People who live in an area prone to hurricanes know when they are most likely to appear. This is especially true for those of us who live on the Gulf Coast since we’ve had several bad hurricanes hit our region in the past decade. Then again, since we know when they’re most prone to hit, it should be easy to prepare your home ahead of time in case the need to evacuate arises. Preparing for a hurricane while the weather is sunny and calm is much easier than trying to react frantically while the doors of your house are being blown off by the winds! Whether your home is not in a flood-prone area or in a vulnerable location, this is how to prepare for a hurricane.
One of the most important things to do is to create a family plan so that everyone knows what to do in a hurricane situation. Talk with everyone in the family about what actions to take when different things happen – for instance, when the sirens go off or the power goes out. Discuss when and where to take shelter inside the house, as in a basement or storm shelter, and when to prepare to evacuate.
Delegate tasks to each family member, especially the children, so they will have an active part in the plan. Have someone get the hurricane preparedness kit, while someone else checks the flashlights or gets the candles, and someone else puts the pets in their carriers or kennels. When the responsibilities are divided among the family, each person feels responsible to the whole group for getting their tasks done. This plan is something that may start small but evolve as you review it over and over.
Disaster Supplies Kit
A key step in hurricane preparedness is getting together an emergency kit. Get the kit out and review its contents every 3 months to add or replace items. This is a good time to review and update the family plan with everyone, too. Your kit should include:
- One gallon of clean drinking water per individual (and pets) for three to seven days. Fill your bathtub with water for washing plates and utensils and save the used dish-washing water for flushing the toilet
- Non-perishable food to last three to seven days for individuals and pets
- First aid kit plus a three to seven day supply of any prescription medications
- Battery-powered weather radio and extra batteries
- A Go Bag for each individual
- Full gas tanks in your vehicles
Your family’s safety and well-being are your primary jobs, so an evacuation is always an option. Remember: it’s not all about staying in your home no matter what; it’s all about staying alive. Go Bags will keep your family members prepared and supplied if conditions worsen and you decide to evacuate. Each individual Go Bag should carry an ID tag and at least contain:
- Some food and water
- First aid and prescription medicine supplies
- A flashlight, portable radio, fully charged cell phone
- Emergency cash in small denominations and quarters for phone calls
- Your bag should also contain your family’s important documents (insurance, medical records, bank account numbers, social security card, pet care information) inside a watertight re-sealable plastic bag or container
If you live along the Texas Gulf coast, expect power outages. This isn’t just to be cynical, rather it’s a way to be prepared. Hurricane-force winds can knock down Texas power lines. Keep your cell phones plus any other useful electronic gadgets connected to their chargers for as long as possible. About 48 hours before the storm arrives, turn your fridge all the way to the coldest setting and restrict the number of times it can be opened. This way, if the power does go out, you’ll have a better chance of having your cold foods last more than two or three days.
In severe cases, you may need to be prepared for an evacuation, should that be required. The most challenging kind of kit to create is reserved for a worst-case scenario. Specifically, this is a box full of those items you would need in order to reconstruct your life elsewhere should the hurricane damage to your home be severe. This box should include:
- Copies of wedding certificates and photos
- Birth certificates and photos
- Insurance policies
- Car titles
- Mortgage information
In short, make sure all of these documents are in a secure place where they can be grabbed on the way to the car when you have to evacuate. It will be a lot of work, but you will be grateful that you put the effort into the task, as these are all items that would be difficult to replace after a catastrophe.
Preparing Your Living Situation
As the hurricane approaches, you need to prepare your home. In a hurricane, your home’s main enemy is the wind. Category 3 and above hurricanes have wind speeds in excess of 111 mph. Because tropical storms and hurricanes are large storm systems, they are able to spawn tornadoes. Winds over 150 mph and are powerful enough to destroy buildings and hurl their debris into other buildings.
Even a heavy 10-foot long piece of lumber can be picked up in the wind and driven clear through an exterior wall made of cement stucco and strand board sheathing.
To secure your home, FEMA recommends using either permanent storm shutters nailing 5/8″ thick marine plywood over windows and glass doors. Taping X’s on windows does little to protect the glass. It wastes time and tape.
Wind can also tear the roof off your house. During high winds, a negative air gradient (vacuum) forms over the roof of a house and pulls it upwards. To see how it works, try this table-top scientific simulation:
Get a piece of paper and lay it on a table. Next, blow forcefully across the top of the paper (but not under it). The paper will rise and fly across the table just like a roof that is not properly secured. If wind enters the house through an entryway (garage door, door, or window) and builds pressure inside the building, the combined force of the vacuum over the roof and the air pressure inside the building can blow the roof off the house in seconds.
Hurricane straps are able to withstand winds of more than 100 miles per hour. They are steel straps that are bent over the top of the roof truss and are attached on either side to the wall plate. Homes that have not been built with these can be retrofitted. Also, garage doors in particular are susceptible to breakdown by wind pressure and blowing debris and should be reinforced. For both of these, consult a qualified building contractor experienced in retrofitting homes to withstand hurricanes.
It’s important to identify the area in your home to be used as a safe room. It should be at the center of your home’s lowest level (closet, interior hallway) away from corners, windows, doors, and outside walls. Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside.
In a Severe Case Where You Can’t Stay in Your Home
Know where you are going to go. A hotel, shelter, or relative’s house are all options. Make sure that your map in the emergency kit shows the route to the evacuation location, though it helps to indicate two routes, in case one is blocked by trees blown over, downed power lines, etc. Include all of the contact information such as names, addresses, and phone numbers. Get in touch with friends or relatives and tell them that you will call them if you have to evacuate so someone knows why you’re not answering your home phone!
Follow local instructions for securing the house by boarding up windows and doors. It’s best if you do this days before leaving so you’ll have some time to prepare for this and will have access to supplies at hardware stores before everyone else rushes to get this step done.
Keep directions in your emergency kit on how to prepare the house to leave. Turn off the power, gas, and water to the house, if you can. Remove any items that could fall and break from shelving and place them on the floor. Take any small items of value, such as jewelry and cameras, because looting, sadly, does happen from time to time.
Plan for being away from your home for three to five days depending on the kind of storm cell that is moving through the area. Have contact information available with you to call local authorities to check on when it is safe to return.
Lastly, keep your lines of communication open. Make sure you let friends and relatives know where you are and that you can contact emergency services. Also, should you decide to evacuate, tell your friends and relatives what your plans are. In these late cases, your goal will probably be to go to your nearest hurricane shelter (also make sure those individuals with you have a pre-arranged out-of-state contact number of a friend or relative they can call if they become separated from you). Make certain everyone knows the way to the nearest hurricane shelter.
While we all can’t predict exactly what will happen when a storm hits, we can easily prepare ourselves to handle almost anything once it does. Being prepared for a hurricane and a possible evacuation takes some time and thought. You and your family will be so grateful to have this done when the winds are building outside your front door!