Emergency Preparedness – Hurricanes

This will remain a work in progress article as we are always learning new ways to prepare for emergencies. We will also be making some print outs for general use case preparing regardless of emergency and will post them as soon as they are ready so stay tuned.

It is essential to be prepared for any emergency scenarios. Today we’ll be looking at Hurricanes.

What is a Hurricane?

A hurricane is a type of storm called a tropical cyclone, which forms over tropical or subtropical waters. When a storm’s maximum sustained winds reach 74 mph, it is called a hurricane. See our Weather page for more info on the different aspects of storms.

Hurricanes originate in the Atlantic basin, which includes the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico, the eastern North Pacific Ocean, and, less frequently, the central North Pacific Ocean. “Hurricane Season” begins on June 1 and ends on November 30, although hurricanes can, and have, occurred outside of this time frame.

Be aware of the three hurricane phases:

  1. Hurricane Alert: All residents in the Cayes are advised to leave the islands at this stage of the hurricane
  2. Hurricane Watch: The international airport will close when there is a sustained 40 mph wind speed, usually during the watch phase. Residents of Belize City and coastal regions are advised to move into central Belize during this time
  3. Hurricane Warning: During this stage the hurricane or storm appears likely to strike the coast of Belize in a matter of hours. Anyone still in the coastal region of Belize is advised to move to the central highlands

How do I prepare for a Hurricane?

The two most important keys to safety is to prepare for the risks and act on those preparations. This is in no way an exhaustive list as each area or person will have very specific needs that we can’t cover every possible scenario, this will however be a baseline on which to build from.

Gathering Information

  • Know if you live in an Evacuation Zone
  • Understand how exposed you are to storm surges, flooding and high winds
  • Learn the warning system in place for your area or country. For specifics in Belize see the weather page
  • Learn where to go if your country has established an evacuation plan, see here for the 2019 evacuation plan for Belize
  • Do I have an inventory of all my belongings for insurance and recovery?
  • Check batteries once a year and replace them all at the same time
  • Is my insurance up to date and active?
  • Ownership Documentation for Pets
  • Keep a list of Emergency Contact Numbers
    • Emergency Management Offices
    • Law Enforcement
    • Public Safety Fire/Rescue
    • Your local Government Offices
    • Local Hospitals
    • Local Utilities
    • Local TV Stations
    • Local Radio Stations
    • Your Insurance Agent

Before, During, After – Prepare, Survive, Be Safe

This section will cover things you need to do in the three stages of the cycle. You always want to make sure you are educated and prepared so you and your family can survive and remain safe before, during and after an emergency. Follow websites, Social Media Pages and local/international channels such as National Met Service of Belize,NEMO, Belize Red Cross, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the Weather Channel. You should plan to be disrupted for 2 to 4 weeks and keep refreshing your supplies by their expiration date to ensure you have fresh items when you need to evac.

DO NOT wait on the government to prepare for you, you need to ensure that you and your family are prepared at all times.

Before – Prepare

  • Know where to get alerts and updates
  • Create an emergency plan for your family
  • Practice responding to an emergency using your plan frequently.
  • Build an emergency kit
  • Protect your property
  • Collect and Safeguard important documents
  • Plan for the Elderly
  • Plan for Pets
  • Your Vehicle

Creating an Emergency Plan

This is something you do before you need it. Having a properly outline out emergency plan is essential but more important is knowing how to act on that plan.

Things to ask are:

  • Does your family know your evacuation routes and plans?
  • Where you should go if an evacuation is called for your area?
  • What if your family members are separated when an evacuation is called or an emergency is declared?
  • Do you have enough supplies to last the expected time of the emergency?
  • Do you have enough gas in your vehicle(s) to get you out of the danger zone?
  • If you plan to shelter in place, are you out of the storm surge or flooding zone?
  • Do I have a back up plan in case i can’t do somethings or everything I need to?

Once you have these basics in place, practice them on a regular basis so they become second nature to your daily life.

Build an Emergency Kit

Second to your plan is your emergency kit, basic things to have in your bug out bag are:

Keep this in mind for your water supply: 5 gallons should last 1 person 7 days and ensure that you rotate your supply every 6 months
  • Water
  • Canned and other non perishable foods
  • Battery powered radio and fan
  • First Aid kit
  • Flashlights (one per person, LED type would be best)
  • Extra batteries (Lithium type or rechargeable if you have a solar charger)
  • Sleeping Bags and/or blankets and a tent in case you get stranded
  • Toothpaste
  • Sanitation Supplies (soap, toilet paper, garbage bags)
  • Female Hygiene
  • Diapers
  • Extra Supply of prescription medications
  • Over the counter drugs (Pain killers, allergy pills, etc)
  • Extra set of clothes
  • Emergency numbers
  • Petty cash should you not be able to make it to a bank (carry small bills only, no need to call attention to yourself)
  • A whistle to call for help and a small mirror to reflect sunlight in case you have to signal rescue teams.
  • Pocket Knife or MultiTool
  • If you can afford it, purchase a small solar charger for your devices
  • Have a portable two way radios (walkie-talkies) for each person in your family

Protect your property

While it is impossible to guarantee no damage during a hurricane we can take measures to minimize the total damage your property is exposed to. Here are some basic guidelines, your specific area may have other unique requirements or practices; I’ll leave those to you since we can’t cover every single aspect here.

  • If you can afford it, install impact resistant windows and doors
  • Add extra door locks to your exterior doors
  • Ensure your doors and windows are anchored with long screws to provide better breach protection
  • Board up your windows with 3/4″ or 5/8″ CDX-grade exterior plywood
  • DO NOT tape your glass windows if you are not protecting them with some form of covering, not only does this not prevent the glass from shattering but it also creates lager pieces of glass that can be more harmful
  • DO NOT leave windows or doors open despite the thinking that it gives wind space to move, this creates more area for the hurricane to do damage
  • Have a small shed where you store sand bags, you need to have enough to at minimum build a 2 foot barrier around your property, higher if you are closer to a river or other water ways. This may be a null point in your area so use judgment with this one and take into account historical data for where you live to see if this would be a viable option for you
  • Park your vehicle on higher ground if possible
  • Unplug all electrical items in your house and if possible, turn off the main breaker if water can get into your house
  • Ensure the your home and vehicle(s) are insured for flood damage
  • Secure anything that can become flying debris
  • Trim trees that can be a danger to buildings
  • Make sure your roof is secured with hurricane straps
  • Put head and foot bolts on your exterior doors
  • Make sure you properly caulk around your windows and doors to stop moisture from getting in
  • Ensure you have GFCI outlets installed and properly balanced on each circuit
  • If you live in a flood area or have a basement, install a water sensor alarm
  • If you have a basement:
    • Make sure to check your sump pump.
    • Make sure you have a backup battery that is fully charged
  • Install check-valves in your sewer lines to avoid back flow
  • Ensure you have proper surge suppressors for alliances that are prone to damage from a sudden surge

Collect and Safeguard important documents

  • Ensure your insurance policies are up to paid date and that you have proper coverage
  • Make sure to take pictures of all your belongings and keep them on an external drive if possible
  • Gather all your credit or debit cards
  • Copies of family records and other important documents such as birth and marriage certificates, Social Security cards, passports, wills, deeds, and financial, insurance and immunizations records — all stashed in a sealed, waterproof bag

Plan for the Elderly

  • Ensure you have extra batteries if you use hearing-aides or other assistive devices
  • Label your assistive devices
  • Foods ready to eat and not perishable, preferably rich in B12 vitamin and low in sodium
  • Spare eyeglasses, catheters, batteries, oxygen systems, etc
  • Prescription medicines and copies of prescriptions that can be refilled for up to six months
  • Medical-alert tags or bracelets with information about healthcare needs
  • Have a network of family and friends or neighbors that can assist you when needed
  • Let support people know where your medications and such are if you would need assistance getting out
  • Pen and Paper in case you need to communicate with someone that does not know sign language
  • Ensure you have a contingency plan to support your elderly family in case you can’t get to them in time

Plan for Pets

Pets are not allowed at shelters, you need to make your own arrangements for the safety of your pets. DO NOT leave your pets behind.
  • Ensure your pet is current with all their shots
  • Travel cage
  • Medications
  • Water and Food bowl
  • Collar, Leash and/or Harness
  • Food (canned would transport best)
  • Toys
  • Muzzle
  • Cleanup Supplies (Poop Bags)

Your Vehicle

  • Make sure your vehicle is in good working condition, has a full tank of gas, new or good condition working wipers, good tire pressure and that your windows and doors can close and be sealed properly
  • Keep some extra water and blankets in your car
  • Ensure you have an extra charger for your devices in your vehicle
  • Have an extra container with extra fuel for your vehicle
  • Ensure your insurance, registration and other important documents are in your vehicle
  • Make sure you have a map of your area and the area you may need to evacuate to
  • Have a hatchet in case trees fall on the roadway you need to travel on
  • Jumper Cable
  • Flares
  • Umbrellas (one per person)
  • Ensure you have a smaller Emergency Kit in your vehicle (one per vehicle)

General Tips

  • Fill a mug with water and put it in the freezer. Once frozen, put a coin on top. When you return after a disaster, if the coin is in the bottom of the mug do not eat the food. If it is about 1/2 way down use caution about what you eat from your fridge
  • Bring extra clothes, mainly underwear
  • If you can afford a generator get one, make sure to keep it out of any area that can get flooded however and only use it in a well ventilated area or outdoor
  • Have toys or games, especially if you have kids
  • If you have farm animals, ensure that you follow procedures for them
  • Ensure you have a smoke and carbon-monoxide detectors and test them regularly
  • Become well connected with your Emergency Responders and let them know if you have any special needs
  • Help inform others if and when you can
  • Learn life saving skills like CPR
  • Learn sign language
  • If you have someone that needs behavioral support, make sure you have proper supplies like earplugs, earphones, comfort snacks or objects

During – Survive

Just 6 inches of water can sweep you away and a foot of water can sweep your vehicle away
If you decide to Stay, you may have to deal with no power or water and possible debris blocking roadways for days or longer
  • Listen to the news, if you are told to evacuate, grab your bug out bag and do so immediately
  • Be respectful of emergency responders and others that are also evacuating. Causing a ruckus helps no one and will put yourself and others at risk
  • Listen for current emergency information, it’s important to have a battery or solar powered radio for this purpose
  • Stay away from bridges and fast moving water
  • DO NOT walk, swim or drive through flood waters
  • If you decided to shelter in place:
    • Ensure your location is outside of flood zones
    • Find the a small interior windowless room on the lowest floor
    • DO NOT climb into an attic, you may get trapped
  • Even if you do not get an evacuation alarm, if you see waters rising, warn others and call a news channel and leave immediately.
  • Stay indoors and away from doors and windows
  • If you have a generator, please only use it outside:
    • Only refill your generator after it has cooled down
    • Never connect your generator to your home unless you have a properly installed transfer switch to do so
  • Send text messages, leave call lines for emergency personnel
    • Phone towers may be down and everyone will be trying to call which will overload the networks. Sending a text message instead lessens the load but may be a bit delayed

After – Be Safe

  • Listen to authorities or the news for information and the all clear, do not listen to rumors. Remain in shelter until you are advised otherwise by Emergency Authorities
  • Similar to when you were evacuating, be respectful of emergency responders and others that are also evacuating. Causing a ruckus helps no one and will put yourself and others at risk
  • Drive safely, roadways may be flooded or have become weakened. DO NOT drive through flooded roads
  • Pay attention to fell electrical lines that are in water or on conductive materials
  • Do not wade in water or touch things that are conducive of electricity
  • Do not wade in water that may contain dangerous debris
  • Report damaged utilities to the proper utility company or the news centers
    • DO NOT attempt to fix a broken sewer or power line yourself, doing so can lead to serious harm or death
  • Send text messages, leave call lines for emergency personnel
    • Phone towers may be down and everyone will be trying to call which will overload the networks. Sending a text message instead lessens the load but may be a bit delayed
  • Document and photograph any and all damages for insurance claims
  • Be careful with foods left in the fridge, see our coin tip above
  • Provide assistance to others so things can go back to normal faster
  • Keep checking on the elderly, disabled and needy around you should you be capable to do so
  • DO not use matches or any fire or spark sources until you are sure there is no gas leaks in your home, use flashlights until then
  • Beware of scams and other exploitations:
    • Do not give anyone your credit card, debit card or bank account information
    • Do not give anyone your personal information like Social Security number, ID number
    • Call the Police if anyone is trying to scam or exploit you
Do you have something to share? Please leave your thoughts or ideas in the comment section. We all need to be involved in prepping and securing ourselves and others.

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