Hurricane season 2004 was unprecedented, with four major hurricanes wreaking havoc within a six-week period. A new hurricane season begins June 1, and hurricane forecasters are predicting another above-normal hurricane season, with the possibility of at least 12 to 15 tropical storms, and seven to nine of them becoming hurricanes. In anticipation of this year's hurricane season, the American Red Cross encourages each of us to begin preparing now.
Every year, coastal communities suffer loss of life and property because of hurricanes, which can devastate a region with destructive winds, heavy rains and flooding, storm surges and tornadoes. "It is vital that we start working now to keep our families safe this hurricane season," says Joe Becker, senior vice president of Preparedness and Response for the American Red Cross. "Taking the time now to prepare you and your loved ones for the steps they can take in advance of a hurricane, and during a hurricane, can save your life and the lives of those you love."
Advanced warning systems today are better than ever before. They offer our communities time to evacuate potentially affected areas when a storm is imminent. "It's important to remember that just because you were safe last year, it doesn't mean you shouldn't evacuate when told to this year," says Becker. "The time to prepare is now. Create your personal disaster and evacuation plan and make sure you build a disaster supplies kit. Knowing what to do in an emergency situation is your best protection."
Prepare a Personal Disaster and Evacuation Plan
The American Red Cross, the National Weather Service and the Federal Emergency Management Agency urge each and every family to develop a family disaster plan.
- Meet with your family to create a plan. Discuss the information you have gathered and why it is important to prepare for a disaster.
- Show and explain to each family member how and when to turn off the water, gas and electricity at the main switches, and how to use a fire extinguisher. Remember, if the gas is shut off, only a professional can turn it back on.
- Identify ahead of time where you would go if you are told to evacuate. Choose several different places – a friend's home outside of the affected area, a motel or a shelter.
- Get a good map and be familiar with your community's evacuation routes.
- Listen to local media broadcasts or NOAA Weather Radio for the latest storm conditions.
- If you are told to evacuate, do so immediately.
- In case you have to evacuate, be sure to bring your disaster supplies kit including medications, extra clothing, pillows and blankets and other hygiene and comfort supplies, along with copies of essential papers and documents.
- Be sure to make advanced safety preparations for your pets. Be aware that pets are not allowed in Red Cross shelters. Contact your local humane society or veterinarian for suggestions.
- Ask an out-of-town friend or family member to act as "family contact" for everyone to call in case of separation. It is often easier to call long distance after a disaster than to make local calls.
Assemble a Disaster Supplies Kit
Gather enough emergency supplies to meet your needs for at least three days. Store these supplies in sturdy, easy-to-carry, water-resistant containers. It's also a good idea to keep a smaller kit in the trunk of your car. Your disaster supplies kit should include the following:
- A three-day supply of water (one gallon per person per day) and ready-to-eat canned goods, such as tuna fish, peanut butter, crackers, canned fruit, juice boxes, etc. Please remember that you want to replace stored water and food every six months.
- A battery-powered radio, flashlight and plenty of extra batteries.
- A manual can opener.
- Copies of important documents, including birth certificates, insurance policies and social security cards. Your original documents should be secured in a locked box or safety deposit box.
- Comfortable clothing and footwear.
- One blanket or sleeping bag per person.
- A first aid kit, including prescription medicines.
- Emergency tools, including tools to turn off utilities.
- An extra set of car keys.
- Cash/credit cards.
- Special items for infant, elderly or disabled family members.
- An extra pair of glasses or contact lenses.
Prepare for High Winds
Pick a day in June to conduct a home hazard hunt and perimeter search, in which you inspect your home for items that can move, fall, break or cause a fire.
- Make trees more wind resistant by removing diseased and damaged limbs.
- Install hurricane or high-wind shutters on your windows or precut plywood to cover windows, and add protection to the outside areas of sliding glass doors.
- Strengthen garage doors and un-reinforced masonry.
- Move or secure lawn furniture, outdoor decorations or ornaments, trash cans, hanging plants and anything else that can be picked up by wind and become a projectile.
Practice and maintain your plan. Ask questions to make sure your family remembers meeting places, phone numbers and safety rules. Conduct drills. Something else to keep in mind is the value of neighbors during a difficult time. Working with neighbors can save lives. Know your neighbors' special skills and consider how you could help neighbors who have special needs, such as disabled and elderly persons. Make plans for childcare in case parents cannot get home – that way, all of the children in your neighborhood can be safe.