Experts offer a few more things to think about
By JUDY STARK, Times Homes Editor
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 30, 1999
When it's just the guys from the Weather Channel who are being soaked and blown by a hurricane's rain and wind, hey, no big deal.
When it's you . . . it's a very big deal.
In the interest of keeping you as dry as possible, safe and ready for what comes our way this season, hurricane experts offer some advice about things people often forget.
For starters, look at the evacuation maps in this section and figure out exactly how you will leave your home for high ground. Authorities may be rerouting traffic; you may not be allowed to drive the route you normally would. Study the maps and know how you'll go. Practice driving the route a couple of times.
A mandatory evacuation may be called at night. That's not the time to be driving an unfamiliar route or to start wondering where you're going to go. Make those plans now.
The weather preceding a hurricane is often bright and sunny, and that's one of the problems in persuading people that they need to leave now, said David Bilodeau, director of emergency management for Pinellas. "People say, "It's pretty nice weather, I think I'll wait till the weather gets bad,' which defeats the plan. Then they scurry about and say no one told them."
The more complex your evacuation plans, the more time you need to allocate to them, Bilodeau said. If you're moving a boat or a travel trailer, or you're evacuating a family member with complex medical problems and equipment, build that additional time into your evacuation schedule.
If you're planning to help a friend or relative evacuate -- say, your mother lives at the beach, and you want to take her to your house -- don't wait. "Get Mom early," suggested Sgt. Greg Tita of the Pinellas Sheriff's Department. Do it when emergency-preparedness officials say "they're considering an evacuation," Tita said. "When those words are uttered, pack your suitcases and start preparing to leave. The next word's going to be "evacuation.' There may not be but a few hours between voluntary and mandatory evacuation."
In the dark and in the rain, as a hurricane bears down, is not the time to make last-minute preparations around the house: bringing in the pool furniture and potted plants, trimming branches, tying down items that might blow. Take care of that earlier.
You'll need your own bedding in a shelter: cot or inflatable mattress, pillows, blankets. Also pack a toothbrush and paste, soap and washcloth.
Bring whatever medications you're taking. Paul Donelson, hurricane specialist for the American Red Cross in St. Petersburg, recommends you bring them in the original prescription bottles so that, if a problem arises, medical personnel can determine quickly exactly what you're taking.
If you have a chronic medical condition, wear your ID bracelet or necklace that alerts medical personnel to your situation. If you're unable to speak for yourself, these items can literally be lifesavers.
Hurricanes always bring heavy rain, so cover your chimney with a piece of securely fastened wood or metal to keep that water out of the house. Of course, that means you can't use the fireplace.
Before you evacuate, "pull your electrical main, turn off the water from outside the home, and turn off natural gas at the meter," said Denise Whitacre of Home Depot. These steps, which she called "absolutely imperative," can eliminate a number of major hazards. Electrical wires may short out when power is restored, causing fires. Sparking by the mercury switch in the air conditioner's thermostat can set off a gas explosion. Flooding can occur when a house is slightly damaged and the water line is cut.
Turning off the power at the main source and unplugging every appliance helps when the utility company restores power to a neighborhood that has been cut off, Whitacre said. If every appliance in the house is still plugged in, the power surge is enormous when the current comes back on, and appliances may be damaged. The demand for power puts a burden on an already struggling utility.
Clean your bathtubs before you fill them with water. You won't be drinking this water; it's for washing or toilet-flushing, but you want to avoid soap scum and other contaminants in this water too.
If you have plywood, storm panels, or other window protection (and you should), do a test run early in the season. Know how to attach the coverings; make sure things fit and haven't warped since you last used them. Do you have the fasteners and tools you'll need? Are the panels labeled so you know what goes where?