Prepping for an active hurricane season in a pandemic


hurrican statistics infographic

As if we all didn’t have enough on our plate this year – the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is alerting us that we can expect an above-normal 2020 hurricane season, with 3 to 6 major hurricanes. The season runs from June 1 through November 30, so we have just dipped a toe in the water so far. CoreLogic’s annual Storm Surge Report estimates that yearly 7.4 million single and multi-family homes are at risk of storm surge – potential damage that could be intensified by the pandemic and the uncertain economy.

Emergency preparation for hurricanes is a vital priority every year, particularly for those who live in the southeast and in Atlantic coastal areas. This year, the pandemic poses additional planning challenges. NOAA says:

“Social distancing and other CDC guidance to keep you safe from COVID-19 may impact the disaster preparedness plan you had in place, including what is in your go-kit, evacuation routes, shelters and more. With tornado season at its peak, hurricane season around the corner, and flooding, earthquakes and wildfires a risk year-round, it is time to revise and adjust your emergency plan now,” said Carlos Castillo, acting deputy administrator for resilience at FEMA. “Natural disasters won’t wait, so I encourage you to keep COVID-19 in mind when revising or making your plan for you and your loved ones, and don’t forget your pets. An easy way to start is to download the FEMA app today.”

Vox offers a deeper dive on some of the challenges that a hurricane could pose: Imagine Hurricane Katrina during a pandemic. They note that response systems are already on overload and that evacuation and sheltering would have additional complications, suggesting that decisions about when to evacuate vs when to shelter in place may need to change:

Emergency evacuations are typically called for based on the expected impact of the hurricane, and may involve large populations moving to concentrated locations like emergency shelters or hotels — or leaving the area entirely. Even without a disease outbreak, evacuation decisions are always difficult, both practically and politically. The decision process should be altered during an epidemic because usual evacuation risks (traffic accidents, for example) will have to be balanced against the risk of increasing disease transmission, which could have longer-term effects than the hurricane itself.

The pandemic makes clearly communicating exactly who should evacuate even more important: Those in the storm surge zone should go while others should be encouraged to shelter in place and be prepared for wind, rain, and power outages.

Emergency prep is important up and down the coast, including in new England.  While hurricanes are a rarer occurrence in New England, the region still thinks back on the devastation of 1938, a hurricane which killed more than 700 people. Meteorologist Matthew Cappucci wrote a fascinating report of the great New England hurricane of 1938, which includes projections of damage that could occur today if the region were to experience a similar storm.

If you already have a disaster or a hurricane plan for your family or your business, update it to encompass the realities that the pandemic has imposed on your local area. It’s even more important than ever to have a checklist and to store supplies for up to a week. In addition, expand your time horizon – you may need additional time to execute any evacuations.

One preparation recommendation from nearly all safety officials: download the FEMA app and check your state or local emergency management authority for any available apps. Red Cross has a variety of excellent emergency prep apps.

We’re reprinting some tips about hurricane prep during a pandemic from the Houston Office of Emergency Management, and also include links for other prep tools and guides.

  • Understand that your planning may be different this year because of the need to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.
  • Give yourself more time than usual to prepare your emergency food, water, and medicine supplies. Home delivery is the safest choice for buying disaster supplies; however, that may not be an option for everyone. If in-person shopping is your only choice, take steps to protect your and others’ health when running essential errands.
  • Protect yourself and others when filling prescriptions by limiting in-person visits to the pharmacy. Sign up for mail order delivery or call in your prescription ahead of time and use drive-through windows or curbside pickup, if available.
  • Pay attention to local guidance about updated plans for evacuations and shelters, including potential shelters for your pets.
  • If you need to evacuate, prepare a “go kit” with personal items you cannot do without during an emergency. Include items that can help protect you and others from COVID-19, such as hand sanitizer, or bar or liquid soap if not available, and two cloth face coverings for each person. Face covers should not be used by children under the age of 2. They also should not be used by people having trouble breathing, or who are unconscious, incapacitated, or unable to remove the mask without assistance.
  • When you check on neighbors and friends, be sure to follow social distancing recommendations (staying at least 6 feet, about 2 arms’ length, from others) and other CDC recommendations to protect yourself and others.
  • If you need to go to a disaster shelter, follow CDC recommendations for staying safe and healthy in a public disaster shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Additional hurricane prep tools

 

Wildfire Community Preparedness Day, May 5, 2018


wildfire preparation day graphic

In many parts of the US, wildfires are a constant threat. Wildfires destroy homes and property, injure and kill people and animals, and disrupt lives. We New Englanders tend to think of wildfires as only happening in the west, but that is not true. While less frequent and less damaging, there are indeed wildfires in New England. There are still some old-timers who remember a devastating Maine fire 70 years ago that destroyed towns and burned about a quarter of a million acres. People literally ran into the ocean to escape the flames.  New England’s severe drought a few year’s ago was a prime condition for wildfires.

May 5, the first Saturday in May, is Wildfire Community Preparation Day. Wherever you live, it’s a great opportunity to pitch in and help your community prepare for wildfires and a good reminder to look over your family’s own fire-preparedness plan.

So get the word out May 5: being properly prepared for wildfires is your best defense.

Preparation against wildfires is a matter of taking a few simple steps:

  • Get the most out of your smartphone. Get community weather alerts. Install the FEMA app or sign up for the Emergency Alert System.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Radio also provides emergency alerts.
  • Know your evacuation route, and have a plan B. And even a plan C. You don’t always know which exit will be passable. Make plans for your pets and livestock, too.Have your bug-out bag packed. Keep a number of N95 respirator masks handy. These sub-$20 face masks will alleviate the threat from inhaled ash, grit, and other particulates.
  • Store your important documents in a fire-proof safe, and have password-protected back-ups of your data.
  • Make sure the hose will reach. You want to be able to soak every inch of your property with it.
  • Build with fire-resistant materials. Know the properties of the materials you’re using to build, renovate, and repair your home and outbuildings.
  • Make a firebreak. Keep flammable material such as leaves, firewood, and debris at least thirty feet away from your home.
  • Keep your insurance coverage up to date. If you’ve made renovations or additions to your property, let your insurance agent know. Go over all your insurance coverages with your agent once a year to make sure they’re up-to-date and suites to your current needs.

Fire safety works best when everyone collaborates. Get together with your friends and family on May 5 and make your community safer from wildfires.

3 important things converge this month: Pets, Insurance and National Preparedness Month


It’s National Preparedness Month, your annual reminder to plan in advance for how you’d weather an emergency or natural disaster such as a hurricane, wildfire, flood or crippling winter storm. Ready.gov urges us all to prepare in advance for emergencies, and offers great tips for how to do that. Part of that planning includes preparing for your pets. Every time there’s a national disaster, we hear heartbreaking stories of pets that were left behind in the rush to safety. Thankfully, dedicated pet rescuers join the recovery efforts and manage to save many of these animals – but they are sometimes never reunited with their humans. Planning for your family includes emergency planning for your family pet.

There’s another kind of pet planning you might consider this month, too: It’s National Pet Health Insurance Month. Pet veterinary care can be costly: “A report from the American Pet Products Association (APPA) shows that Americans spent $60.59 billion on their pets last year, a quarter of which was spent on veterinary care.” (See Before Your Dog Gets Sick, Consider Pet Insurance).

Today, there are more and more pet insurance or veterinary financing options available than ever before. Why not pick up the phone and talk to your independent agent about insurance options for taking care of your pets?

And as a bit of motivation, and because it’s Friday, here are some pet videos that might melt your heart.

Anticipation … you couldn’t leave this poor fellow at home alone in an emergency, could you?

Your moment of Zen – these kittens are still in the pet store but they need your care.

“These sure are funny looking leaping puppies,” thinks Maymo …

This bird will never let you hear the end of it if you forget about him in an emergency

Without human help, cats could take over the world

Be prepared: Get the free Red Cross Tornado App


tonado-appHere in New England, tornadoes aren’t the norm — but we do have occurrences, as was seen in Revere this week, along with several other sightings. There have been 162 tornadoes in Massachusetts alone since 1950, according to the National Weather Service – Boston.com has a roundup of Tornadoes of Massachusetts Past. Springfield is still recovering from the June 1, 2011 tornado, in which three were killed. And the older crowd among us may recall the horrific tornado in Worcester in 1953, which killed 93. Wikipedia has a historical roundup of Tornadoes in New England

With the rarity of events, tornadoes are not top of mind awareness for people when bad weather looms. Get the free Red Cross Tornado app to have everything you need to know to prepare for a tornado in the palm of your hand. To download: text “GETNADO” to 90999 or search “Red Cross Tornado” in the Apple App Store or Google Play.

Some of the app features include:

  • Step-by-step instructions to help you know what-to-do even if the cell towers and TVs are down. Prioritized actions for before, during, and after requires no mobile connectivity.
  • Audible siren that automatically goes off even if app is closed when NOAA issues a TORNADO WARNING helping to reduce the chance of sleeping through an actual warning.
  • Push notification sent when a WARNING expires – especially important if power goes out while you or your family are in your safe room.
  • Info on how to assemble an emergency kit for your family in the event of power outage or evacuation and how to make an emergency plan.
  • Info on the difference between a tornado warning and a tornado alert.
  • Red Cross location-based open shelters map for when you need it most.
  • Learn how to deal with food and water impacted by floods and power outages.
  • Let others know where you are with the Toolkit’s strobe light, flashlight and audible alert functions.

Brrr… are you prepared for the cold if your car gets stranded?


New England is experiencing the kind of weather that is challenging to car batteries. Are you adequately prepared for emergencies when you’re on the road? In this weather, being stuck on a public highway for 20 or 30 minutes while waiting for emergency help to arrive can be a hardship. Being stranded on a remote road late at night can be a nightmare anytime and life threatening in frigid weather.
Keeping your car maintained is rule number one but it’s also a good idea to keep a winter car survival kit in your car for the season because you just never know. Emergencies by their very nature take us by surprise. The state of Wisconsin, which has it’s share of cold weather and remote roads, offers a good one page sheet on How to make a winter survival car kit – it’s one of the best we’ve seen. They also offer a video version – below.
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