Q&A: What you need to know for the 2010 hurricane season

What is a tropical storm?

An area of low pressure over tropical waters with organized convection near the center with counter-clockwise surface winds. The maximum sustained wind near the center must be between 39 and 73 mph for it to be classified as a tropical storm.

When does a tropical storm become a hurricane?

The maximum sustained wind near the center must be 74 mph or greater.

What is the difference between a watch and warning?

A watch is issued when hurricane or tropical storm conditions are possible within 36 hours. A warning is issued when those conditions are expected with 24 hours.

Home aftermath

If my home is badly damaged, what should I do?

Take a piece of metal or plywood, spray-paint your address on it and put it in front of your house. That way family, rescue workers and insurance adjusters can find you.

How do I find help?

If you have Internet access, check tampabay.com for detailed information. Or listen to the radio and seek out first-responders — fire and rescue, police, medical and insurance personnel.

Should I try to do any repairs to my house?

Be careful. You could get hurt. Warranties and insurance could be voided. And when electricity is restored, there could be a fire danger.

Should I stay with my house to protect it from looters?

If there is a place for you to go and you can get out of a devastated neighborhood, you should do that.

If my home is damaged, who should I get to fix it?

The most needed specialty after a storm is roofers. Get recommendations from insurers and others who have had satisfactory experience.

If I have to rebuild, what is the new standard?

The building codes that took effect in 2002.

Pets

Can I take my pets to a public shelter?

Most don't allow it for health and sanitary reasons. But some shelters now allow pets if you register in advance. Check with your local emergency agency. Guide dogs are allowed at any shelter.

What should I do if I can't find a shelter?

Find a friend who lives out of harm's way to take your pets or rent a motel room that will allow you to bring your pets. You can find lists of pet-friendly motels on the Internet. One resource is petswelcome.com. Hotel space will be limited and in great demand, so make reservations early or leave the area entirely.

If I evacuate with my pets, what do I need to take?

Immunization and medical records. Medications. Plenty of food and water. Secure carriers. Collars with tags, leashes and a muzzle, if necessary. First aid kit. Litter and pan for cats, rabbits and other animals that use them. Trash bags. Toys and other comfort items. Photos of your pet.

Insurance

Do I need flood insurance?

If your home is in a flood zone, you need federally subsidized flood insurance to get a mortgage. But just because you aren't in a flood zone doesn't mean you are safe from rising water, which is not covered under normal homeowners insurance.

If my house is badly damaged, how do I prove to my insurance company what I owned?

Buy a digital camera, take pictures of everything in the house and store the camera or the picture card with the valuable items that you plan to take with you when you evacuate. Or videotape your valuables.

Personal safety

What can I do to stay healthy?

Long before a storm arrives, ensure that you have plenty of any prescription medicines you take. Wash your hands often or use an antibacterial lotion. Make sure any water you drink is safe. Disinfect dishes and cups.

The evacuation is over and I can return home. How do I enter my home safely?

If there is standing water next to the outside walls because of flooding, do not go in. If there is not standing water, walk around the outside of the house first, checking for loose power lines and gas leaks. Look at the foundation and porch roofs or overhangs to see if there are any cracks or sagging. If there is obvious damage, have a building inspector check the home before you go in. Open the door carefully and make sure the ceiling isn't about to fall in.

Okay, I'm in. What should I do first?

Find and protect the irreplaceable valuables. If books and photos have gotten wet, clean off any mud and put them in plastic bags. Get them to a freezer as soon as possible. They can be cleaned and preserved with professional help.

Special needs

What is the best way to care for special-needs patients?

In the comfort of a private home in a safe place with a relative or a friend, assuming they can offer appropriate care.

What if a private home isn't available?

The alternative is a special-needs shelter. If that is required, register with your local emergency agency as soon as possible so workers can contact you and arrange an evacuation.

Who should go to a special-needs shelter?

Typically people who have nowhere else to go and are too sick for a regular shelter but not sick enough for a hospital.

How do I find the emergency operations center?

They are listed in the front of phone books near the evacuation maps and shelter lists or in your county's blue pages.

Reserving hotel rooms

If I have to evacuate, where is the safest place to find a hotel?

Look for a hotel that is outside an evacuation zone and is away from the storm's strike possibility cone.

How far in advance should I make a reservation?

As far in advance as possible. If you guarantee a reservation with a credit card, most hotels will let you cancel without penalty up to 24 hours before the date of the reservation.

Generators

How big a generator should I get?

The smaller ones, in the 1,000-watt category, will run a few lights and a microwave (if you turn off most of the lights while you cook). Many homeowners want something in the 4,000- to 6,000-watt category. These range in price from $700 to several thousand dollars.

Should the larger generators be wired into the home electrical system?

That's your best bet if you don't want extension cords snaking all over the house. But don't try to do it yourself. Buy a circuit box and have it installed by a professional electrician.

Can I keep the generator in the garage?

You can store it there, but never operate it there or anywhere near your home. Generators emit carbon monoxide, much like your car's engine exhaust, and is deadly. Buy a generator on wheels with an electrical cord long enough to stretch well away from the house, out into the open air.

Can I store gasoline in my garage?

That is not a good idea because it's a major fire hazard. Buy several 5-gallon gas containers and store them empty. Fill them only as the storm nears.

I've had a generator since last year, and the original gasoline is still in it. Is this okay?

Better not take a chance. Have it serviced and have the gas changed. And use a product like Sta-bil, which keeps gasoline fresh.

Home preparation

Do hurricane shutters help?

Yes, but be sure you get the right shutters for you. Removable steel plates are heavy and awkward to handle and not appropriate for everyone. Roll-up shutters are easier to use, but they are expensive. Some companies make a fabric that is tough, less expensive and easy to handle.

Is plywood a good alternative?

It isn't as strong as commercial storm shutters, but it helps if you are strong enough to handle it. If you nail it into the frame of the window or the house, you create holes into which water can leak later, causing damage inside your walls. Ask your home supply store experts how to mount plywood so the holes can be plugged.

Are old plywood sheets still usable?

Local home supply stores say the plywood might have warped, depending on how it was stored. If laid flat with something heavy on top, it won't warp. On edge, it will. But even warped plywood might still be usable. Unless the warping is severe, nailing it into place will straighten it out enough that wind won't be able to get behind it.

What are the most vulnerable points in a home?

The garage door and the front door. Garage doors are easily broken or bent and ripped from their tracks. They can be retrofitted for added strength. Front doors are seldom wind-proof, especially double doors. Consider replacing double front doors with single doors that can be reinforced from the inside.

Is there anything I need to do in the yard?

Trim dead or rotten limbs. Store sprinklers, hoses and yard ornaments out of the wind.

What do I do about patio furniture?

If you have a pool, throw your furniture in it. Otherwise turn tables top down and tie down chairs or take them inside.

What do I do with valuables in the house?

Make a list of irreplaceable things. If you evacuate, plan to take them with you. If you stay, consider moving those things to a safer location.

What about a computer?

Dismantle it and move it to safety. If that's impossible, back up important data and put it in a safe place. If you evacuate, unplug the computer, phone and cable lines and peripheral equipment. Move the equipment as high off the floor as possible.

Supplies

What do I need to stock up on before a storm?

You need survival supplies for at least 3 days: drinking water, food that doesn't need refrigeration or cooking, clean clothes, flashlight batteries, a battery-powered radio with extra batteries, and personal items such as soap and shampoo. Charge every cell phone in the house. Keep the car's gas tank topped off all summer.





Q&A: What you need to know for the 2010 hurricane season 05/21/10 [Last modified: Friday, May 21, 2010 3:23pm]

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