Hurricanes can cause terrifying, life-changing destruction. And if you aren't ready, the effects can be far worse. Sometimes they blow over, but it's always smart to protect your home and family by taking hurricanes seriously. Here's how to prepare.
Take a Pre-Hurricane Inventory
While the weather's still good, take photos and videos of your home and its contents, with a special focus on any personal valuables, such as jewelry. Take a full catalog. Don't forget big-ticket items, like your television, computer, and gaming consoles.
Documenting your belongings will help speed up any necessary insurance claims in the aftermath of a hurricane, so it's a good idea to update these images once a year and store them somewhere safe. Keep everything as a digital inventory so you can save it to a cloud.
Once the storm is over and things start to work again, you can send your list of damaged items to your insurance company or agent and begin to rebuild that much more quickly.
Safeguard Important Documents
Gather up all important documents such as birth certificates, passports, and insurance policies. Documents that are very hard to replace, in other words. Get them all together and put them in safe storage.
You can always try a fireproof, waterproof safe. These are usually not much bigger than a briefcase and will help protect your documents from damage. Be sure the safe is placed in a secure location.
Any sort of waterproof box will do for document storage but make sure the box can be locked or use a chain and padlock to secure it yourself. Mark the box clearly with your name and contact information and then put it in a safe place.
Protect Your Pool and Water Features
Don't drain your pool, as this can lead to structural damage during a hurricane. Instead, over-chlorinate your pool water. Turn off any circuit breakers that control electricity in or around your pool. Gather up any pool-related stuff, including a floating strainer if you have one, and put them inside in storage. If you can't store pool area items like chairs and toys, place them inside the pool itself.
If you have an outdoor fish pond or any sort of water feature, it will need protection, too. There are several ways to do this. Place netting to cover the pond to shield it from flying debris. Create barriers around the base of the pond to keep the fish inside as the water level rises.
If possible, the best course of action is to move the fish to indoor housing with proper filtration and aeration systems before the storm begins and keep them here until it is over and their pond is ready for fish habitation again.
In the real world, however, this is not always possible. So use netting and barriers and when the storm passes, get to work quickly on getting the water back to its proper pH and getting the pond regulated for fish again. With luck, they will survive and continue to thrive in the future.
Other water features should be drained whenever possible. Turn off any electricity or water that is actively being sent to the feature, where you can. The exception is, of course, ponds with living creatures in them. If you use heaters and other systems to keep these animals healthy, continue to do so.
Make sure that all electronics inside the home are not just turned off but completely unplugged from outlets. This means all computers, television sets, clocks, table fans, the toaster, and the microwave in the kitchen—all of it.
If you have a satellite dish and it is safe and reasonable for you to do so, disconnect it and take it down so you can bring it inside. Satellite dishes are built to be tough but they can still take a severe beating during a hurricane.
Eliminate Potential Dangers
During a hurricane, regular outdoor objects become deadly projectiles. If you have a porch or patio with chairs, tables, a grill, or any other items that are not bolted down, store them inside. This also includes any type of garden umbrella or car tent, which should be taken down and stored. Anything that isn't bolted down must be moved to a safe location.
Put trash containers in a secure location as well, or chain them to the side of the house or garage if that's possible. If you have flower pots or flower or vegetable containers of any sort, move them to a secure location. Your yard needs to be free of anything that can become a flying projectile whether it’s a wheelbarrow, old tire, birdbath, or lawn chair.
Trim or remove old limbs from trees. Clean up your yard and throw away all loose foliage and branches. Check the gutters and clean them out, if needed, as clogged gutters can force water into your home. Basically, pick up anything that isn't nailed down. Throw it away or store it as needed.
This could be a lot of work but it could save you a lot of property damage, and even save a life, so it's more than worth it to put in the effort to clean up all around your lawn.
The best thing to do to your windows is cover them with hurricane shutters, which will help prevent flying projectiles from entering your home during the storm. Shutters also help prevent dangerous broken glass if something impacts a window. There are several types of shutters, including plywood, roll-down, accordion, and storm panel.
If you cannot use shutters, the next best thing is to put tape on your windows in the shape of an asterisk. Use duct tape. If something happens to hit your window, the tape helps prevent the glass from flying everywhere.
Another option is to board up the windows using 5/8-inch-thick exterior-grade plywood. Nail this in place—at least directly to the window frame if nowhere else.
Make sure that all doors are locked and secure. Do you have exterior doors that open inward? Add a door security bar or install a slide bolt. French doors and double doors are especially vulnerable during storms. You can board these doors up with plywood. Use exterior-grade wood.
Inspect Your Roof
Get a ladder and a partner to work with and perform a visual inspection of the roof. You want to search for loose shingles, rotten areas—anything that compromises the integrity of the roof. If you find anything like this, patch it up as best you can and have repairs performed when the storm passes and you are able to do so.
Secure Smaller Buildings
If you have other buildings on your property such as a storage shed, workshop, detached garage, and so on, these also need to be secured and protected. Secure windows and doors for these outbuildings as well. Also, be sure to disconnect any appliances or electronics in these areas, such as washers, dryers, and freezers.
Stock Up on Supplies
You could end up being without power and water for many days, so it is a good idea to stock up on food, water, and other supplies. Have plenty of non-perishable food items that are ready to eat, as you may not be able to cook or even boil water. Crackers, bread, peanut butter, cereal, granola bars—there's a long list of items that are good to eat which will last and last.
Make sure you have plenty of paper products, such as paper towels and toilet paper. Store these things up high so they cannot be damaged by a flood, away from windows where they can't get wet. Don't forget a manual can opener to open canned goods, along with plastic forks and spoons you can use to eat with.
You also want to have lots of fresh water. You may not be able to keep the water cold but fresh water is essential at any temperature. Also make sure you have candles, flashlights, batteries, and plenty of pet food supplies if you have any pets. They're going to need fresh water, too.
If you have a fish tank or another type of animal habitat that is heated, filtered, or otherwise uses electricity, you will need to find a backup energy plan, such as a battery backup or a mini-generator.
Secure Your Animals
If you have any outdoor animals, get them inside. If you have pets in the house, make sure that any tanks and cages are secured and away from high-risk areas.
Have pet carriers ready if pets need to be kept here or transported due to evacuation. Have bags ready for them that contain food, toys, and essentials, in case you need to evacuate with your pets.
Prep Your Devices
Fully charge all of your mobile devices, such as your phone, tablet, or smartwatch. If you have battery backups, charge them as well. Have all these devices together in a storage bag that you can grab and take with you in the event of an evacuation.
Have a stocked first aid kit that has plenty of bandages, along with alcohol and aspirin. You also want to make sure you have a two-week supply of any necessary medications.
How Much Food and Water Will You Need during a Hurricane?
The average person needs about one gallon of water per 24-hour period. You want to have enough water to equal one gallon of water for four days for every person in the house, plus extra water for the pets.
This is the minimum amount of water you need. However, it's best if you have enough water to later everyone for two weeks. That's a worst-case scenario and hopefully won't happen, but it could.
Also, make sure you have ready-to-feed formula if you have any infants. You will need bottled water or sterilized water to prepare this formula. Have enough for a minimum of one week.
How Long Do Hurricanes Last?
Hurricanes are tropical storms marked by high winds and heavy rains. They are somewhat unpredictable. However, scientists do know how to track hurricanes and they do know the "life cycle" that hurricanes follow.
Typically, the storm itself lasts between 12 and 24 hours. In the worst-case scenario, a hurricane can last for up to a month. This is extremely rare and happens when storms are on the water, not on land.
The damage wrought by the hurricane can be devastating, creating a long recovery period that lasts far longer than the actual storm itself. Sometimes, entire areas are completely uninhabitable for weeks or months after a hurricane.
What Should You Do in the Event of an Emergency?
Put together a list of emergency phone numbers just in case. Store these on a physical piece of paper that isn't dependent on a device. Put the paper in a water-tight plastic bag and keep this with your emergency supplies.
Keep the number of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, along with the number for your local police department and local emergency services.
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