Hurricane hazards come in many forms: storm surge, high winds, tornadoes, and flooding. The key to hurricane protection in all of these areas is preparation. By taking sensible measures before, during and after a hurricane, many lives can be saved, more injuries can be avoided, and property damage can be averted or lessened.
See our SURVIVAL ESSENTIALS index for much more information on first-aid items, emergency supplies, water storage, pet safety, etc.
Getting prepared should begin well before the hurricane season starts. Find out if your home meets current building code requirements for high-winds. Experts agree that structures built to meet or exceed current building code high-wind provisions have a much better chance of surviving violent windstorms. If you do not live in an evacuation zone or a mobile home, designate an interior room with no windows or external doors as the family's meeting place.
Be aware of streams, drainage channels, and areas known to flood so you can plan an evacuation route.
Stock up on non-perishable foods that require no cooking, water, medicines, first-aid supplies, hygiene items, gasoline, emergency supplies, and cash. Optimally, a two-week supply of non-perishable food is recommended. Although it is unlikely that an emergency would cut off your food supply for that long, such a stockpile can relieve a great deal of inconvenience and uncertainty until services are restored. You should have been saving your empty water bottles, and this is the time to wash them out, rinse them thoroughly, and fill them with clean tap water (which can be stored for up to a year).
Prepare an emergency kit for your home and a second for your vehicle, even if you plan to ride out the storm at home. Store all of these items in unbreakable, waterproof containers. At least one family member should take a first-aid and CPR class, but it would be even better if everyone that is old enough does so. Post emergency telephone numbers by the telephones, and teach your children how and when to call 911 for help.
Preparing your home and yard is also important. Some important preparations you can make include keeping trees and shrubbery trimmed to prevent breakage and to keep loose limbs from becoming airborne in a storm, and remove limbs that could damage your house or utility lines if blown loose. Purchasing window shutters, door shutters, storm shutters, plywood, shovels, sandbags, hammer and nails, and plastic sheeting in advance is good planning and should be less expensive than during the hurricane season. Plastic garbage bags, work boots, and gloves will come in handy also. Call your local emergency management agency to learn how to construct proper protective measures around your home. Find out how to turn off the water, gas and electricity at the main switches.
Once the hurricane season is close, do not allow the amount of gas in your car's gas tank to get too low. And, start checking weather warnings and advisories often on the radio, television, and internet.
Plan a safe place to go in the event of evacuation or prolonged utility outage, making sure that all family members are informed. It is also helpful to tell friends and neighbors of your plans, and appoint out-of-state family or friends to keep track of your family members' whereabouts - you are more likely to lose local calling services than long-distance services.
Determining what you will do with your pets is easiest if done in advance - pets are not accepted at most storm shelters and should not be left to fend for themselves. You can contact your local humane society for information on local animal shelters. Know your pets' favorite hiding places so that you can find them in an emergency.
Check all flashlights and battery-operated radios, etc., to be sure that they are in working order, purchase enough batteries for all of them to last at least for several days, and store the batteries in a waterproof container.
If you have a boat, trailer or camper, this is a good time to take it to a storage place on high ground.
Take an inventory of your personal property, documenting the inventory with a video camera or photographs. Store this information and other important documents in a safe deposit box.
If you have a boat that cannot be moved to high ground, check the strength of primary cleats, winches and chocks. They should have substantial back plates and adequate stainless steel bolts. Purchase extra mooring lines and chafing gear in advance since they may not be available just before a hurricane. Protect lines from chafing by covering rub spots with leather or old garden hose. Double all lines, with rig crossing spring lines fore and aft. Attach lines high on piling to allow for tidal rise or surge. Seal all openings with duct tape to make the boat as watertight as possible. Charge batteries for automatic bilge pumps. Reduce dock or piling crash damage by securing old tires along the sides of the boat. Remove loose gear from the deck and store it securely inside the boat or in your home. For a boat stored on a trailer, lash the boat and trailer down in a protected area. Let the air out of tires before tying down the trailer. Place blocks between the frame members and the axle inside each wheel. Secure with heavy lines to fixed objects from four different directions, if possible. If you prefer, remove the boat from the trailer and lash down each separately. Remove the outboard motor, battery and electronics, and store them. Small boats can be filled with water to give them added weight after lashing down.
After a hurricane warning is announced, move children and other young or helpless people, and animals, to safe ground. Monitor emergency broadcasts.
Cover the windows with shuttering or plywood - you may also want to tape the glass before applying these. Reinforce all garage doors so that they are able to withstand high winds - they are frequently the first feature in a home to fail. Disconnect all electrical appliances and main power switch prior to evacuating.
Move all outdoor furniture, garbage cans, grills, potted plants, garden tools, toys, signs, porch furniture, awnings, etc., inside if possible to safeguard them and prevent them from becoming flying weapons in the storm. Move as much furniture as possible to the highest floor.
Fill your car's gas tank, and the tank of a generator if you have one. Secure all boats and items left loose on piers or boat house.
Clean and thoroughly rinse your bathtub, and fill it with tap water. Gather a set of dry clothes and sturdy shoes for each family member, and store them in a waterproof container.
Do not lower the water level in your swimming pool, or it may pop out of the ground. Remove pumps from underground pits after all valves have been closed and the electricity has been shut off. If the filter pump is exposed, wrap it in a waterproof material and tie it securely. Add extra chlorine to the pool to help prevent contamination (3 gallons of chlorine per 5,000 gallons of water).
Leave low-lying beaches or other areas that may be swept by high tides or storm waves. If ordered to evacuate, leave early since roads to safer areas may become flooded before the main portion of the storm arrives, and they will definitely get more congested as the storm nears.
If your home is on high ground and well built, you may prefer to stay home during a hurricane. No mobile / manufactured home is safe in hurricane-force winds. Residents of those should evacuate to a safer structure once local officials issue a hurricane evacuation order for their community. High-rise buildings are also vulnerable to hurricane-force winds, particularly at the higher levels since wind speed tends to increase with height. Recent research suggests you should stay below the tenth floor, but still above any floors at risk for flooding. It is not uncommon for high-rise buildings to suffer a great deal of damage due to windows being blown out. Consequently, the areas around these buildings can be very dangerous.
Whether staying put or evacuating, you might want to get a raft, oars, and life preservers in case of a flash flood.
During a Hurricane, It is important to remain indoors. It is extremely dangerous to travel or move about when the winds and tides are whipping your area. Stay inside and keep away from windows or glass doors. Stay on the leeward, or downwind, side of the house. If the wind direction changes, move to the new downwind side. Go to a safe area in your home such as an interior reinforced room, closet or bathroom. If the storm center passes over your area, there will be a short period of calm. The wind and rain may cease, but stay in your safe area until told by local officials that it is safe to leave. Remember, at the other side of the eye, the wind speed rapidly increases to hurricane force and will come from the opposite direction.
Keep track of the storm's progress through a battery-powered radio.
Do not use electrical appliances. If you lose power, turn off major appliances such as the air conditioner, water heater, televisions, and computers to reduce damage when the power comes back on in a surge.
If you are in a car during a hurricane and come to a flooded area, turn around and go another way. If your car stalls, abandon it immediately and climb to higher ground. Many deaths have resulted from attempts to move stalled vehicles.
Hurricanes can also produce tornadoes that add to the storm's destructive power. When associated with hurricanes, tornadoes are not usually accompanied by hail or a lot of lightning, clues that citizens in other parts of the country watch for. Tornado production can occur for days after landfall when the tropical cyclone remnants maintain an identifiable low pressure circulation. They can also develop at any time of the day or night during landfall. However, by 12 hours after landfall, tornadoes tend to occur mainly during daytime hours.
If you are in your home when a tornado strikes, head for the basement and seek shelter under heavy items, such as staircases or heavy-duty work benches. If no basement is available, find a windowless room in the center of the house. Interior bathrooms or closets are best. Stay away from areas with a lot of glass, such as office-building atriums. If you are driving, move away from the storm by driving at a right angle to the storm's path. If escape is not possible, get out of your car and lie flat in a ditch or ravine upwind of your automobile.
After a serious storm, check family members to see if anyone needs medical attention.
Examine your home for damage with flashlights - do not use matches, candles, or other flames. Immediately clean up spilled medicines, drugs and other potentially harmful materials.
Do not use your telephone except for emergency calls.
Boil water from your tap before drinking, cooking, or brushing your teeth. Do not eat or drink anything from open containers near shattered glass. Test drinking water for potability; wells should be pumped out and the water tested before drinking. Do not use fresh food that has come in contact with flood waters. Wash canned goods that come in contact with flood waters with soap and hot water.
Turn refrigerators and freezers to their coldest settings, and don't open the doors unless necessary. Transfer beverages besides milk to ice chests so the refrigerator door can be opened less often, and transfer food from the freezer to the refrigerator to help keep food cool. Eat food from the refrigerator as soon as possible before it can spoil, then eat from the defrosted foods.
Keep circuit breakers turned off until all power has been restored. Once power is restored, investigate for electrical system damage. Turn off the electricity if you find frayed wires, detect a burning smell, or suspect any other problems. Have all utilities and appliances thoroughly checked by a professional before use in order to avoid electrocution.
Check for gas leaks. If you detect a leak, leave the building immediately and turn off the gas at the main valve outside, if possible. Notify the gas company at once.
Check to see that sewer and water lines are functioning properly. If you detect a problem, do not run the tap or flush the toilet until you have it checked by a plumber. Service septic tanks and leaching systems as soon as possible.
Be careful of snakes and other unusual creatures (even indoors) that may have come in with flood waters or that may have fled flood areas.
Do not venture out to view storm damage in other areas until notified by authorities it is safe to travel in your area. Once allowed outside, avoid downed power lines. Do not allow children to play in flooded areas. Avoid walking through flood waters. If it is moving swiftly, water only six inches deep can sweep you off your feet.
Pump out flooded basements gradually to avoid structural damage - a rate of about half of the flood water per day should be safe. Let your car dry out before trying to start it.
Take an inventory of any damaged property or possessions. Do not dispose of any items without the prior approval of your insurance or FEMA claims adjuster. If it is too dangerous to keep a broken item, take pictures of it before disposal.
Federal Emergency Management Agency, University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service, American Red Cross, Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, Canadian Hurricane Centre, floridadisaster.org, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, Liberty Mutual Insurance Company.GO to Survival Supplies