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Growing up in Colorado, hurricanes were not a local concern. Blizzards? Sure. Tornadoes? Yup. Hurricanes? Never.
As a transplant to Florida, figuring out how to prepare my family and my home for a hurricane has been top of mind since we arrived; and there is no shortage of information on the subject! Honestly, it can be a little overwhelming to sort through. I’ve compiled some information here, but by no means is this a comprehensive or end-all guide to hurricane prep. I’ve included some links to sites with detailed information, but always listen to the authorities and their guidance and directions during emergency situations!
As I post this, we are in the middle of hurricane season here in Florida. The season officially runs from June 1 – November 30th each year; with peak activity usually in August and September.
NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has a lot of really helpful information to break down hurricane emergency prep into smaller, manageable tasks. Following their framework, I’ve organized some important information below:
DETERMINE YOUR RISK
Knowing your risk of impact during a hurricane is the first step to making sure you are prepared. You can search by map or by address at https://www.floridadisaster.org/knowyourzone/
While hurricanes are at their greatest strength when they first hit land, coastal areas aren’t the only areas that can feel the impact from these powerful storms. Wind and water damage can be felt up to hundreds of miles inland. You need to know if you are in an area prone to flooding and if you are safe to stay in your home. You can research historical hurricane tracks for your area here.
DEVELOP AN EVACUATION PLAN
If you are in an area that is located within an evacuation zone, you need to have a plan on where you would go and how you would get there in the event of a hurricane heading for your area. You may also need to leave your home even if you don’t live in a hurricane evacuation zone, especially if you live in a flood prone area or a mobile home. Your destination doesn’t have to be hundreds of miles away, it could be a friend or relative located outside of flood prone areas.
Remember to secure and protect important documents, whether you are evacuating or not. Here are a few tips to make sure you are always prepared:
Important Documents to Consider:
- Insurance policies (homeowners, auto, life, renters)
- Copies of health insurance information (insurance card, doctor information, prescriptions, allergies, immunizations)
- Photocopy of driver’s license
- Birth, death and marriage certificates
- Social Security Cards
- Will, Living Will, Power of Attorney
- Mortgage/ Property Deeds
- Adoption Records
- Military Records
- Car Titles
- Trust Documents
- Tax Returns
- Emergency Contacts
- Personal Property Inventory
- Bank statements/ Investment Account Documents
Consider storing originals in a safe deposit box at a bank
- Pro-tip: consider a bank not close to your home to minimize the risk of both places being impacted by the same disaster
Photocopy all of the documents in the safe deposit box and put them in a waterproof evacuation box that you can take with you (be sure to make sure these documents are current and up to date at least once or twice per year)
Be sure to account for your pets in your evacuation plans. Most local shelters do not accept pets and will only allow service animals. Many motels and hotels will allow smaller pets for an additional fee or pet deposit; but research pet-friendly hotels before you go! Petswelcome.com is a great starting point to locating pet-friendly accommodations.
Other considerations when evacuating with pets:
- Make sure their shots are up to date. (You may need to provide proof of vaccinations)
- Make sure your pet is identifiable (microchipped, current license and rabies tag on their collar)
- Pet Supply Kit:
- A pet carrier/ crate
- Food (including bottled water and any medications. Pack enough for at least one week). Don’t forget food and water bowls, treats and a manual can opener, if necessary.
- Newspaper and paper towels for clean up
- Small trash bags for waste
- Muzzle (if appropriate)
- Toys and blankets
- Cat litter, liners and pan
ASSEMBLE DISASTER SUPPLIES
You will need supplies to get you and your family through the storm, as well as a potentially lengthy aftermath. At a minimum, you will want to have enough non-perishable food, water and medicine to last each family member 3 days. Power and water can be out for a week, if possible, plan to have enough food and water on hand to last you that long. (Don’t overlook pet water and food needs when stocking up).
The internet abounds with resources on assembling disaster kits, here are some items that every basic disaster kit should have (including links to some items I have personally purchased for our home kit).
- Remember to keep the gas tank in your vehicle full
- Water (one gallon per person per day)
- Food (non perishable food – at least 3 days worth per person)
- Items to keep on hand: canned meats, fruits and vegetables, dried foods, fruits and nuts, cereal, crackers and cookies, coffee, tea, drink boxes, peanut butter and jelly, pudding, powdered milk
- Battery powered or hand crank radio
- NOAA weather radio with tone alert
- Flashlight (don’t forget extra batteries)
- Dust masks
- Plastic sheeting and duct tape (to shelter in place)
- Wrench or pliers (to turn off utilities)
- Manual can opener
- Local maps
- Cell phone with chargers (and back up batteries/ powered chargers)
- Prescription medications
- Non-prescription medications (ie: pain relievers, anti-diarrheal, etc)
- Prescription eyeglasses, contact lens solution
- Infant formula, bottles, diapers, wipes and diaper rash cream
- Pet food and extra water
- Important family documents
- Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person
- Complete change of clothing (appropriate for climate) and sturdy shoes
- Fire extinguisher
- Matches in a water proof container or lighter
- Feminine supplies and hygiene items
- Mess kits, paper cups, plates, paper towels, plastic utensils
- Paper and pencil
- Books, games, puzzles or other activities for entertainment
Here are a few other disaster prep items that I personally keep on hand:
LifeStraw – Personal Water Filter. We have one for each family member
Combo Emergency Radio – this model is a solar, hand crank, AM/FM/NOAA radio with flashlight and cell phone charger
Battery Operated Fan – with USB charging port and lantern
LED Nightlight – These are my favorite! They charge while plugged in work as a regular nightlight, but they can be removed from the outlet and used as a flashlight during a power outage
Great resources to check out to build a kit that meets your family’s needs:
Once a year you should call your insurance agent and ask them to make sure you have enough homeowners insurance to repair, or even replace your home. Especially with the recent rapid home value appreciation that we have seen, your previous coverage levels may no longer provide the protection you may need.
It is also important to remember that standard homeowners policies don’t cover flooding. You will need a separate flood policy and there is usually a 30-day waiting period for flood insurance policy issuance. Most insurance companies will not write any new policies within 48 hours of a hurricane hit (this timeline will vary by insurance company), and most won’t write at all in areas where a hurricane warning or watch has been issued. This is not only for homeowners insurance, but also applies to flood and auto policies.
It’s a good idea to do a video walkthrough of your home once a year to collect evidence of the condition of your home, your belongings and furnishings in case you ever need to make a claim against your insurance policy. An even better best practice would be to do a complete home inventory with information on the model of appliances, electronics, etc. along with serial numbers, purchase price and date purchased/ installed. There are several mobile apps that are good for this, or you can use a good old Excel spreadsheet or Google Doc.
STRENGTHEN AND SECURE YOUR HOME
Making sure your home is as ready as you are is a key part to hurricane prep whether you are evacuating or if you are going to ride out the storm at home.
For boarding up doors and windows, get the proper plywood, steel or aluminum panels. If using plywood, it is recommended to use ⅝” thick sheets. If your home has vinyl siding, be sure to add an additional 4” per side to protect the windows from being blown out. Drill holes in the plywood the same diameter as the screws you will be using to install them. The holes should be 2 inches from the edge of each corner and placed in 12 inch intervals around the panel. If you have enough time before the storm, seal the plywood with a water sealing treatment before installing them.
The garage door is considered the most vulnerable part of the home and should be reinforced. There are door braces made of heavy duty aluminum or steel that you can purchase and install for added reinforcement. If you don’t have added reinforcements, manually locking the garage door will help, and some manufacturers recommend disengaging the garage door from the opener’s track. **Disclaimer: I am not a garage door expert. Please check your model of garage door opener manual/ specifications for any recommendations prior to making any adjustments*
Florida also has a “My Safe Florida Home Program” to provide free home inspections to identify recommended improvements for homeowners to make to mitigate hurricane damage and allows eligible homeowners to apply for a matching grant from the state to perform work on their home to reduce their vulnerability to hurricane damage. More detailed information can be found at the link above.
Before the storm approaches, make sure to trim trees and shrubs and clear your rain gutters. Bring in all outdoor furniture, garbage cans, decorations….basically anything that isn’t secured to the house or the ground should be brought inside!
HELP YOUR NEIGHBORS
Check in on your neighbors (especially those who are elderly or disabled or live alone) to see if they need any help preparing themselves or their home for the storm. Ask if they are planning to evacuate and if they need help with that. We are all in this life together, let’s make sure we take care of one another.
When the storm has passed, check in on them again and make sure they are ok or if they need any assistance.
AFTER THE STORM
Only return home from an evacuation after authorities have advised you that it is safe to do so. Be on the lookout for any loose or dangling power lines and report them to the power company immediately.
Also, be aware that many animals (including snakes and insects) may have been driven to higher ground by flood waters. Any by higher ground, I mean possible your house! Use caution when entering your home. Open windows and doors to ventilate and dry the home.
Check for refrigerator and freezer food spoilage. Some people have suggested leaving a quarter on top of a cup of ice in your freezer when you have to evacuate. If the quarter is still at the top of the cup, your food should be safe to eat. If the quarter sank, it means the freezer lost power for long enough for the ice to melt (and likely your food to spoil) before it refroze so you should throw the food out. (Please note – neither the CDC nor the USDA endorse this suggestion, and instead provide their own guidance.)
If your pets are lost during a storm, your local Humane Society can be a great resource.
Watch your pets closely after the storm. Downed power lines as well as contaminated food and water are concerns to be aware of.
COMPLETE A WRITTEN PLAN
Have a contact list of important numbers (family members, insurance companies, doctors and veterinarians, etc). Keep your critical documents together for quick access and store them in a safe place. Make sure you have at least one contact outside of impact area that you can check in with before, during and after the storm to let them know you are ok or if you are in need of help. Share your plan with family members. Make sure you have a meeting place in case of evacuation and that everyone has the ability to get there.
I'm Jenn and I love helping buyers and sellers achieve their real estate goals and find the perfect HOME for their unique situations. I also work hard to make sure my clients are educated about the process, their options and responsibilities so they can make well informed decisions before, during and after buying their home!
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