Top 5 Tips for Hurricane Safety

Mother Nature doesn't particularly fancy folks who live on the coast, and she's not at all shy about showing it. See more pictures of natural disasters.
Mother Nature doesn't particularly fancy folks who live on the coast, and she's not at all shy about showing it. See more pictures of natural disasters.

Category 1 hurricanes often cause problems, especially for people in mobile homes, but when a Category 5 hurricane comes pounding in, it's a whole other story. With winds gusting at more than 155 miles per hour (250 kilometers per hour) and storm surges higher than 18 feet (5 meters) high, Category 5 storms have the power to demolish all but the most durable buildings, while plowing down vegetation and utility poles, scooping up cars and roofs, and whipping the resulting debris around in a ferocious frenzy.

They're also big culprits when it comes to flooding. Many new home owners only realize their insurance doesn't automatically cover flooding after it's too late.

Because of the intense level of devastation that comes along with a hurricane, emergency organizations and weather experts stress the importance of knowing what to do if one of these monsters is heading your way. Ready for a rundown on smart hurricane safety practices?

Organize a Family Plan

If you live in hurricane country, it's imperative you and your family have a plan ready in case a hurricane hits land near you. That way, if a big one does make landfall, you're more prepared to handle the situation calmly and safely, with as little confusion and fear as possible.

So for starters, find out how your family's school and workplace handle hurricane preparedness. If the storm isn't strong enough to force an evacuation, will you be able to shelter at either of those locations? What will they be able to provide in terms of food and water? Are there other public shelters that open in the event of an emergency? In the event of an evacuation, how far in advance will you need to leave work to pick up your children before the hurricane gets close?

Knowing the answers to these questions in advance can really help make the emergency progress more smoothly, and even help lessen the impact of the disaster. So after you've gathered the basic information, determine the safest places to go in your community (again, this list might not include your home, but other places in the vicinity). Be sure to also learn escape routes from your local shelter spots in case a storm turns truly nasty late in the game and you need to evacuate town.

Install safety devices like smoke alarms and fire extinguishers and make sure everyone knows how to use them. You can't go wrong keeping your family current in CPR and first-aid training, too. Make sure everyone knows how to dial 911, and has memorized the phone number of an out-of-state contact person who can help your family stay in touch in case you become separated.

Build an Emergency Kit
You'll want a lot of emergency supplies on hand if this is what you're coming home to.
You'll want a lot of emergency supplies on hand if this is what you're coming home to.

The next big thing to do is prepare a disaster supply kit. Lots of items need to be included in this kit, and the particulars will vary somewhat depending on your family's specific needs, but here's a basic rundown. You'll need a three-to-seven-day supply of food and water, with 1 gallon (4 liters) of water per person, per day. Make sure most of the food is nonperishable, and since you don't know how long you'll be in a disaster situation, high-energy foods and comfort foods are good, too. Make sure you include items for anyone with a special needs diet. Don't forget kitchen accessories like plastic utensils, bowls, paper plates, manual can openers, napkins and other things you'll need to cook with.

Next, round up supplies like blankets and pillows, as well as clothing that's sturdy, seasonal and rain-resistant. Don't forget necessities like first-aid supplies, prescriptions, hygienic items like toilet paper and tampons, sunscreen, bug spray, water purification tablets and a whistle in case you become trapped in your shelter. Since you may be without power for days, you'll need flashlights and batteries, tools, and a battery-operated radio to stay up-to-date on the weather situation. In case the storm gets ugly or you need to actually evacuate before it hits, keep your keys, cash, camera, cell phone and charger on your person, plus any important personal documents and maps. Don't forget your pets; you'll need a leash, carrier, food, more water, vet records and maybe a toy or a favorite blanket. If you have a baby or a family member with special needs, make sure his or her requirements are accounted for as well.

Finally, make sure your cell phone is charged and your tank is full of gas. Once you have all that assembled and you've checked to make sure nothing's expired, it's time to batten down the hatches.

Prepare Your Property

Post-hurricane photographs serve as a dramatic testament to the fact that Mother Nature still really knows how to smack us around, despite our best efforts to build structures she can't demolish.

During the days leading up to a potential hurricane, it's important to prepare your home to up the chances it's able to weather the storm. Plus, if officials say it's OK to stay, you'll be a lot safer when the hurricane hits.

First off, board up all your windows. Storm shutters are best, but if you can't afford them, use 5/8-inch cut-to-fit plywood. Then reinforce your roof by installing straps or clips, and clean out the gutters and downspouts while you're up there. Next, secure any objects lying around the yard, or move them inside. Trim trees and shrubs. If you own a boat, moor it, otherwise it could become one mean projectile.

It's time to move inside. Continue to crank the TV or radio to keep track of official updates and see if anyone's recommending you hit the road. Listen for advisories telling you to turn off appliances and utilities, including propane tanks, although it's usually a good idea to leave the fridge on as long as possible, set to maximum cold and kept closed as much as you can. Bathtubs and any spare containers you have handy should be filled with water. Pitchers and water bottles are for drinking, the bathtubs are for sanitation use.

Once all this is done, it's just a matter of waiting and finding out whether you should stay put, or hit the road.

Evacuate as Required
Make sure your pets have somewhere to shelter if the weather turns nasty.
Make sure your pets have somewhere to shelter if the weather turns nasty.

If it's necessary to haul your family inland, this is where that full tank of gas in your car comes in handy. Consolidate passengers in as few vehicles as possible to keep the amount of cars on the road to a minimum. Follow the officially prescribed escape routes when it comes time to leave -- other streets might be closed, causing you to backtrack and lose valuable time. Avoid downed power lines, flooded roads and washed-out bridges.

If you live in a mobile home or other type of temporary housing, you should absolutely consider evacuating, or at the very least finding somewhere safer to shelter. Same thing if you roost in a high-rise. Winds during a hurricane get nastier the higher up you go. People living along coastal waterways should definitely consider moving inland.

It's important to consider your pets, too -- if you don't find someplace pet-friendly to shelter to them, but the storm renders your home unlivable, they won't be welcome at most shelters and hotels.

Find Shelter

It's a good idea to have a reinforced safe room in your house, but if you can't afford one, substitute a windowless low-level area or room instead. Stay away from windows and doors, and shove stuff up against external doors to help prevent them from being blown open and letting in dangerous debris. Shut all inside doors, and take cover under a sturdy piece of furniture with a battery-powered radio nearby to listen for updates.

During the storm, you should avoid using your phone as much as possible, unless it's for a critical cause. Stay inside until you receive official word that the hurricane has passed -- no getting fooled by the eye of the storm!

After the storm passes, be very careful where you go -- structures can be dangerous and heavy rainfall can continue for some time. Stay away from downed power lines and report any you see. If you've evacuated, return home only when officials declare it safe, and take serious precautions as you inspect any damage to your home and document it for insurance purposes. (This is why you brought along a camera.)

Don't trust tap water (until you're told otherwise by officials), and be wary of potentially spoiled food. Your freezer and refrigerator should be opened as little as possible until the power is back on, and if you're not sure about an item, junk it.

With a little luck, by following these tips, the hurricane will have gone easy on your property and possessions, and all the people (and furry friends) in your life will make it through unharmed.


The San Andreas Fault: Is the Big One Coming?

The San Andreas Fault: Is the Big One Coming?

The San Andreas is the most famous and closely watched fault line in the world. HowStuffWorks looks at how overdue we are for the next big quake.

Related Articles

More Great Links


  • "Are You Ready?" Federal Emergency Management Center. (8/2/2010)
  • "Hurricane Preparedness." National Hurricane Center. (8/2/2010)
  • "Hurricane Preparedness." American Red Cross. (8/2/2010)
  • "Hurricane Safety Checklist." American Red Cross. (8/2/2010) currPage=11a0779a32ecb110VgnVCM10000089f0870aRCRD
  • "Hurricane Safety Tips." New York State Emergency Management Office. (8/2/2010)
  • "NOAA: 2010 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook" National Weather Service. May 27, 2010. (8/2/2010)