Hurricane Preparedness: What You Need to Know
Note: Part of hurricane preparedness is knowing the risk factors. If you are in an area where flooding is possible, you will also want to read up on preparing for a flood.
Hurricane Watch vs. Hurricane Warning
A hurricane watch means that hurricane conditions are possible within 48 hours of the warning being issued. A hurricane warning means that hurricane conditions are expected within 36 hours of the warning being issued.
Well Before Hurricane Season
In the United States, hurricane season officially runs from June 1 through November 30. Well in advance of that time, make certain that your insurance is up-to-date and comprehensive. Your insurance policy will need to be updated if you have changed, added, or removed anything structurally about your home. Make or update an inventory of all contents of your home and store it either online or otherwise outside your home. Ensure that your contents coverage is adequate to pay to replace any and all belongings. Also, standard homeowner’s insurance does not cover flood insurance. Flood insurance has a 30-day waiting period. Check to see if you are at risk of storm surge, although be aware that flooding can occur even in areas not at risk of storm surge.
If your property is large enough, evaluate it after other heavy rains to see where the water pools. You can dig a hole in one of those locations and fill it with rocks, after making sure that the site is well away from you or your neighbors’ homes. This will give the water somewhere to go.
Properly installed and up-to-code storm shutters are the best protection for your windows. It is best to install these well ahead of hurricane season, as installation companies will be busy once hurricane season arrives.
Once Hurricane Season Arrives
Make certain that your home is up to local hurricane building codes. You can retrofit your home to be more hurricane-resistant.
- Look into buying and installing an impact resistant garage door. Older and weaker doors run the risk of letting water and debris enter.
- Secure shingles on your roof using roofing cement. Loose shingles can be blown away, creating an opening for wind and water to enter.
- Use caulk to fill in cracks and holes in your home’s exterior, in order to prevent water from getting in.
- Exterior doors need to have three hinges and a deadbolt lock that is at least an inch long at minimum.
Consider a permanent generator if the area you live is frequently hit by hurricanes and/or power outages. Temporary and permanent generators should be properly installed outside, at least twenty feet away from windows and doors, and protected from moisture. Never plug a generator into a wall outlet.
A major storm threat to houses comes from trees falling on them. Prune or thin the canopy of trees that are close to your house, so that wind can pass more easily through the branches without knocking them over. Remove branches facing your house to reduce weight on that side, since the tree is more likely to fall in the direction with more weight.
Prepare to board up your windows. All exterior windows and doors need to be secured no matter which side of the house they’re on, as wind direction can change suddenly and unpredictably during a hurricane. Boarding up your windows by attaching plywood, steel, or aluminum to the exterior wall may provide minimal protection in heavy winds, as the board can be torn away by winds getting under it. Duct tape and masking tape will also not prevent windows from breaking. If properly installed, specially developed screens and fabrics may help protect windows.
- Plywood and other methods of boarding should be installed within the window recess after having been cut to fit the window. For plywood, use ⅝ in or ¾ in exterior grade plywood. Use 3- or 4-in heavy-duty barrel bolts to secure the boards into the inset, placed every 18 to 24 inches apart.
- After cutting the panel to fit the window, screw the barrel bolts onto the panel. Place the panel in the window, and mark where the barrel bolts slide against the wall.
- Once all marks have been made, remove the panel and drill the bolt holes into the concrete. Use a drill bit just wide enough for the bolts.
- Mark which window each panel is for, and which side is the top. Store the plywood panels in a cool, dry place when not in use.
Gather enough non-perishable food and water for everyone in your family for at least one week in case power goes out and you are unable to reach the store, taking into account the water needs of any pets. Make sure you have enough hygiene items for at least a week, and extra trash bags to dispose of any waste products. Store at least enough water for one gallon per person per day, to cover drinking, cooking, and sanitary needs. Use plastic, fiberglass, or enamel-lined containers that have been thoroughly washed. Avoid breakable containers such as glass bottles. Seal containers tightly, label with the date sealed, and store in a cool, dark place. Change water out every six months to prevent the buildup of bacteria.
If you have a smartphone, look into downloading one of many apps available to provide warnings about severe weather or other local alerts directly to your phone. These apps tend to be regional in nature, so do some research online to find a good app for reporting in your area.
When a Hurricane Warning is Issued
Secure loose rain gutters and downspouts. Clear them of debris. Clear storm drains of debris. Bring all exterior items, e.g. patio furniture, inside that you can. Leave items such as propane tanks outside, but anchor these and any other items left outside.
Bring all pets inside. Animals run a severe risk of injury if left outside, and even if they escape injury, they are extremely likely to panic and run away. Consider separating cats, dogs, and small animals – even if they usually get along, hurricanes are stressful situations and can increase the risk of fights. Make certain that you have whatever you need to secure them if you need to evacuate, such as cat carriers and sturdy leashes.
Close and board up your windows. Having open windows will allow water and flying debris to enter the home. Open windows also increase the chance that your roof will be blown off.
Prepare a family bug-out bag in case you need to evacuate in a hurry. It should contain copies of important documents (e.g. birth certificates, identity documents, insurance policy, medical records, etc., including for pets) in a fire- and waterproof container, flashlights, a change of clothes, a first-aid kit, medications, water and non-perishable food, cash in a water-resistant or waterproof container, a portable crank- or solar-powered USB charger for phones (some can double as a radio), and any portable irreplaceable items such as photos. Digital copies of all paperwork and photos can also be kept on a portable flash drive.
During and After the Hurricane
If you are weathering the storm inside your house, take shelter away from windows. Even properly protected windows can break and provide a hazard.
Continue listening to updates about the hurricane from a trusted source, such as the National Weather Service and local news channels.
There is a potential for gas leaks from storm-damaged lines. Do not light candles, gas lanterns, oil lanterns, the fireplace, or other sources of open flame until power is restored and all lines have been checked. Use battery powered flashlights and lanterns for emergency light. Also be aware of downed power lines in the neighborhood, do not approach them and avoid any standing water in the area.
If winds die down, the hurricane might not be over. The eye of the hurricane is an area of calm winds, sometimes rather far across, at the center of the hurricane. It is surrounded by the heaviest winds in the storm. Check a reputable source to see the current location of the hurricane.
Be aware that even after the hurricane passes there is a risk of tornadoes and continued flooding.
Bibliography and Resources for Additional Information