Disaster Preparedness Guide: Hurricanes

Coastal communities know well that living in some of the nation’s most beautiful and inviting areas carries the risk of heavy weather, including hurricanes like the one currently bearing down on several Atlantic Coast states.

A hurricane is a massive storm system with winds that can rip homes apart and storm surges that can flood entire towns. Anything and anyone in the path of a hurricane could face serious peril. However, you can mitigate these risks somewhat by preparing yourself and your home before a hurricane arrives.

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Facts about hurricanes

Hurricane winds can reach up to almost 200 miles per hour.

Hurricane storm surges can swell up to 20 feet high and extend over 90 miles inland.

In the Atlantic, hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30. In the Pacific, it runs from May 15 to November 30. They are most common in September.

Florida sees the most hurricanes each year of any U.S. state.

Atlantic hurricanes can make landfall anywhere between Texas and Maine.

The span of a typical hurricane is about 300 miles across.

Hurricanes can leave floods and tornadoes in their wake.  

What to do before a hurricane occurs

The best time to prepare for a hurricane is long before it occurs. Here are some steps you and your family should take.

Create an emergency supply kit The kit should include several days’ worth of food and water, extra clothing, flashlights, medication, and anything else you might need. You should also make copies of important documents, like insurance policies, and store them in a waterproof container with your kit.

Know the evacuation plan Familiarize yourself with your evacuation zone, possible evacuation routes, and the locations of hurricane shelters in your area. Practice enacting your evacuation plan.

Safeguard your property Install check valves to prevent water and sewage from backing up into your home during a hurricane. Consider installing storm shutters as well. Otherwise, cut plywood to fit in your windows when the storm comes.

Evaluate your insurance coverage Make sure your current policy would be enough to cover you in the event of a total loss. You should also consider adding flood insurance, as floods are not covered under a traditional insurance policy. If you have a mortgage on your home, your lender may require it.

What to do when a hurricane occurs

When a hurricane is imminent, here’s what you need to do to stay safe.

Keep an eye on the weather reports. Watch or listen to your local news for important updates and evacuation information.

Be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. Have your emergency kit close at hand, and make sure your car is ready to go with a full tank of gas.

Secure items that could get picked up by the storm. Bring loose items like patio furniture inside. Secure items that would be unsafe or impossible to bring inside so they don’t get picked up by the wind.

Cover your home’s windows. If you have storm shutters, close them. Otherwise, board up your windows with plywood.

Turn your refrigerator and freezer down to the lowest setting. This will help preserve your food for longer if your power goes out during the storm.

Follow instructions from authorities. If you are advised to evacuate, do so following the recommended evacuation route. If advised to stay indoors, you should do so.

Go to a safe space. Try to reach a designated hurricane shelter if you can. If that’s not possible, a windowless room on the lowest level may be your next-best option.

Seek higher ground if there’s flooding. Go to the highest floor of the building that you’re in, but stay away from windows if you can.  

What to do after a hurricane occurs

Just because the storm is over doesn’t mean the dangers have passed. Follow these guidelines in the storm’s aftermath as you set about putting your life back in order.

Don’t return to your home until it is safe to do so. If you had to evacuate, wait until the authorities tell you that it’s safe before you return home.

Stay away from flood water. It could be contaminated with debris, or it may contain snakes and other dangerous animals. Furthermore, if there is electrical equipment nearby, you could get electrocuted from going into the water.

Get your home inspected before you enter it. High winds and flood waters may have rendered your home structurally unsound, or the forces of nature may have triggered a gas leak. It’s important to have a professional verify that your home is safe before you enter it again.

Document any property damage. Take photographs, and send them to your insurance company as soon as possible so they can start working on your claim.

Clean any items that got wet during the storm. Water from a hurricane can contain sewage or other bacteria, so it’s important to disinfect items while you are cleaning. If you cannot adequately disinfect them, you should throw them out.

Be careful with your food and water. Don’t drink your tap water until local authorities tell you it is safe to do so. Throw out any food that has been contaminated by flood waters and any perishable foods that have been sitting at room temperature for several hours.  

Tips

Don’t attempt to walk or drive through flood water. Even six inches of moving water can float a vehicle and carry it off.

Don’t delay when told to evacuate. If you wait too long, the roads could become impassable, and you could end up trapped in the path of the storm.

Don’t use a gas-powered generator indoors. This could lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Don’t try to make too many phone calls. Phone lines are often down or busy after a disaster, and it can be difficult to get calls through. Only make calls if you have a genuine emergency. Otherwise, limit your communication to texts or social media.  

FAQ

Q. Does leaving storm-side windows open during a hurricane help equalize pressure?

A. No. This is a dangerous misconception that can make your home a target for greater water damage and flying debris. You should always keep windows closed and shuttered or boarded up to prevent debris from entering your home.

Q. I live in a coastal state but not on the coast. Do I still need to prepare for hurricanes?

A. Hurricanes can travel hundreds of miles inland, so it’s good to have an emergency plan in place even if you don’t think you’re at risk. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Q. I have an older home. Do I have to do anything special to make it safe?

A. Older homes may not be compliant with the latest building codes, which are designed to make homes more resistant to hurricane damage. If you’re concerned about this, you can hire someone to evaluate your property. This specialist can help determine if your home is in good enough condition to withstand a hurricane.

Kailey Fralick is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

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