As recent events have made very clear, hurricanes are nothing to joke about. Most natural disasters aren’t, obviously. But when you’re a kid, your parents are in charge of keeping you safe. They do all the prep work, they monitor the situation for days, they make all the hard decisions. But when you’re in college or immediately after, you’re probably nowhere near your parents, you’re in charge of your own self and if you’re anywhere on the East or Gulf coasts right now, you’re facing a major hurricane coming your way.
Fortunately, people have lived through hurricanes before, and there are whole teams of people dedicated to helping you make informed decisions to keep yourself safe. To make sure you get through hurricane season scot-free, you need to know how to properly prepare when you know a storm is coming to your area. Confused? Concerned? That’s fine — you’re not alone. If it’s your first time experiencing this type of weather, it’s some scary stuff.
Luckily, we’ve got a guide to minimize damages when you’re living on your own and don’t know how to approach an imminent storm.
1. Start early
We don’t always get the chance to prepare for a hurricane. And sometimes, even the smaller ones can cause problems if you’re not already ready. So with Hurricane Irma, when we have several days to get things right, it’s important to take that time and use it wisely. Don’t wait. And always, always, prepare for the worst.
2. Sign up for notifications about your local situation
Knowing the latest news about the storm is very important. If you don’t already, subscribe to weather alerts. Whether it’s from your local government, which likely employs some sort of emergency notification system or a national or regional service that you’ve signed up for is up to you — but make sure push notifications are on. These alerts can help you fight the urge to bury your head in the sand, which is a real temptation.
3. Have a go-bag
I know this sounds like a bit extreme. But keeping everything you need in a central location to just grab and take if you need to is a good idea. This bag should include your emergency supplies like food, water and batteries, important documents or papers you need to keep safe, a couple changes of clothes, any prescription medicine you need and whatever valuables you couldn’t leave behind in a worst-case scenario. Especially when a storm is actually approaching, keep your stuff together instead of spread around the house.
4. Stock up on supplies early, especially water
If you have a week before a storm is supposed to hit, do not — I repeat, DO NOT — wait six days before you go to the grocery store and try to buy water bottles and food. By the time you get there, the shelves will be barren and the grocery store employees will shake their heads at you as you walk away with water bottle flavoring packets and miscellaneous spices, which is all they will have left.
Go early and get non-perishable food that doesn’t require electricity to cook up. Also get as much clean water as you can carry. You should have a gallon of water per person per day, for several days… plan accordingly if you’re buying for several people. Don’t forget things that you can’t eat — batteries for your flashlights, hand sanitizer, matches, etc.
5. Don’t forget to get gas
In the days leading up to a storm hitting, don’t forget about gas. This is on the same level as water as far as importance goes, and people go crazy making sure they have enough. Additionally, the price will almost undoubtedly be going up. It’s effed up, but true.
So make sure you are keeping your tank full, in case you need to leave in a hurry. Don’t let it get too low. Trust me, trying to find a station that still has gas in the 24 hours before a storm is hellish.
6. Follow the local news
Pay attention to a local news source — as local as it gets. Be sure to keep an eye on broadcast stations, which make hurricane coverage their job and will be giving hyperlocal information that matters to you — including power outages, evacuation notices and updates from local officials.
7. Make preparations for a safe place to stay
Whether you’re trying to get out of the state, or just out of more dangerous areas, make plans in advance. Don’t try to figure it out with only one day between you and dangerous weather. Make arrangements with family or friends who are further inland who can let you crash on their couch. If you’re hopping on a plane and getting completely out of dodge, make sure you do it early enough. Airlines often cancel flights as storms get closer. If you’re going to drive somewhere and need a hotel, make a reservation several days out and be sure it’s not in a dangerous zone itself.
8. Find several evacuation routes
If one person has to evacuate an area, then thousands do. And that means that major roadways could be turned into a parking lot very quickly. If you suspect you may have to leave your home, find lots of alternate routes that use back roads. You’ll be thankful you know these in calmer times too, when you just want to avoid the traffic of the interstate.
9. Make plans to communicate with loved ones
Write down important phone numbers in case you can’t charge your phone or lose internet. Get in touch with your families, significant others or close friends before the storm and tell them where you’re going to be and when/how you can be reached. Choose a meeting place in advance if you’re close to each other.
10. Do normal household tasks in advance
Get caught up on laundry and wash your dishes before you lose power. Clean your toilet, take out the trash and don’t get stuck with something old and smelly in your fridge. If your power goes out, you’ll be happy to have clean clothes to change into, no dirty dishes growing mold in your sink and no strange smells getting worse in the humidity.
11. Get your pets ready, too
If you have pets, don’t forget that they’re going to need food and water as well. Make sure that wherever you’re planning to go is pet-friendly, and you have all of the things that need to be gathered together. Everything from extra food and water, to leashes and toys. And don’t forget if they need any sort of medication that you need to stock up and bring it in your go bag.
12. Make sure you have your insurance papers
Especially if you have renter’s or homeowner’s insurance, make sure to have copies of that information. If there’s damage to your home, you’re going to want to know how to contact your insurance company to file a claim. It’s also a good idea to keep information about your auto and health insurance available, including the contact information for your doctor.
13. Prepare your home
If you rent an apartment, this will be a little easier. But preparing your home for strong rain and winds can take some time. Boarding up windows, putting sandbags up out front or putting shoes in your door frames so they don’t slam shut during the storm can go a long way. Remember to fill up your bathtub with water in advance, so you can flush your toilets without running water. Bring light items in from outside. I also like to turn my A/C down a little lower than usual leading up to the storm, so if the power goes out it’ll be bearable in my apartment for a little while longer.
14. Do what your local officials say
If you get a notice that your area needs to evacuate, leave. If you are told to get supplies ASAP, do it. And if you’re warned to stay inside and not go outside, listen. The people telling you what to do in this case know much better than you. It’s their job to predict and prevent catastrophe, in part by getting you to cooperate.
15. Don’t prioritize convenience over safety
This one’s a tough one because we’re always told to “trust our gut,” but sometimes when we think things are getting better and it’s totally fine to return home or run out for a quick errand, things are brewing to get worse. So don’t do anything until an actual official tells you it’s all good to mobilize again.
You’ve done all this to prepare, so follow through with your plans during and after the hurricane hits. Whether you evacuate or hunker down, continue to monitor storm conditions as closely as you can. I repeat: Don’t try to leave your home, or if you evacuated, return, before getting an all-clear from local officials. It can be tempting, but sometimes conditions are hazardous even after the threat seems to be over.
16. Put your safety first
Depending on where you are and what the storm does, this can be scary. Me telling you right now that your life is more valuable than your home or your car is scary. But it’s true, and you need to think about your safety above all the other concerns you may have. Be smart and stay safe.