It's time: Hurricane Preparedness Week is underway
The Atlantic hurricane season is just a few short weeks away and National Hurricane Preparedness Week seeks to get people prepared before June 1.
Residents in areas prone to tropical systems have likely heard the advice many times before: "The time to prepare for a storm is long before the storm forms." The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration named April 30 to May 6, 2023, as National Hurricane Preparedness Week. Each day features a specific theme or topic that relates to being prepared with the goal to have residents in storm-prone locations ready for whatever the season may bring before June 1.
Day 1: Sunday, April 30 | Know Your Risk: Water and Wind
Being aware of what hazards could impact your location is a major part of being prepared before hurricane season. Tropical systems, regardless of strength or size, are not just coastal problems. Storm surge is a significant threat with tropical systems and historically has caused the largest loss of life in hurricanes. Evacuation zones are designed to get the most vulnerable communities out of harm's way and storm surge is one aspect of what makes an area vulnerable during a tropical event. Storm surge flooding is confined in its geographical extent, but flooding from extreme amounts of rain can be observed well removed from the coast. During Hurricane Irma in 2017, Gainesville received more than a foot of rain that resulted in numerous flood reports. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has an interactive map that allows users to put in their address to determine whether or not they live in a flood zone. It is important to know that even outside of flood zones, tropical events can result in flooding. Hurricane-force winds can cause damage to homes and businesses, with damage ranging from moderate to catastrophic during major hurricanes. Strong winds are often responsible for power and communications outages, which can last for weeks during major events. Prepare your home before a storm by removing any unsecured objects that may become dangerous wind-blown projectiles during the height of a tropical system.
Day 2: Monday, May 1 | Prepare Before Hurricane Season
The Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1, but being prepared for the season should come before that. The days leading up to a landfalling tropical system are stressful. Planning for a stressful event will only add to the stress of the event, which can lead to uninformed or misinformed decision-making. The best place to start is by developing an evacuation plan, especially for residents of coastal areas where evacuation orders may be put into place. If you're unsure of your evacuation zone status, the Florida Division of Emergency Management has an interactive map that allows users to input their address and determine which evacuation zone they reside in. The unique geography of Florida means every resident, regardless of where in the state they live, should have an evacuation plan. When the time to evacuate comes, your disaster kit should be ready to grab and go with at least three days worth of food, water, and medicine. Before the season begins on June 1, it is recommended to get an insurance check-up to ensure it will cover any potential repairs or replacing of your home or belongings. It is important to know that flood insurance typically requires a 30-day waiting period before taking effect. Take the time before hurricane season begins to document your possessions: this includes taking photos of the outside and inside of your home, writing down serial numbers, and any other items you may need to provide your insurance company when filing a claim. Your hurricane preparedness plan should come with a communication plan that is shared with the entire family. This plan should include family meeting places and a written list of emergency contacts. In the weeks leading up to the start of the Atlantic hurricane season, take time to trim trees, install storm shutters, and strengthen your home so it can withstand hurricane-force winds.
Day 3: Tuesday, May 2 | Understand Forecast Information
At any given time, we have access to a plethora of forecast information in our hands or pockets. That information is not always reliable or is sometimes outdated. Rely on official forecasts from the National Hurricane Center and local National Weather Service offices. Residents are encouraged to be cautious of "sensational headlines" when scrolling through social media, as this can lead to confusion regarding current storm information. It's important for residents to know what alerts mean and to understand the difference between a watch and a warning. A Watch means impacts are possible, while a Warning means impacts are expected or happening. Residents are encouraged to focus on potential impacts and understand that deadly hazards can occur well outside of the cone.
Day 4: Wednesday, May 3 | Get Moving When a Storm Threatens
Immediate action should be taken by residents when a storm threatens their community. One of the main reasons why being prepared before hurricane season starts is so when a storm is imminent, you can take the appropriate actions to prepare your family and home before the storm arrives. Longer-term home improvement actions need to be completed before June 1, such as tree trimming and sealing outside wall openings. The days before a storms arrival should focus mainly on short-term home improvement actions, such as boarding up windows and securing loose outdoor items and all exit doors. Determine safe shelter options and keep in mind most public shelters only allow service animals. It is recommended to have multiple shelter options, including distant ones like a friend's home outside of the potential impact area. Have your go-bag stocked with enough food, water and medication for a minimum of three days. During this time, keep your phone charged and be sure to grab any chargers for your electronic devices. Fill up or charge your vehicle in the days before a landfalling system impacts your community. The adage "many hands make light work" rings true, as offering assistance to neighbors is encouraged to be part of your preparedness plan. Finally, you and your family are urged to follow evacuation orders if given. Don't wait until a hurricane intensifies to follow the evacuation order. Allowing time to get out of the evacuation zone ensures that you avoid being trapped by severe weather.
Day 5: Thursday, May 4 | Stay Protected During a Storm
As important as preparing before a storm is, staying protected during a storm is just as crucial. Keeping a safe distance from flooded and damaged areas will minimize your risk of being swept up by swift-moving flood waters. In the event of flooding, head to higher ground. Seek shelter if needed in the attic, but do not stay there if water continues to rise. If the attic becomes unsafe and flood waters continue to rise, get to the roof of your house and call 9-1-1. If travel is unavoidable, ensure proper steps are taken to avoid driving through floodwaters. According to FEMA, it only takes a little over one foot of fast moving flood waters to sweep away a vehicle. While flooding and storm surge tend to be the biggest cause for storm-related deaths, wind is a dangerous aspect of any landfalling tropical system. When sheltering from wind, place as many walls between you and your family from the outside world. This will lessen the danger your family faces as winds howl outside. If you are sheltering in place during a storm, make sure to have Wireless Emergency Alerts enabled on your phone to receive Warnings and other alerts. Finally, listen to local officials and avoid travel unless ordered to evacuate.
Day 6: Friday, May 5 | Use Caution After Storms
The road to recovery can be a long one following a landfalling tropical system. It is crucial that residents that evacuated return home only when told to do so by local emergency management. Remaining vigilant in the days and weeks following a disaster will keep you and your family out of harms way. Residents are asked to exercise extreme caution around damaged buildings and to carefully inspect the outside of their home to check for loose power lines, gas leaks, and other structural damage. In order to prevent electric shock, avoid handling damaged power lines. This can be tricky, as power lines may be on the ground, hidden in water, or dangling overhead. Take steps to minimize over-exertion: this includes staying hydrated, taking frequent breaks, wearing loose-fitting clothing, and cleaning up during cooler hours if possible. During this time, residents are reminded that offering a helping hand to neighbors will get the recovery effort underway even quicker. As a reminder, emergency responders and communication systems are likely to be overwhelmed in the days and weeks following a landfalling tropical system. If your home is without power, a portable generator can be a reliable way to get power and a sense of normalcy. Carbon monoxide poisoning is one of the leading causes of death in areas hard-hit with power outages, so be sure to only use portable generators outside more than 20 feet from your home, doors, and windows.
Day 7: Saturday, May 6 | Take Action Today
The time to take action to prepare for the Atlantic hurricane season is before June 1. Understand your risk from tropical systems and begin pre-season preparations now. Make sure you and your family are following trusted sources of weather information and ensure their ability to understand forecast information and alerts. Knowing what to do in the days leading up to a landfalling tropical system will allow your family to be prepared to shelter in place once the storm arrives in your community. Following safe practices after a storm is over will keep you and your family out of the hospital in the days and weeks following a tropical system's departure.