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  • Writer's pictureDeanna Sparro

Are You Prepared for Hurricane Season?

For those of us who live in the coastal regions, it's officially hurricane season for the next few months. Whether you've lived in one of these areas your whole life or have just recently moved and are unsure of what to expect, do you know if you're fully prepared for the worst Mother Nature has to throw at us? No matter how many storms you've weathered so far, here are some things to keep in mind and keep on hand to ensure you and your loved ones stay safe.

Important Note: We cannot emphasize enough that it's best to plan ahead months before hurricane season arrives. Especially living in states that line the Gulf Coast and Atlantic Coast, there is often a panic when a storm closes in, and many supplies at local stores are rapidly depleted. Please plan ahead after reading this article and ensure you are well-stocked for taking shelter or ready to hit the road fully prepared if you and your loved ones need to evacuate.

Familiarize Yourself with the Local Evacuation Routes

Whether you've just moved to a new area that is impacted by hurricanes or have grown up in such a place, it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the local evacuation routes in the event of an emergency. Often, these will remain the same over the years, but it's always wise to regularly check and become familiar with the appropriate routes, especially in developing areas that may have new roads or detours currently in place due to construction.

For more information on evacuation routes for your area, please refer to our Coastal Evacuation Route Directory.

Make Your Family Emergency Kit

For a more comprehensive list of items a family or individual should consider including in their emergency kit, please refer to the website's "Build a Kit" guide.

When making a family emergency kit, though, the recommended items will vary based on the ages and health status of those within your household.

Families with infants or younger children still consuming formula will need to plan to take multiple days' worth of formula or pre-pumped breastmilk (with proper storage) with them during evacuation or have it stored in a safe location out of the way of flooding areas if sheltering at home.

Those who take medications, especially prescription medications, should have their meds packed in a waterproof zip-top storage bag to prevent damage from occurring in an emergency situation involving rain or flooding. They should also be sure that they have plenty of daily doses for the duration of the storm and in the case of any complications developing that may impact their ability to either get home and access the medications or reach a pharmacy that's able to fill them.

The standard emergency kit should contain the following items:

  • First aid items

  • Maps

  • Flashlight(s)

  • Chargers, batteries, and battery packs for electronics

  • Water

  • Non-perishable foods (and a can opener, if applicable)

  • Personal care items (toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, feminine care products, etc.)

  • A hand-crank or battery-powered portable radio

  • NOAA Weather Radio

  • Whistle

If you are evacuating and your home is at risk of significant damage, it is also strongly advised to bring along any important documents such as birth certificates, identification, wills, and other such documentation.

Decide What Your Shelter/Evacuation Plans Will Be

One of the most important parts of hurricane season preparation is making your family plan for how to handle evacuation and any other aspects of severe weather.

Decide which factors will impact whether you will shelter in place or evacuate, determine where you'll go in the event of an evacuation being necessary, and ensure you have the funds set aside to cover any relevant expenses (gas, lodging, etc.). It would also be wise to familiarize yourself with any storm shelters located between your home and your evacuation destination just to be sure you have a safe place to stop and take shelter if the storm were to take a turn for the worse unexpectedly. Mark down the locations and phone numbers of the shelters and any other relevant emergency services in case you find yourself in a situation that requires you to contact them. Phone service is often impacted by inclement weather, and it may not be easy or practical to have to look up contact information in a hazardous situation.

If you have pets in your family, you'll also want to be sure to include them in any emergency planning. Depending on the type of pet you have, this may impact your travel or lodging situations. Be sure to find pet-friendly locations to stay when evacuating, and make any necessary boarding arrangements in the area you'll be staying, if applicable. When evacuating with a pet, don't forget to bring along their belonging as well: food, a favorite toy, a leash/harness/collar with proper identification (for those who use these), and any medications they may be taking. Those who have more environmentally sensitive pets (reptiles, fish, amphibians, etc.) will require additional planning to ensure they can safely transport and relocate their pet while maintaining the appropriate environmental conditions to avoid stress and triggering any health conditions in these species.

Check on your neighbors as well. Do you live near any residents who lack family, friends, or other resources to allow them to safely relocate in an emergency if necessary? If possible, include these individuals in your emergency evacuation plans or assist them in finding suitable options to allow them to evacuate or safely shelter in place.

Home Owners: Ensure You Have Sufficient Insurance for Storms

Most renters will already be required to have renters insurance that covers storm damage among many other issues, although you should check to be sure if flood insurance is required for your dwelling. However, homeowners should have sufficient home insurance coverage as well as any applicable flood or storm insurance.

Before hurricane season arrives, ensure all of your insurance paperwork is correct and up-to-date and that you are in good financial standing regarding payments so any potential claims will be covered if damage occurs to your home or property. Many coastal areas will have agents that are very clear about the additional coverage you'll need if you're in a hurricane risk or flood risk location. Double-check your policies to make sure you have sufficient coverage for the value of your home and belongings, and be sure to carry a copy of any relevant copies with you if evacuating.

Having up-to-date information and having it on hand in an emergency situation such as a hurricane will greatly help you contact your agent to process any claims and cover any expenses and repairs on your home if you've been unlucky enough to incur any damage from the storm.

Don't Forget Vehicle Preparation

If you're in an area that's no stranger to evacuations, it's strongly recommended that you perform any vehicle maintenance before or at the beginning of hurricane season to be certain that you and your family and/or pets can safely evacuate without fear of vehicular trouble.

Throughout the season, stay on top of your gas usage and try to make sure the tank is full when a tropical storm or hurricane is making its way toward your community. You may not always need to leave, and you certainly shouldn't drive in flooding or other hazardous conditions, but those of us who live near the coast know just how quickly gas stations will run dry when a storm arrives and residents need to leave the area. It's best to be proactive and ensure you're prepared in the event that the situation becomes serious.

If you are sheltering at home or have additional vehicles, you should make sure they are parked out of the way of any potential hazards of the incoming storm. Park your vehicle in a garage or underneath a shelter, if possible. If these are not options for you and you plan to remain living in a hurricane-prone area, consider investing in a protective car cover to minimize the damage of any hail, branches, or other types of debris that may become a problem.

Additionally, always be sure to keep an emergency kit in your car. This is good advice even for other emergency situations (i.e., flash flooding, tornados, or first aid emergencies).

Home Preparation

Whether you shelter at home or need to evacuate, there are quite a few things you'll need to ensure you do to protect your home and belongings and reduce the amount of damage that may occur when a hurricane makes landfall near your home or impacts your area with torrential rain and strong winds.

If you have any outdoor items that aren't anchored to the ground, you'll want to be sure that as many items as possible are placed inside of a storage shed, your garage, or another indoor part of your home or property. This includes everything from children's toys to equipment like lawnmowers, outdoor furniture, and propane tanks. Not only may these items get damaged themselves, but you are also risking them causing damage to your own home or your neighbors' property due to the strong wind gusts that hurricanes are capable of producing.

Additionally, most coastal residents are familiar with the use of window coverings used during storms. You may choose to board up the windows of your home, use storm shutters, or use hurricane fabric panels. It's best to put these security measures up within the first few days of a hurricane watch/warning to avoid having to secure your home in the midst of high winds and torrential rain. These are an essential part of preparing your home (whether you remain inside of it or need to leave) to avoid both physical damage to the home itself as well as the danger of shattered glass from debris striking the windows.

If flooding becomes severe or power lines get downed—or if you'll be evacuating and not present during the worst of the storm—you should be sure to shut off the power within your home. (Note: Only do this if you are able to access your breaker box without standing in water.) This will reduce the risk of electrocution for emergency service personnel as well as you and your family when returning home if flooding has occurred. This will also reduce the amount of damage to your electrical outlets and other utilities within the home.

For additional advice regarding managing your utilities when a hurricane is imminent, please refer to this guide.

How Will I Know When to Evacuate?

When it comes to evacuation, it is often strongly recommended that residents follow the evacuation orders issued by their area. These notices will be broadcast via television, internet, radio, and cellular devices, and this is why it's so important to have at least more than one of these items charged up and being monitored at all times when a hurricane may become a serious threat.

When evacuating, you will hopefully already have your vehicle and emergency kits prepared after addressing all of the preparation tasks above. Only take what you absolutely need, and ensure you've included the most important items in the event that your home becomes significantly damaged: identification, important documents, medications, cash and credit cards, and chargers for electronics.

Be sure that your emergency plan regarding your pet can still be enacted, whether your companion will be staying with you the entire evacuation period or if they will be having other accommodations while out of town. Don't forget any medications, food, or other specifics that apply to your particular pet.

Also, be sure to unplug all electronics and appliances and shut off your utilities before leaving.

When taking one of your area's evacuation routes away from the storm, be sure to follow all of the indicated routes as well as stick to wherever authorities are directing traffic. There may be detour signs or traffic seemingly making the task take forever and become more stressful, but ignoring these specific instructions may mean you find yourself on a road or in an area that has already flooded and become dangerous or may have downed trees or power lines. Please endure the frustration of evacuation traffic jams to ensure the safety of yourself and your loved ones.

For those who choose to shelter in place, you will still need to remain vigilant about keeping your radios and phones charged to stay updated on the hurricane and its potential impact on your area. When sheltering in your home, you should avoid all windows in the event that storm damage occurs and shatters any glass. The common practice of sheltering in an enclosed space like a closet, such as one would do for a tornado warning, is strongly recommended.

How Do I Know When It's Safe to Return Home?

You will need to stay on top of monitoring the reports coming out of your area to await clearance to return home after an evacuation order has been issued and you've left the area. Emergency services will need to survey the damage, try to clear roads, repair downed and dangerous power lines, and address many other issues after a hurricane to ensure that residents may safely return home.

The severity of a hurricane will determine how bad the damage will be, and this can result in residents being allowed to return home within a couple of days due to an average amount of damage or such devastation that it may require weeks of emergency services working day and night to make a city remotely inhabitable again.

For more information on what to expect during and after an evacuation, especially regarding travel and home safety after a hurricane, please refer to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control's website. It provides a significant amount of information on many of the hazards an individual may potentially face after having a serious hurricane strike their home.

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