your family, complete a walkthrough of your apartment or house.
The storm may damage public water systems. To prepare for that outcome, fill containers, including sinks, with drinking water. Fill a bathtub with clean water for washing.
Check the battery in your carbon monoxide detector. Follow the detector's manufacturer's instructions.
Make sure you know how and where to turn off the utilities, including power, water and gas. Use storm shutters or plywood to protect windows and doors from wind damage.
Clear outdoor areas of objects such as bikes, furniture and building materials that may be picked up by the wind. Anchor other things that may be unsafe to bring indoors, such as grills or propane tanks.
Trim weak tree branches that could fall on your home. Make sure your drains, gutters and downspouts are clean.
DURING THE STORM
As the hurricane moves in, monitor local news outlets for storm updates and watch for evacuation orders from emergency management authorities. During an active storm, the National Hurricane Center website will issue updates every 3 hours.
You may consider weathering the storm if you have ample supplies or if you are comfortable living without power for at least a week. However, if you live in an evacuation zone or an area prone to flooding, consider leaving before the storm or evacuate when you are instructed.
Be aware that your area may be at risk of a storm surge, when powerful winds push water inland for miles and cause an abnormal rise in seawater levels. Drowning from a storm surge is one of the leading causes of death during a hurricane. Water levels can rise dangerously in a matter of minutes. Large storm surges can carry away homes and wash out roads.
During Hurricane Katrina, a 28-foot storm surge obliterated entire towns on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, killing 238 people. Use this map to determine your vulnerability from a storm surge.
The safest place to shelter is a windowless room in the most interior portion of the home at the lowest level. Put as many walls between you and the outside world as you can.
If you are ordered to evacuate, leave immediately. Call an out-of-state contact and tell them where you are going. Bring your emergency kit, cellphone, cellphone charger, ID and cash.
If you leave early and time permits, unplug appliances and electronics. You can leave your refrigerator plugged in and set to the coldest setting if there is no risk of flooding.
Close all windows and doors and turn off air conditioning or heating. Elevate furniture or move it to a higher floor to prevent possible water damage. Follow orders if you are instructed to turn off water, gas and electricity.
If your home begins to flood, move to the highest room in the house or building. Avoid enclosed attics. If that room, too, begins to get dangerous, go to the roof before your exits are blocked. Call 911, but be aware that help may not be able to reach you.
AFTER THE STORM
Many dangers are still present after a storm has passed. More people die returning home than during the hurricane itself. Of the dozens of people who died from Hurricane Laura in Louisiana, none were killed by the 17-foot storm surge. Almost all died once Laura passed, mostly from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Before returning to your home, wait for local officials to give you the okay. While you may be eager to return, your home could lack running water and electricity. Emergency medical care and social services may not be available in your area, but local shelters can provide food, power and medical assistance.
Before making the trek back home, make sure your phone is charged and your gas tank is full. Follow these instructions to keep your phone working.
Take care of your physical and mental health. Returning to your home can be very rough. It's normal to be upset. Check in with yourself and be mindful of overworking. Research shows dehydration and heart attacks are common after a hurricane. If you need help, check with local emergency management departments to see what is available. Check if the Red Cross has shelters nearby with doctors and metal health providers.
Take care on your return. Floodwaters contain sewage, bacteria and chemicals that can make you ill. Watch out for damaged or fallen power lines, poles or wires. They can electrocute you.
Don't enter damaged buildings until authorities deem it safe. If your home makes shifting or unusual noises, leave immediately.
Save phone calls for emergencies. Phone systems may be taxed.
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas produced by fuel-burning appliances like generators or water heaters that can build up in an enclosed space. Make sure your carbon monoxide detector has batteries and is working. Breathing in carbon monoxide can kill you.
Never use portable gasoline, coal-burning equipment or camp stoves inside your home, basement or garage. Portable generators must be kept outside and located more than 20 feet away from the windows and doors of your home.
It's essential to take care of yourself and others when cleaning up. Pace yourself and work in teams to carry heavy objects.
Wear gloves, goggles, boots and other protective equipment. Disinfect and clean them if they get wet.
Don't drink the tap water until authorities say it's safe. Don't risk eating food that has been wet or warmed. Throw it out.
Many resources are managed by local or state emergency offices. Find yours on FEMA's website.
Sign up for alerts from local public safety departments through Nixle, a text-based emergency alert system, by texting your zip code to 888777.
A complete list of items to pack in your emergency supply kit and detailed instructions on making an emergency plan can be found on Ready.gov or on the FEMA Mobile App.
Find an open shelter on the American Red Cross website or Mobile App.
More detailed advice for people with disabilities, older adults and children can be found on Ready.gov.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has more advice about taking care of your children during a disaster.
Pet owners can reach out to Red Rover for sheltering assistance. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a comprehensive page on pet safety.
The Food and Drug Administration has a guide to help you determine if your stored food is safe to eat after a hurricane.
The CDC has detailed instructions on how to clean up safely after a hurricane.
by N. Kirkpatrick, Aaron Steckelberg and Leslie Shapiro
Aug. 11 at 12:05 p.m.