Hurricane Preparedness - Our Comprehensive Checklist

We’re frequently asked questions about hurricane preparedness.  We always reply that advance preparations and planning are essential.  Remember, major storm systems operate by their own rules, and forecasts of storm tracks and size are really just educated guesses made with the assistance of computer models. So prepare now and avoid panicked decisions later.  While there are many good checklists around, we’d like to give you our “long” version of hurricane preparedness. Read Below or Download it.  

YEAR ROUND HOME PREPARATIONS – Trim damaged, weak, or termite ridden branches from trees and shrubs.  Trees and shrubs located near the house should be kept sufficiently trimmed to avoid damaging the roof and exterior walls in high winds.  Re-cement ridge tiles and bricks, and replace slates or shingles which have come loose since the last hurricane season.  Fix minor roof and plumbing leaks because they can become major issues during or after a storm.  Document your belongings for insurance purposes (a video camera works nicely), make sure recent purchases are insured, and mark everything with your identification for recovery purposes.  Keep all your important papers in a fire and waterproof safe, locked cabinet, or lockbox (and keep a copy of these documents in another location).  Check with your local utility company to find out its recommendations on whether or not you should turn off the electricity and gas if you evacuate.  MEMO TO ANYONE WHO HAS NOT READ A NEWSPAPER SINCE HURRICANE KATRINA:  Most homeowner policies do not cover flood damage.  Contact your insurance agent about purchasing flood insurance – you can buy federally subsidized coverage for both the structure and contents.

HURRICANE WATCH HOME PREPARATIONS – O.K., so there’s a hurricane in the Gulf, and it may be heading your way.  Bring in or secure outdoor items (lawn furniture, planters, garbage cans, toys, etc.) which can become lethal projectiles in high winds.  Turn your refrigerator and freezer on to their coldest settings, and unplug appliances and electrical equipment that you won’t be needing.  Be especially careful to protect computers and other sensitive electronics from power surges and outages.  If you have a swimming pool, turn off the pump and filter system. If you plan on staying, choose the most secure room in the house to ride out the storm – look for the room with the fewest windows, strongest walls, and best escape routes.  Taping windows doesn’t make them any stronger, although it may reduce flying glass shards.  You’ll need ½” or thicker plywood over the windows to properly protect them, and even then avoid windows during the storm.    NOTE TO GENERATOR OWNERS:  If you have a generator, now is the time to test it and make sure to top off the fuel tank. (If it’s O.K. with the manufacturer, add a fuel stabilizer to diesel fuel to keep it fresh throughout the hurricane season.)  Portable generators should never be operated inside the house – they give off a surprising amount of carbon monoxide, which is extremely dangerous in enclosed spaces.  Carbon monoxide itself is tasteless, odorless, and colorless, so don’t count on the exhaust fumes to give you advance notice of a problem.  Even located outside, be sure to keep the generator exhaust well away from open doors and windows.  In fact, a battery operated carbon monoxide detector wouldn’t be a bad idea.  

TRANSPORTATION – We included this topic whether you plan to evacuate or not, because you should always be prepared to evacuate.  Storm strength and storm track can change suddenly, and your plans may change accordingly.  Now is the time to attend to your vehicle’s needs – don’t put off major repairs.  Check the battery and electrical system, brakes, engine, etc.  Make sure the spare tire is fully inflated, and replace any unreliable tires.  A pressurized can of tire inflator/sealant and/or 12V DC compressor, jumper cables, and flares/smoke signals should already be on board, along with a full tank of gas.  Remember, a faulty exhaust system can be extremely dangerous if you’re stopped for an extended time with the vehicle running.   Have several gallons of fresh water on board for you and your passengers and in case your radiator leaks or boils over in traffic.

HURRICANE FASHION TIPS – No, we aren’t joking!  Even a near miss from a hurricane can cause extensive wind damage, tornadoes, fires, and flooding.  Remember, at least as many injuries occur after a hurricane as during one.  Broken glass, sharp edged debris, and roofing nails could be everywhere, and suddenly those comfortable short pants, capris, and flip flops weren’t such a good choice of clothing.  Jeans and thick soled shoes or boots offer more protection.  We don’t recommend going outside during a hurricane, but if you’re the first one out the door after the hurricane passes, you should be wearing protective head gear of some sort.  Dislodged bricks, slates, and tree branches may be dangling precariously over your head.  DOT approved motorcycle helmets seem to provide adequate protection from most falling objects, but military or construction safety helmets also give some protection.  Protective eyewear wouldn’t be such a bad idea, either.

FLASHLIGHTS, BATTERIES, & EMERGENCY LIGHTING – We don’t just mean a cheap flashlight with two “D” cell batteries.  You should have a waterproof flashlight for everyone in your party, at least one of which should be of the high intensity type.  Be prepared for an extended loss of power.  LED flashlights last the longest but all batteries wear out quickly if used constantly, and stores will probably be closed or sold out of replacements.  Keep plenty of spares on hand, and buy them now.  (By the way, an inexpensive battery tester is a good investment and safety device – even weak batteries can shine brightly for a few seconds during a brief battery test.)  Have on hand one or more lights which shine in all directions – ambient lighting provides a more natural living environment than directed flashlight beams.  You should also consider glass shielded candles and oil powered lanterns, if you’re in a well ventilated area with no broken gas lines or leaks.  But remember that curtains and blinds may be blowing in windows that are rarely open, so secure them well away from any flame. 

FIRST AID KIT – Bandaids and antiseptics are certainly a necessary part of any first aid kit, but consider that you may not be able to obtain over the counter medications for an extended period of time.  Aspirin and other pain relievers, antihistamines, sunscreen, burn ointments, antidiarrheals, scissors, tweezers, waterproof adhesive tape, and some large bandages for lacerations or puncture wounds, are all essential for a serious first aid kit.  You should also be sure to include a first aid handbook in your kit – the Red Cross has some good publications.  Since you may be living at outside temperatures until electricity is restored, learn the difference between heat exhaustion and heatstroke – heatstroke can kill in minutes if left untreated.  

PRESCRIPTION MEDICATIONS – Staying at home with only a few days supply of essential prescription medications is never a good idea, and can be a fatal mistake in a hurricane devastation zone.  You’ll want several weeks’ supply of these medications on hand, at a minimum.  (The same goes for your pets’ medications.)

TOILETRIES – Have at least two weeks’ supply of personal toiletries on hand.   Don’t forget this includes such everyday necessities as toilet paper, hand wipes, paper towels, etc.  If the water goes bad, you’ll need a chemical hand sanitizer.  (Actually, you’ll need lots of hand sanitizer – consider buying a case instead of a single bottle!)     

REPELLING INSECTS – We recommend a deep woods formula bug repellant with DEET, several cans per person.  Mosquito netting can be purchased in rolls or pre-cut circular sizes which can be suspended over bedding.  Most important of all, if you’re staying home make sure that you have screens or netting to cover open doors and windows.  Most people that we’ve talked to say that Citronella candles really do work.   

WATER & PROPER HYDRATION – Did you know that in our subtropical summer environment, an adult needs to drink about a gallon of liquid a day just to stay hydrated?  And don’t forget you’ll need water for hygiene and cooling.  While it’s a good idea to fill the tub before the storm, your drinking water should be in a sealed container.  Fresh water is inexpensive, so if you’re going to remain in your home, why not have several 3- to 5-gallon containers stored there?  We recommend at least two gallons per day per person, one week minimum.  Store the water in a cool, dark, dry place which won’t flood, and replace the water every six months.  If you run out of fresh water, boiling for ten minutes at full boil kills most germs, as does treatment with chlorine or iodine (but these methods won’t remove many chemicals, heavy metals, etc.)  The Red Cross suggests sixteen drops of plain, unscented chlorine bleach per gallon, let stand for thirty minutes, repeating the procedure one time if the water is still foul.  Iodine disinfectant pills are available at drug and camping stores, and antiseptic iodine can also be used to disinfect water – check the label for instructions.  Lastly, water purification hand pump filtration systems can be purchased for a reasonable price.  Always check the manufacturer’s system specifications and general reputation, but the good systems remove both germs and impurities.  SPECIAL NOTE TO CERTAIN OF OUR READERS (you know who you are):  Beverages containing alcohol and caffeine cause dehydration.  This is even true of beer, so limit your alcohol intake!  

FOOD – You should have food supplies available for at least one week for every person in your party.  Cans are heavy but they are extremely durable and have a long shelf life.  You’ll also need a reliable hand operated can opener, which is a serious consideration when you’re opening several cans every day.  Military style dehydrated meals are light and compact but expensive, and like most preserved foods they contain lots of salt.   If this is a problem for you or anyone else in your party, make special provisions with low salt alternative foods.  Plastic storage containers, cling wrap, and aluminum foil will be useful for keeping foods fresh and free of bugs.  Note to the slow-witted:  If the power goes out, eat the refrigerated food first, before it goes bad.   

PLASTIC TARPS – Even if your roof came through Katrina unscathed, it may have been weakened or suffered damage that isn’t readily apparent.  We recommend having on hand at least two waterproof tarps, 20’ x 20’ minimum size.  If necessary, these tarps are large enough to function as tents if you’re forced to camp outdoors.  Buy them now because they won’t be available after a major storm passes through your area.    

THE HUMAN SIDE – Although not included on any previous checklist we’ve seen, we suggest you take special note of the human side of hurricane preparedness.  Everyone will be under stress before, during, and after the hurricane, and mental preparation is as important as anything we’ve discussed so far.  Tempers may be short and folks will be exposed to conditions they don’t normally encounter.  It’s O.K. to forewarn your party about this – it helps to deal with the problem.  Someone in the group often takes charge or at least has more influence on decision making than the others.  If this person happens to be you, remind your group that everyone will get through this by working together, sharing provisions, and pitching in to help.  Be especially considerate and avoid personal criticism, teasing, or other harsh comments that you’ll regret having said later.  Above all, keep your composure and never, ever panic!   

EVACUATION PLAN – Like we said, you should always be prepared to evacuate.   We don’t know how you’ll be traveling, so you’ll have to decide which items you’ll be able to bring along.  This decision should be made well in advance, and your travel items should be packed separately and ready for transport on a moment’s notice.  Bedding and blankets, if you have room for them, can make extended travel much more comfortable for your passengers.   You should already know where you’re going, who’ll be traveling in your party, and how you’re going to get there.  Preprogramming the GPS navigation system is a good idea if you have one, and bring maps of your primary and alternate routes and destinations. (Yes, you should have alternate routes and destinations, because the situation is subject to change and other storms could already be on their way.)  Avoid routes through low-lying coastal areas and river flood basins if you’re not leaving at least thirty-six hours before the storm’s anticipated landfall.  Be sure to let your family and friends know your plans, the route, and expected arrival time, and make allowance (and provisions) for extended travel delays.  Small children should have identification and contact numbers somewhere on their person.  Bring sufficient funds and credit cards to get you through the next two weeks, but remember that credit cards and checks may not be accepted in a hurricane devastation zone.  And don’t forget your insurance card and a spare set of car keys.  Last thing before you leave, follow the utility company’s instructions on whether or not to turn off the electricity and gas in your home.

LIFE PRESERVERS – If you live in a low lying area or might have to pass through one to evacuate, have life preservers available for everyone in your party.  Have each person try one on and learn how to wear it properly, before you evacuate.  If you have smaller children, be sure to have child-size life preservers.  

GARBAGE BAGS – You may not realize just how quickly trash can build up because it’s usually removed at least once a week under normal conditions.  However, if a hurricane hits it may be weeks before any trash is picked up.  Collecting and storing your trash properly sure beats living in it, so we recommend lots of trash bags, both the smaller kitchen type and the heavy duty garbage bags.  P.S.  Trash bags make good waterproof containers!  

ROPE & CORD – Rope can be used for escape and rescue, and to secure all kinds of things.  We recommend rope of at least 3/8” diameter up to about 5/8”, which most people can still easily handle.  Fifty feet would be the minimum length.  Secure and store your rope properly (and take the time to learn a few basic knots), because when you need it you may not have time to unravel a rat’s nest!  You should also have plenty of cord available for smaller jobs.  

DUCT TAPE – Duct tape merits special mention.  It has so many uses we can’t list them all, but when a sudden need arises to make quick repairs, you’ll be glad you have it.  We recommend several rolls of the good stuff, which is much more durable and holds better than the cheaper brands, and don’t forget the knife or scissors you’ll need to cut the tape.

TOOLS – At a minimum, you should have a hammer and nails, screwdrivers (both flat head and phillips) short and long screws, hatchet or axe, pry bar, hand saw, pliers, survival or pen knife, and pointed digging shovel.  (And don’t forget the leather gloves.)  

FIRE EXTINGUISHER– You should already have a fire extinguisher in your home, but during and after a hurricane fires are more likely to occur.  Have at least one good sized, general purpose fire extinguisher in your home, and preferably more placed in strategic locations.  Bring one with you if you evacuate in your vehicle.  

PETS – Pets will need food and water just like humans.  They’ll also be under stress, and areas where they are typically kept in normal circumstances may become unsafe during and after a hurricane.  Most pets don’t do well on a constant diet of human food, so stock up now on pet food.  We’ve found that the large plastic containers available from pet stores work well and keep food fresh and dry if the top is kept sealed.  Stock up on their medications also.   

CELLULAR PHONES Your cell phone can be a lifesaver during and after a major storm, so don’t forget to fully charge your cell phone batteries before the storm approaches.  It’s best to have at least two extended life cell phone batteries on full charge, and a 12V DC charger you can plug into your car or recharge from a battery powered phone charger.  Keep your cell phone on your person during the storm, preferably in a waterproof pocket or container.  Learn how to use the text messaging and walkie-talkie service (if you have it) on your cell phone- these features frequently still work on a damaged cellular system which can’t handle phone calls. Learn how to use these features now, when you have plenty of time to review the instructions and can practice on your cell phone.  

HARD LINE TELEPHONES – Your hard line phone/fax/voicemail system with the fifty page instruction manual won’t be much help when the power goes out, but surprisingly your old Princess style phone may still work if the lines remain up.  These inexpensive phones don’t need an outside power source because they work off the low voltage power in the phone line.  (Much of the Uptown phone system worked through Katrina and its aftermath.)  If you don’t already own one of these phones, you can buy one from most electronics stores for $20 - $30.  

BATTERY OPERATED RADIO & TV – You’ll need to receive information from the outside world.  Assume that 110V AC and even 12V DC current won’t be available, so have battery operated TV’s/radios or hand cranked radios at the ready.  (The new hand cranked radios can give you an hour or more of use with a few cranks of the handle.) Don’t forget that the method by which TV stations broadcast over the airwaves changed several years back, so make sure that your TV set still works.   

ICE & ICE CHESTS – Yes, we are quite serious about ice.  Ice isn’t just a convenience.  Sure, it preserves fresh food and iced tea is hard to make without it, but if you’re outdoors in the summer heat for an extended period of time, ice can be a lifesaver.  It can be used to prevent and treat heat exhaustion.  Buy a quality ice chest (with a drain hole, handles, and a high insulation value) which can survive children and rough handling.  Block ice, if available, lasts much longer than cubes or crushed ice.  Even outdoors, a good ice chest will stay cold for several days, especially if kept in the shade.  

COOKING STOVE – Your electric stove probably won’t be working for several days.  Unless you have a gas stove in your kitchen and a functioning gas service, you’ll need an outdoor stove. This could be anything from a high end six-burner propane barbeque grill to a single can of Sterno.  Most people prefer at least one cooked meal a day, and don’t forget that stoves can be used to boil water.  Make sure you use only the fuel specified by the manufacturer, and have plenty of that fuel stored in the appropriate type of container in a safe place.  Keep plenty of matches on hand and store them in a waterproof container.