Preparing for the worst when a hurricane threatens

From hurricanes and floods to tornadoes and fires, natural disasters are a homeowners worst nightmare. Here are a few basic steps you can take now to prepare for the worst.

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Today's Homeowner

From hurricanes and floods to tornadoes and fires, natural disasters are a homeowner’s worst nightmare. While August through October are the peak months of hurricane season, being prepared for a natural disaster isn’t just confined to a few months out of the year or those living along the coast. Here are a few basic steps you can take now to prepare for the worst.

Basic Preparations

  • Food and water: Stockpile drinking water and nonperishable food. Choose products that can be eaten without cooking, and rotate the food items in your pantry to keep them fresh. Be sure to keep a manual can opener on hand and stock up on pet food as well. When a hurricane is heading your way, line bathtubs with plastic and fill them with water. After the storm passes, eat perishable food first.
  • Fuel: Following a natural disaster, the gas grill might be the only method of cooking available, so be sure the propane tank is full and keep a spare on hand. If a hurricane is approaching, don’t wait until the last minute to top off the gas tank in your car and fill several approved gas cans as well. Be sure not to store gasoline in your home or near an ignition source such as a gas hot water heater.
  • Lighting: It’s always darkest after the storm, so be sure you have several flashlights and plenty of batteries. While propane camping lanterns should not be used indoors, portable lamps that run on batteries are available in incandescent and fluorescent versions. Do to the increased risk of fire, avoid the use of candles. If you must use them, don’t leave candles unattended and keep a fire extinguisher nearby.
  • Information: In the aftermath of a natural disaster, a battery powered weather radio and AM/FM radio are your lifelines to the outside world. Battery powered portable television sets can be useful as well.
  • Communication: Charge up cell phones and keep a portable charger on hand that works in your car. Also, be sure you have a telephone that does not require electricity to operate.
  • Medical supplies: Fill prescriptions in advance and keep a first aid kit handy. Don’t forget to stock up on supplies like toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and disposable diapers.
  • Money: When the power is off after a natural disaster, cash is often the only medium of exchange. Keep some smaller bills and coins as well, since change could be hard to come by.
  • Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors: Be sure to have battery operated models on hand that will work when the electricity is out.
  • Tarps and tape: Stock up on tarps, rolls of plastic, rope, and duct tape to use for emergency repairs after the storm.
  • Tools: Charge up cordless tools and make sure you have adequate hand tools to use while the power is out. While a gas powered chain saw can be your best friend after the storm, it can also result in serious injuries at a time when emergency help might not be able to reach you.
  • Generators: Though worth their weight in gold after a storm, carbon monoxide poisoning from generators caused over 60 deaths in 2005 with several more fatalities resulting from electrocution and fire. Generators should only be operated in the open and at a safe distance from the home. They should not be used in an enclosed storage building, garage, carport, basement, crawlspace, or near open windows or doors. Extension cords should be adequate to handle the load, and don’t try to draw more power than the generator is rated to supply. Be sure to turn a generator off and allow it to cool before filling it with gas.

Getting Ready

While many natural disasters strike without warning, those in the path of a hurricane often have time to prepare. Here are some things to consider:

  • Yard: Bring any lawn furniture, grills, bikes, toys, garbage cans, potted plants, and other loose items inside or store them in a garage or storage shed.
  • Windows: Remove screens from windows. If available, screw 5/8-inch thick exterior plywood over them.
  • Trees: Trim overhanging limbs away from the house.
  • Boats: Take tarps off of boats. Remove any loose items and tie down securely.
  • Cars: Park cars away from trees and power lines.
  • Utilities: Locate cut-offs for gas, electricity, and water. Have adequate tools on hand to turn them off if necessary.


Most deaths during hurricanes are caused by rising water from rainfall which can occur far inland from the coast. If you live in an area prone to flooding, be prepared to evacuate well before the storm arrives. Store the following information and documents in a plastic bag or waterproof container to take with you when you leave:

  • Insurance policies: Car, homeowner’s, boat, and life insurance policies.
  • Financial records: Statements from checking and savings accounts, stocks and bonds, loans and retirement plans. Don’t forget your checkbook and keys to safe deposit boxes along with ATM and credit cards.
  • Medical records: Include allergies to medications and medical histories for each member of the family.
  • Personal identification: Birth certificates, Social Security cards, computer passwords, and contact information of friends and relatives.
  • Household inventory: A recent list of your home’s contents, along with photographs, will prove invaluable when dealing with the insurance company. A DVD or videotape of your home and possessions is also helpful.
The only thing worse than having your sensitive personal information destroyed in a storm is for it to be lost or fall into the wrong hands, so guard it carefully on the road and in shelters.

Other important items to take with you are sleeping bags, blankets, pillows, extra clothes, and a carrying cage and leash for pets. If you have extra room, consider including irreplaceable items like family photo albums and scrapbooks.

Living thorough a natural disaster can be a traumatic experience even under the best of circumstances. By being prepared in advance, you can make life after the storm a little easier and relieve some of the stress associated with dealing with Mother Nature’s wrath.