Hurricanes are violent, cyclonic storms that devastate parts of the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico almost every year. They vary in severity and damage, but they should always be taken very seriously. In the Pacific they are known as typhoons.
In order to best prepare for hurricanes, one must understand the threat. First and foremost, that means determining whether you live in an area likely to be affected by them. In the United States, the East Coast from Florida to Virginia is at risk as is the Gulf Coast. Those further inland may also not be immune. Additionally, hurricanes occur only at certain times of the year known as hurricane season, which runs broadly from May to November depending on your exact location. Hurricanes are ranked by intensity from 1 to 5 with one being the weakest and five the strongest. Categories 1 to 3 can usually be safely withstood at home depending on one's location (proximity to the coast, being above or below sea level, etc.)
Preparing for a Hurricane
Hurricane preparation requires food, water, and a durable place to live. Hurricanes generally leave infrastructure out of commission for at least a few days or more and all the food and water in the world mean nothing if you do not survive the storm itself.
Regardless of whether one stays or goes, there are several preparations to be taken when preparing for a hurricane. Windows and skylights should be boarded up and all doors locked. If you have solid shudders, you may choose to use them instead. Strips of tape across your windows (car included if parked outside) can be useful as it prevents shattered glass from flying around if the window is broken. Please note that "strips of tape across your windows" does NOT mean the big X that many people put across their windows, but rather an interlaced vertical and horizontal network of tape strips, so that no piece larger than 6" or so will be left untaped. This will block out some available light during the day, but is much better than being cut by flying glass. Also, the tape needs to be on the order of duct tape or gorilla tape, not a weak paper tape, such as the masking type. "Book Tape", which is a type of transparent tape used for repairing book bindings could make an excellent compromise between light and safety.
The strength of the hurricane will partially determine the amount of food you will want. A safe estimate is to have three days worth for each person and pet in your family. If there has been an evacuation, it could be longer as stores may be closed longer. Do not forget power may not be available so the only method of cooking may be a gas stove or fire. Purchase and store food with that in mind.
As with food, a safe estimate is to have enough water to last each person and pet in your family for three days. Since one person should drink approximately a gallon per day, stock a minimum of three gallons per person. Keep in mind however, that does not include water for bathing, cleaning dishes, the toilet, et cetera. As part of preparing for a hurricane, you should fill all bathtubs with water before the storm hits and cover them (to prevent evaporation).
The aftermath of a hurricane is contingent upon many factors, first and foremost, the category of storm. The larger the storm, the more damage will likely be done and thus basic services such as water and power may not function. Emergency services may also be compromised such as police, fire and rescue whether due to damage to facilities, personnel, lack of fuel, damage to roads or other reasons. The preparedness of your town or city is also a factor. Towns such as Miami, Jacksonville, Savannah and Charleston are regularly hit by tropical storms and hurricanes, and even more often prepare for ones that peter out or turn before impact. Towns which have not prepared recently may be less effective when a storm finally comes.
Other factors to consider regarding the aftermath of a hurricane are:
- Your city's crime rate -- A city with a high crime rate before a disaster will be less safe when order breaks down
- Evacuation -- If most people have left, the danger of criminals and looters can be both higher and lower. Lower due to having less people yet higher due to increased opportunity.
- Your location
- If you live near the beach you're area is more likely to be decimated than those further inland.
- How defensible is your house if riots to break out, such as after Katrina?
- What neighborhood do you live in? A middle class suburb is likely to be safer than the ghetto.
- Are you above sea level? On a flood plain? If your location isn't, is it near one? Will you be able to evacuate or move around if necessary or would you be cut off?