By Bernard Freeman
Basic Preparedness Tips
Know where to go. If you are ordered to evacuate, know the local hurricane evacuation route(s) to take and have a plan for where you can stay. Contact your local emergency management agency for more information.
Put together a disaster supply kit, including a flashlight, batteries, cash, first aid supplies, and copies of your critical information if you need to evacuate.
If you are not in an area that is advised to evacuate and you decide to stay in your home, plan for adequate supplies in case you lose power and water for several days and you are not able to leave due to flooding or blocked roads.
Why Make A Plan
Your family may not be together if a disaster strikes, so it is important to think about the following situations and plan just in case. Consider the following questions when making a plan:
- How will my family/household get emergency alerts and warnings?
- How will my family/household get to safe locations for relevant emergencies?
- How will my family/household get in touch if cell phone, internet, or landline doesn’t work?
- How will I let loved ones know I am safe?
- How will family/household get to a meeting place after the emergency?
Preparing Your Home
Hurricane winds can cause trees and branches to fall, so before hurricane season, trim or remove damaged trees and limbs to keep you and your property safe.
Secure loose rain gutters and downspouts and clear any clogged areas or debris to prevent water damage to your property.
Reduce property damage by retrofitting to secure and reinforce the roof, windows and doors, including the garage doors.
Keep your contacts updated across all of your channels, including phone, email and social media. This will make it easy to reach out to the right people quickly to get information and supply updates. Consider creating a group list of your top contacts.
Learn how to send updates via text and internet from your mobile phone to your contacts and social channels in case voice communications are not available. Text messages and the internet often have the ability to work in the event of a phone service disruption.
Keep extra batteries for your phone in a safe place or purchase a solar-powered or hand crank charger. These chargers are good emergency tools to keep your laptop and other small electronics working in the event of a power outage.
If you own a car, purchase a car phone charger because you can charge your phone if you lose power at your home.
Program “In Case of Emergency” (ICE) contacts into your cell phone so emergency personnel can contact those people for you if you are unable to use your phone. Let your ICE contacts know that they are programmed into your phone and inform them of any medical issues or other special needs you may have.
If you have a traditional landline (non-broadband or VOIP) phone, keep at least one non-cordless receiver in your home because it will work even if you lose power.
If you are evacuated and have call-forwarding on your home phone, forward your home phone number to your cell phone number.
If you do not have a cell phone, keep a prepaid phone card to use, if needed, during or after a disaster.
Prepare a family contact sheet. This should include at least one out-of-town contact that may be better able to reach family members in an emergency.
The following are additional tips when making phone calls and using your smartphone during or after a disaster:
No one wants to hear the busy signal!
Keep all phone calls brief. If you need to use a phone, try to convey only vital information to emergency personnel and/or family.
If you are unsuccessful in completing a call using your cell phone, wait ten seconds before redialing to help reduce network congestion. Conserve your cell phone battery by reducing the brightness of your screen, placing your phone in airplane mode, and closing apps you are not using that draw power, unless you need to use the phone.
If you lose power, you can charge your cell phone in your car. Just be sure your car is in a well-ventilated place (remove it from the garage) and do not go to your car until any danger has passed. You can also listen to your car radio for important news alerts.
If you do not have a hands-free device in your car, stop driving or pull over to the side of the road before making a call. Do not text on a cell phone, talk, or “tweet” without a hands-free device while driving.
Immediately following a disaster, resist using your mobile device to watch streaming videos, download music or videos, or play video games, all of which can add to network congestion. Limiting use of these services can help potentially life-saving emergency calls get through to 9-1-1.
For non-emergency communications, use text messaging, e-mail, or social media instead of making voice calls on your cell phone to avoid tying up voice networks. Data-based services like texts and emails are less likely to experience network congestion. You can also use social media to post your status to let family and friends know you are okay. In addition to Facebook and Twitter, you can use resources such as the American Red Cross’s Safe and Well program.
1. Understand how to receive emergency alerts and warnings. Make sure all household members are able to get alerts about an emergency from local officials. Check with your local emergency management agency to see what is available in your area, and learn more about alerts by visiting: ready.gov/alerts.
2. Discuss family/household plans for disasters that may affect your area and plan where to go. Plan together in advance so that everyone in the household understands where to go during a different type of disaster like a hurricane, tornado, or wildfire.
3. Collect information. Create a paper copy of the contact information for your family that includes:
- phone (work, cell, office)
- social media
- medical facilities, doctors, service providers
4. Identify information and pick an emergency meeting place.
Things to consider:
- Decide on safe, familiar places where your family can go for protection or to reunite.
- Make sure these locations are accessible for household members with disabilities or access and functional needs.
- If you have pets or service animals, think about animal-friendly locations.
Examples of meeting places:
- In your neighborhood: A mailbox at the end of the driveway, or a neighbor’s house.
- Outside of your neighborhood: Library, community center, place of worship, or family friend’s home.
- Outside of your town or city: Home of a relative or family friend. Make sure everyone knows the address of the meeting place and discuss ways you would get there.
5. Share information. Make sure everyone carries a copy in his or her backpack, purse, or wallet. You should also post a copy in a central location in your home, such as your refrigerator or family bulletin board.
6. Practice your plan. Have regular household meetings to review your emergency plans, communication plans and meeting place after a disaster, and then practice, just like you would a fire drill.
What Do Warnings Mean?
The National Weather Service deploys an array of watches and warnings to keep you safe in the face of hurricanes. Here’s what they mean, as defined by the NWS:
- Tropical storm watch: Tropical-storm conditions are possible within the specified area.
- Hurricane watch: Hurricane conditions are possible within the specified area.
- Tropical storm warning: Tropical-storm conditions are expected within the specified area.
- Hurricane warning: Hurricane conditions are expected within the specified area.
- Extreme wind warning: Extreme sustained winds of a major hurricane (115 miles per hour or greater) are expected to begin within an hour.