So you've followed all the preparations – you've made a plan, you've filled up your car's gas tank, you've gathered all the supplies for your disaster kit and your valuable documents are tucked away in a waterproof container. Now what? No one has told you what to do now. How do you keep yourself and your family safe when the hurricane arrives?
Here are some basic safety tips to follow:
If you live in a sound structure outside the evacuation area and do not live in a mobile home, stay home and take these precaution:
Before the storm, last minute preparations should include:
- Make sure your windows are protected and your home is secured.
- Check your disaster supplies kit. Make sure you have water, non-perishable food, medications and don't forget that non-electric can opener.
- Clean containers for cleaning water. Line the bathtub with plastic sheeting or a clean shower curtain, or caulk the drain with silicone caulking — it holds water for weeks and cleans up easily when dry. Plan on three gallons per person, per day for all uses (including flushing the toilet).
During the storm, howling winds, driving rain and the threat of tornadoes make riding out a hurricane a scary ordeal. Follow these tips for staying safe in your home during a hurricane:
- Stay inside and away from windows, skylights and glass doors. Find a safe area in your home (an interior room, a closet or bathroom on the lower level).
- If flooding threatens your home, turn off electricity at the main breaker.
- If you lose power, turn off major appliances such as the air conditioner and water heater to reduce damage.
- Do not use electrical appliances, including your computer.
- Do not go outside. If the eye of the storm passes over your area, there will be a short period of calm, but at the other side of the eye, the wind speed rapidly increases to hurricane force and will come from the opposite direction. Also, do not go outside to see "what the wind feels like." It is too easy to be hit by flying debris.
- Beware of lightning. Stay away from electrical equipment. Don't use the phone or take a bath/shower during the storm.
After the storm, typically more deaths occur than during the hurricane. These deaths come from people being too anxious to get outside and survey the damage where they come into contact with downed power lines or unstable trees, etc. Follow these suggestions for staying safe after the hurricane:
- Remain indoors until an official "all clear" is given.
- Do not touch fallen or low-hanging wires of any kind under any circumstances. Stay away from puddles with wires in/near them. Do not touch trees or other objects in contact with power lines.
- USE PHONES ONLY FOR EMERGENCIES. Call 911 only for life-threatening situations.
- Call police or utility companies immediately to report hazards such as downed power lines, broken gas or water mains, overturned gas tanks, etc.
- Watch for weakened roads, bridges, tree limbs or porches which could collapse unexpectedly.
- After power is restored, check refrigerated food for spoilage. (Spoiled food is the cause of much sickness two days to a week after the storm.)
- When reinstalling a CB, TV or satellite antenna, check in all directions to be sure no power lines are nearby. The same goes for climbing trees to clear debris.
- Do not operate charcoal grills, propane camping stoves or generators indoors.
If you live near the coast or in a flood-prone area, you may be asked to evacuate. Your "plan" should include researching your evacuation route and making arrangements in advance with family or friends for a safe place to stay.
Area public shelters are for people who have no other place to go. If you must stay in a shelter, listen to news broadcasts for announcements of shelter openings. Shelter volunteers do their best to make you comfortable, but a shelter is not a very comfortable place. Stay with friends or relatives if at all possible.
- Those with special medical needs (oxygen, etc.) should go to special needs shelters only. Special needs shelters do not provide hands-on medical care, only medical monitoring. Bring a caregiver with you if needed.
- Only service animals are permitted in public shelters. Shelters that allow pets are limited, so other arrangements should be made for your pets.
- Eat before you arrive. Meals may not be available during the first 24 hours. Bring snacks.
- Bring your identification, valuable papers and medications in their original containers.
- Bring baby supplies.
- Bring blankets/sleeping bags, pillows. Those are either not provided or limited in supply.
- Bring cards/games/books to pass the hours.
- Bring flashlights and a battery operated radio or TV with extra batteries for all.
- Stay inside and follow directions that are given for your comfort and safety.
- You will not be allowed outside until the official "all clear."
If you plan on traveling to Florida during hurricane season — June 1 through November 30 — it is important to learn about hurricane guarantees and travel insurance to protect your vacation investment.
However, if a storm threatens during your visit, it is important to keep informed with local news and follow any evacuation orders that are issued. If you aren't required to evacuate, follow the tips above to help keep you and your family safe.