When you can't know what you'll be facing, here's how to get ready for almost anything hurricane season throws at you.
In hurricane season, which has begun, the smartest thing you can do is take the Boy Scouts’ advice: Be prepared.
Get supplies, equipment and a plan ready so you can swing confidently into action as quickly as necessary. You don’t want to be fighting hordes of others at the last minute for your store’s dwindling amounts of canned goods, water jugs and emergency supplies.
Here are four critical areas to cover so you’ll get through a hurricane safely:
1. Have a communications plan
Ask a friend or family member outside the hurricane zone to act as your family communications hub. If phone lines are jammed in your affected area, calling outside the region may be easier than making a local call. Make sure everyone in your family has the number for your emergency contact and a cellphone or prepaid phone card.
If you have a cellphone, program that person(s) as “ICE” (In Case of Emergency) in your phone. If you are in an accident, emergency personnel will often check your ICE listings in order to get a hold of someone you know. Make sure to tell your family and friends that you’ve listed them as emergency contacts.
Plan to use texting more than phone calls. Texts may work when phone calls can’t get through. Everyone in your circle should be comfortable using a phone’s text function.
Keep phones charged and, if a storm is approaching, extend battery life by turning the brightness settings down as far as possible.
“Extend your cellphone battery’s life by texting instead of calling and turning off Internet/Wi-Fi/Bluetooth/GPS connections,” adds CNN in a compilation of advice from survivors of Hurricane Katrina.
2. Be ready to stay or go
Storms are unpredictable, so be prepared to stay or go. If you are told to evacuate, do it. Don’t put the lives of emergency personnel at risk by staying. If you choose to stay anyway, make peace with the understanding that you can’t expect to be rescued.
However, even if you want to get out, roads may be blocked, so you should be ready to ride out a storm if necessary:
- Get your home itself ready for a severe storm.
- Test your generator. Perform monthly tests using appliances that draw power from the system.
- Keep a fire extinguisher handy. Make sure you know how to use it.
- Refresh batteries. Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Have a supply of new batteries on hand.
- Stock up. Print a copy of this emergency preparedness list from Harris County, Texas, and take it with you to the store.
- Learn how to turn off the propane or natural gas. Call your utility company to find out how to shut off the gas. Assemble the required tools and keep them handy.
As a storm approaches:
- Fill the bathtub. Fill the tub and other large containers with water for drinking, cooking, bathing and flushing toilets.
- Stay indoors. Don’t go outdoors during a severe storm.
- Batten down. Close curtains, blinds and interior doors and take refuge in a windowless room or closet, away from windows.
- Crank up the freezer. Turn the refrigerator and freezer to the coldest setting and keep the appliance doors closed so your food will stay cold as long as possible if the power goes out.
- Stay tuned. Keep an ear on your portable radio, taking care also to preserve battery life.
In a high-rise building. FEMA’s Ready.gov advises:
[W]hen high winds are present, be prepared to take shelter on a lower floor because wind conditions increase with height, and in a small interior room without windows. When flooding may be occurring, be prepared to take shelter on a floor safely above the flooding and wave effects.
3. Have an evacuation plan
Do these things now so you’ll be able to move quickly when you must:
- Know where you’ll go. Decide now how you’ll get out of the storm area and where you’ll stay. Locate the emergency shelters nearest you. Identify evacuation routes (call your county’s emergency services office for route maps) and learn alternative routes.
- Keep the car ready. Keep the car in good repair, well-maintained and gassed up with good tires. Keep a first-aid kit and emergency food, blankets, water and supplies for everyone, including pets, in the vehicle.
- Make a packet of cash. Keep cash handy in small denominations.
- Copy important documents. Keep copies with you in a waterproof container.
- Register for emergency transportation. Find out if your county has a registry for those who’ll need transportation in an evacuation.
- Prepare an emergency travel kit. Mother Nature Network lists the essentials (and Ready.gov explains more).
4. Prepare your pets
Not all Red Cross shelters accept pets, so figure out now what to do with your pets if you must evacuate.
Don’t leave pets at home. Conditions that are unsafe for you are unsafe for pets. The American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals lists these alternatives:
Contact your veterinarian for a list of preferred boarding kennels and facilities.
Call your local animal shelter (and ask) if they provide emergency shelter or foster care for pets.
Identify hotels or motels outside of your immediate area that accept pets.
Ask friends and relatives outside your immediate area if they would be willing to take in your pet.
- Keep pets’ vaccinations current. This ensures they’ll be accepted at public shelters and boarding facilities if necessary and will be safe around other animals. A Bordetella shot is often required for boarding dogs.
- Update ID. Renew their licenses and update ID tags if they’re not current. Better yet, have pets microchipped in case they are separated from you and lose their collars.
Make an emergency kit for pets. Basics include:
- Immunization records and your contact information.
- Food for three to seven days (rotate dry food in storage every two months).
- Bottled water for seven days.
- Medicines (in a waterproof bag).
- A crate or carrier.
- Extra leash.
- Cat litter, disposable aluminum trays for litter, and paper towels.
- Garbage bags for waste disposal, small pet waste bags and disinfectant.
- Photos of pets to use in case they’re lost.
- Designate a caregiver. Give a key to your home to a trusted neighbor or friend who’s usually home in the day and can retrieve your pet in an emergency if you can’t get home.
- Post a window sticker. The ASPCA offers free pet alert stickers (allow six weeks for delivery or get one immediately from your veterinarian or pet supply store) for a door or window so emergency personnel know pets are inside. The American Red Cross advises: “If you must evacuate with your pets (and if time allows) write ‘EVACUATED’ across the stickers so rescue workers don’t waste time looking for them.”
Have you been through a severe storm? Add your advice and share your experiences by posting comments below or at Money Talks News’ Facebook page.