Hurricane Irma, one of the strongest storms ever recorded in the Atlantic, is bearing down on the Caribbean and likely taking a turn toward the Florida coast this weekend. Governors in Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas have declared states of emergency and issued mandatory evacuations.
While Hurricane Irma can’t be manipulated or managed, there are ways for people living in its path to take some control, especially since hurricane season is now through November. Already, experts are closely monitoring storms popping up behind Irma: Hurricane Jose and tropical storm Katia.
Here’s how to prepare for Hurricane Irma and beyond.
The first step is understanding when it’s time to take action. The National Weather Service, National Hurricane Center, and local officials will often use the terms “warning” and “watch.” A hurricane watch is the less threatening advisory and mean hurricane-like conditions are possible. This is when people should go through their checklist and make some preparations.
A warning means hurricane conditions are expected within 36 hours. That might seem like a lot of time, but you won’t be the only one driving around in increasingly deteriorating weather conditions trying to stock up on supplies. Once a hurricane warning is issued people should be prepared to evacuate, or if they intend to stay, be adequately prepared.
That begins with forming an emergency family plan that helps you assess the special needs of your household such as pets and seniors as well as evaluating your residence. For instance, are you prepared with water, electricity, and gas are shut off to your house? Do you live in a multi-story building or a single-level house in a low-lying area?
Consider your protection options to decide whether to stay—like billionaire founder of Virgin Group Richard Branson did— or evacuate your home if you are not ordered to evacuate. If you do leave, pay close attention to road conditions.
Stock up on supplies
A basic emergency kit should be stocked with enough supplies to last for at least 72 hours. This means having your own food, water, and other supplies. Consider how you will safely store these items as well as preparing a portable kit if you have to evacuate your home.
The basic at-home kit includes one gallon of water per person per day, a three-day supply of non-perishable food, battery-powered or hand crank radio like the NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert, flashlight, first aid kit, extra batteries, whistle, wrench or pliers to turn off utilities, manual can opener for food, local maps, and a cell phone with a backup battery. Stash your cell phone in a waterproof container like a ziploc to keep it dry if you are forced to wade through flood waters.
Other items to consider:
- Prescription medications
- Non-prescription medications such as pain relievers, anti-diarrhea medication, antacids or laxatives
- Glasses and contact lense solution
- Infant formula, bottles, diapers, wipes, diaper rash cream
- Pet food and extra water for your pet
- Cash or traveler’s checks
- Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records saved electronically or in a waterproof, portable container
- Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person
Florida’s Department of Health also recommends assembling a special kit for children, which includes medications, a favorite book or paper and crayons, stuffed animal or action pillow, a blanket or pillow that will comfort them, and pictures of family and pets. It’s also helpful to have a copy of their complete immunization histories in a disaster kit. And every member of the family should record the date of their last tetanus-diphtheria shot in this record.
Other tips, include reviewing the Federal Emergency Management Agency guidelines to allow yourself enough time to pack and inform friends and family if you need to leave your home.
Remember that the danger isn’t over once the hurricane passes. Storms can cause ocean surges, flooding, and even tornadoes.
Irma’s potential landfall in Florida has people scrambling to buy water. Publix Supermarkets, a grocery store chain based in the Sunshine State, is reportedly trying to keep up with the demand for bottled water in its stores. But people living in the path of a hurricane will likely face shortages, or at the very least, long lines.
There are other ways to stock up on water, especially once it becomes too dangerous to travel on roads. Before the storm hits, fill your bathtubs up with water as an emergency supply to use for bathing and washing.
Gather clean containers, such as plastic soda bottles or even empty water bottles you might have at your house, or buy the large food-grade storage containers typically found at the hardware store, and fill with water from your tap.
The tap water is safe to drink now, according to officials. However, if there’s concern that the water is carrying any disease-causing microorganisms you can either boil the water, which is a sufficient way to kill pathogenic bacteria, viruses, and protozoa.
You can also use use regular, unscented chlorine bleach to kill bacteria in your water. The EPA has a handy guide to help you determine the proper amount. Never use scented, color safe, or bleaches with added cleaners. As a general rule, use a medicine dropper to add a quarter teaspoon of bleach (that’s 6 to 8 drops depending on the percentage of sodium hypochlorite in your bleach) for every gallon of water. Stir and let it sit at least 30 minutes before drinking.
Keep in mind, this does not destroy containments such as heavy metals, salts, and most other chemicals.
Board up windows and install shutters
The federal government recommends boarding up windows—or installing shutters—when a hurricane is about 18 to 36 hours from arriving near your home. Permanent storm shutters offer the best protection for windows. A second option is to board up windows with 5/8” exterior grade or marine plywood, cut to fit and ready to install.
Other steps to take during this 18-36-hour window includes bringing loose, lightweight objects inside that could become projectiles in high winds. For example, patio furniture and garbage cans. Anchor objects that would be unsafe to bring inside such as propane tanks. If there’s enough time, trim or remove trees close enough to fall on the building.
Find a safe place to store your car during a hurricane
Before you find a place to protect your car from a hurricane, take pictures of your vehicle, insurer Allstate suggests. Then store copies of your car’s registration and insurance documentation in a safe place like a zip-top plastic bag. Make copies of a few spare keys if you have time and give them to other licensed drivers in the family.
Also, fill up your tank.
And if you plan to park your vehicle, a garage is safest. If you don’t have a garage park your vehicle close to a building for some protection. Do not park under trees or power lines.