As the wrath of a hurricane approaches, preparedness is key. Following are recommendations that are critical to preparing for any major tropical storm:
First and foremost, know what is happening. Stay tuned in to weather apps, NOAA Weather Radio, or local radio or television stations regarding storm conditions and instructions. A hurricane WATCH means that hurricane conditions are possible; a hurricane WARNING means that they are expected, usually within 24 hours.
Discuss an evacuation plan with all members of your household. Figure out where you will stay if you must leave your home. Pack up important items for quick evacuation if instructed by authorities to leave. Be sure you have:
- Important documents such as deeds; insurance policies for auto, homeowner’s, and life; wills and trusts; driver’s licenses with your correct address; Social Security cards; birth and marriage certificates; passports; recent tax records; a list of important phone numbers; and so forth. Keep all paper documents in zip-style plastic bags.
- Important prescription medications and medical supplies as well as any special equipment or supplies needed for children, the elderly, and the disabled members of your household.
- Warm, comfortable clothing, rain gear, and heavy shoes.
- Sleeping bags and pillows.
- A full tank of gas (get this ahead of time), car keys, and maps of your area and any other areas where you’ll be traveling. It’s also wise to have an adapter for plugging your cell phone into the car’s cigarette lighter.
- One flashlight with extra batteries per person, and a battery-operated AM/FM radio.
- A first-aid kit plus soap, sunscreen, anti-diarrhea medicine, a laxative, activated charcoal, an antacid, and a sewing kit.
- Bottled water. You’ll want at least 1 gallon of fresh water per person per day for a minimum of three days.
If authorities advise you to evacuate, leave immediately.
Whether you stay in your home or leave, plan to have these things on hand:
- A three-day supply of non-perishable food such as canned fruit, vegetables, meat, soup, milk, and juice (don’t forget a manual can opener); high-energy foods such as peanut butter, trail mix, and granola bars; and any special foods needed by members of the family.
- Plastic cups, plates, knives, forks, spoons, aluminum foil and sturdy plastic garbage bags.
- A fully charged A-B-C fire extinguisher.
- Matches in a waterproof container.
- Signal flares.
- A compass.
- An inexpensive antenna for your television (in case the cable goes out).
- Paper and pencils or pens.
- A plastic bucket with a tight-fitting lid.
- Toiletries such as toilet paper, feminine hygiene products, and the like.
You may need a few helpful tools and building supplies. To avoid standing in long lines, it pays to get these things long before a storm threatens:
- Several rolls of plastic sheeting and a staple gun to protect belongings and help seal windows and doors. You should also have a pair of heavy-duty scissors.
- A shut-off wrench to turn off the gas and water to your house (be sure you know how to do this ahead of time).
- Duct tape and rope—for a variety of uses.
- Safety equipment such as heavy leather gloves, dust masks, respirator, and safety glasses.
- Demolition/construction equipment such as a straight-claw hammer, flat bar, crowbar, screwdrivers, adjustable slip-joint pliers, and an assortment of nails and screws. A shovel may also come in handy.
- You also may want to have battery-operated power tools, including a power drill and screwdriver tips, with fully charged batteries (and ideally an extra set). A chain saw with extra fuel can come in handy; add stabilizer to the gas to help it last for a few months.
- To board up windows and doors, you’ll want 4-by-8-foot sheets of 1/2-inch exterior plywood and plenty of 1 1/2-inch outdoor screws (screws are stronger and easier to remove than nails). If your home is masonry, install anchors to receive the screws, and pre-drill the plywood sheets so you can install them quickly if necessary.
- Before the storm threatens, thin out diseased or damaged limbs from trees and remove any branches that could present a serious hazard to your home.
- If flooding is likely, be sure you have plenty of sand and sandbags on hand.
If you are in a storm-ravaged area, heed the following important advice from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. If you have the ability to print and distribute this advice to people who don’t have computers or power, please help.
For even more information about recovering your house, please see my article at US News: How to Dry Out Your House After a Flood.
- Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that is produced by many types of equipment and is poisonous to breathe.
- Don’t use a generator, charcoal grill, camp stove, or other gasoline- or charcoal-fueled appliance inside your home, basement, or garage or near a window, door, or vent.
- Don’t run a car or truck inside a garage attached to your house, even if you leave the door open.
- Don’t heat your house with a gas oven. If your carbon monoxide detector sounds, leave your home immediately and call 911. Seek prompt medical attention if you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning and are feeling dizzy, light-headed, or nauseated.
- Avoid floodwater & mosquitoes. Follow all warnings about water on roadways. Do not drive vehicles or heavy equipment through floodwater. If you have to work in or near floodwater, wear a life jacket.
- If you are caught in an area where floodwater is rising, wear a life jacket, or wear or keep at hand some other type of flotation device. Prevent mosquito bites by wearing long pants, socks, and long-sleeved shirts and using insect repellents that contain DEET or Picaridin. More information about these and other recommended repellents can be found in the fact sheet Updated Information Regarding Insect Repellents.
- Avoid unstable buildings & structures. Stay away from damaged buildings or structures until they have been examined and certified as safe by a building inspector or other government authority. Leave immediately if you hear shifting or unusual noises that signal that the structure is about to fall.
- Beware of wild or stray animals. Call local authorities to handle animals. Get rid of dead animals according to local guidelines.
- Beware of electrical & fire hazards. Never touch a fallen power line. Instead, call the power company to it, and avoid contact with overhead power lines during cleanup and other activities.
- If electrical circuits and electrical equipment have gotten wet or are in or near water, turn off the power at the main breaker or fuse on the service panel. Do not turn the power back on until electrical equipment has been inspected by a qualified electrician. Do not burn candles near flammable items or leave a candle unattended. If possible, use flashlights or other battery-operated lights instead of candles.
- Beware of hazardous materials. Wear protective clothing and gear (for example, gloves and a respirator) when handling hazardous materials. Wash skin that may have come in contact with hazardous chemicals. Contact local authorities if you are not sure about how to handle or get rid of hazardous materials.
- Clean up & prevent mold growth. Clean up and dry out the building quickly (within 24 to 48 hours). Open doors and windows. Use fans. To prevent mold growth, clean wet items and surfaces with detergent and water. To remove mold growth, wear impervious gloves, open windows and doors, and clean with a bleach solution of 1 cup of bleach in 1 gallon of water. Throw away porous items (for example, carpet and upholstered furniture) that cannot be dried quickly. Fix any leaks in roofs, walls, or plumbing.
- Pace yourself & get support. Be alert to physical and emotional exhaustion or strain. Set priorities for cleanup tasks, and pace the work. Try not to work alone. Ask your family members, friends, or professionals for help.
- Prevent musculoskeletal injuries. Use teams of two or more people to move bulky objects. Avoid lifting any material that weighs more than 50 pounds (per person).
- Stay cool. When it’s hot, stay in air-conditioned buildings; take breaks in shaded areas or in cool rooms; drink water and nonalcoholic fluids often; wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing; and do outdoor activities during cooler hours.
- Treat wounds. Clean out all open wounds and cuts with soap and clean water. Apply an antibiotic ointment. Contact a doctor to find out whether more treatment is needed (such as a tetanus shot). If a wound gets red, swells, or drains, seek immediate medical attention.
- Wash your hands. Use soap and water to wash your hands. If water isn’t available, you can use alcohol-based products made for washing hands.
- Wear protective gear. For cleanup work, wear hard hats, goggles, heavy work gloves, and watertight boots with steel toes and insoles (not just steel shank). Wear earplugs or protective headphones to reduce risk from equipment noise.
A gas leak can be extremely dangerous because the smallest spark or flame can ignite gas fumes, causing an explosion.
Natural gas has a garlic-like odor; if you smell this or suspect a gas leak, don’t light matches (or a lighter) and don’t operate electrical switches (they could ignite an explosion). Immediately:
- Ventilate the house by opening doors and windows. If the smell of gas is strong, move everyone outdoors at once.
- Turn off the gas supply valve—located by the gas meter on the gas inlet pipe—by rotating the valve one quarter turn with an adjustable wrench. The valve’s oblong stem should be perpendicular (at a right angle) to the inlet pipe to stop the flow of gas.
- Call your gas supplier or the fire department from a cell or neighbor’s phone.
If you are among the victims of major flooding, see Repairing Your Flooded Home, a free 56-page guide prepared by FEMA and the American Red Cross. It offers comprehensive information about safely re-entering your home, avoiding hazards, dealing with insurance companies, recovery agencies and much more.