HurricaneTuesday’s earthquake may have caught us off-guard but Hurricane Irene doesn’t have to.  Of the many kinds of natural disasters, hurricanes provide plenty of warning, and yet time and again we hear about people who don’t take the time to prepare.

Growing up in Miami, I remember how diligently we all prepared for Hurricane David, and when it didn’t hit us as hard as expected, everyone took a much more relaxed approach to impending hurricanes.  Then Andrew hit.  A painful reminder that when hurricanes come, it doesn’t hurt to adopt the Boy Scout motto — Be prepared.

Though most of us in the DC area don’t have to evacuate, we still have to take the high winds and rains seriously and prepare not only for the storm or the aftermath.  Here is what we can all do not only to keep our own families safe, but our neighbors as well.  As FEMA, the Red Cross and other emergency management agencies say, Get a Kit, Make a Plan, Be Informed.

  • Pull together your emergency kit.  You probably have most of the supplies on hand — scattered throughout your house.  It’s time to gather them up so they are easy to grab at a moment’s notice.  Check out my comprehensive list on my blog.
  • Walk your property.  Remove or secure anything that can become airborne.  Look for things such as patio furniture, potted plants, loose or overly large limbs, yard toys, hoses, lawn decorations, etc.  Anything that can be picked up by gale force winds can become a missile that goes through your home — or your neighbor’s.  Put it in your garage or your basement.  If you absolutely cannot put it away, try to lash it down in someway.  DO NOT throw it on your trash pile unless your trash is being picked up before the storm.  Bring in those trash cans, too!
  • Flood proof.  Check gutters and down spouts, look for obstructions.  Think about massive quantities of rain — where are there potential trouble spots?  Are your basement windows closed?  Sump pump working?  Any cracks need to be sealed?  Do it now.
  • Gas up!  If you have to suddenly evacuate, you want a full tank.  And if power is down for days, many gas stations won’t be able to operate.
  • Buy ice and throw it in your freezer.  If power is out, some coolers of ice will buy you a little bit of time to keep your perishables fresh.  Some rock salt thrown on the ice in the cooler will make it last longer, though don’t then use that ice in your drinks.
  • Get cash.  Again, no power, no cash registers or ATMs.
  • Charge everything that requires batteries.  Your cell phones,  your kids games, your laptop.  Once they are charged, turn them off.
  • Grocery shop.  See the emergency kit link.  Don’t forget batteries.
  • Update your contacts list and PRINT IT OUT.  This includes your family, emergency contacts and utilities (for after the storm).
  • Pepco: 1-877-737-2662
  • Dominion Virginia Power: 1-866-366-4357
  • Baltimore Gas & Electric: 1-877-778-2222
  • Allegheny: 1-800-255-3443
  • NOVEC: 1-888-335-0500
  • SMECO: 1-877-747-6326
  • Make a communications plan with your family and friends.  Remember, you may not be able to reach that one point of contact you thought should reach everyone else — after the earthquake I could call family in Florida, but not California.  I ended up only being able to text family in California.  So make sure that family members know each other’s numbers and email addresses as well.
  • Have a plan.  Think through the what ifs.  What if you have to leave your home and your pets aren’t allowed.  Is your spouse out of town — does he know where you will be if you have to leave your home?  Think through and communicate the what ifs beforehand so you aren’t stressed out in the moment.  Don’t overanalyze, but take a little bit of time to put a few basic scenarios together. 
  • Identify your source of news.  A battery-operated and/or hand-crank radio is a good option — pre-program the stations.
  • Download apps.  There are many hurricane tracking and weather-related apps for your phone.  

A few things to remember:

  • Never, never use propane or similar fuel sources indoors!
  • It’s better to  use flashlights rather than candles as light sources — less chance of starting a fire and also you never know when there may be a gas leak.  Do not use a lighter or matches unless you are CERTAIN there has not been a gas leak.
  • There is always an “eye” of a hurricane – a temporary lull in the storm.  Do not walk out to check on the damage or you may be hit by the other side of the storm.  Listen to the news and wait for news that the hurricane has passed.
  • The safest place to be is in an interior room, away from windows. 
  • If you don’t need it — turn it off.  The fewer devices and appliances you have turned on, the less likely things will be damaged by power surges and spikes.
  • Don’t bother police and fire departments with non-emergency calls.
  • After the storm, if you don’t have to be on the roads, don’t go out for a drive.  There are likely to be downed lines and trees — keep the roads clear for emergency workers and power crews.
  • If you see a downed line, the rule is “treat it like a snake — don’t touch it.”  DO report it!

 Stay safe and report back here on how you fared on the storm — we’d love to hear about your experiences.  Don’t forget to take photos afterwards!  Follow us on Facebook and Twitter as well!

 J.J. Newby is the News and Politics Editor on The DC Moms.  When she’s not shaking from earthquakes or preparing for hurricanes, she’s guzzling Diet Cokes and writing as JavaMom on Caffeine and a Prayer.  Photo credit:  Microsoft Image Gallery