Hot on the heels of tornado season comes hurricane season. It seems circular wind tends to create problems for us humans.
Strictly speaking, a hurricane is defined as any tropical or subtropical storm with sustained winds above 74 mph. (Why they didn’t round up to 75, I have no idea.) Hurricane “season” begins in June and lasts until early fall for Florida, the Carolinas, Georgia, and Atlantic tropical islands. To come through one of these unscathed—property and person—you should be prepared well beforehand; know how to weather the storm and how to handle the aftermath.
A family disaster plan outlines what you will do in any emergency, including natural disasters. Plan out your emergency evacuation routes, for example, and try to have several in case your first choice is unusable. Plan a meet-up location if you get separated and the home is not accessible.
Prior to hurricane season, review with family members procedures for storm preparation and make sure everyone knows how to turn off water, gas, and electricity and call emergency services.
Your disaster kit should be prepared and easily accessible. The Disaster Preparedness guide linked above includes a list of suggested contents.
When a hurricane is imminent, don’t plan on being able to supply yourself with things you’ll need. The time to prepare your kit is when the sun shines.
If you can install an electric generator, do it now. Don’t wait until a hurricane is on its way before heading to your friendly hardware store. Locate the generator away from where water might get to it and make sure it is properly ventilated and grounded. Installation instructions and information available on the internet will help you to install it, but electricity can be funny (not funny, ha-ha). If at all possible, have your generator installed by an electrician. Run a test a couple of times each year to make sure it’s in good running order.
Your emergency kit should include flashlights and a battery-powered radio with spare batteries. As a backup, you can include a hand-crank flashlights and a radio. A radio with a specific station setting for NOAA “All Alerts” will keep you up to date on storm conditions.
In addition to flashlights, a few efficient battery-powered or kinetic lights should be in your emergency kit. A good example is the Coleman LED Micropacker. Three AAA batteries will power it for several days. You can also get kinetic-energy lights that don’t require batteries—just a little elbow grease.
The extremely high winds of a hurricane can blow away anything that’s not well secured. Well in advance of a storm check your property for anything that might become a projectile in 100 MPH winds. This includes maintaining trees to minimize dead branches that can be easily blown off and end up as additions to your picture windows.
Your house can be fitted with hurricane-proof (almost) windows, doors, and roof. True, this can be expensive, and we here at DeMarSouthard.com don’t recommend dealing with government when not absolutely necessary (like Steven Seagal movies and rabid dogs, governments are things best avoided), but there are government financial aid programs to help with expenses like this. If you have the patience and stomach for it, these programs might be worth checking into.
Before the hurricane hits, if you have storm shutters close and secure them. If not, cover your windows with ⅝” marine plywood, cut to fit and ready to install. Tape will not keep your windows from breaking, but can at least lessen the amount of shattered glass on the floor if it does. Use alligator tape rather than duct tape; it’s easier to remove.
Your emergency kit should have at least three days’ worth of food and water for each person in the household. High-quality coolers will keep meat and other perishable foods cold for a few days. Anything that stays in the refrigerator might be protected from spoilage by turning the thermostat to its coldest level prior to the possibility of losing electricity and then leaving the door closed. Along with canned goods for your human family members, make sure you have food for pets. For a water supply, consider a Water-Bob for your bathtub. This clean liner will ensure you have plenty of water for drinking and cooking for several days.
If your house uses propane, turn off the valve at the tank.
Clear loose and clogged rain gutters and downspouts to prevent misdirected flooding.
Check that your garage doors are completely closed and secured.
Keep articles in your basement elevated to avoid damage from even minor flooding.
Have cash available. ATMs may not be available in a power outage and may not be stocked with cash.
Surviving the storm
The safest place for you and your family during a hurricane is nowhere near it. If at all possible, secure your property and leave the area until the storm has passed. And it goes without saying, leave earlier rather than later. Once it becomes imperative to evacuate, it may be physically impossible to do so due to heavy traffic and the inevitable accidents that will block roads. Help to minimize traffic by keeping your family together and traveling in one vehicle if possible.
Leaving your home is especially important if you live in a mobile or manufactured home, even one built after 1994 and securely tied down. These structures can be destroyed even in a category one (the smallest) hurricane.
If you can or have to evacuate, a well-equipped bug-out bag will save you from surprises and the headache of not being prepared. Necessary contents for a bug-out bag depend on personal circumstances, but a list of items is included in this Disaster and Emergency Preparedness document (MS Word format or PDF). Your car’s gas tank should be full, but do not try to carry spare cans of gas in the trunk of your car. Keeping your vehicle in good working condition is a matter of safety for you and your family, especially in times of emergency. A list of maintenance items to check is included in the Emergency Preparedness Guide.
If you must stay in your home during the worst of the storm, go to an interior room with strong walls and no windows. If you live in a hurricane-prone area, consider having a safe room built in your house. This is an interior space built to be reinforced specifically for the highest winds of a category 5 hurricane. If this is not possible, an interior bathroom without windows or a closet can suffice.
If you go to a community shelter during the storm, have an emergency kit with you that includes not only food and water, but also medications, insurance and other vital legal papers. Your bug-out bag, or bags for multiple family members, properly stocked, should make this experience tolerable.
Stay inside until you’re sure the storm has completely passed, even if the winds seem calm. The weather in a hurricane can moderate and worsen quickly, especially if you are passing through the eye of the storm.
Keep away from windows, skylights, and glass doors. The biggest risk in a hurricane is from flying debris or broken glass.
Turn off the main breaker to your house and shut off major appliances if you lose power or are threatened with flood water.
If you’re in immediate danger call 911 but expect that emergency workers will be overwhelmed and may not be able to get to you. Also, bear in mind that phones, even cell phones, may not work.
After it’s over
Be sure it’s safe to leave your house or shelter. If the eye of a hurricane passes over you the air will suddenly be calm, but it will be followed by another round of ferocious wind. Don't leave your shelter until you get the official “all-clear” from NOAA.
The storm will leave hazards everywhere, such as downed trees and power lines. Stay away from these and flooded areas. If you must enter a flooded area, be aware that hazards will be hidden by the water. The water can be contaminated and pose a health hazard all by itself.
Take extra care when entering buildings. Structural damage may not be immediately apparent. Leave a building as quickly as possible if it shows any signs of severe damage.
Stay away from downed power lines and flooded areas. Damaged buildings may contain broken gas supply lines. Be aware of the smell of gas and use a flashlight and other battery-powered lights rather than candles, matches, or lanterns.
Do not try to turn on the electricity until you’re sure all is safe. If you have turned off the gas to your house prior to the storm, have it turned back on by the gas company. After a major storm this could take several days. Your emergency kit should be able to get you through at least three days without gas and electricity.
Clean and disinfect everything that might have come into contact with sewage, bacteria, or spilled chemicals.
If you have a septic system, have it inspected for damage as soon as possible. If you have a well, have it checked for contamination.
Wet drywall and carpet can be an excellent breeding space for mold. Even after they’re dry, mold still behind walls or under floors can become a major health hazard. If your house has been flooded, contact your insurance company and make arrangements for repairs as soon as possible. Immediately after making sure you and your family are safe, start a list of damages for your claims. Take photos and videos to document any damage, and keep receipts for repairs and hotel costs.
If you have a basement and it has been flooded, try not to enter it without proper protection; flood waters can be contaminated with bacteria and raw sewage and can hide dangerous debris. Rubber boots or hip waders are a good thing to have if you live in a hurricane or flood-prone area.