Hurricanes are very powerful storms and involve a whole team of threats than can cause enormous damage. The high winds themselves can cause damage; so can the driving rain, especially if it results in flooding; lightening strikes can cause fires; a storm surge often accompanies a hurricane and adds to the danger; the tornadoes that a hurricane can spawn are yet another threat. Cars, yard furniture, tree branches and other large, heavy objects can be sent airborne and cause damage when they slam against other objects — or against animals — or against people.
Although it is almost always possible to know when a hurricane is coming, you should never wait until the storm is on its way before you start to prepare. By the time the storm is imminent, supplies will be gone from the stores, gas stations will run out of gas and highways leading away from your area will be clogged with folks fleeing the area. So get prepared now to be sure you and your family are safe when a hurricane hits your town this summer, or in two summers or ten years — or even never.
Before a hurricane ever heads your way, you should have three plans in place to ensure your family’s safety in any emergency. First of all, each of your family members and each of your pets should have a bug-out bag, or a backpack outfitted with supplies necessary for survival for 72 hours. It should always be packed, ready for you to pick it up and go without any further preparation. It should contain food, water, a change of clothing, sturdy boots or shoes, important documents, extra cash, a first aid kit, emergency blankets and a tent, personal care items, a whistle, and other items necessary to keep you safe for three days.
Second, you should have an evacuation plan ready. A good evacuation plan will provide a few different destinations and a few different routes for each destination. This flexibility is necessary to be sure that you have a plan no matter what the emergency is. If a chemical plant explosion occurs in one direction, you’ll want to leave town in another direction. If a hurricane is headed toward you, you’ll need to head in the direction of higher ground. You see how it works. If you have pets, you’ll need to make sure that each leg of your evacuation is in a position to welcome them. You should also get in the habit of always keeping your gas tank at least half full at all times, so that you can get out of town in an emergency without stopping to get gas.
And, third, you should have supplies ready for you and your family to be safe on a long-term basis. You will need food, water, clothing, personal care items and other things necessary to permit you to shelter in place for a long time. As you gather your supplies, be mindful of expiration dates. You’ll want to go through your supplies a few times a year to use up items approaching the expiration date and to refresh them with newer items.
Get those three items — your bug-out bag, your evacuation plan, and your long-term survival plan — in place now. Then know the difference between a hurricane watch and a hurricane warning.
A hurricane watch is a situation in which hurricane conditions are expected in a particular area within 48 hours. Hurricane conditions include winds of at least 74 mph (although they can be much higher), usually accompanied by rain, thunder and lightning. If a hurricane watch is identified for your area, bring in all outdoor furniture, bicycles and any other item that a high wind can turn into a missile. Make sure you know where your pets are. Be watchful for additional news about the impending storm.
A hurricane warning is a situation in which hurricane conditions are expected in a particular area within 36 hours. Close your windows and cover them with plywood. Finalize your evacuation plan, choosing a destination and a route. Call ahead to alert your family and friends that you are heading their way, or make reservations in a hotel en route. In either case, be sure that everyone knows that your pets are with you, if they are. As you travel, avoid flooded roads.
When you evacuate, pick up your bug-out bag and go. Since you have it prepared in advance, you don’t need to stop and pack it. See why you need it?
Once you have evacuated, don’t be hasty about returning. A storm can lose hurricane status and still be a very bad storm, with high winds, rain, thunder and lightning. Storm surges can continue and flooding can occur. Return to your home only when you have been notified by authorities that it is safe.
When you have returned home, stay away from standing water. Downed power lines can create an electric current in the water. If you see any downed lines, stay away from them and report them to the appropriate utility company. Avoid driving unless it’s necessary. Don’t tie up phone lines either.
Tap water can become contaminated during a storm, so only drink it if you are certain it is clean. Likewise with food. If you have lost power, don’t eat the food in the refrigerator. And don’t eat food that has been in flood water, even if it is in an unopened container. Don’t risk food-borne illness.
When you set about cleaning up the house, wear protective clothing. Wear a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, gloves and rain boots.
Living through a hurricane can be a frightening and traumatic experience. It can in fact be dangerous. But by planning in advance and using prudence during and after the storm, you can keep your family safe and minimize the risk.
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