5 steps to prepare for a hurricane

The best way to prepare for a hurricane is to plan ahead so that you’re not left scrambling once a storm threat is imminent. This includes planning evacuation routes, assembling an emergency kit, checking and updating your insurance policies, and more.

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There are few things scarier than a hurricane bearing down on your community and having to evacuate your home. Fortunately, there are some precautionary measures you can take in advance of a tropical storm to better protect your property and financial well-being. That includes having an evacuation plan, preparing your home, and reviewing your homeowners insurance and flood insurance policies.

The Atlantic hurricane season is June 1 to November 30, with September being its peak month. If your home is at risk of hurricane wind damage or storm surge during those months, be sure to follow these hurricane preparation steps in advance of a destructive storm.

1. Plan your evacuation route

Planning an evacuation route is perhaps the most crucial part of hurricane preparations. Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need to live next to the beach for your house to experience catastrophic tropical storm damage. Hurricane storm surge — the deadliest aspect of a hurricane — can often push water tens of miles inland. 

Be sure to consult your local community’s hurricane response plan. That includes knowing which evacuation zone you’re in, registering with storm shelters, identifying family members who may require special medical assistance while away from home, and knowing the location of emergency boarding shelters if you have pets.

If you have family in your household or friends and relatives who also live near the coast, make sure they are all aware of the evacuation plan or have one themselves. This is especially important if you have loved ones who live in a nursing home or assisted living facility who may depend on others to get to safety. Planning and practicing your evacuation plan before a hurricane strikes will help minimize stress and uncertainty in the event of an emergency. 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) suggests planning an evacuation route that takes you 20 to 50 miles inland

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2. Have an emergency kit on hand

Have an emergency stash of supplies ready to go well in advance of a hurricane. Grocery stores tend to run out of bottled water, medical kits, and other essential goods rather quickly after a hurricane warning is issued, so it’s a good idea to have all of this already on hand. When shopping for your hurricane supply stash, try to pick up the following:

  • Seven day supply of water and non-perishable food

  • First-aid kit

  • Flashlight with extra batteries

  • Prescription medication

  • Basic tools

  • Can opener

  • Phone chargers

  • A battery-powered radio

  • Cash

  • Blankets

  • Toiletries

  • Pet supplies

  • Baby supplies 

  • Facemasks 

  • Sanitation supplies

  • Important papers and documents, including birth certificates, insurance, and household inventories

Be sure to store your emergency supplies in an easy-to-access area of your home. If you’re forced to evacuate because of a hurricane, you’ll take all of these supplies with you on the road. 

3. Review and update your home and flood insurance policies

Double check your homeowners insurance and make any changes or updates to your policy well in advance of a storm. 

Your house should be insured for a full rebuild, and you should also have enough personal property coverage to replace all of your belongings. If a hurricane makes your home uninhabitable for an extended period of time, you’ll want enough additional living expenses coverage to pay for the cost of hotel stays and relocation expenses. If you’re unsure if you have adequate hurricane coverage, reach out to your insurance agent who can help you better understand your policy and coverage needs.

Keep in mind that homeowners insurance covers property damage from hurricane winds, but won’t cover storm surge and any flood damage to your home. If you live near the coast, you’ll want to take out a separate flood insurance policy to protect your home and belongings from flood loss. Check with your home insurance provider to see if they offer NFIP or private flood insurance.

→ Read our complete guide to hurricane insurance

4. Prepare your home for a hurricane

There are four parts of your home that are especially vulnerable to strong hurricane winds, according to FEMA: the roof, windows, doors, and garage doors. As part of your hurricane preparations, have these areas of your property inspected for potential weak points and retrofitting suggestions. 

  • Stormproof your roof - Consider having your roof looked at by an inspector who specializes in storm-proofing. Depending on what kind of roof you have and its level of reinforcement, the inspector may suggest upgrades such as gable-end bracing, trusses, metal strapping, or other roof-to-wall strengthening measures. If your roof is older or in rough shape, consider having it replaced with impact-resistant shingles or metal roofing.

  • Install storm shutters - Consider investing in storm shutters to provide that extra bit of protection for your windows and glass doors — just make sure the shutters are up to code prior to installation. If you don’t have storm shutters, your next best option is to board up your windows and glass doors with plywood. Be sure to have plywood pieces fitted, cut, and ready to be mounted over your windows with hanger bolts in advance of a hurricane threat.

  • Strengthen exterior doors and garage doors - The bolts and pins that secure most exterior doors aren’t strong enough to withstand hurricane-force winds. If you live in a hurricane-prone area, you’ll want to consider a cast-iron slide bolt latch or other stormproof locks for all exterior doors on your property. If you have a basic garage door, consider replacing it with an impact-resistant one that can handle winds up to 130 mph. In certain high-risk areas, building codes require garage doors that can handle hurricane wind speeds.

  • Secure the outside of your home - Hurricane winds are strong enough to turn branches, gardening tools, and patio or lawn furniture into violent projectiles that can damage your home. Be sure to clear your yard of any objects, trim dead branches, and secure outdoor sculptures and other structures that could get wind-tossed during a hurricane.

  • Check your home’s appliances - If a hurricane disaster in your community is imminent, you should unplug small appliances, turn off propane tanks, and turn the refrigerator and freezer to the coldest setting so that food will last longer if the power goes out. 

While hurricane preparation is undoubtedly time consuming and expensive, it could save you tens of thousands of dollars in the event of a disaster.

5. Fuel your car and get on the road

As evacuation orders are announced, gas stations will be jam-packed with people filling up their cars and panic-buying for generators. To avoid being stuck in the craze, consider fueling your car potentially days out from the actual storm. If you have one or more cars that will be staying put during the storm, move them to higher ground or park them in the garage. Do not park cars under trees or power lines.

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