The peak hurricane season lasts from June through November along the Eastern Seaboard, in the Caribbean Sea and along the Gulf Coast. The months of August through October represent the greatest risk for residents of the U.S. who live on or near these coasts. With hurricane season just around the corner, experts recommend that families set aside some time to create and implement a comprehensive strategy and preparedness plan. The National Hurricane Center has designated the week of May 27 through June 2 as National Hurricane Preparedness Week for 2012. Any hurricane preparedness plan should include provisions for:
• Weathering the storm in safety
• Creating an emergency preparedness kit
• Planning an escape route
• Packing for evacuation
• Managing pets on the move
• Keeping children calm during the emergency
By putting a plan in place before the need arises, families can better protect themselves and their loved ones against the real danger that hurricanes and tropical storms represent to property and people. Here are some helpful tips for putting together a comprehensive hurricane readiness strategy.
Safe at home
In some cases, it may make sense to weather an incoming storm at home rather than leaving. This is especially true when the storm has not yet been classified as a hurricane. Tropical storms are by no means trivial events; they can create widespread flooding, dangerous storm surges and high wind speeds. Individuals and families should not stay in private residences if a general evacuation order has been issued, no matter how secure and sturdy those residences may seem. If the situation does not merit immediate evacuation, here are some ways to remain safer inside the family home.
• Fill clean, sterile containers with drinking water in case the water supply becomes contaminated due to storm surges or other unforeseen circumstances. Bathtubs and basins should also be filled for use for washing and toilet use.
• Designate a specific location within the home as a hurricane shelter. This area should be centrally located away from large windows and should not be in the basement of the home due to the risk of flooding.
• Unplug small appliances and disconnect propane tanks. This can prevent damage due to power surges and may reduce the risk of fire.
• Set refrigerators and freezers to the coldest setting and keep them closed as much as possible. This will help preserve food longer. Meats and cheese can be moved to the freezer section if a prolonged outage is expected.
• Buy plenty of canned foods and bottled water for storage inside the home before hurricane season starts. It’s a good idea to maintain at least seven days worth of bottled water (one gallon per person/day) and food in cans along with a non-electric can opener to ensure sufficient supplies throughout the storm.
These measures can provide additional safety for families who decide to weather the storm from their own homes.
Emergency preparedness kit
Whether the decision is made to travel to a safer location or to stay at home, certain items should be kept on hand throughout hurricane season to ensure that family members stay safe. These items include:
• Plenty of Cash
• Nonperishable food in cans or plastic for at least seven days
• Manual can opener
• Small charcoal or gas grill with fuel
• First aid kit with bandages, aspirin and antihistamines
• Changes of clothing including raincoats and rain boots
• Enough prescription medication for two weeks
• Flashlight and batteries
• Life vests for everyone in the family
• Blankets and pillows
• A favorite toy or handheld game for each child in the family
• Full tanks of gasoline in family vehicles and a reserve supply at the home
Additionally, vital information and documents should be sealed in plastic bags and brought along in case they are needed. These include:
• Insurance policies
• Bank documents
• Medical records
• Identification including passports and social security cards
• Backups of important computer files
• Important phone numbers
These items can ensure the safety and well-being of the family both inside the home and en route to the evacuation destination.
The escape route
Families should plan their evacuation route and destination well before the arrival of a dangerous storm. In many cases, leaving before a formal evacuation order is issued can help in avoiding traffic and reaching the destination more quickly. Likewise, calling ahead for hotel or motel reservations can ensure that a place is available once the family reaches the agreed-upon location. Fill up the car before leaving, as traffic is likely to be congested and may present a real obstacle to the evacuation process. In most cases, the best course of action is to stay with friends or family who live outside the evacuation area; however, a motel or hotel can provide a comfortable haven for riding out the storm in safety. If all of these options are unavailable, a shelter may be the only remaining alternative for some families.
Packing for evacuation
Along with the aforementioned emergency preparedness kit, families should pack a few extra items for the trip to the chosen destination. For children, a favorite pillow and blanket can make the trip easier. Toys and games can also help on the way as well as when the family reaches the destination, as well as additional cash on hand to manage fuel costs and unexpected stops along the way. Prepaying for hotel or motel rooms before setting out can often ensure that the rooms are ready upon arrival at the desired destination.
Hurricane preparedness for pet owners
Pets present special challenges during an ordered evacuation or when planning to ride out the storm inside the family home. Before hurricane season gets underway, do some research on the hotels and motels located in the desired evacuation area to ascertain their policies regarding pets. Pet-friendly hotels may not advertise the fact, so it may be necessary to call individual locations to determine their pet policies in advance of making or needing reservations. Pet owners should pack:
• Seven days worth of food and water for the pet
• Cat toys and treats, litter box and dust-free litter for cats
• Chew toys and doggie treats for dogs
Dog owners should schedule regular stops along the evacuation route to ensure the comfort of both human and canine passengers. In the event that the family must make use of a public shelter, make a note of the local kennels in the evacuation area; it may be necessary to board the animals at one of these pet care facilities until the emergency is over.
Children and hurricane preparedness
Younger children can sometimes become anxious over the impending storm warnings on television and the unusual activity taking place inside the home. Parents can allay these fears by including children in the initial plans and preparations for the hurricane season. By putting a plan in place and explaining it clearly, families can ensure that children understand the situation and are prepared for the evacuation if it should become necessary. Children should be assigned tasks appropriate to their age level and abilities. For instance, older children can help pack up toys, clothing and other items for the whole family and can take inventory of the items already packed and ready to go. Younger children can be assigned responsibility for packing a few favorite toys and games for the journey.
The key to successful hurricane preparedness is advance planning. Families who create and implement comprehensive strategies for managing hurricane watches, warnings and evacuation orders can respond more efficiently when these dangerous storms arise. This can enhance the comfort and confidence of the entire family throughout the hurricane season and provide a framework for remaining safe even in the worst storms.