How should you go about preparing your home for a hurricane? The destructive forces of hurricane winds, storm surge, tornadoes, flying debris, and floods are devastating to conventional wood framed houses and buildings. If you live in hurricane country, saving the lives of your family by preparing for the worst is your top priority.
As long-time veterans of hurricanes like Katrina, Rita, and Camille know, the financial losses and property damage left in their path is devastating. The most powerful storms have delivered winds over 140 mph and storm surges some 25 feet high, engulfing everything in their path at least 25 miles from the coast. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina left at least $75 billion in losses and at least 1,600 dead in its wake.
There were some unfortunate people that could not leave their homes behind prior to the storm's arrival. As a result, many people that were trapped in their homes by the flood waters, were only able to survive by breaking through their roofs. The easy addition of an escape hatch built into the roof of all those homes could have saved many more lives. Even today, few homes being constructed in flood hazard areas have escape hatches built into the roof. In terms of saving lives, a roof escape hatch could be an important feature not only for the survivors, but also for first responders and search and rescue teams. Every home's roof must be built to survive the force of the hurricane's winds and having an escape hatch should only be regarded as a means of last resort. Having a safety hatch build into the roof is not a guarantee of protection, only as a way out when there is no other option.
What is more important in preparing your home for a hurricane are the plans you make in preparation for its arrival. Here's a short list of critical items to pay attention to well before a hurricane comes calling:
Insurance. You should have homeowners insurance coverage, including flood insurance. Check your insurance coverage with your insurer, and purchase government flood insurance if your home is at risk of flooding.
Protect your valuables. Make sure that all your valuables and important records are secure. Rent a safety deposit box or some other type of secure storage.
Money. After the storm, you will need to have money (cash) on hand. Don't expect ATM machines to be operating if the power is out across a wide area.
You'll need to have a reasonable amount; say $100 minimum for personal items to cover your families needs, including prescriptions, for at least 5 days away form home.
Prepare a Family Emergency Evacuation Plan. Be thoughtful about this. To begin with, your plan should contain information about your home, where your important papers are located, your chosen emergency destination and gathering point is, important contacts (names, agencies, telephone number, e-mail addresses, etc.) Also include protected copies of photographs and videos of your property, inside and out, a prepaid cell phone with back up batteries and a charger, family medical information about medical necessities, prescriptions, doctors, and allergies. Don't forget to add a phone number list of important contacts, like your insurance company, the local police and fire departments, and loved ones. Finally, a well-equipped first aid kit, with additional flashlight, batteries and a portable radio should accompany you at all times.
Experience in dealing with aftermath of hurricanes has indicated the one final and important step. Identify and secure any hazardous materials you have stored in your basement, garage, barn or workshop. Environmentally hazardous materials include oil and gasoline, paint, thinners, and chemicals of all kinds, such as pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. Hazardous materials like these are dangerous pollutants in flood waters, and will have a devastating effect upon the environment for years long after the storm.
More often than not, effective planning begins with a realistic assessment of needs. If you have a conventional, stick-built home in hurricane country, there are only a few things you can do to protect it from a hurricane's fury.
You can board up the windows, build a levy with sandbags, and move all your valuables to a safe location, turn off the gas and store bottles of drinking water to begin with. More importantly, you should plan ahead to protect your family, your future, and the environment when hurricanes come calling this hurricane season.