According to the National Weather Service, one or two hurricanes make landfall on the US East coast during the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June to November, peaking from August to September. Out of these, about 40% hit Florida. This year, 2017, Floridians are bracing themselves for Hurricane Irma, a category 5 megastorm packing winds of 185 mph, which makes it one of the most powerful hurricanes ever recorded in the US, reports the National Weather Service. In other words, Hurricane Irma is likely to cause more damage than Hurricane Harvey, a category 4 hurricane that made landfall in August 2017. Because powerful hurricanes and tropical storms typically leave a trail of death and destruction in their wake, it is wise to prepare adequately for these inclement weather events. Here are some tips for preparing for a hurricane.
Stock up on Essential Supplies
To keep your family safe, comfortable and healthy during a severe weather event such as a hurricane, you should stock up on essential hurricane supplies. Some of the items you should stock up on, according to FEMA, include:
Food and medicine – This includes water, prescription medicines, baby food or formula and canned food.
Safety items — Examples of these items include fire extinguisher, flashlights, sleeping bags, blankets, first aid kit and water purification tablets.
Personal care items — This includes items such as toothpaste, tampons/pads, soap, wet wipes, hand sanitizer and diapers.
Emergency car kit — This will come in handy if you have to evacuate in a hurry. For this reason, your emergency car kit should include non-perishable foods and snacks, maps, a first aid kit, battery-powered flashlights, extra batteries, flares and sleeping bags.
Create a Hurricane Preparedness Plan
According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), it is vital to prepare a hurricane emergency plan long before a hurricane makes landfall, especially if you have a family. Ideally, you should hold a family meeting so that everyone family is not only involved in creating the plan, but also aware of the details of the emergency plan. This means you should discuss and write down the things you would need and the steps you would take to keep everyone safe and comfortable before and during a hurricane. In essence, your plan should cover everything from emergency supplies to shelter options, from emergency contacts out of the hurricane zone in case you have to evacuate to safe evacuation routes.
Seniors, Sick or Disabled — Special Arrangements
If you or your loved is old, sick or disabled, you should ensure your emergency plan caters to the special needs of such a person. For instance, if you require oxygen supplies or undergoes routine treatment, such as dialysis, you should plan how you are going to continue receiving the medical services you require during a storm. If you have a disability, on the other hand, you would need to choose the right Special Needs Shelters for you. This is because Special Needs Shelters can make reasonable modifications to accommodate a person with disability in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). At the same time, place identification labels on any medical equipment you will take with you to the shelter. If you have a service animal, ensure it has a collar with identification. Additionally, ensure your animal’s vaccinations are up to date and create a care manual for your animal, which should contain detailed instructions on how to care of your service animal.
Hurricane Preparedness – Know the Lingo
Hurricanes and tropical storms occur frequently in Florida, so you should know the common terms associated with these weather phenomena. This is particularly important because it would allow you to follow events as they unfold and more importantly, act at the right time. Such terms include:
Hurricane watch — Issued 48 hours in advance, a hurricane/storm watch simply means that hurricane conditions (extreme winds with speeds exceeding 74 mph) are possible within 48 hours in an area.
Hurricane warning — This is issued 12 hours after a hurricane watch, meaning hurricane condition expected within 36 hours.
Storm surge — This refers to wind-driven water that is pushed onto the shore. This abnormal rise of water often leads to casualties and fatalities.
Storm surge watch — This signifies the possibility of catastrophic flooding from a storm surge moving inland from the shoreline in the indicated areas within 48 hours.
Storm surge warning – This signifies the possibility of catastrophic flooding from rising water advancing inland from the shoreline in the indicated areas within 36 hours.
Know Your Shelter Options
In the event of a surging storm warning, your local officials will likely issue evacuation orders for your area. If this happens, you should evacuate your home and live either at a shelter or with family/friends outside the hurricane zone. The state of Florida provides two types of emergency shelters: Special Needs Shelters and General Population shelters. The former is a statewide program run by the state of Florida through the Florida Department of Health, Bureau of Preparedness and Response. The program provides shelters for the vulnerable and special needs populations, including the old, sick and disabled, under emergency conditions. To be accepted into this program, you need to pre-register and meet the set eligibility criteria. The latter, on the other hand, is open to all and does not require pre-registration. However, you should find out in advance from FEMA or your local city government where the emergency shelters will be since such shelters may be set up in the days ahead of a hurricane. In addition, if you have a pet, you should look for a pet-friendly shelter. While at it, you should also find out the available transportation options to the shelters.
It is worth noting that shelters typically do not provide essential items such as personal hygiene items. For this reason, you should carry a shelter kit or go-bag with you. In essence, your go-bag should contain the essential items you require to live comfortably including personal hygiene items, extra change of clothing, non-perishable snacks, water, needed medications, flashlight and identification documents. If you have a baby, ensure you carry ample amounts of baby supplies including baby formula, food, wipes and diapers. Similarly, if you will be going to a Special Needs Shelter, you will require all your vital supplies such as oxygen equipment, nebulizer, syringes, special foods, prescriptions, and sterile swabs .
Register with Your Local Emergency & Evacuation Assistance Program
Florida law requires the state to provide evacuation assistance to people with special needs, including seniors and people with disabilities, in the event of a hurricane should such people need it. This means that it is good idea for senior citizens in Florida, especially the ones with special needs, to register with their local Emergency & Evacuation Assistance Programs (EEAP) before the start of the Atlantic hurricane season.
Hurricane-proof Your Home
Take the following measures to safeguard your home before the hurricane season starts:
Roof — If your roof consists of loose roofing materials such as shingles, tiles or panels, hire a roofing contractor to fasten down the materials. At the same time, have your contractor install braces and hurricane straps to secure roof trusses.
Windows and doors — Install the right storm shutters on your doors and windows.
If you live in a flood-prone area, you should prepare your home for flooding. For starters, ensure your rain gutters and are clean and well secured to allow water to flow freely into the drainage system. At the same time, stockpile plastic sheeting, plywood and sand bags to be used as required. Also, elevate your electric panel, water heater and heating system to heights floodwaters are unlikely to reach. Another option you can consider, albeit a relatively expensive one, is to install sump pumps with backup batteries and a water alarm.
Prepare for a Power Outage
Severe storms usually cause power outages. For instance, Hurricane Harvey caused a power outage that affected about 300,000 people. This means you should prepare yourself for such an event. For starters, have plenty of battery-powered flashlights and lanterns as well as extra batteries at hand. While candles are also a viable lighting option under such circumstances, they create a fire risk, so you should avoid using them if you can. Besides flashlights, you should also have a battery-operated radio so that you are able to receive important updates, such as rescue efforts and emergency instructions.
If you anticipate a power outage, turn your refrigerator/freezer to its coldest setting. To ensure your refrigerated foods remain fresh longer, avoid opening your refrigerator/freezer unnecessarily. However, you should monitor the thermostat constantly. If the temperature falls below 40 degrees Fahrenheit for more than two hours, you should throw away all the perishable foods such as poultry, milk and meat.
Identify and prepare a Safe Room
A “safe room” is basically any room in your home that would offer adequate protection from the from the forces of extreme winds associated with storms and hurricanes. When choosing a “safe room,” you should ideally choose an interior room on the first floor of your house. A room with only one door and no windows would be the best option. Moreover, your safe room should be firmly anchored to your home’s foundation, easily accessible from every part of your house and more importantly, located in an area least likely to flood. At the same time, ensure your “safe room” is free of clutter in order to allow easy access into the room as well as avoid injuries. Good “safe room” options include a small storage room, closets and bathrooms. Bathrooms are particularly suitable because they have a water supply and toilet. To learn more about safe rooms, visit the Florida Alliance for Safe Homes website at flash.org.
If you must Evacuate
If your local officials issue an evacuation order for your area, you should evacuate soon as possible, preferably during the day. It is worth noting that Special Needs Shelters typically open approximately four hours following an evacuation order. Before you evacuate, you should have a good meal and inform someone outside the evacuation zone where you are going. To reduce the potential the risk of fire from gas line breaks or power surges and to reduce the potential damage to your electrical appliances, unplug your appliances and turn off your gas, water and electricity.
If you live on the US East coast soon, you should take measures the necessary measures to protect themselves and your property from Hurricane Irma, which is expected to make landfall soon. More specifically, you should stock up on essential supplies, brush up your hurricane lingo, create an emergency plan, prepare for a power outage, hurricane-proof your home, register with your local emergency & evacuation assistance program, know your shelter options, make special arrangements (if you are old, sick or disabled) and prepare for possible evacuation orders for your area.