Your television show cuts off to air a breaking news broadcast: the Governor of your state has just issued a state of emergency. That CAT 4 hurricane you’ve been monitoring has taken a sudden turn towards land, and will make landfall in less than a week. Your house is dead center of the projected path, and you’re not prepared for this unexpected house guest. Today, I’m going to show you how to quickly prepare your home for a hurricane so you can put your mind at ease fast while keeping your family and home safe and sound.
The Hurricane Checklist
The first priority in any emergency situation is to make sure you don’t panic and to keep working through any problems you may face. It’s really easy to immediately panic, and make mistakes that could cost you big time in the long-run.
Take a deep breath. The situation I described above is pretty intense, but certainly something you can handle, especially with the right tools and knowledge.
Here’s a crucial checklist of things to quickly get in order before the hurricane strikes:
1. Emergency Management Pages and Apps
If this is your first hurricane, go ahead and see if your county has an Emergency Management Facebook page. They most likely will and in case of a power outage, you will be able to keep track of where water and food are being handed out. Technology has made it much easier to stay informed, which will help keep you calmer.
Your state should have an emergency preparedness plan website, check out FEMA to find the appropriate websites for your state. These sites are full of resources you can turn to in case of an emergency and often include useful checklists of what to do in case of a natural disaster.
Most likely, if you have a hurricane about to make landfall in a few days, all the generators will be out of stock (this is why prepping is so crucial, it helps you to stay ahead of the pack and have everything you need without running into shortages). If you do manage to snag one, that’s great! It will be handy to help keep appliances running until the power comes back on.
In a pinch, it is possible to use a large power inverter to power your appliances for a short time. A power inverter is a device that will connect to your car’s battery and provide a standard 110-volt output. You can purchase these online, at many auto parts stores, Walmart, and home improvement stores. You can run an extension cord from this device to your refrigerator, for example, to keep it running and your food from going bad.
Make sure you choose an inverter that is large enough to run the appliance that you want to power it with. Check the rating (in watts) of the inverter and compare it to the label on your appliance. You will also likely have to leave your car running to power the device if you are running a large appliance off of the inverter (such as a refrigerator). If not, it will drain your car’s battery in a matter of minutes.
3. Non-Perishable Food and Water
If you decide to ride out the storm, you will need to stock up on at least three days of food and water, although it is a good idea to have more. Bottled water, canned goods, cereals, and foods that won’t spoil without refrigeration or need to be cooked should be in your pantry.
Meats and frozen veggies can be kept in a deep freezer for a few days if the power goes out, though you will need a generator to keep the temperature cold. Ice packs and frozen water bottles in coolers can help keep snacks and drinks cold for a while too. Generally, if most cold foods are kept over 40 degrees Fahrenheit for more than 2 hours, then they should be discarded.
Water is another commodity that will be hard to find a few days before the hurricane. Try and get a few cases of water bottles and even some jugs. If you live on a farm, utilize those water tanks and 5-gallon buckets. Make use of what you have available, and be sure to check out this post about safely storing water for emergencies.
Another trick is to fill up a bathtub with water ahead of time. Although soap scum and other contaminants present in the bathtub makes it a poor source of drinking water, this water can still be used for washing dishes, flushing a toilet, or personal hygiene.
Cell Phones, tablets, and even laptops should all be charged up and kept on chargers right up until the power goes out. Trust me, once the power goes out, you’re going to want your Kindle fully charged for entertainment. Use portable chargers to keep your devices going for days.
For cellphones and tablets, you can recharge them with a car charger. It is also a wise choice to buy a few power sticks or other backup charging devices ahead of time and have them at full charge. If the cell towers go out, switch your devices over to ‘airplane mode’ so they don’t waste battery life by searching for signal.
Aside from water and non-perishables, the local gasoline supply is the first thing to go when a hurricane is inbound. Cars will be lined up so far out into the street, you’d think the new iPhone was here or that Starbucks is hauling out their pumpkin spice lattes.
You’ll want to get your own tanks topped off ASAP and keep them topped off. It also wouldn’t hurt to fill up any gas or diesel cans you have or buy a couple extras (those will go fast too). However early you think you should accomplish this task, do it a few days earlier than that. Trust me, gas and gas cans will be tough to come by very quickly.
6. Other Essentials
There are other essentials you’ll need. Here’s a quick list of them:
- Fully stocked first aid kit (this includes prescription medications)
- Books and board games for entertainment (keep your Kindle stocked and charged!)
- Personal hygiene and sanitation items
- Extra Batteries
- Battery or solar operated radio
- Manual can opener
- Waterproof containers for photo albums and important paperwork
- A plan for evacuation
- A designated meeting place if family members get separated
Securing Your House and Property
Whether you decide to evacuate or ride out the storm, knowing how to prepare your home for an emergency is key. Hurricanes bring in strong winds that will break branches and even topple trees. Depending on the storm’s strength, always expect some damage, but minimize the potential total damage by taking these basic steps.
7. Secure Windows
In gale-force winds, windows are always the first things to get damaged. Whether it’s from a strong gust of wind itself or a branch crashing through the glass, leaving your windows uncovered is a danger to you and your family.
You can either buy hurricane shutters or plywood to cover your windows. Hurricane shutters are less expensive in the long run as they are either permanently affixed to the home or can be taken down and stored elsewhere. In fact, newer homes in hurricane zones are often required to have hurricane shutters installed. Some homes also have “hurricane glass” which is much like a car windshield. It consists of two layers of glass and a plastic layer between for added strength.
If you don’t have or can’t get hurricane shutters, plywood sheets work just as well. Measure out your windows and drill in the plywood over them. A few holes in the siding and frames are less distressing than a window shattering and hurting loved ones. Plywood at your local home improvement store will be much like gas at the gas station, it will sell out early and quickly.
Some people will also tape their windows, thinking this will keep them from breaking. It will keep them from shattering, but the window can still crack and break.
8. Secure Doors
Just before you leave your home or hunker down, make sure all your inside doors are closed, locked, and secured. A strong enough wind can open an unsecured door and if you have to evacuate, looters have a better chance of breaking in. Make sure to secure and double-check your garage doors for this same reason.
9. Clean Up the Outside
Anything that can’t be tied down or bolted down needs to come indoors. Toys, garbage cans, flower pots, chairs, and tables need to be stored in the house or garage. Playsets, if not bolted down, should be dismantled and stored the same way. Anything that can’t be tied down is instant hurricane debris and creates a hazard for yourself and your neighbors.
Clean out the rain gutters and trim bushes and hedges. Branches that look flimsy or visibly cracking need to be brought down. You won’t get everything, but you can still prevent significant damage with a little bit of effort beforehand.
To Evacuate or Not to Evacuate?
This will be a question that you will have to contend with. You will likely feel tempted to try and ride out the hurricane. At a CAT 1 or even 2 level, it’s possible. In many cases though, there are just too many factors to safely ride out a hurricane.
If you do decide to ride out a storm, follow the guidelines above in securing your home and preparing for landfall. If you live in a flood zone, go to higher ground. Flash floods are no joke and you don’t want to be stuck in your home.
Even if you’re not in a flood zone, there is a possibility of heavy storm surge flooding homes in the area. This is what happened in Houston during Hurricane Harvey in 2017. For that possibility, keep an axe handy in case your home starts flooding and you need to get out fast. There were many people who kept climbing higher inside their homes due to the flooding, only to find themselves trapped in their attic. A simple small hatchet or axe kept in the attic could have been an important life-line for these people.
In any case, if you are in doubt, take the safe route and evacuate if you can. Once the storm is over, you can always come back and replace a damaged home. You can’t replace your family.
Having a hurricane come towards you is an absolutely terrifying experience, no matter how many times you go through it. It is important that you know the right way of how to quickly prepare your home for a hurricane. If you stay calm and follow the guidelines the waiting won’t be so scary. You’ll be able to focus on what needs to be done and you’ll be able to quickly get your home prepared for the hurricane, even if you waited until the last minute to get started.