Another hurricane season is upon us, that June through November period of time each year when Mother Nature drops storms from Houston to the East Coast. The Emerald Coast is not immune from these events with repairs and rebuilding from Hurricane Michael in 2018 still ongoing. To help you better prepare, we’ve compiled a list of reminders, tips and advice, as well as guidance from the State of Florida, that will assist before, during and after these events.
First things first: If an approaching hurricane is a Category 3 or greater … it’s probably best to leave. Former Florida Governor Rick Scott put it best when he said, “We can rebuild your home, but we cannot rebuild your life.” Do not put your life at stake. Take what you need — and only what you need — and evacuate.
Before A Hurricane
- Watch the path of the hurricane closely and stay informed through reputable news and weather platforms. You can never be overprepared. Local TV stations include WJHG (Panama City Beach), WEAR (Pensacola), and FOX10 and NBC15 (Mobile). Local newspapers include The Destin Log, Northwest Florida Daily News and Panama City News-Herald. The City of Destin has a Hurricane Information Guide you can download. You can also check out Walton County’s disaster preparedness resources here.
- Make sure you have enough water (one gallon per person per day), non-perishable foods, batteries, flashlights, and other hurricane supplies to last at least three days without power. Sales tax holidays for disaster-preparedness supplies have been orchestrated in the past. Visit this page to view possible sales tax-exempt items related to disaster preparedness. Here’s a great checklist from the State of Florida to follow:
- Water: Enough for drinking, cooking and sanitation purposes — pack a minimum of one gallon daily per person for seven days.
- Food: Non-perishable packaged or canned food and juices, snacks and foods for those with dietary restrictions (e.g., infants and people with diabetes).
- Cooking Supplies: Manual can opener, cooking tools and fuel, paper plates, and plastic utensils.
- Flashlight and Extra Batteries
- Pillows, Blankets and/or Sleeping Bags
- Clothing: Complete change of clothes suitable for the current climate and include sturdy shoes to protect feet from debris or other sharp objects post-storm.
- First Aid Kit, Prescription Medication, and Other Medicines: Include a first aid kit and plan to bring medications that you need. After a storm, you may have limited supplies of your prescription medications and your local pharmacy may close. Keep an updated list of each medication you take, its dosing instructions, and the name and contact information of the prescribing doctor.
- Radio: Battery operated and NOAA weather radio.
- Cleaning Supplies: Garbage bags, moisture wipes and other items.
- Cash: Banks and ATMs may not be open or available for extended periods following a disaster.
- Important Documents: Store all critical documents in a waterproof container and save them electronically. Documents like insurance, medical records, bank account numbers, Social Security card, etc.
- Contact List: Keep an updated list of all important contacts, including doctors, friends, relatives, out-of-state friends, or relatives.
- Special Items: Assess all family member needs. Plan for infants, elderly and individuals with access and functional needs (e.g., medical items and baby bottles).
- Pet Care Items: Proper identification, immunization records, ample supply of food and water, carrier or cage, medications, muzzle and leash, and a photo of you and your pet together to validate ownership.
- Walk through your home with a video camera or take pictures, ensuring all closets and drawers are open. If you’re forced to file an insurance claim, this will help you quantify your belongings — because who really knows how many shirts and cups you own?
- Plan an evacuation route with alternatives if the storm path changes.
- Do not go north of a storm because although it won’t be a direct hit, you could still lose power in the path of the hurricane.
- Share these plans with friends and family so they know where you’re headed.
- Begin using up all of your perishable groceries or throwing out those that will spoil if power is lost.
- Start running your ice makers and bagging up ice in your freezer. You want to fill up your freezer with as much ice as possible to help it stay cool if power is lost.
- Freeze regular tap water in plastic containers for pets, cleaning or drinking.
- Move all outdoor furniture (including trash cans, fire pits and anything that could possibly become airborne during the storm) into the house and garage or secure it.
- Decide if you will board your windows and doors (if you have hurricane-rated, you may be off the hook), and make sure you have a contact person who can do the heavy lifting (installing the wood boards, closing large hurricane shutters, etc.)
- Secure all firearms and ammunition properly.
- Get cash from the ATM (at least enough for tolls and gas to get you out of town).
- Make sure to call your bank if you plan on going out of state so they don’t freeze your account for “suspicious” out-of-town transactions.
- Screenshot and email all important documents to yourself (passports, titles, insurance policies, vet records for your pet(s), etc.) and take the originals with you in sealed plastic bags.
- Fill up all vehicles with gas, check tires, and get an oil change, if needed. Download the app at GasBuddy.com to find gas stations with gas along the way.
- Additional planning resources from the State of Florida are available here.
Day of Evacuation or Hurricane
- Put your fridge and freezer on the coldest settings.
- Fill up bathtubs with water to help store large amounts for drinking, flushing toilets, etc. Following a storm, access to basic services such as power and water may be lost, and you may have limited or no access to essentials like food and water.
- Freeze a cup of water and place a quarter on top of it. This will tell whether your food has spoiled. Quarter on top: Food is safe. Quarter on bottom: It all needs to be trashed because the water and food are thawed.
- Consider putting heirlooms and photos in plastic bins in high places, on the second floor, or in safe rooms if you don’t plan on taking them with you.
- Make sure all of your windows and doors are securely shut. Place beach towels on window sills and by exterior doors — even the best shutters can have water seepage in high winds.
- Close all interior doors in the house. A new IBHS (Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety) study proved closing interior doors can reduce pressure on roofs and help houses hold up better in high winds.
- Turn off your power and water. This can help avoid further damage if a pipe or line is broken in the storm. You’ll find a list of utility providers here.
- Unplug all household electronics including TVs, appliances, etc.
- Mark your arm in Sharpie with your name and emergency contact information.
- If you are evacuating from Destin or Santa Rosa Beach, make sure you leave prior to winds exceeding 35 miles per hour. The bridge on U.S. 331, Mid-Bay and other toll bridges close once wind speeds reach 35mph and you will not be able to leave.
- If you are staying at home, know where to find shelter in the event you have to leave your home for a safer place. The Florida Division of Emergency Management maintains a list of shelter options here. If you or someone you know has a disability or a special need, pre-register with the Florida Special Needs Shelter Registry. Individuals deemed eligible for a special needs shelter should prep a kit including a list of medications and dosages, a 30-day supply of medicine, any vital medical equipment as well as backup energy sources for those, special dietary requirements or foods and personal information including a photo ID, insurance card, list of emergency contacts, etc.
After The Hurricane
The period of time following a hurricane results in many unknowns. There may be flooding and a lack of resources to contend with along with clean-up efforts and more. Here are a few things to consider:
- Stay out of flood water. Don’t drive in flooded areas as you can be swept away or your car may stall in moving water. If possible, if you have to be near flood water, always wear a life jacket.
- Don’t use wet electronics. If your power is still on, turn it off and wait for an electrician to give you the all-clear.
- Use flashlights, not candles. Candles carry a risk of starting a fire.
- Keep a fire extinguisher accessible.
- Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide can be created by generators, pressure washers, grills and stoves. Do not use any of these pieces of equipment indoors.
- Prevent mosquito-borne illness. Mosquito eggs laid during flooding can create a major nuisance. Follow “Drain and Cover” advice including draining water from garbage cans, pool covers, coolers, buckets, etc.; discarding old tires, drums, broken appliances, etc.; emptying birdbaths and water bowls for pets; protecting boats and vehicles from rain with tarps that don’t accumulate water; and, maintaining swimming pools with proper chemicals and preventative maintenance. Keep your skin covered to reduce the potential for bites, and cover doors and windows with screens to keep mosquitoes out.
- Stay away from damaged buildings. Do not enter any building until authorities deem it safe, and leave any location where you hear shifting on unusual noises.
- Steer clear of power lines. Report any fallen lines to the electric company.
- Ensure you’re drinking safe water and eating safe food. Food that has come into contact with flood water should be thrown out, as should perishables that were not properly refrigerated due to power loss. Boil water as needed for drinking, cooking and personal hygiene.
- Keep clean. This means washing your hands and safeguarding any wounds or injuries to prevent infection.
- Protect your emotional health. Talk to someone if you are struggling; connect with family, friends and community members; and, know when and how to seek help. The CDC offers ideas that can help, available here.
State Assistance Information Line: (800) 342-3557