Hurricane season brings the threat of powerful storms that can wreak havoc on communities in their path. However, with some advance preparation, you can help keep yourself, your loved ones, and your property safe when a hurricane strikes. This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know to prepare your home, protect your valuables, stock up on essentials, and create an action plan for during and after the storm. With checklists for emergency kits, evacuation tips, and advice for dealing with power outages, flooding, and more, you’ll be ready to weather any hurricane that comes your way.
How To Prepare For A Hurricane
The past few years have reminded Florida communities of the immense power of hurricanes and the devastation they can unleash. In 2017, Hurricane Irma left a trail of flooding and wind damage throughout the state. Just last year, Hurricane Ian battered our shores. Homes and businesses suffered catastrophic damage, and many lives were forever changed, with so many more still attempting to recover. But if the hurricanes taught us anything, it’s that our community is resilient. In the face of fierce winds, surging waters, and loss of power and resources, we came together. Neighbors helped board up each other’s homes, first responders evacuated those in need, churches opened as shelters, and relief organizations provided critical supplies and hope. In the bleakest moments, strangers became friends.
Start Here: Gather Emergency Supplies
Let me start by saying, I don’t mean run to the store and start clearing shelves. Far too often, panic buying doesn’t result in anything but frustration for the community. Purchase only what you need and what you will use in the case there is no power or if you are unable to get out to the store after the storm passes.
Food and Water: How much should you have on hand?
Stock up on enough non-perishable food and water to sustain your household for several days. Aim for at least one gallon of water per person per day. Another thing to remember is to have a manual can opener on hand! Check your pantry and then head to the store for things like:
- Canned goods like meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, beans, soups, and stews. Canned foods have a long shelf life and don’t require any refrigeration.
- Dried foods like granola bars, dried fruit, nuts, peanut butter, crackers, and cereal. These are lightweight and easy to store.
- Comfort foods like cookies, candy bars, instant coffee, and tea bags. These can lift your spirits during a stressful storm.
- Baby food and formula if needed. Make sure to have any medications or specialty dietary items on hand too.
- Shelf-stable milk and protein items like protein bars, shakes, and meal replacement drinks. These provide nutrition if fresh options are limited.
- Electrolyte-rich drinks like sports drinks, coconut water, or Pedialyte to help you stay hydrated.
Put Together A First Aid Kit
Prepare a robust first aid kit with bandages, gauze, antiseptic wipes, antibiotic ointment, pain relievers, latex gloves, and any needed medications. Also include scissors, tweezers, a thermometer, and first aid instruction manual.
Sanitation and Hygiene Items
Keep in mind that if you have no power, it may not be possible for running water either. You can flush your toilets manually by dumping a bucket of water directly in the bowl. However, showers can be tricky. Gather toilet paper, moist towelettes and bathing wipes, no rinse shampoo and soap products for these instances. You will also want to have toothpaste, feminine products, and deodorant for personal hygiene. It would also be a good idea to have laundry detergent and bleach to sanitize clothing and surfaces after flooding. On the side, assemble a “go bag” with towels, deodorant, a change of clothes, and other toiletries in case you need to leave quickly.
Other Tools and Supplies
Gather duct tape, heavy plastic sheeting, tarps, bungee cords, and nails to temporarily cover broken windows or holes in your home. Also collect work gloves, safety goggles, a multipurpose pocket knife, matches, and a multipurpose tool.
Duct tape, heavy plastic sheeting, tarps, and bungee cords can be used to create waterproof barriers if windows break or walls/roofs suffer breaches during the storm. Having materials on hand lets you cover holes quickly before more rain or interior damage occurs.
- Duct tape patches cracks, seals the edges of plastic sheeting or tarps, and securely attaches them to walls, beams, etc. Look for heavy duty duct tape that won’t easily tear away.
- Plastic sheeting should be 5-10 mils thick. Cut it a bit larger than needed so it can be secured tightly across damaged areas. Look for reinforced sheeting designed for construction.
- Tarps can patch holes in roofs and prevent further water intrusion. Bungee cords stretch to provide tight anchoring.
Nails, screws, or staples help firmly attach plastic sheeting or tarps around damaged windows, walls, roofs, etc. so wind does not rip repairs away.
Safety gear like work gloves, goggles, and durable shoes protect you from sharp debris when examining damage. A multi-tool or pocket knife can cut plastic sheeting or trim away debris. Matches or lighters may be needed to illuminate dark interior spaces.
Take safety precautions and only make repairs if it is safe to do so. Seek professional repairs for major structural damage. Temporary fixes just aim to prevent further interior damage from the elements.
Kitchen Items You Should Have On Hand
Don’t forget essentials like a manual can opener, mess kits or paper plates, plastic utensils, paper towels, garbage bags, aluminum foil, and plastic storage bags. Grill or camp stove may be needed if power is lost.
If the power goes out, it can get pretty dark. You’ll need things like flashlights and candles to provide light for you! However, there are some unconventional but effective light sources that you can use:
- Glow sticks – These don’t provide a ton of light but are inexpensive and handy to stash in emergency kits, bags, drawers, etc. They glow for up to 12 hours once activated.
- Battery-powered string lights – Wrap these around railings and cabinets, or use them to illuminate specific areas. Some have clips or magnets to attach.
- Tap lights – These handy lights attach under cabinets, shelves, or tables with magnets or adhesive and turn on with a simple tap. No batteries are required!
- Solar garden lights – Stake these outside during the day then bring inside at night for renewable light. They’re waterproof and charge via sun.
- Solar chargers – These portable chargers have built-in LEDs you can use for light once solar-powered. They also charge devices.
- Candles – They’re tried and true, but be sure to take proper fire safety precautions and never leave burning candles unattended.
- Headlamps/book lights – Wearing a LED headlamp or clipping on a book light frees up your hands for other tasks.
The key is having multiple light sources you can spread throughout living spaces and bags. Even small sources combine to provide enough light to safely see and complete tasks.
Stay in Touch! Cell Phone and Communication Needs
Ensure your cell phones and other devices are fully charged before the storm. Have portable phone chargers or backup generators ready. Consider a battery-operated radio to receive weather updates if power is lost, the internet can’t connect or if the cell phone towers go down.
Keep Cash On Hand
In the event that there is no power or internet, the credit card machines and ATMS may not be working. You will want to have cash on hand to pay for incidentals you may need immediately after the storm. Keep in mind that having small bills will be useful if stores cannot process credit cards and many will be limited in the amount of bills they have to make change.
Entertainment for Kids and Adults
In the modern world where technology provides most of our entertainment, it can get boring really quickly if there is no power. This is a great opportunity to reconnect as a family and spend precious time together. Gather books, board games, cards, puzzles, and other activities to pass the time. You can also download movies, shows, music, e-books, and audiobooks before the storm to get you through until power and WIFI is restored.
Home Preparation Tips
How do you get your home ready for a hurricane? If you’re new to Florida, there may be a lot of things you don’t think about in terms of getting your home ready for the wind and water that is about to come your way. What do you need to do before the storm to make sure your items are safe?
- Secure Outdoor Items: Bring inside any lawn furniture, potted plants, decorations, trash cans, tools, toys, and other objects that could become projectiles in high winds. If unable to store inside, anchor securely or place in a locked shed or garage.
- Install Storm Shutters or Plywood: Protect windows and glass doors with permanent storm shutters or temporarily screw plywood over them. This can prevent costly damage from broken glass and blown debris.
- Reinforce Garage Doors: Strengthen garage doors and tracks with horizontal bracing beams, and install vertical supports on both sides. Weak garage doors can cave in from hurricane winds.
- Trim Trees and Shrubs: Trim back any weak, overhanging tree limbs that could break off and fall on your home. Removing dead branches also reduces debris that could become airborne.
- Clean Gutters and Drains: Clear clogged gutters and downspouts so heavy rainfall can drain freely, preventing interior water damage. Make sure street drains near your home are not blocked.
- Check Roof for Leaks: Inspect roof shingles and flashing for damage and repair as needed to prevent interior water damage during heavy rains. Consider professional re-sealing if roof is older.
- Fuel Vehicles and Generators: Top off fuel tanks on vehicles in case evacuation is needed. Check portable generator fuel and test functionality in case power is lost. Refuel after storm passes.
- Document Valuables: Photograph or videotape your home and valuables for potential insurance claims. Also scan important documents like insurance policies to store digitally offsite.
- Adjust HVAC Setting: Set air conditioning to the highest comfortable temperature to minimize strain on the system if power flickers on and off. Unplug HVAC units well ahead of storm arrival.
The word “Evacuation” can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be. In the event you need to leave your home and go to a safer location, here are some things that you should know.
- Know Your Zone and Routes: Before hurricane season, determine if your home is in an evacuation zone and locate routes headed inland away from coasts and flood zones. Plan alternate routes too, remember that you aren’t the only ones being evacuated and roads will fill up quickly.
- Make Accommodations: If you are not going to a local shelter or staying with friends/family, you will need to make other arrangements. Keep in mind that you will want to book hotels, motels, or Airbnbs well inland and away from flood zones. Secure lodging for your pets too, keeping in mind that pet policies can vary greatly. You will also want to make sure you know the policies for cancellations/refunds if storm shifts and you no longer need/want to stay at that location.
- What To Pack: If evacuating, pack essentials like medicines, eyeglasses, valuables, cash, first aid kits, pet supplies, supplies for seniors or babies, phone chargers, clothes, and toiletries.
- Secure Your Home Before You Leave: Unplug appliances, turn off electricity at main breakers, and turn off water valves. Lock windows and doors. Let friends or neighbors know when you left and where you went.
- Contact Others: Provide your evacuation destination and contact details to others so they know your plans. Designate an out-of-town emergency contact who can relay information between separated family or friends.
- Travel Safely: Allow ample time to reach your destination before winds and rains arrive. Do not attempt to drive through flood waters! Heed instructions from local officials along your route.
- Confirm Evacuation Order: Do not evacuate until local officials issue the orders for your zone. Unnecessary early evacuations can cause traffic jams and leave you stranded without supplies. But be ready to leave immediately once ordered.
Prepare Pets and Livestock
Our pets and livestock are part of our families too! How can you be prepared for them to get through the storm?
- Prepare crates and carriers with familiar bedding and toys so pets feel secure. Get cats and dogs microchipped and ensure pet ID tags are up to date. Attach leashes to their collars.
- Place copies of all medical records and prescriptions in a waterproof bag, along with food/medicine instructions and contact info for your veterinarian in case you become separated.
- Check policies of evacuation hotels, shelters, or loved ones before arriving with pets in tow. Have alternate pet-friendly lodging options.
- Purchase a pet first aid kit, or build one yourself: Gauze pads, adhesive tape, antiseptic wipes, antibiotic ointment, eyewash solution, saline solution, hydrocortisone cream, Benadryl, nail clippers, thermometer, latex gloves, pet first aid book or manual, mylar emergency blanket, towel, tweezers, scissors, and the phone number for your veterinarian
Keep Horses and Livestock Safe
Move livestock and horses to higher ground or sturdy structures such as barns. Stock up on hay, feed and medications. Be prepared to turn them loose to survive on their own if necessary.
What To Do If The Power Goes Out:
- Monitor Freezer/Refrigerator: Keep doors closed to maintain interior temperatures if power flickers off briefly. A full freezer can keep foods frozen for two days. Consider moving refrigerated items to ice chests if the outage lasts over four hours.
Hot Tip: Freeze a cup of water and place a quarter on top of the ice. This will tell you if at any point your freezer lost power and if your food was compromised. If the quarter goes down more than 2 inches, you will need to get rid of anything in there.
- Prevent Surges: Turn off and unplug all unnecessary electronics and appliances to prevent power surges when electricity is restored. Leave one lamp on to indicate when power returns.
- Use Generators Safely: Follow instructions carefully if using a portable generator. Operate it outdoors in a dry area away from vents, doors, or windows to avoid deadly carbon monoxide poisoning. Turn off before refueling.
- Conserve Cell Phone Battery: Limit cell phone use and disable unnecessary apps. Turn down screen brightness and set phone to airplane mode. Use phones just for emergencies or communicating vital information until power is restored.
- Check on Neighbors: Check on elderly or vulnerable neighbors during an extended power outage. Offer help if needed. Monitor local media and emergency alerts for updates on when electricity may be restored.
Staying Safe After the Storm
It can be really tempting to rush back home after the storm. Everyone is curious and anxious to see what the damage may be and start the recovery process. However, Do not venture outside until local officials give the all clear, as dangerous winds and flooding can persist after the storm passes. Watch for downed power lines, weakened roads and tree limbs, and structural damage.
- Immediately Document Damage: Take photos/video of any property damage before beginning cleanup or repairs, use your camera function for timestamps or use an app that does that for you. Save receipts for supplies, hotel stays, repairs, etc. for insurance claims. Notify your insurance agent of any damage immediately.
- Beware of Hazards: Watch for spilled medications, chemicals, gasoline, raw sewage, venomous insects and animals, contaminated water, broken glass, nails, and other dangers as you inspect your property. Wear thick-soled shoes and use caution.
- Avoid Downed Lines: Assume any fallen wires or cables are live and dangerous. Avoid touching or driving over them. Report any downed lines immediately so utility crews can address them.
- Monitor Generator Use: Carefully follow safety rules and maintain ventilation when using generators until normal power supply is restored. Shut off before refueling.
- Restock Supplies: Safely restock emergency food, water, medicine, fuel, and other supplies post-storm while infrastructure is still intact. Monitor weather forecasts in case another storm approaches.
Things You May Not Know About Hurricane Preparation
- You can use Dry Ice: Dry ice keeps refrigerated and frozen items colder far longer than regular ice during power outages. Handle it carefully using gloves and place in waterproof containers. Never touch it directly as it can inflict burns.
- Gasoline Has a Short Shelf Life: Fuel stabilizers extend the life of stored gasoline for generators or vehicles, but it still degrades over time. Drain and replace fuel over 3 months old.
- Documents Can Be Protected in Dishwashers: Place important documents like insurance policies in Ziploc bags then inside waterproof plastic bins sealed with duct tape. You can also try a dishwasher or oven for fire/water protection.
- Texts Often Go Through When Calls Won’t: After major disasters, local cell towers are often jammed and calls cannot connect. However, text messages have a better chance of getting through as they require less bandwidth. Set up group text threads with key contacts.
- Mylar Space Blankets Provide Heat or Waterproofing: Pack some lightweight mylar emergency blankets in first aid kits and go-bags. They can prevent hypothermia, provide shade, or create a waterproof barrier when securing damaged windows or roof holes after flooding.
- Pool Chlorine Sanitizes Flooded Areas: Add a few tablespoons of liquid chlorine pool cleaner to a gallon of water and use it to sanitize and disinfect items that encounter flood waters. Be very careful handling pure chlorine!
Frequently Asked Questions About Hurricane Preparation
How far in advance should I start preparing for hurricane season?
You should begin your preparations at least 3-4 weeks before the typical start of hurricane season in your region. This allows ample time to purchase supplies, make home modifications, and confirm evacuation plans.
What should be in my hurricane emergency kit?
Keep a waterproof container stocked with bottled water, shelf-stable food, flashlights, battery-powered radio, first aid kit, batteries, cash, medications, pet supplies, battery chargers, duct tape, tools, portable phone chargers, and copies of important documents.
How can I best prepare my home for a hurricane?
Inspect and trim trees, clear gutters and downspouts, survey your roof for leaks, install storm shutters on windows, reinforce the garage door, anchor loose outdoor items, fuel your generator, and identify your main electrical breakers, gas, and water shutoff valves ahead of time.
What supplies do I need for pets during a hurricane?
Have collars with ID tags, leashes, pet carriers, at least 5 days of pet food and bottled water, feeding bowls, litter boxes for cats, plastic bags, medications, pet first aid kits, photos of your pets, and proof of vaccinations in a waterproof container easily accessible during evacuation.
How do I prepare my boat or watercraft for an incoming hurricane?
Remove all removable equipment like canvas, sails, canvas, electronics, and antennas. Tie down everything you can’t remove like tillers, wheels, booms, etc. Moor the boat securely in a protected marina or remove it from the water. Leave water in the bilge for stability. Remove drain plugs after the storm passes.
How do I prepare my home for flooding from hurricanes?
Install flood barrier protections like flood doors, louvers, gates, or sandbags where water could enter. Raise electrical components, HVAC units, water heaters, and washers/dryers up on platforms above expected flood levels. Have sump pumps with backup generators ready.
Preparing for hurricanes requires advance planning and diligence, but taking proactive steps can significantly reduce risks to you and your family. Use this guide to get your home and household ready with emergency supplies, evacuation plans for people and pets, and storm preparations for your property. Stay tuned to local media for storm updates and follow all directions from emergency officials. Don’t take hurricanes lightly, but also try not to panic. With the proper precautions, you can safely weather even major storms. Stay calm, stay prepared, and keep your loved ones safe. You’ve got this!