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Before the storm: Steps to take ahead of the hurricane

emergency situations

Hurricane Dorian could have a devastating impact over a large area. Here’s what you can do to begin preparing.

I’m an old Eagle Scout, and the motto, “Be Prepared,” is as relevant today as ever: Get out in front of risk. Take steps now to avoid serious problems later.

That mind-set certainly applies to the biggest, wildest, most terrifying storms on the planet. With dangerous Hurricane Dorian approaching the Florida and Southeastern U.S. coast, storm readiness is essential.

What have I learned tracking these fickle weather beasts over the course of four decades? Don’t count on the latest technology or the government to save you. Take personal responsibility and have an action plan in place so you’re fully prepared.

Coastal residents bear the brunt of hurricane winds and storm surge (sudden rise in water levels at the coast above normally dry land), but severe flooding can affect homeowners hundreds of miles inland. In fact, in recent years inland flooding has surpassed storm surge as the biggest water-related killer.

From 2016 to 2018, 83 percent of fatalities were water-related, but only 4 percent of these were due to storm surge. Since 2018 the National Hurricane Center estimates that half of all hurricane victims died in their vehicles. Only 6 inches of rapidly moving water can knock you off your feet; two feet of water can turn a car or truck into a boat, with tragic consequences.

Check FloodSmart.gov to determine how significant the flood risk is for your Zip code and have a plan to safely move to dry ground if water rises. Are your most important documents stored in a safe spot? Is your insurance premium paid up, and do you have the added peace of mind of additional flood insurance (since most homeowners’ insurance plans don’t cover water-related damage)?

Meteorologist Dennis Feltgen is the public affairs officer for the National Hurricane Center in Miami. The most common mistake he’s seen over the years? “People tend to prepare for an approaching hurricane based on their previous experience,” he said. But every storm is different and presents a unique set of hazards.

We often get hung up on Saffir-Simpson hurricane ratings. “Is it a Category 2 or a 4?” Experts remind us that all tropical systems, by definition, are dangerous and fickle. Any hurricane, tropical storm, tropical depression and their remnants can become life-threatening and should be taken seriously.

For coastal residents and visitors, the storm surge can inundate roads, homes and businesses under many feet of water. While evacuation orders can be disruptive, they are necessary, and planning ahead for the possibility will lessen the inconvenience.

“Find out from your local emergency manager if you live in a hurricane evacuation zone,” Feltgen said. “If so, decide well ahead of time where you would go if told to evacuate. You don’t need to travel hundreds of miles, only far enough to get out of the storm-surge risk area. That could be just inland with a friend or relative, or to a shelter.”

If evacuation seems likely, have a “go-bag” ready with clothing, extra cash and credit cards, essential medications and any documents you may need on the road.

In the wake of a storm, the power may be out, and it may be difficult to travel.

Create a Family Emergency Plan in advance. Don’t count on electricity, fresh food and water or gasoline in the wake of a major hurricane. Have at least a week’s worth of nonperishable food and water on hand. You don’t have to become a doomsday prepper, but planning ahead will save you pain and aggravation. Check on neighbors to make sure they have a plan, and make sure pets have sufficient food and water.

Businesses are also vulnerable to these storms, so planning ahead becomes critical to protect assets, employees and customers.

“Like every homeowner, a business owner must have a hurricane plan in place,” Feltgen said. “This includes determining your risk to the specific impacts of wind and water, developing an evacuation plan, assembling disaster supplies, getting an insurance checkup, and strengthening their building.”

Does your company have business-interruption insurance in case hurricane-related damage closes your doors for weeks, even months? Anticipate future needs and adjust accordingly.

Once the National Hurricane Center establishes the cone of uncertainty encompassing the most likely track, it’s possible to prepare and position supplies (fresh water, canned goods, plywood, etc.) required to get communities back on their feet after the storm passes.

Some additional strategies:

Leverage the very latest track and intensity forecasts for specific facilities to optimize inventory for items required before, during and after a hurricane strikes.

  • Stock ATMs along planned evacuation routes with additional cash.
  • Automate the ordering of building supplies, and queue up contractors to harden facilities before the storm and make repairs when floodwaters subside.
  • Make adjustments to supply chains, and adjust transportation logistics to route shipments around high-impact areas in the direct path of the storm.
  • Gasoline is often in short supply after a hurricane. Create tasks for fueling depots to ensure sufficient capacity in the chaotic aftermath of a disruptive storm, and enough gas to run emergency generators.
Ultimately, hurricane survival depends on myriad factors, many beyond our control. Timely warnings from the National Hurricane Center are only part of the equation. The greatest unknown is human behavior. When local officials order mandatory evacuations, will you listen or take your chances riding out the storm? By the time you throw in the towel and try to flee the coast, it may be too late. Traffic jams, rising seas from sudden storm surge and flooding along escape routes could make any last-minute race inland impossible. When that critical moment arrives, will you do the right thing?

Every hurricane is different. The weather often rhymes, but never repeats. Weather technology is truly remarkable. We can track these massive storms from land and space days in advance of landfall, but these swirling superstorms rarely behave exactly as predicted. The extended outlook calls for even more hurricanes this year.

“What worries me the most is people not heeding the warnings and failing to do what is needed to protect themselves and their property until it is too late,” Feltgen said.

Original story from washingtonpost