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 Nature’s Field Hazards – Hurricanes and Emergency Preparedness

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The “official Atlantic Hurricane Season runs from June 1 through November 30, with the peak time usually starting in late August. The National Hurricane Center has announced its forecast for the upcoming Atlantic hurricane season would be more active than usual. An average season has 11 named storms, including 6 hurricanes, of which 2 are major hurricanes.

What is a hurricane?
Hurricanes are the deadliest, and the costliest of the storms striking the United States each year. They are severe tropical cyclones with wind speeds in excess of 74 mph. As far as wind speed, the wind speed of a major hurricane is exceeded only by the winds of a major tornado. Additionally, as they move ashore, hurricanes can bring torrential rains and flooding. Often, they may even spawn their own tornados.

What is a hurricane watch?
The National Weather Service issues a “hurricane watch” whenever a hurricane becomes a threat to coastal areas. Everyone in the area covered by the “watch” should listen for further advisories and be prepared to act promptly if a hurricane warning is issued. A hurricane watch is issued for coastal areas when there is a threat that hurricane conditions could take place within 24 to 36 hours.

What is a hurricane warning?
A “hurricane warning” is issued by the National Weather Service when hurricane winds of 74 miles an hour or higher, or a combination of dangerously high water and very rough seas, are expected in a specific coastal area within 24 hours. Precautionary actions should be taken immediately.

Fortunately, meteorologists today have the technology to track the tropical depressions that sometimes can develop into full-blown major storms and hurricanes. For this reason, there is usually time to prepare yourself, your family, and your property for the possibility of experiencing a hurricane.

What should I do if I live in a hurricane prone area?
There are steps you can take well in advance if you live in such an area such as:

  • Prepare for the possibility of serious damage or loss of your home by reviewing (and updating if necessary) your insurance coverage.
  • Inventory and photograph (or videotape) your personal property. Keep a copy at home in a waterproof container, but make sure that you also keep a copy safely someplace other than your home (i.e. a safety deposit box) in the event your home is badly damaged, flooded, or destroyed.
  • During hurricane season itself, maintain an inventory of non-perishable food, canned goods, canned juices, etc., and most importantly, portable drinking water. Also, don’t forget a supply of pet food if applicable.
  • Make sure you have battery operated radios, flashlights, etc., on hand and a sufficient supply of batteries
  • Obtaining a cell phone if you don’t have one is also something to consider. Remember, cordless home phones do not work if you lose commercial power.
  • Have a fully stocked first aid kit available.
  • If you plan on using an emergency generator in the future, look into having a qualified electrician set it up so you can safely use it. For example he/she might suggest wiring in a “cut-over” switch to isolate your home from commercial power should you use a generator after losing commercial power. This eliminates the possibility of dangerous back feeds from your house into commercial power lines.
  • Prepare an emergency plan with your family, and make sure that everybody in your home understands it. For example, plan an emergency evacuation route and destination (and an alternate). Plan for your pet’s well being also. Let out of area friends and/or relatives know about your plan, and how you can contact each other in case of a major event like a hurricane.

What should I do if a hurricane watch is issued?
Hopefully you would have already taken the steps outlined above. Once it looks like a hurricane will be striking your area, there are now some important additional steps you should take:

  • Fill all of your vehicles with gasoline. Gasoline pumps may not be operable after a hurricane. Also your route to a gas station could be blocked.
  • If you have an emergency generator, make sure you have enough gasoline on hand for several days use.
  • Obtain enough cash to cover any unforeseen emergencies you might experience. Remember, banks and ATMs may not be available after a major storm.
  • If you have medical problems, make sure you have plenty of your prescription medications. Re-fill them immediately if you don’t.
  • Turn your refrigerator and freezer to the coldest setting.
  • Secure outdoor items such as trash cans and lawn or patio furniture that could become deadly missiles during a hurricane. Store these items inside a garage or other indoor location.
  • Secure your home as best you can. For example trim tree branches or limbs that could break or damage your windows. • Board up or tape large windows.
  • Make sure that your cell has a fully charged battery. Obtain a car cell phone charger if you don’t have one. If you do lose power to your home, you can always re-charge your cell phone from your car’s cigarette lighter or auxiliary power port.
  • Review your emergency and evacuation plans again with your family and out of area contacts.
  • Follow the advice of local authorities. If they tell you to evacuate, do it!

What should I do during a hurricane?

  • Stay indoors, and away from windows. Do not go outside. Sometimes people are fooled if the calm eye of the hurricane passes over. The winds (from the opposite direction) after the eye passes can be just as dangerous as the initial blast.
  • Stay in the central area of your home if possible, away from windows.
  • If you have window draperies or shades, close them to protect against flying glass should your windows be blown in.
  • Listen for official news and/or weather advisories to know when the storm has passed. This is when your battery operated radio is important should you lose power. Don’t go outside until you are sure it is safe to do so.

What should I do after the hurricane passes?

  • First of all, do not drive anywhere unless absolutely necessary. Dangerous power wires may be down. Also “gawkers” (sight seers) could hamper emergency crew efforts if too many people are on the roads.
  • If you go outside, be aware of downed power lines, and do not touch them!
  • Be aware of what the old lumberjacks used to call “widow-makers”. These are broken tree limbs or branches that are stuck in trees, but could come down with the next breeze.
  • Assess the damage to your home and property, and take any steps you can to safely prevent further damage (i.e. cover holes in your walls or roof with tarps, etc.)
  • If you have lost power and use an emergency generator, never run it indoors. Dangerous levels of carbon monoxide can result. Never run the generator directly into house outlets either. Dangerous “back-feeds” can result, jeopardizing power crews.
  • Never use a barbeque grill, hibachi, etc. for cooking indoors. Again, dangerous levels of carbon monoxide can be produced.
  • If you have municipal running water, do not drink it until you are sure absolutely sure it is safe. If you are unsure of its safety, and are able to do so, boil it first before drinking it. If not, use the potable water you have stored away for emergency used.
  • If you have lost power, beware of spoiled or contaminated food in your refrigerator or freezer, and do not eat it if there is any question.
  • Contact your insurance company as soon as possible regarding any insurable losses you might have incurred, and immediate repairs that might be necessary.

By taking the appropriate steps to protect yourself, your family, and your property, you can help mitigate the efforts of one Mother Nature’s worst natural disasters.

Please note: The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has an excellent website with comprehensive focus on hurricanes and emergency preparedness. To access their site, please click the following link, or copy and paste to your web browser.

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