Hurricanes are massive storm systems that form over the water and move toward land. Threats from hurricanes include high winds, heavy rainfall, storm surge, coastal and inland flooding, rip currents, and tornadoes. These large storms are called typhoons in the North Pacific Ocean and cyclones in other parts of the world.
The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale classifies hurricanes into five categories based on their wind speed, central pressure, and wind damage potential. With wind speeds of 111 miles per hour or more, Category 3, 4, and 5 hurricanes are major according to this scale. Category 1 and 2 hurricanes can also cause damage and injuries.
Know your hurricane risk.
Your risk from hurricanes is based on where you live, the structure of your home, and your personal circumstances. People who live on the coast are most at risk for extreme winds and flooding from rain and storm surge. People who live inland are at risk for wind, thunderstorms, and flooding. Hurricanes also cause widespread power outages, which may be a risk factor for people who need power-dependent medical devices.
Know how to stay informed.
Receiving timely information about weather conditions or other emergency events can make all the difference in knowing when to take action to be safe.
- Monitor weather reports provided by your local media.
- Many communities have text or email alerting systems for emergency notifications.
- To find out what alerts are available in your area, do an Internet search with your town, city, or county name and the term “alerts.”
- Consider buying a NOAA Weather Radio (NWR) All Hazards receiver, which receives broadcast alerts directly from NWS. You can purchase these at many retail outlets, such as electronics and big box stores, or online. Some NWR receivers are designed to work with external notification devices with visual and
- vibrating alerts for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
- Think about how you will stay informed if there is a power outage. Have extra batteries for a battery-operated radio and your cell phone. Consider having a hand crank radio or cell phone charger.
Know your evacuation routes
- Plan your transportation and identify a place to stay.
- To ensure that you will be able to act quickly should the need arise, you need to plan ahead.
- Know your community’s local hurricane evacuation plan and identify several escape routes from your location in case roads are blocked. Include plans to evacuate people with disabilities and others with access and functional needs, as well as pets, service animals, and livestock.
- If you plan to evacuate by car, keep your car fueled and in good condition.
- Keep emergency supplies and a change of clothes in your car.
- If you will need to share transportation, make arrangements now. If you will need to use public transportation, including paratransit, contact your local government emergency management agency to ask how an evacuation will work, how you will get current information during an evacuation, the location of staging areas, and other information.
- If you will need to relocate for an extended period of time, identify a place away from home where you could go if you had to leave. Consider family or friends who live outside of the local area.
- If you have pets and plan to go to a shelter, call to inquire whether the shelter can accommodate your pets. Shelters will accept service animals.
Practice taking shelter.
- While you may need to evacuate the area due to a hurricane, there are also situations when you may need to seek protection from hurricane-force winds. Identify your protective location and practice getting all
- household members to that location quickly. If you do not have access to a safe room or a storm shelter, use a small, interior, windowless room, such as a bathroom or closet, on the lowest level not likely to flood.
Practice how you will communicate with family members.
- In a dangerous situation, your first thoughts will be the safety of your family and friends. In case you are not together when authorities issue a tropical storm or hurricane watch, or a tropical storm or hurricane warning, practice how you will communicate with each other. Remember that sending texts is often faster than making a phone call.
- Keep important numbers written down in your wallet, not just on your phone. It is sometimes easier to reach people outside of your local area during an emergency, so choose an out-of-town contact for all family members to call, or use social media.
- Decide where the members of your household will meet after the hurricane.
Practice first aid skills and emergency response actions through training classes.
In most circumstances, when someone is hurt, a person on the scene provides the first assistance, before professional help arrives. Learn and practice response skills now so you will know what to do.
Store supplies so you can grab them quickly if you need to evacuate
- Know in advance what else you will need to take.
- Take time now to make a list of the things you would need or want to take with you if you had to leave your home quickly.
- Store the basic emergency supplies in a “Go Bag” or other container. Be ready to grab other essential items quickly before leaving. Remember to include specialized items for people with disabilities and others with access and functional needs, such as older adults, children, and those with Limited English Proficiency.
When making your list, consider the Five Ps of Evacuation
- PEOPLE - People and, if safely possible, pets and other animals or livestock
- PRESCRIPTIONS - Prescriptions, with dosages; medicines; medical equipment; batteries or power cords; eyeglasses; and hearing aids
- PAPERS - Papers, including important documents (hard copies and/or electronic copies saved on external hard drives or portable thumb drives)
- PERSONAL NEEDS - Personal needs — such as clothes, food, water, first aid kit, cash, phones, and chargers— and items for people with disabilities and others with access and/or functional needs, such as older adults, children, and those with Limited English Proficiency
- PRICELESS ITEMS - Priceless items, including pictures, irreplaceable mementos, and other valuables
Store supplies you will need to live at home with no power.
Even if you are in an area that was not asked to evacuate, you may still lose power and the water supply to your home. Depending on the strength of the hurricane and its impact on your community, you could be in your home with no power or other basic services for several weeks. Think about items you require for this situation. Keep these supplies on hand in your home.
Here are some suggestions to consider:
- Flashlight and radio, either hand-cranked or battery-powered, with extra batteries;
- At least 1 gallon of water per person per day for at least 3 days. A normally active person needs about three-quarters of fluid daily, from water and other beverages.
- Water is also needed for food preparation and sanitation
- At least a 3-day supply of non-perishable food for members of your household, including pet food and considerations for special dietary needs. Include a non-electric can opener for canned food;
- First aid kit, medications, and medical supplies; and Battery backup power for power-dependent mobility devices, oxygen, and other assistive technology needs.
- Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person, if you live in a cold-weather climate.
- Store the important documents you will need to start your recovery.
- Review your homeowners or renters insurance policy and also prepare or update a list of your home’s contents by taking pictures or videotaping each room in the house. If your home or business sustains significant damage, you will need access to insurance and rental or mortgage agreements to file a claim or request assistance from the government. During recovery, you may also need access to personal
- information such as medical insurance, and prescriptions or warranties for durable medical equipment.
Store your records safely.
Keep papers in a fireproof, waterproof box. If records are stored electronically, keep a backup drive in your fireproof, waterproof box, or store files using a secure cloud-based service.
Protect your property and manage your risk.
If you live in a hurricane-prone coastal area or in an inland area where heavy rains from a downgraded hurricane might pass, take steps now to protect your property from both high wind and water damage. This includes buying specialized insurance for losses caused by flood and wind damage.
Discuss what you have done to prepare with your family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues.
Talking about preparedness with others will help you think through your plans, share information about alerts and warnings, and share tips for protecting property. Talking about disasters and helping others
prepare makes everyone safer.
Protect Yourself During a Hurricane
Hurricanes have the potential to cause massive destruction.
If you are in the path of a major hurricane, authorities may direct you to evacuate for your safety.
- Fatalities and injuries caused by hurricanes are often the result of individuals remaining in unsafe locations during a storm. If authorities advise or order you to evacuate, do so immediately. Be sure to remember the Five Ps of Evacuation: People, Prescriptions, Papers, Personal Needs, and Priceless Items.
- Leave early to avoid delays caused by long lines, high winds, and flooding.
- Follow posted evacuation routes and do not try to take short cuts because they may be blocked. Stick to designated evacuation routes.
If you are in an area without an Evacuation Notice
- Take precautions to protect yourself and stay safe from the high winds and potential localized flooding.
- Stay indoors away from windows and glass doors. Flying debris from high winds is dangerous and can be deadly. If you are in a mobile home or temporary structure, move to a sturdy building.
- For protection in extremely high winds, go to a small, interior, windowless room, such as a bathroom or closet, on the lowest level not likely to flood.
- If you are in an area that is flooding (e.g., on the coast, on a floodplain, near a river, or on an island waterway), move to a location on higher ground before floodwaters prevent your ability to leave.
- If the power is out, use flashlights, not candles. Turn on a battery-operated or hand-cranked radio to get the latest emergency information.
You may experience any of the following during a hurricane:
- Long periods of very strong winds and heavy rains.
- If you are in a coastal area, you may experience a storm surge, which means that high winds are pushing seawater onto the shore. A storm surge combines with the ocean’s tide to produce a storm-tide surge. Storm-tide surges have been registered as high as 35 feet above normal sea level and can cause significant flooding across a large area. This generally occurs over a short period, typically 4
- to 8 hours; but in some areas, it may take much longer for the water to recede to its pre-storm level.
- Significant changes in air pressure during the storm can cause discomfort, and loud moaning, shrieking, and whistling sounds may occur because of the winds.
- Many of those in the center of the storm experience a false sense of security. After the center of the hurricane, also known as the eye, passes over, the storm will resume. Do not venture outside until emergency officials say it is safe.
Protect Yourself After a Hurricane
IF YOUR EVACUATED
- Return home only when authorities indicate that it is safe to do so.
- Be aware of areas where floodwaters have receded. Do not attempt to drive through flooded areas. Roads and bridges may have weakened and could collapse under the weight of a car.
- Be aware of downed trees, power lines, and fallen debris.
IF YOU STAYED IN THE AREA OR AS YOU RETURN
- Listen to official public information to get expert, informed advice as soon as it is available. Use the following considerations and precautions:
- If the storm damaged your home severely, you may only be able to enter when officials say it is safe to do so. Stay out of any building surrounded by floodwaters.
- Use extreme caution when entering flooded buildings. There may be hidden damage, particularly in foundations. Personal safety considerations include protecting yourself from electric shock, mold contamination, asbestos, and lead paint.
- Turn off electricity at main breaker or fuse box. Homeowners who are unfamiliar with electricity or their home’s electrical systems should contact their local power company or a qualified electrician to assist them in making their property safe from electrical hazards after a flood.
- Check for loose boards and slippery floors.
- Do not touch electrical equipment if it is wet or you are standing in water.
- Shut off the utilities to a flooded home or building.
- Use flashlights, not lanterns, torches, or matches, to examine buildings. Flammable gases may be inside and open flames may cause a fire or explosion.
- If you turned off your gas, ask a licensed professional to turn it back on.
- Carbon monoxide kills. Use a generator or other gasoline-powered machine ONLY outdoors and away from windows so fumes do not get inside. The same goes for camping stoves. Fumes from charcoal are also deadly; cook with charcoal ONLY outdoors.
- If you see floodwater on roads, walkways, bridges, and on the ground, do not to attempt to cross floodwater. The depth of the water is not always obvious, and the road bed may be washed out under the water. Moving water has tremendous power. Six inches of moving water has the potential to knock you off your feet, and a foot of water can sweep a vehicle—even a large SUV—off of the road. Be especially cautious at night when it is harder to recognize flood dangers.
- Avoid wading in floodwater, which may be contaminated with oil, gasoline, or raw sewage.
- Watch for dangerous debris (e.g., broken glass, metal fragments), dead animals, or venomous snakes in floodwaters. Before walking through debris, use a stick to check for hidden dangers. Underground or downed power lines may electrically charge the water.
- Stay away from downed power lines and report them to emergency management or the power company’s emergency number.
- Stay away from damaged areas unless police, fire, or relief organizations request your assistance.
- Use local alerts, radios, and other local information sources, to get information and advice as soon as it is available.
- Use text messaging or social media to communicate with family and friends.
- Telephones and cellular phone systems are often overwhelmed following a disaster, so use phones only for emergency calls.
- Listen for news reports to learn whether the community’s water supply is safe to drink.
- Service damaged septic tanks and leaching systems as soon as possible. A damaged sewage system is a serious health hazard.
- Have wells checked for contamination from bacteria and chemicals.
- Clean and disinfect everything that got wet. Mud left from floodwater can contain sewage, bacteria, and chemicals. Be careful and wear appropriate protective equipment like gloves, safety glasses, and face masks.
- Follow five basic steps for post-flood building restoration, including (1) air out, (2) move out, (3) tear out, (4) clean out, and (5) dry out. Seek professional services and/or guidance before attempting to repair flood-damaged property.
- Throw out any food, including canned items, that was not maintained at a proper temperature or has been exposed to floodwaters. Do not eat food from a flooded garden. When in doubt, throw it out.
- Remove and replace drywall or other paneling that was underwater. Use a moisture meter to make sure that the wooden studs and framing are dry before replacing drywall. Mold growth in hidden places is a significant health hazard.
- Look for signs of depression or anxiety related to this experience, such as feeling physically and mentally drained; having difficulty making decisions or staying focused; becoming easily frustrated on a more frequent basis; feeling tired, sad, numb, lonely, or worried; or experiencing changes in appetite or sleep patterns. Seek help from local mental health providers if you detect these signs in yourself or others.
- Photograph damage to your property and contact your insurance agent. Do what you can to prevent further damage (e.g., putting a tarp on a damaged roof) that insurance may not cover.
Protect Your Property
The best way to reduce the risk of damage to a structure from hurricane winds is to reinforce or strengthen the building. Where available, you may also purchase high-wind insurance policies.
- Windows are particularly vulnerable components on most structures. Impact-resistant glazing or permanent storm shutters offer the best protection for windows. A second option is to laminate the glass with a thin film to keep the glass from shattering. You can also board up windows with 5/8-inch plywood, cut to
- fit and ready to install. Tape does not prevent windows from breaking. Numerous manufacturers produce certified storm-resistant window and door products. Also reinforce garage doors against direct wind effects by using storm-resistant doors or by retrofitting existing doors with commercially available products.
- Roof failures commonly cause major damage to buildings and their contents. Metal brackets and straps can strengthen the connections between the roof and wall systems. Brackets and straps should be attached at the studs and rafters, not to the plywood sheathing. The entire structure can be bolted to its foundation using anchor bolts along the foundation sill.
- When a hurricane is forecast for your area, you should remove or secure items that are typically outside. Bring patio furniture, garden tools, garbage cans, and toys inside. Trim or remove trees close enough to fall on the building. Anchoring storage sheds and other outbuildings helps prevent them from becoming flying debris.
- Anchor objects that are unsafe to bring inside, like gas grills or propane tanks.
Take steps to protect your property from flood damage.
- Talk to your insurance agent about buying flood insurance. Flood insurance is available for homeowners, renters, and business owners. Because homeowners insurance policies do not typically cover flood losses, you will need to purchase separate flood insurance if your property is at risk for flooding.
- Elevate the heating system (furnace), water heater, and electric panel if the location is susceptible to flooding.
- Install “check valves” in sewer lines to prevent floodwater from backing up into the drains of your home.
- Waterproof the basement. Install sump pumps with battery backup.
- If you live in a flood-prone area, stockpile emergency building materials (e.g., plywood, plastic sheeting, lumber nails, a hammer and saw, a pry bar, shovels, and sandbags).
- In areas with repetitive flooding, consider elevating the building.
- Keep gutters and drains free of debris.