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Two storms — Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma — just reminded us of the terrible damage that tropical tempests can inflict on the homes and lives of people who live near the ocean or Gulf of Mexico.
Until this year’s Atlantic storm season, the U.S. had gone a dozen years without a major hurricane visiting its shores. But that stretch clearly is over now.
The storm season lasts through Nov. 30, and we are in the midst of what are traditionally the most active weeks for storms. So, it’s time to take up the Boy Scouts’ motto: 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.
The Department of Homeland Security’s disaster preparedness website, Ready.gov, says:
Know how you’ll contact one another and reconnect if separated. Establish a family meeting place that’s familiar and easy to find.
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.
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. Make sure you have plenty of nonperishable foods and bottled water to keep your family fed and hydrated if you are stuck in your house.
- 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.
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. In the vehicle, keep a first-aid kit and emergency food, blankets, water and supplies for everyone, including pets.
- 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 your 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.
- Ask your local animal shelter 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 get 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 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 on our Facebook page.