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How to be prepared for a hurricane

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Be ready whether you decide to stay or go

Photo: NASA / NOAA, Goddard Rapid Response Team

Hurricane Irma is the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean outside of the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. A Category 5, it is currently heading toward Southern Florida; the Florida Keys announced a mandatory visitor and resident evacuation will begin Wednesday morning. Miami-Dade County’s emergency management Twitter posted a list of evacuation centers today, and Miami’s mayor has said evacuations for the city will begin Wednesday.

Irma is expected to reach Florida by this weekend, and if you could be affected, begin preparing now. If there is an order to evacuate, do not ignore the order. If there is an order to stay at home, sometimes that can be safer than leaving.

To stay or go?

If the storm is heading your way but there is no evacuation order, consider the following in deciding whether to stay:

  • If you live in a mobile home or are concerned about the structural integrity of your home, you should evacuate to a public shelter or stay with family or friends, even if you are in a low-risk area.
  • Check if you are residing in a Storm Surge Planning Zone via your city or county’s website or by calling 311. Storm Surge zones indicate areas at risk for a rise of at least 1.5 feet of water and that risk is marked with a ranking of A_E. (Here is a map of Miami’s Storm Surge Planning Zones.) Every area in a surge zone is at risk for at least one possible storm scenario.
  • If you or a loved one is elderly, has special needs, or medical concerns, you should evacuate.

Regardless of if you evacuate or not, there are ways to make sure you are ready for both scenarios.

If you are evacuating

Before you go

Make sure your vehicle is maintained. Check and replenish all fluids, replace the windshield wipers if possible, check your tire pressure, fill the gas tank and any reserve canisters. Remove any unnecessary external accessories, such as bike racks. Have a spare tire in good working order.

Consult with your car’s insurance agency to see if your policy has hurricane coverage. Take photos of your car before departing in case it incurs damage.

Map your route. Then map backup routes, but avoid smaller roads. If your route is redirected by authorities, follow their direction, even if there is traffic.

If you have pets, take them with you. Call ahead to make sure hotels and shelters are pet-friendly. If where you are staying will not accept pets, find a boarding facility or animal hospital near where you are taking shelter. If you are not home or are unable to take your pet with you, have a buddy system and ask a trusted neighbor to keep watch, or consider an out-of-town friend or relative. Make sure your pet is microchipped.

Prepare your house. Make sure your yard is clear and remove outdoor furniture, bikes, and any building materials that could rip off in high winds. If you are near the coast, protect your windows with storm shutters or by nailing plywood over the window frames. Reinforce your garage door as well, if you have one. Trim damaged trees and remove at-risk branches. Clear out your home’s gutters and make sure they are secure. Move any valuables from your home’s basement or low areas. If you have an outdoor air conditioning unit, cover it. Before you leave, turn off your home’s gas, electricity, and water and unplug appliances.

Pack a survival kit that will last you at least three days. Here’s a guide on what to bring with you.

On the road

If you are driving, do not drive on flooded streets and avoid large puddles. Drownings can result from driving through water and it only takes six inches of water to risk losing control of your car. Two feet of water can carry a car away. A puddle can hide a deep pothole.

When driving through a storm, do not use cruise control. If you hydroplane, the only way to stop wheels from spinning to maintain control is to reduce power. The extra reaction time needed to disengage cruise control can be the difference of if you’re in control of the car.

Storms can knock down power lines, so keep watch while driving for hanging wires and lines that could still be active, and objects that are touching them.

If you do not have a car, or access to a car, check to see if your city offers evacuation assistance using existing public transportation. Some cities, like Miami, also offer programs for those who are unable to evacuate on their own (such as homebound residents or those on life-sustaining medical equipment).

If you are staying

Pack the same emergency kit detailed here and follow the same directions for getting your car ready. If possible, move your car to your garage or cover it.

Prepare your house. Fill your sinks and bathtub with water so you have an extra supply handy. Purchase a portable generator or install a generator. Do not use a generator inside — keep it at least 20 feet away from windows and doors — and never plug a generator into a wall outlet. Lower your fridge’s thermostat and freezer to the coldest possible temperature and do not open them unless absolutely necessary. Lock all doors and close windows, air vents, and fireplace dampers. Turn off fans, AC, and forced air heating systems.

Stay in a room with no windows or in a closet, toward the center of your house. Have a television or a battery-operated radio to make sure you are getting updates on the hurricane. And stay inside until officials say that danger has passed. Calm weather does not mean a storm is over.