Knowing how to prepare for a hurricane can keep you safe and secure in the event that one strikes. Since hurricanes can cause widespread devastation, take action steps way in advance of hurricane season. This guide will help you prepare for a hurricane—high winds, heavy rainfall, storm surges, and all.
How to prepare for a hurricane
1. Make an informed emergency plan
Learning how to prepare for a hurricane starts with a basic emergency plan.
Understand hurricane watches and warnings. The National Weather Service (NWS) issues alerts when weather conditions make hurricanes more likely. Knowing the following terms can help you learn how to prepare for a hurricane more effectively:
Tropical storm or hurricane advisory—The NWS issues an advisorywhen it expects conditions to cause significant or hazardous inconveniences. These situations typically aren’t life-threatening.
Tropical storm or hurricane watch—The NWS issues a watchwhen a tropical storm or hurricane is possible within 48 hours. If this is the case, monitor alerts, check emergency supplies, and gather any items for power outages.
Tropical storm or hurricane warning—The NWS issues a warningwhen it expects a tropical storm or hurricane within 36 hours. If a warning is issued, complete your storm preparations and either evacuate or stay sheltered within your home.
Sign up for local storm alerts and warnings. You can receive alerts and warnings directly from the National Weather Service or download the Red Cross Emergency app for your iPhone or Android.
Make a list of emergency contacts and plan how to communicate with friends and family members if you lose power. Calling, texting, emailing, and social media are all options, but texts are usually more reliable than phone calls since phone lines are often overloaded during hurricanes.
Know your evacuation routes. Check with your state’s Department of Transportation or Office of Emergency Management to find your nearest emergency route. Remember to never walk or drive on flooded roads or through water. After determining your evacuation route, plan the location you’ll be heading to. Discuss and practice your evacuation plan with your family.
Make sure you’re familiar with your local emergency shelter location. You can find this location on the FEMA website.
Have cash on hand for immediate emergencies. It’s also not a bad idea to build an emergency fund through a savings account to repair damage caused by the storm.
Summarize the previous tasks in a family emergency plan. Discuss these four questions with your family: How will I receive emergency alerts and warnings? What is my shelter plan? What is my evacuation route? What is my family communication plan?
2. Prepare your home
When learning how to prepare for a hurricane, the second step is to make sure your home is as safe and secure as possible before the storm strikes.
Review your home insurance and make sure it’s up to date. Though some insurance providers offer flood insurance at an additional cost, most property insurance policies don’t cover flood losses. If this is the case with your insurance policy, you’ll need to purchase separate flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program.
Catalogue your belongings and keep important financial, medical, educational, and legal documents in a waterproof bin or safe.
Designate a safe room to go to when a hurricane strikes. Stay away from windows and seek shelter on the lowest level in an interior room—this will protect you in the event that high winds send debris through your windows.
Invest in a generator, especially if someone in your family has specific health or medical needs. This device will give your home power in the event of a power outage. Stationary generators can take weeks to install, so plan to install a generator a month or so before hurricane season. Always use generators outdoors and away from windows.
Cover all of your home’s windows, preferably with permanent hurricane shutters. You may also board up your windows with ⅝-inch exterior grade or marine plywood, cut to fit and ready to install, though hurricane shutters offer more protection against wind and rain.
Reinforce your garage doors so that they remain protected against flying debris.
36 hours before a hurricane strikes
Bring in any loose or lightweight objects, like patio furniture or garbage cans, that could become projectiles in high winds.
Stock up on food like canned meats, canned vegetables, dry cereal, and protein bars (you should have at least three days of supplies per person).
Make sure you’re stocked on emergency supplies like bandages, antibiotic ointment, and cleaning agents.
Store as much water as you can in your fridge so that if the power goes out, your fridge will retain its cool temperature for longer.
Less than 24 hours before a hurricane strikes
Fill your car’s gas tank. Store a mini disaster kit in your trunk that includes snacks, bottled water, a first aid kit, flares, jumper cables, and an extra set of clothes. Park your car in the garage.
Charge your cell phone so you’ll have a full battery in case you lose power.
When a hurricane is six hours from arriving, turn your refrigerator and freezer to the coldest setting (in case the power goes out) and open only when necessary. Keep a thermometer in the refrigerator to check the temperature when the power is restored—if the temperature is above 40°F, it’s best to throw away perishable food like raw meat.
Review the emergency plan with your family and be ready to evacuate or go to your nearest emergency shelter.
3. Create a home disaster kit
When learning how to prepare for a hurricane, creating a disaster kit is a must. Here are the essentials that should be included:
Food and water (i.e: canned meats and fruits, canned vegetables, dried fruits, crackers, energy/protein bars, trail mix, dry cereal, cookies, etc.) Note that an average person needs about one gallon of water per day.
A can opener
A flashlight and extra batteries
A battery-powered or hand-crank radio
Portable chargers for cell phones
A first aid kit including antibiotic ointment, adhesive bandages, eye wash, aspirin, antacids, latex gloves, soap or other cleaning agent, tweezers, and small scissors
Prescription medication—Some insurers will not honor refills until the last refill is used, so drugs may have to be purchased without insurance. Always have extra medication just in case a storm comes and the pharmacies shut down.
A sleeping bag for each person
A silver foil emergency blanket
Paper plates, cups, and napkins
In addition to your permanent home disaster kit, have go bags ready in case you need to evacuate quickly.
4. Create a safety plan for your pet
Prepare a pet emergency kit—This should include sturdy leashes, a carrier, food, drinking water, bowls, medication, copies of medical records (stored in an airtight container), a first aid kit, information on feeding schedules, and pet toys (if easily transportable).
Know a safe place to take your pets. If you have to evacuate your home during a disaster, the best way to protect your pets is to bring them with you. Know which hotels along your evacuation route will accept pets and determine which boarding facilities and animal shelters can care for your animals in an emergency. Note: Most American Red Cross shelters can’t accept pets because of health and safety concerns.
Make sure that your pet’s vaccinations are current and that all pets are wearing collars with identification cards. This is extremely important in case you and your pet get separated during the storm.