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10 Smart Ways to Be Prepared for a Hurricane

Hurricane Preparation Tips
Sean Gardner/Chip Somodevilla/Mark Wilson, Getty Images

This month marks the beginning of the six-month long hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean. Now that we’re about a week into it, there’s no better time to take a fresh look at the best ways to prepare for the event of a hurricane.

No matter how many times you’ve been through a hurricane, the more prepared you are for the storm, the better off you will be during and after it happens, and the less panicked you’ll be when it makes landfall.

Take a look at this list of the 10 best ways to be ready for that hurricane to help save your possessions and, maybe, your life. If a hurricane is on the way, there’s no reason to be scared if you’re already prepared.

Collect Helpful Information

Looking for information as you’re trying to get everyone out the door and evacuated is not ideal. Trying to find out important information in the midst of an emergency only adds to your panic. Collect any information you think you might need well before the hurricane hits. It’s going to be helpful for you to know your area. Find out your flood risk by knowing the elevation of your property and learning what dams and levees are nearby. Authorities will know what structures are at risk and you’ll know ahead of time if you need to be ready for flooding along with the storm. FEMA also has a map that keeps track of flood threats, in it you can find your location’s risk and be ready. Study and understand the meanings of the National Weather Service’s warnings. Have your evacuation routes planned and recorded. Write down every phone number you think you’ll need. If you find resources on the internet, keep them bookmarked, but remember, the internet will be difficult to access if the power is out and the wireless bandwidth is overloaded with storm victims who need the same information you do. If there’s information you want to have at hand, print it out and create a hurricane notebook to keep with your supplies.

Be Ready To Use Your Insurance

National Flood Insurance Program
National Flood Insurance Program

The time to be thinking about your insurance is not when a hurricane watch has been issued. First of all, insurance companies will stop writing coverage when a storm is approaching. You need to already have your coverages up-to-date before the weather is a problem. Remember, you can’t get flood insurance from most insurance companies. You’ll need to get that coverage from a different source well before you need it. Next, keep your insurance paperwork somewhere where you can get it before you evacuate your home and somewhere where the storm can’t damage it. It’s the first thing you’ll need when the skies have cleared. Make sure you have photos and an inventory of your property for your insurance claim. This will ensure that you get money to replace everything you need to replace and spend less time arguing over what that might be. You also need current photos of the outside of your home for claims against potential damage. And, if you’ve been through a hurricane before, remember that an insurance company won’t want to pay for the same damage twice. You’ll need to be prepared to prove you’ve had things repaired, so have those receipts and invoices gathered with your paperwork. When you’re upset about a major loss in a storm, the last thing you want to do is worry about where you put your insurance policy.

Make a Communication Plan

Because people get separated, cities lose power, normal communication devices can be destroyed or inaccessible and news reports can be scary and confusing, it’s important to have a communication plan in place. Designate a family member who’s not in a hurricane-prone location to act as the family’s information hub. That way, when relatives are evacuating quickly, there is one place everyone knows they can go for information. Talk to your kids about your action plan and how you will communicate with them, and they with you, if you aren’t with them when things are happening. Have a current list of contact numbers compiled so you can contact your family, your insurance company, emergency resources, weather information resources, community resources and any other help you may need. If the list is ready now, you won’t have to scramble to find the numbers in a panic.

Make Your Evacuation And Safe Room Plan

Hurricane Evacuation
Mario Tama, Getty Images

Because decisions and orders to evacuate can happen quickly, you should already have an evacuation plan in place. To begin with, make sure you know the evacuation guidelines and routes for your community. You should also become familiar with FEMA’s evacuation guidelines. It’s also a good idea to have a plan for an alternate route that would be safe for evacuating, but might not have as much traffic as a more traveled route. If the evacuation happens suddenly you could get caught in a jam. Having a GPS unit or good, old-fashioned maps in the car is helpful. Remember, communication lines will get jammed, so your mobile phone might become useless. Before you evacuate, make sure you’ve found out from weather and information sources how far you need to drive to get to a safe area. And, if you can, make a hotel reservation as early as possible. You can cancel most hotel reservations within 24 hours and not get charged, so if you think there’s a possibility of evacuation at some point, go ahead and reserve a room. You can always cancel. If your area is not being evacuated and feel it’s safe enough to ride out the storm, you should already have a plan in place for where in your home you will be during the worst of it. You should select an inside room that doesn’t have windows and make sure there is plenty of furniture that could provide cover. It’s also a good idea to know the location of at least two official storm shelters in your area in case the storm gets worse than expected and you don’t have time to evacuate. Keep in mind that if you live in a high-rise building, you’ll need to seek shelter in the tenth floor or below. Your building’s management should be able to provide you with shelter information.

Re-Stock Your Portable Supply Kit

If you’ve lived in a hurricane zone for any significant amount of time, most likely you already have a supply kit put together, but it’s also likely that you haven’t looked in it or refreshed the contents in quite a while. If this is your first season in a hurricane prone area, now is the time to gather the necessary items for a good, portable supply kit. If you wait until a storm is on its way, you’ll go to the grocery store for a supply of drinking water and batteries and find that everyone else has done the same and the shelves are empty. In your kit, you’ll definitely need a three-day supply of food and water for every person in your family. Make sure you include food items that don’t require electricity to prepare. You’ll want a battery operated radio or television, or better yet, both, a flashlight or two and a fresh supply of batteries. Include a first-aid kit and any medicine you might need for yourself and your family, as well as toiletries like toothpaste, shampoo (consider waterless shampoo), deodorant and soap. You should keep some cash in your supply kit in the event that ATMs are not available after the storm because of damage. Have blankets and pillows on hand in case you have to evacuate to a shelter. And, finally, make sure you’ve got pet care items in your kit, because your pets will have needs during the storm as well.

Get the Outside of Your House and Yard Ready

Hurricane Preparation - Storm Shutters
Joe Raedle, Getty Images

Of course, one of the most obvious preparations you need to make before a hurricane is the outside of your home. Your house is going to take the biggest hit during the storm, but there are things you can do to ease the pain a bit. The most important items you can purchase for your home are storm shutters fitted for your windows. Taping your windows will not provide any protection during a hurricane. If you don’t have storm shutters, you can also protect your windows with 5/8 inch marine plywood. There are specifications for size and spacing the holes for screws that will ensure you get the most protection. Keep in mind that this is not something you want to be purchasing when the storm is about to make landfall. You need to size, purchase and prepare your window protection well before any storms are in sight. If you’ve done that, then when it seems likely a hurricane will arrive, get outside and cover those windows. But your windows aren’t the only part of your home’s exterior you need to focus on. Another thing you can do to save your home is to strap the roof to the frame. Often, the strong winds will change the pressure in your house and cause the roof to come off of the house. You should have all trees and hedges trimmed to prevent losses and flying limbs during high winds, and clear out your downspouts. Then, consider where any flooding might happen and where you could possibly block water from coming in by stacking up some sandbags. Finally, put away anything you have outside that could become a missile during the storm. Barbecues, lawn furniture, toys, garbage cans and any other item that isn’t half buried in the ground. Don’t forget your recreational vehicles. Your boat or travel trailer is vulnerable and should be put somewhere where it will be protected.

Get the Inside of Your House Ready

The inside of your house will also need some attention before the storm arrives. There are things you can do to help reduce the amount of damage your home will suffer, and to make sure you’re prepared for the days following the hurricane. Turn down your refrigerator and freezer to their lowest temperatures so they’ll stay cold if your home loses power. Close the curtains and blinds on your windows. If you’re prepared, the windows will be covered on the outside, but having them covered on the inside will add protection for your interior. Close all the interior doors in your home. This will help with the pressure changes and flying debris, and if you’re staying during the storm, it will provide you with a safer interior space. Finally, fill all bathtubs, sinks, pots and containers with water. If the storm causes a flood, you’ll need water, in addition to the water from your supply kit, for flushing toilets and keeping clean. Also, in case of a flood, move any important or sentimental items to higher ground. If you don’t have one, consider getting a small generator and make sure you have plenty of fuel for it. If you lose power, a generator will quickly become the best money you ever spent, and getting a generator after a powerful hurricane, when everyone else needs one and the hardware stores are sold out, is almost impossible.

Keep Your Car Ready

Hurricane Preparation - Cars
Joe Raedle, Getty Images

Everyone knows that getting the house ready for a hurricane is a good idea and it’s obvious to have a supply kit ready, but it’s really easy to forget about keeping your car ready in the event of a hurricane. What’s the one thing that really needs to be ready and working if you have to evacuate for a hurricane? Your car. During hurricane season, you should always keep your gas tank at half full. If a storm is coming your way, keep the tank filled, because when the order to evacuate goes out, everyone will be at the gas station filling up and then the gas station will be empty. Consider keeping a gas can with some gas on hand. But gas isn’t the only thing to think about. Make sure the tires are in good condition and you have a working spare in the car. Getting help on the road during an evacuation is not easy. Keep up with oil changes and other maintenance, because when the tropical storm is getting upgraded, the last thing you’ll have time to do is schedule that lube and filter job the car has needed for a while.

Make a Plan for Your Pets

In all the frenzy of an impending hurricane, your pets can become an afterthought. This is very dangerous for your pets. You’ve already made sure you have pet supplies in your kit, but you also need think about what you’ll do with your pets during the storm. If you’re staying in your home during the storm, you need to make sure the interior safe room contains the items your pet would need. You won’t be able to walk your dog in a storm and any pet would be freaked out, so you’ll want to have ways to keep them comfortable. If you’re evacuating, you have to have a plan for your pets as well as your family. If you can take them with you to your planned evacuation spot, just make sure you have all their supplies gathered. If you can’t take them with you or you evacuate to a shelter, you need to have arrangements made for a safe place to take them. Emergency shelters will not accept pets during a hurricane for space and health reasons. You need to check with your local humane society or rescue organization for information about local pet shelters. Make sure you plan early so your pets have a safe place to ride out the storm while you’re away.

Be Ready for a Road Trip

Hurricane Preparation - Road Trip
Sean Gardner, Getty Images

If you have to evacuate during a hurricane, you need to be ready for a road trip. You’ll have your portable supply kit together, but you also need to consider the kinds of things you would have for a long car trip, especially if you have children. You’ll have the cash from your kit, but that’s not all you’ll need. Bring games and activities to keep everyone calm and entertained in the car, as well as to keep the peace if you have to spend a few days in a hotel. You should also have snacks accessible for the car ride. Evacuations tend to involve long waits in bumper-to-bumper traffic, so pulling off the road for a quick bite could be difficult and take hours. And, finally, you need to make sure your family’s prescriptions are current and filled. This is one of those things that can be easy forget about in an evacuation, so you want to check prescriptions as soon as the tropical storm designation has been made and make sure you have enough to carry you through the hurricane and aftermath.

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