After catastrophic events like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in 2017, Gulf Coast residents are taking weather advisories and hurricane preparation more seriously than ever.
Now that hurricane season has officially begun, homeowners along the coasts, especially in Florida and Texas, should ensure they have a plan and resources to handle a potential disaster. If you don’t have a plan yet, don’t panic. These tips can help you figure out how to prepare for a hurricane, from making a plan and securing supplies to checking your home insurance coverage and safeguarding your house.
Make a Plan for What to Do During a Hurricane
Your hurricane preparedness plan should have the following elements:
- Your evacuation routes
- Where you’ll seek shelter
- What you’ll bring with you
Write out the plan and review it with your family so that everyone knows what to do in the event of an emergency.
As part of your planning, take a look at FEMA’s website in advance so you can understand what sort of evacuations routes are available to you. Purchase hard copies of any maps you might need.
Have an idea of where you’d go in the event of a hurricane. Do you have family or friends who live outside the hurricane’s path you could stay with? Make these arrangements in advance if you’re able.
Ensure you have a shelter fallback plan, too. If a storm is already looming and you can’t evacuate in time, have your county’s shelter information on hand. These resources will usually offer evacuation routes, too.
Last but not least, plan for your pets. Keep in mind that some shelters may turn away animals that don’t have up-to-date vaccines, IDs, or medical records. Don’t let that happen to Fido! Whenever humanly possible, don’t leave your pets behind. You can never be sure if you’ll be able or allowed to return home immediately, and you can’t trust a shelter to care for your animals like you would.
Purchase Hurricane Supplies
Heads up for Floridians: you can purchase hurricane supplies without the sales tax during the first week of hurricane season. (Learn about the Disaster Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday here.) This includes items like:
- Reusable ice packs
- Portable generators
- And more
While we understand the desire to procrastinate, remember that stores quickly sell out of supplies like water, flashlights, and canned goods when a storm is approaching. Get that tax break and stock up now.
Most of the supplies you need will last at least a year, but it’s important to check on them to make sure you’re well equipped.
These are the most important things to have stocked for hurricane season:
- Enough water and canned food to last at least a week
- Flashlights or headlamps with a supply of extra batteries
- Candles and matches
- Spare gasoline for your vehicles, generator, and any hand tools you might need for clearing fallen branches
- Ax in attic in case there’s severe flooding
You should also fill a “bug out” bag in advance in case you have to evacuate for a storm. Make sure it has:
- First-aid kit
- Games and toys
- Multiple copies of important documents (insurance, titles, ID’s, birth certificates, vet records, etc.)
- Pictures of your home (discussed more below)
For more ideas on items you might keep handy, check out these recommendations.
Check Your Home Insurance Coverage
At the start of hurricane season, read over your insurance policy. You don’t want to encounter a disaster only to later discover you don’t have as much protection as you thought.
Do this ASAP – once a storm has been deemed a threat to anywhere in your state, you may not be able to make changes to your policy.
Specifically, you want to make sure your policy includes:
- Flood insurance. This is vital for protecting homes in hurricane-prone areas. Check the flood insurance coverage for your car, too.
- Hurricane deductible. This means you’ll have protection for the damage caused by hurricane winds.
For insurance purposes, take pictures of everything inside and outside of your home (and car) and create an inventory of your belongings. In the event of a disaster, these pictures can be vital for replacing your belongings and repairing your home.
Secure Your Home
Homeowners are wise to proactively protect their home to mitigate damage from wind, floods, and power loss.
Wind speeds of category one hurricanes range from 74 to 95 miles per hour, which can easily rip off poorly attached roof shingles. Category five hurricanes have wind speeds of 157 miles per hour or more, which can cause total roof loss.
States like Florida require insurance companies to provide discounts to homeowners for mitigating wind damage.
You can reduce your risk from wind damage by boarding up windows or getting hurricane shutters, and by regularly maintaining your roof. This means checking for loose shingles and making repairs. You should also secure anything in the yard that could become debris with high winds. This might include cleaning and reinforcing your gutters, trimming branches and trees that pose a hazard to your home or vehicle, and tying down patio furniture.
Because flooding is the most costly and common storm damage, it’s important to do what you can to reduce the potential destruction to your home and belongings. If you have time, consider moving your electronics, important documents, furniture, and other personal items to a higher floor. Keep an ax in the attic in case of severe flooding.
Electrical surges and power loss can also cause considerable damage to your home and belongings. Protect yourself by backing up your electronics to cloud storage and unplug your devices before a storm starts.
To prepare for power outages and to protect your perishables, put your refrigerator on the coldest setting.
If you are instructed to evacuate, heed the warnings and guidance of local authorities. Be prepared to turn off your utilities if asked to do so, but fill up your bathtub with water so you can use it if water is cut off. If you have neighbors you know and trust, alert them of your travel plans so they can keep an eye on your home in your absence.
For more tips, check out FEMA’s resource library. Your insurance provider (hi!) is also a great resource for ideas on how to protect your home.