Be prepared: If you’re in the path of a hurricane, here’s what to do

When a hurricane strikes, things can go from fine to fatal in the blink of an eye, but being prepared for any outcome and having strong plans for all scenarios can significantly lessen the threat to you, your home and your loved ones.

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. The Pacific hurricane season runs May 15 to Nov. 30, but storms are most active during the month of September, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Below are suggestions compiled from FEMA, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on precautions you can take before, during and after a hurricane.

Prepare ahead of time

Make plans for both evacuation and sheltering in place

FEMA suggests getting familiar with your area’s risk of hurricane so that you know what to expect.

  • Know exactly where you will be taking shelter. A FEMA safe room or ICC storm shelter would be the best option, but your next best bet is to hunker down in a small, interior, windowless room in a sturdy building on the lowest level that will not be subject to flooding.
  • Familiarize yourself with your evacuation zone, evacuation route, and shelter locations.
  • Make sure you have several options for places to go, such as friend’s homes in nearby towns, and that these options are in different directions so you can outrun a storm regardless of how it’s approaching.
  • Plan how to communicate if you lose power. During disasters, sending text messages is usually more reliable and quicker than making phone calls because phone lines can get easily overloaded.
  • Sign up for alerts through community warning systems as well as the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and National and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio emergency alerts.
  • Risk analysis Check your hazards risks with FEMA's Map Portal. Rate your flood risk with the FloodSmart.gov portal.
  • Check your hazards risks with FEMA's Map Portal.
  • Rate your flood risk with the FloodSmart.gov portal.

Emergency Kit Supplies

  • Keep important documents — such as birth certificates, social security cards, copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records — in a safe place and/or create password-protected digital copies.
  • Keep a list of important contacts, such as Emergency Management Offices, county law enforcement, county public safety fire/rescue, local hospitals, local utilities, local media (such as TV and radio stations) and your property insurance agent.
  • Assemble a disaster supply kit that will help you meet all your basic needs. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) suggests including: Water — one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days to be used for drinking and for sanitation Food — at least three days-worth of non-perishable foods Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert Flashlight First aid kit Extra batteries Whistle to signal for help Dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter in place Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities Manual can opener for food Local maps Cell phone with chargers and a backup battery Prescription medications Non-prescription medications such as pain relievers, anti-diarrhea medication, antacids or laxatives Glasses and contact lens solution Infant formula, bottles, diapers, wipes, diaper rash cream Pet food and extra water for pets Cash or traveler’s checks Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person Change of clothing appropriate for your climate and sturdy shoes Household chlorine bleach and medicine dropper to disinfect water Fire extinguisher Matches in a waterproof container Feminine supplies and personal hygiene items Mess kits, paper cups, plates, paper towels and plastic utensils Paper and pencil Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children
  • Water — one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days to be used for drinking and for sanitation
  • Food — at least three days-worth of non-perishable foods
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert
  • Flashlight
  • First aid kit
  • Extra batteries
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter in place
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
  • Manual can opener for food
  • Local maps
  • Cell phone with chargers and a backup battery
  • Prescription medications
  • Non-prescription medications such as pain relievers, anti-diarrhea medication, antacids or laxatives
  • Glasses and contact lens solution
  • Infant formula, bottles, diapers, wipes, diaper rash cream
  • Pet food and extra water for pets
  • Cash or traveler’s checks
  • Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person
  • Change of clothing appropriate for your climate and sturdy shoes
  • Household chlorine bleach and medicine dropper to disinfect water
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Matches in a waterproof container
  • Feminine supplies and personal hygiene items
  • Mess kits, paper cups, plates, paper towels and plastic utensils
  • Paper and pencil
  • Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children

It’s important to keep your emergency kit updated, so check in annually to replace any expired medications or food and to update the kit with additional items your family may need.

Pet Preparation

If you have pets, it’s important to plan for their needs as well, and you may want to create a separate emergency kit just for them. FEMA offers suggestions for what to place in that kit to ensure your pet’s best chance of getting through the emergency safely.

FEMA also recommends keeping you pet’s microchip information up to date in case they get lost, and creating a buddy system with neighbors or nearby friends and family to help your pet in the case that you aren’t home. Familiarize yourself with pet-friendly hotels and shelters along your evacuation routes in the case that you must leave your home — many emergency shelters cannot take in animals that are not service animals for health and safety reasons.

Home Preparation 

Your home is almost certainly going to take a beating during a hurricane, but here are steps you can take to fortify your residence:

  • Keep drains and gutters free of debris and clutter
  • Install check valves in your plumbing to prevent backups
  • If you don’t have hurricane shutters, consider getting them
  • Review your insurance policies

Car Preparation

If you need to drive away from a hurricane in an evacuation, having important items ready in an separate emergency kit in your car can make leaving much more efficient. Prepare items such as:

  • Flares
  • Physical maps
  • Jumper cables
  • Extra cans of gas
  • Warm blanket(s)
  • A change of clothes

In this NOAA satellite handout image captured at 15:02 UTC, shows Hurricane Florence as it travels west in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of the U.S. on September 13, 2018. (Photo by NOAA via Getty Images)

What to do as the hurricane approaches

When the hurricane is a day or two away

  • Stay tuned in to TV and radio reports so that you don’t miss evacuation warnings.
  • Bring inside any loose objects which are lightweight enough to become projectiles during high winds, such as patio furniture, and anchor any objects which are unsafe to keep in the home, such as propane tanks.
  • Trim or remove trees that could potentially fall on your home.
  • Cover all of your home’s windows. Permanent storm shutters offer the best protection for windows, but a second option is to board up windows with 5/8-inch exterior grade or marine plywood, which you should keep cut to fit your windows and ready to install at a moment’s notice.
  • Keep your cell phone charged at all times.

When a hurricane is 6 hours away

  • If you’re not in an area that is recommended for evacuation, let friends and family know where you are going to be staying.
  • Close storm shutters and stay away from windows to protect yourself from any potential flying glass from broken windows as winds begin to pick up.
  • Turn your refrigerator or freezer to the coldest setting and open only when necessary if you lose power. Fill as much empty space as possible in your freezer with ice, and fill the fridge with items like water bottles which will help retain the cold if power goes out. Keep a thermometer in the refrigerator to be able to check the food temperature when the power is restored.

During a hurricane

  • If told to evacuate, do so immediately and do not drive around barricades.
  • If sheltering in place, make your way into your shelter room as quickly as possible and make sure you have all necessary emergency supplies with you.
  • If trapped in a building that is flooding, go to the highest level of the building, but be careful not to enter a closed attic as you could become trapped by rising waters.
  • If you have a generator or other gasoline-powered machinery, only use it outdoors and keep it away from windows.
  • Beware flood water and do not try to traverse it on foot or in your vehicle. According to FEMA, it takes just six inches of fast-moving water to knock a person down, and just one foot of moving water to sweep a vehicle away.
  • If evacuating, stay off of bridges over fast-moving water.

After the hurricane has passed

Once a storm has passed, the threat isn’t completely over. It’s important to check all food and water for contamination and to get rid of any that may have been compromised. The CDC offers guidelines on how to make those determinations.

Here are some additional steps you can take to stay safe while cleaning up and recovering from the hurricane:

  • Maintain a high level of caution during clean up by wearing protective clothing and working with someone else.
  • Watch out for electrical equipment and do not touch it if it is wet or if you are standing in water. When and if it is safe to do so, turn off electricity at the main breaker or fuse box before attempting to interact with electrical equipment.
  • Do not wade through flood water. It can contain dangerous debris, and underground or downed power lines can also electrically charge the water.

If your home floods and does not dry properly within 24-48 hours, dangerous mold can develop. Here are the CDC’s guidelines on mold identification and cleanup.

While hurricanes can be terrifying and life-threatening experiences, taking the proper precautions and knowing what to do in any scenario can make all the difference.