7 must-do steps for hurricane disaster preparation, recovery
From gathering necessities to understanding the hazards once the winds have ceased, these seven steps will ensure your community is prepared for a major storm
Hurricane season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30, with a peak from mid-August through late October. For coastal areas traditionally impacted by hurricanes in the U.S., it’s important that people prepare well in advance of these storms.
From gathering necessities to understanding the hazards once the winds have ceased, these seven steps will ensure your community is prepared for a major storm.
1. Know the safest place in your house
Planning is crucial. Prior to a storm, the National Weather Service (NWS) recommends covering windows with either permanent storm shutters or plywood – both of which should be considered prior to a storm watch or warning.
During a hurricane, the NWS encourages residents to seek shelter in an interior room, and to put “as many walls between you and the outside as you can.”
You should also stay away from windows, skylights and glass doors.
2. Have a getaway plan
If you are in the path of a hurricane, you should know what you will do in the event you are ordered to evacuate. Do you have family further inland you can stay with? Do you have money for a hotel? Is there a shelter available for evacuees?
3. Safeguard important documents
Technology has made this once-difficult part of disaster planning much easier.
Make digital copies: All important documents and photos should be scanned and uploaded to a cloud service that allows you access from anywhere. This includes:
- Insurance policies
- Medical records
- Birth certificates
- Financial records
- Personal and pet medical records
Protect the physical items: Purchase waterproof containers to store hard copies of important documents and place them in the designated safe spot in your home.
4. Understand the risk of floodwaters
The biggest hazard of a hurricane may not be the winds and force of the storm itself, but the flooding it could bring. Floodwaters contain contaminants and pose a significant risk to public health.
“Floodwater mixes with everything below it,” Dr. Richard Bradley, chief of the division of emergency medical services and disaster medicine at McGovern Medical School at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, said in an interview with Time Magazine. “If it covers a field with pesticides, it picks up the pesticides. It can also carry animal waste from fields and forests.”
Avoid floodwaters if possible, and take these precautions:
- Wash your hands frequently
- Do not let children play in floodwaters
- Wear safety equipment when cleaning up after floodwaters, such as gloves and a surgical mask
- Seek medical attention for any infections or symptoms such as upset stomach or diarrhea
Finally, keep pets from drinking floodwaters, as the contaminants can cause health issues for them, as well. A study of cats and dogs following Hurricane Katrina found that many of the animals were positive for infectious diseases.
5. Watch out for mold
Where there is water, there is the potential for mold.
Mildew (early mold) and molds can grow on:
- Wood products
- Ceiling tiles
Mold can begin growing within 24-48 hours of water exposure and it will continue to grow unless steps are taken to stop it.
Follow FEMA’s guide, “Dealing with Mold & Mildew in your Flood Damaged Home,” for how to address mold issues after a hurricane.
6. Check for damage
Hurricanes with winds in excess of 157 mph are considered to be Category 5 storms, and are known for the incredible damage they inflict on communities. However, even Category 1 hurricanes, with wind speeds starting 74 mph, are capable of causing property damage.
After a storm, check the outside of your home for missing shingles, damaged siding or loose gutters. Inspect trees for broken limbs and ensure power lines remain intact.
7. Expect potential for emotional pain
Regardless of the amount of damage or the size of the storm, experiencing a hurricane can be emotionally and mentally challenging. The loss of valuables, the cost of repairs, the stress of evacuating and the worry over loved ones make natural disasters difficult to deal with.
Check with local and state websites for resources, and take things one step at a time.
This article, originally published in July 2020, has been updated.