Opinion: Commentary: Hurricane Preparedness

Opinion: Commentary: Hurricane Preparedness

How to get your family ready for an emergency

Nothing can be more damaging and frightening than being in the path of a hurricane. We’ve been both lucky and geographically blessed to live in northern Virginia, but even here hurricanes can have a damaging effect on us. New England hasn’t seen one in 30 years like hurricane Henri that even as it weakens from a Category 1 hurricane is bringing power outages of over 120,000 households, storm surge, and heavy rainfall to the region as I write this today. In the North Atlantic Ocean, hurricane season begins on June 1 and lasts until Nov/ 30 of each year. Hurricanes, like Henri, are severe tropical storms, massive storm systems, that form over the open water. Threats from hurricanes include high winds, heavy rainfall, storm surge, coastal and inland flooding, rip currents, and tornadoes. Torrential rains can cause further damage by causing floods and landslides, which not only threaten coastal communities but may impact communities many miles inland. Our area is already quite saturated with the recent rains of late. Here on the East Coast, we are in the most active months for hurricanes, August and September. An “average” season has 14 named storms and seven hurricanes, three of which will be major (Category 3+) hurricanes. 

The 2020 hurricane season was the most active and fifth costliest hurricane season on record. After record-high activity in 2020, and a forecast of an above-average 2021 hurricane season, it is critical that we are vigilant and prepared for any major storms that may impact our community over the next several months.

What Steps Can We Take Today To Be Prepared?

Know the difference between a hurricane watch and a hurricane warning: A watch means that hurricane conditions are possible, while a warning means that hurricane conditions are expected. Listen to and sign up for local alerts and warnings on your smartphone and listen to the local news and weather reports. Have your own evacuation plan, with a place to stay and a “go bag” full of emergency items. Make sure that your home is protected by cleaning drains and downspouts, and anchoring outdoor furniture. Finally, collect and safeguard critical financial, medical, and legal documents. 

Stay Informed: Emergency Notifications:

• You can receive alerts and warnings directly from the National Weather Service for all hazards with a NOAA Weather Radio (NWR). Some radio receivers are designed to work with external notification devices for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. 

• If authorities advise or order you to evacuate, grab your “go bag” and leave immediately. If you are not in a mandatory evacuation zone, you may still decide to leave the area, you may need to move to higher ground, or you may choose to stay in your home. If you decide to stay home, remember that even if the high winds and floodwaters do not reach your home, you may lose power and water, and you may not be able to leave your home for several days if the roads are impassable.

Plan for Evacuation:

If the danger is significant, state or local government officials may issue an evacuation notice. You can do the following to be better prepared. 

• Learn your community’s evacuation plan and identify evacuation routes: https://www.vaemergency.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Hurricane-Evacuation-Guide-2020-COVID-19-Edit-Spread-View.pdf

• Emergency shelter location: To find a shelter near you, download the FEMA app at https://www.fema.gov/about/news-multimedia/mobile-app-text-messages.

• Once you determine your evacuation route and shelter location, write them down on your Hurricane Preparedness Checklist.

• Make a plan for your pet. To learn more, go to https://www.ready.gov/pets.

• Remember, if you must evacuate, never drive through flooded areas: even as little as 12 inches of water can carry a vehicle away. Never wade through water: floodwaters can contain dangerous debris like broken glass, metal, dead animals, sewage, gasoline, oil, and downed power lines.

What you need to be ready:

• Plan for your entire household including children, people with disabilities and access and functional needs, and pets.

• Keep your gas tank at least half-full at all times. 

• Maintain basic emergency supplies (e.g., snacks, bottled water, first aid kit, flashlight, flares, jumper cables and other tools, a wool blanket, and a change of clothes) in your vehicle.

• Pick an out-of-state contact everyone can call to check-in and report their status.

• Know where you will meet up if you are separated and where you will stay.

• Pack a “go bag” including items you need to take with you if you evacuate. A “go bag” should be easy to carry and kept in a place where you can grab it quickly.

Create Your Family Emergency Communication Pan:

• Your family may not be together when a hurricane occurs, or may become separated, so it is important to know how to contact one another and how to get back together.

• Keep important numbers written down in your wallet in case you cannot access the contact list in your phone. Landline and cellular phone systems are often overwhelmed following a disaster, so you may need to use text messages and social media.

• Designate an out-of-town contact who can help your household reconnect. Be sure to practice your plan with your family. Get more information by downloading Be Smart Create Your Family Emergency Communication Plan or visit https://www.ready.gov/plan.

Food and Supplies:

• At least a 3-day supply of water and non-perishable food

• Infant supplies such as formula, diapers, baby wipes, etc. 

• Pet food and supplies

Other essential supplies include necessary medications, flashlights and batteries, critical paperwork, and disinfectants. Visit https://www.vaemergency.gov/hurricanes/ for more information and an extensive guide on what to collect in the event of an emergency evacuation.

Don’t forget to be a good neighbor! Be sure to check in on elderly neighbors and other vulnerable community members before, during, and after an emergency to ensure they are safe and have everything they need to weather a storm. When there is a big storm, we are all affected together and we need to help each other out as much as possible. I know the odds of us getting hit by a big hurricane here are slim, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared and it could be that you are at the shore on vacation when it happens, so take heed. Stay safe!