It’s that time again. June 1st through November 30th is hurricane season, when storm systems that organize in the tropical waters of the Atlantic and Carribean form, threatening millions of Americans who live in the Gulf Coast states and along the eastern seaboard. Living in Florida (among one of the most hurricane-prone states in the country) has provided me insight on hurricane preparedness and safety that all who live in hurricane alley should know.
Long before hurricane season begins, residents should find out what flood zone they reside in, know where evacuation routes and shelters are located, and contact friends or family members who live in higher, drier locations. Those with pets are well-advised to locate animal-friendly shelters and, if none are located nearby, locate a place to keep your pet out of harm’s way. Traffic in major metropolitan areas is dense during normal weekdays rush hours; traffic during large-scale hurricane evacuations is notorious. When evacuation orders are given, affected residents are wise to leave as soon as possible–the earlier the better.
Protecting one’s home and property is a key element of hurricane preparation. Windows and garage doors are among a home’s most vulnerable components. If buying hurricane-rated windows and garage doors are cost-prohibitive (or a hurricane is immanently approaching), purchase plywood at a home-improvement store for covering windows and garage doors. It is particularly wise to pre-cut plywood for windows and garage doors long before a hurricane threatens. Cut back any dead or diseased tree branches, repair loose roofing shingles, secure fencing, and caulk any cracks or small opening near windows. If flooding is a usual threat, keep sandbags in storage to place around doors and garage openings. When the storm is on its way, bring all the small lawn furniture and toys inside, and tie down any other objects too large to store but that threaten to become airborne in high winds.
Provisions are often scarce when a hurricane threatens. Food, water, toiletries, and other provisions can become hard to find when storms threaten. Purchase enough non-perishable food and drinks to last at least a few days. While some soruces suggest buying only one gallon of water per person per day, it is much wiser to purchase at least three gallons of water per person per day (to allow for drinking and personal hygiene purposes), with the expectation of buying enough water to last three days at the minimum; a week’s supply is optimal. Purchase sanitizing lotions to help keep hands clean and bacteria at bay. Buy enough flashlights for everybody in the household, have a weather radio and/or portable televison on hand, and maintain a good supply of batteries. Hurricanes typically hit in the heat of summer or in the early fall, when Florida weather is still warm. Therefore, have battery-powered personal fans on hand and keep coolers filled with ice nearby for relief.
Young children will be kept content with board games, and adults may enjoy playing a hand of cards. When buying food for the family, don’t forget to pick up an adequate supply of food for any household pets. Ensure that at least a two-week’s supply of all medications are on hand and invest in a personal first-aid kit, and keep all important phone numbers (including all physician’s numbers) in your cellphone’s directory.
Along with keeping the all-important cellphone away from water (storing a cellphone in a plastic, zip-top sandwich bag is a handy idea), keep all important papers, documents, and sentimental photos and keepsakes safe from water damage. Placing all these documents in plastic bags that are then stored in a plastic, tightly covered trash can is a sound and convenient way to keep important, valuable, and water-sensitive items protected during a hurricane.
When the storm is over, avoid downed power lines and exercise extreme caution when operating chain saws or other heavy machinery. Many deaths attributed to hurricanes actually occur after the storm is over, when people get crushed by falling trees, electrocuted by fallen and damaged powerlines, or killed by chainsaws (often used to cut up fallen tree branches). If damage occurs to your home, making contact with your insurance company is among the first orders of business–claims can take a while to process. When maneuvering around the hurricane-ravaged area, avoid stepping in or driving through flood waters. Submerging bare skin in flood waters may expose your body to high levels of bacteria that may be floating out of ruptured sewage lines or overflooded swamps and lakes. Remember that it does not take much water to overpower a vehicle or person, leading to possible entrapment in the flood. Many people have been killed because they were caught in fast-moving streams or drowned in storm water that overwhelmed them.
With planning and awareness, stress, time, and money can be easier to handle when preparing for a hurricane. Act early if you can, but it still is not too late to get a plan together. Take advantage of this still-relatively quiet hurricane season and prepare for the next storm now. You never know when the next major hurricane is going to form or where it will strike.