What to do When a Hurricane Threatens

Hurricane getting close to hitting land

The very first step in hurricane preparedness is an assessment of your risk. Do you know what you currently have and how you anticipate it will fare against hurricane-force winds and the resulting substandard living conditions?

What is a Hurricane and Why Are They Such a Threat?

To be considered a hurricane, a tropical cyclone must sustain a wind force of 74 miles per hour or greater on a land surface.

What sort of damage can happen in 74 mph sustained surface winds? The National Weather Service breaks this down for us on their Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.

Saffir-Simpson Scale

Hurricane Category Sustained Wind Speed Potential Damage Due to Hurricane Winds
1 74-95 mph Some damage will be caused by very dangerous winds: Homes with sturdy frames may experience damage to the roof, shingles, vinyl siding and gutters. Large tree limbs will break, and trees with shallow roots may fall over. Power outages could last a few to several days if power wires and poles sustain significant damage.
2 96-110 mph Extensive damage will be caused by extremely dangerous winds: Homes with sturdy frames could suffer significant siding and roof damage. Many trees with shallow roots will be uprooted or snapped, blocking many roads. Near-total power loss is anticipated, and disruptions could linger for days or even weeks.
3 (major) 111-129 mph Damage will be devastating: Roof decking and gable ends may be severely damaged or removed from homes with sturdy frames. Many roads will be blocked by snapped or uprooted trees. After the storm passes, water and electricity won’t be available for days or even weeks.
4 (major) 130-156 mph Damage will be catastrophic: Homes with sturdy frames may incur serious damage, losing much of their roof structure and/or some of their exterior walls. Most trees will be broken or uprooted, and electricity poles will fall. Residential areas will be isolated by downed trees and power poles. Power outages could linger, and most of the area won't be habitable for several weeks or months.
5 (major) 157 mph or higher Damage will be catastrophic: Walls and roofs in many homes with sturdy frames will be destroyed. Residential areas will be isolated by downed trees and power poles. Power outages could linger, and most of the area won’t be habitable for several weeks or months. 

The National Weather Service has produced the following visual reference for hurricane damage.

Additional Weather Hazards

Other weather hazards related to hurricanes include:

  • Storm surges, or abnormal rises in seawater created by tropical storms or hurricane winds, can travel inland for several miles, sweeping life and property away in resulting currents.
  • Flooding from rainfall
  • Tornadoes that typically form in rain bands further away from the hurricane

How to Prepare for Hurricanes

After conducting an assessment and making considerations for what will happen in each hurricane category, it’s time to prepare. Because we can never know exactly what damage any hurricane will cause, we should treat every hurricane like it will cause the maximum amount of damage possible until we know otherwise.

Determining your risk doesn’t need to be complicated, and it’s likely more beneficial to think about this as a scale expressed in terms of life and property. At what point do you anticipate a building to fail and/or loss of life to occur, and what will you do to prevent that from happening? The answer to this question will be case-by-case, depending on the unique circumstances of the storm and the property. Expressed in the simplest of terms, you can plan to:

  1. Shelter; or
  2. Evacuate.

While both options are quite different, each requires a healthy level of ongoing planning, as outlined on Ready.gov. Businesses should also be ready with continuity of operations planning.

Sheltering the Storm

It’s always important to note that preparation should be conducted before the arrival of the hurricane, especially if you are in zones designated as hurricane zones by the National Weather Service.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security offers the remaining steps for preparing to shelter from a hurricane:

  • Recognize Warnings and Alerts - Have several ways to receive alerts. Download the FEMA app and receive real-time alerts from the National Weather Service for up to five locations nationwide. Signup for community alerts in your area, and be aware of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA), which require no sign-up.
  • Consider Those with Disabilities - Identify whether you will need additional help during an emergency if you or anyone else in your household is an individual with a disability.
  • Review Important Documents - Make sure your insurance policies and personal documents, such as your ID, are up to date. Make copies and keep them in a secure password-protected digital space.
  • Strengthen your Home - Declutter drains and gutters, bring in outside furniture, and consider hurricane shutters.
  • Get Tech Ready - Keep your cell phone charged when you know a hurricane is in the forecast, and purchase backup charging devices to power electronics. You might also consider installing a generator.
  • Marina and boat owners should also prepare for hurricanes and act as needed. The City of Corpus Christi, TX, offers hurricane guidance for marina owners.

The National Weather Service and U.S. Department of homeland security also recommend building a basic emergency supply kit. Once you have assembled your supply kit(s), you should maintain them. Regularly check items with expiration dates and other items, such as the following:

  • Flashlights
  • Emergency radios
  • Batteries (rotate fresh ones in)

Be Ready to Evacuate

You might have to evacuate at a moment’s notice if you live in an evacuation zone. You should stay connected to your local authorities to know when you should evacuate and follow their instructions. Make sure you prepare by doing the following:

  • Know your evacuation routes.
  • Practice your plan.
  • Know where you will stay.
  • Leave expired food behind. Follow this guide from foodsafety.gov to determine which foods have expired.

Learn More

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security offers additional planning guidance for evacuation. For additional Loss Control Guidance, visit the Plan & Protect safety hub.

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