The Essentials of Hurricane Preparedness

The Essentials of Hurricane Preparedness

“Preparation through education is less costly than learning through tragedy.” — Max Mayfield, Director National Hurricane Center

Hurricane is a generic term for a type of tropical cyclone.  Such a cyclone is characterized by very strong wind, a low-pressure center, and a counterclockwise circulation in the Northern Hemisphere.  Wind speeds exceeding 155 miles per hour have been recorded in Category 5 hurricanes.  Tropical cyclones in the North Pacific are generally called Typhoons, while similar storms in the North Atlantic are called Hurricanes.  The most intense Atlantic hurricane was Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 with sustained winds of over 180 mph.  The largest recorded hurricane was the 1979 Supertyphoon Tip with a radius of 683 miles.

In modern history, hurricanes have caused the death of thousands of people and resulted in billions of dollars of damage.  The States of Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, as well as the island territories of Puerto Rico and the American Virgin Islands, have all sustained direct hits from hurricanes.

If one lives or visits an area prone to hurricanes, it pays to be prepared for this eventually.  While a fearsome force of nature, practical steps taken ahead of time can lessen the risk to one’s life, limb, and property.  Also by being prepared, one strengthens his or her community’s resilience.  The following guide is presented by Disaster.com to help one get organized and ready for a hurricane.

Hurricane Preparedness for Your Home and Business

“Oh, a storm is threat’ning, My very life today, If I don’t get some shelter”—”Gimme Shelter”, The Rolling Stones
  • It is essential to have the doors and windows protected in the event of a hurricane.  Installing hurricane shutters, for example, on all windows of your home or place of business will help mitigate the damage caused by high winds.  Also, having the materials on hand to board up a home or business is much better than trying to obtain these items at a hardware store just prior to the event.  These items include plywood for large windows and glass doors, lumber (2×4 or larger) to brace inward-facing doors, plastic sheeting for temporary, expedient repairs, and duct tape.
  • Power outages are very common during a hurricane, so one might consider the purchase of a generator for backup power.  Small, portable generators will provide backup power to essential devices, while larger standby generators can power an entire home or business.  Should a generator be purchased, its important to keep the unit in good repair, with a supply of fuel, and related consumables (e.g., lubricants, filters, et al.) on hand.  A generator should only be operated in a well-ventilated area to avoid the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.   If the generator is gasoline powered, the fuel supply must be treated and rotated.  Disaster.com has a guide to deciding on the right type of generator here.
  • If a generator is not available, emergency lighting will have to be on hand before the power is lost.  These can include flashlights, oil lamps, and glow sticks.
  • An A-B-C Type fire extinguisher should be kept in the home or place of business in the event of fire.  The extinguishers can be checked by the local fire department periodically to ensure the unit is ready.
  • Reduce or remove the threat of falling trees by removing dead or dying trees.
  • Consider installing a designated safe room in your home or business.  FEMA, and other government agencies, have published guides to building such a room.
  • Review your homeowner or renter’s insurance with respect to hurricanes.  If in an area that is prone to flooding, consider adding flood insurance as well.
  • Remove anything in your yard or driveway that could become airborne during a hurricane.

Preparing Yourself and Family for a Hurricane

“There’s no harm in hoping for the best as long as you’re prepared for the worst.”—Stephen King, Different Seasons
  • It is absolutely essential to have an ample supply of clean, potable water.  Food-grade containers can be filled up from the tap before hand.  Store bought bottled and canned water can also be stored for a long time and are a convenient way to have water on hand.  Bladder-like devices that fill up in a bathtub are also available at low cost.  Water purification equipment and water purification tablets are another option to make water potable.  A general rule of thumb is one gallon of water per day per person, though significantly more would be better.
  • The American Red Cross recommends a minimum of three (3) days worth of non-perishable canned and dried foods on hand.  Having two (2) weeks or more on hand would be better for larger disruptions.  Canned items (soups, meats, vegetables, fish, fruit, et al.), dried goods (e.g., beans, rice, crackers, powdered milk, et al.), instant coffee and tea, fruit juices, and prepackaged meals (e.g., MREs, camping foods, et al.) that require little water and fuel to prepare are best.
  • If pets or livestock are part of the household, a supply of food should also be kept for the animals.
  • Have the basics of sanitary supplies (e.g., soap, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, feminine hygiene products, etc.) on hand at all times.
  • A sleeping bag is a good idea to keep on hand and/or in one’s vehicle in the event of an evacuation.  Wool blankets and emergency Mylar blankets are a good addition as well.
  • A portable, battery-powered radio that can receive National Weather Service continual broadcasts are a must.  A unit that can also receive regular AM/FM broadcasts for local news and conditions also helps.
  • A first aid kit and related supplies should be kept on hand and stocked.  Such a kit can be assembled by oneself or prepackaged kits can be obtained from the American Red Cross or other sources.
  • Any prescription medications should be refilled with a good supply on hand.  It is recommended to have on hand at least a one month supply of prescription medications.
  • For those that require prescription eye glasses or contact lenses, a backup pair of glasses should be safely stored in the event the primary is damaged, and an adequate supply of disposable contact lenses should be kept.  If contact lenses are worn, be sure to include contact cleaning fluid and several contact cases in your supplies.
  • If an infant or small children in the household, a good supply of infant-care products (e.g., diapers, formula, baby OTC medications, powder, wipes, diaper rash creams, favorite toys, etc.) should be on hand.
  • At least a hundred dollars in cash, in various denominations, should be on hand.  Credit cards, debit cards, and calling cards are also a good idea.
  • If one owns a cellular phone it should be fully charged before the event.
  • Secure important documents (e.g., wills, insurance policy papers, marriage certificates, computer backups, etc.) beforehand.  It may be a good idea to provide copies to a family member out of state and/or make e-copies to securely store in the cloud. We have a good primer on protecting your valuables and documents from a disaster here.
  • Be sure to lock and bolt all doors and windows before the hurricane touches down.
  • Obtain training on how to act during a hurricane.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency, state-level agencies, non-profits (e.g., The American Civil Defense Association) and local groups provide training to citizens at little or no cost.

Preparing to Shelter in Place during a Hurricane … Or Evacuate

Hurricane Rita Evacuation

“So you got to let me know, should I stay or should I go?”—”Should I Stay Or Should I Go?”, The Clash
  • Regardless if it is ultimately decided to stay and shelter in place or to evacuate, the fuel level on one’s vehicle should never drop below a half tank.
  • If one does not own a car or light truck, a plan should be made ahead of time on how to leave the area.
  • A bag containing necessary supplies for 72-hours should be prepared before hand.  These bags are often referred to as a 72-hour pack, bug out bag (BoB), or “Go Bag”.  One can assemble their own or use a prebuilt bag and add and remove items to suit one’s individual needs.  Each family member, including children, should have one tailored for him or her.

In general, one should stay if:

  • The building in question has been designed to withstand a hurricane.  There are state-level codes in states prone to hurricanes.
  • One does not live in a trailer/mobile home or manufactured home.
  • The home or business is not vulnerable to inland flooding.  Most fatalities in a hurricane are due to drowning in a flood.
  • One’s home or business has adequate supplies on hand.

On the other hand, one should evacuate if:

  • An official evacuation order has been issued.  Heed this warning and get out while you can.
  • One lives in a trailer/mobile home or manufactured home.
  • The home or business is in an area prone to flooding.
  • You can get out early enough to avoid being caught in the storm whilst on the road.

Helping Your Community

“So much pain from the hurricane that it’s insane … Let’s just help the people in pain, to try to maintain”—”Blue Monday”, Alexis Dean

We are all in this together and everyone has a talent, time, or treasure that can be contributed to help their community get ready or recover from a disaster such as a hurricane.  The following are some ideas on how to help.

After the Storm

“The ashes and debris, And all that’s left of me”—”Non-Entity”, Nine Inch Nails

After the storm is gone, you can be ready for the clean up and recovery afterward.

  • The tools necessary for clearing after the storm should be stored and ready.  These include safety goggles and boots, axes, brooms, ladders, cleaning supplies, plastic trash bags, hammers, drills and other tools.
  • A camera should be available to record damage.
  • If possible, avoid traveling as there may still be debris and downed power lines.
  • Thoroughly clean all surfaces that may have come in contact with flood waters (flood waters can often contain bacteria from overflowed drains and sewage facilities).
  • Do not consume any food or beverages that may have come in contact with flood waters and other debris.
  • Large uprooted trees should be removed by professionals.
  • Report downed electrical wires to the utility company.
  • Discard items that have absorbed water and cannot be disinfected.
  • Check in with your local emergency management agency, community groups, or religious institutions to see how you can help the community.

This has been an introductory guide to hurricane preparedness.  For more detailed discussion of hurricane survival planning, see the Disaster.com message board.

Sources

  1. Are you ready? An In-depth Guide to Citizen Preparedness (pp. 7, 65-72). (2002). Washington, D.C.: FEMA.
  2. Fitzpatrick, P. (2006). Hurricanes: A Reference Handbook (2nd ed., p. 31, 242). Santa Barbara, CA.: ABC-CLIO.
  3. Tropical Cyclone Climatology. (n.d.). Retrieved December 14, 2014, from http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/climo/
  4. Blake, E., Rappaport, E., Jarrel, J., & Landsea, C. (2005, August 1). Retrieved December 13, 2014, from http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/pdf/NWS-TPC-4.pdf
  5. Taking Shelter From the Storm: Building a Safe Room For Your Home or Small Business (3rd ed.). (2008). Washington DC: FEMA.
  6. Water. (n.d.). Retrieved December 14, 2014, from http://www.ready.gov/water
  7. Hurricane Preparedness Planning for Businesses. (2003, March 1). Retrieved December 13, 2014, from http://www.harriscountycitizencorps.com/newsletters/hurricaneplanforbusinesses.pdf
  8. TACDA Academy: Natural Disasters. (n.d.). Retrieved December 13, 2014, from http://www.tacda.org/docs/TACDA_Academy_CDBasics_7Natural.pdf
  9. How Hurricanes Kill — It’s Not Always What You Think. (2012, October 29). Retrieved December 13, 2014, from http://vitals.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/10/29/14781380-how-hurricanes-kill-its-not-always-what-you-think?lite
  10. Official Louisiana Hurricane Survival Guide. (n.d.). Retrieved December 13, 2014, from https://911.lsuhsc.edu/LAHurricaneGuides2011.pdf
  11. The Official 2014 Survival Guide. (n.d.). Retrieved December 13, 2014, from http://www.haveahurricaneplan.com/guide.pdf
  12. Hurricane Preparedness. (n.d.). Retrieved December 13, 2014, from http://www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster/hurricane
  13. Willis, R. (2009). Hurricane Survival Manual: Utility Replacement (p. 83, 107, 112). AuthorHouse.
  14. Returning Home After a Hurricane or Flood. (n.d.). Retrieved December 13, 2014, from http://www.redcross.org/images/MEDIA_CustomProductCatalog/m14240163_ReturningHomeChecklist.pdf
  15. Hurricane Survival Guide for Small Businesses. (2000). Hollywood, FL: South Florida Regional Planning Council.
  16. Pietras, J. (2008). Hurricane Katrina (p. 60). New York: Chelsea House.
  17. In Times of Emergency, A Citizen’s Handbook (p. 33), (1968).  Department of Defense, Office of Civil Defense

Addendum: Software Resources

Zachariah Amela

Zachariah is a writer with Disaster.com and is an Information Technology professional. He has worked with and contributed to disaster relief organizations and has a strong interest in emergency management, wireless communications, Civil Defense, and family preparedness. He lives in the Pacific Northwest and is married with children. When not working or writing, he enjoys time with the family, hiking, trap/skeet shooting, and reading.

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Discussion
  1. I live in Florida and we all know the drills and what to do before a hurricane. My family begin to get items such as batteries, flashlights, radios, food, and water ready days before the storm. Also you need to know where your evacuation route is, if needed to get out. Boarding windows, removing items from the yard, which can be blown away, and just common sense will keep you safe.
    It makes you wonder why even after centuries of experiencing hurricanes, people still can't pluck up the initiative to prepare for them. The same thing happens over and over again every year and still casualties happen. We should've learned our lesson by now but it seems we haven't. So it all boils down to the quality of preparation information passed down from generation to generation. This gives me an idea: add disaster preparation to school curricula.
    xTinx
    It makes you wonder why even after centuries of experiencing hurricanes, people still can't pluck up the initiative to prepare for them. The same thing happens over and over again every year and still casualties happen. We should've learned our lesson by now but it seems we haven't. So it all boils down to the quality of preparation information passed down from generation to generation. This gives me an idea: add disaster preparation to school curricula.


    Because they live with the false belief that nothing will happen to them or the government will take care of them.

    Great article labatt. I lived in hurricane country most of my life. I was there in florida during the four that hit (Charlie, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne). I remember driving past a house that had a "For Sale" sign on it and it said "1. Charlie 2. Frances 3. Ivan 4 SALE". I will never forget that. It was pretty bad. The winds knocked down several trees, there were floods every where. Tornadoes galore because of the major winds. It was a mess. I saw the roofs of building torn right off from the force of the wind alone. It was chaos.
    Have important things like family photos ready to load up and take to a safe area along with yourself. also find back road escape routes to avoid hours of traffic.
    labatt


    Hurricane is a generic...

    Click here to view the article.


    As with every Hurricane season , regardless of forecast, one should know the essential of how to prepare and that would truly save a life. First,know your hurricane facts and understand common terms used by hurricane forecasters. Storms conditions can vary on the intensity of the intensity, size and the angle that the hurricane approaches from. The upper right quadrant of the storm the area that is called the eye is the most intense part of the storm. the greatest threats are damaging winds, storm surge and flooding.
    1inamillion


    As with every Hurricane season , regardless of forecast, one should know the essential of how to prepare and that would truly save a life. First,know your hurricane facts and understand common terms used by hurricane forecasters. Storms conditions can vary on the intensity of the intensity, size and the angle that the hurricane approaches from. The upper right quadrant of the storm the area that is called the eye is the most intense part of the storm. the greatest threats are damaging winds, storm surge and flooding.


    Did you have any firsthand experience with Hurricane Ivan in 2004, Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 or Hurricane Allen back in 1980?
    kevinkimers


    Because they live with the false belief that nothing will happen to them or the government will take care of them.

    Great article labatt. I lived in hurricane country most of my life. I was there in florida during the four that hit (Charlie, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne). I remember driving past a house that had a "For Sale" sign on it and it said "1. Charlie 2. Frances 3. Ivan 4 SALE". I will never forget that. It was pretty bad. The winds knocked down several trees, there were floods every where. Tornadoes galore because of the major winds. It was a mess. I saw the roofs of building torn right off from the force of the wind alone. It was chaos.


    I recall the hurricane season of 2004 clearly. I was up in Michigan helping my parents out. My children had just returned home to Florida for the start of the new school year. It was an experience of helpless, as I watched the weather reports come in.

    I knew from my husband's military days, he always thinks safety first and would keep our family prepared for the storms ahead. nevertheless, when disaster hits, no matter how prepared you are, the most important thing is to remain calm and take action. I am so proud of the way they all handled themselves.
    I live in TN and I have never experienced a hurricane nor a tornado. I sometimes wish I could experience one, but after reading stories like these I am grateful for where I live. People should never have to endure things like that. Stay strong everyone.
    gadin210
    I live in TN and I have never experienced a hurricane nor a tornado. I sometimes wish I could experience one, but after reading stories like these I am grateful for where I live. People should never have to endure things like that. Stay strong everyone.


    Some people are just thrill seekers, and I understand wanting to experience something you have never experienced before. We are curious in nature, even when it comes to experiencing natural disasters.

    I felt the same way in the past. I live on the east coast, and always wanted to feel an earthquake to see what it really felt like. I did not want it to be a really strong one that would cause a lot of damage of course. Well a couple years back, we actually had a small one here. After experiencing it, I really don't care to ever feel it again.

    I have also been in some "minor" hurricanes. Hurricane Sandy hit here a few years back, and we were without power for 5 days. Some people in our neighborhood were without power for 2 weeks. I don't remember there being any major damage in the area, just some fallen trees. One on my street actually fell right between two houses. It could have easily fell on one of the houses and killed the people inside though.
    Preparation is one big key in survival. In terms of natural disasters, preparedness always wins life. Like for example, Philippines was not prepared when was hit by a strong typhoon and even i guess a hurricane, many lives and livelihood were lost.
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