In the months before Hurricane Irma plotted a path through the heart of Tampa Bay, analysts and experts dubbed the region the most vulnerable metropolitan area in the United States to a direct hurricane strike.
Locals cleared supermarket shelves and pumped gas stations dry as Irma grew to become the strongest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean. But then, following in the footsteps of every major hurricane for the past century, somehow Irma avoided making landfall in Tampa Bay.
Still, local emergency coordinators fear the region’s history of good fortune will make residents even more complacent this storm season.
"Guarding against complacency is the biggest hurdle we face year after year," said Brady Smith, director of resilience with the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council. "Every single year, residents still need to make sure they have fresh hurricane supplies packed up and ready to go so whether they have a couple days to evacuate or a couple hours they know they’re ready."
2018 TAMPA BAY TIMES HURRICANE GUIDE: LESSONS FROM IRMA
• Stocking a household hurricane kit is a lot like preparing for a survivalist camping trip, Smith said. Stock up on what you need to stay both comfortable and safe in a worst-case scenario. Keep everything in a durable, waterproof tote that’s easy to grab at a moment’s notice.
• A good rule of thumb is to stockpile enough food and supplies to sustain each family member for 3 to 7 days without any outside assistance, Smith said. Bottle 7 gallons of water per person — enough to provide each person with a gallon of water a day for a week. That’s in case water supplies become contaminated.
• There’s another way to stay liquid: Withdraw plenty of cash long before any forecasted storms knock out the power to ATMs in your area.
• Emergency food stores, including pet food, baby food, infant formula and other dietary items, should be replaced every 6 months. Look for high-calorie, non-refrigerated food items like peanut butter, powdered sports drinks high in electrolytes and protein bars to help maintain energy in humid conditions.
• If your food supplies include canned goods, then none of that will help you and your family if you forget to pack a manual can opener.
• Be sure to refresh any bags pre-packed with clothes, pillows, sleeping bags and other comfort items you would want to take with you in the event of an evacuation.
2018 TIMES HURRICANE GUIDE: GET READY FOR STORM SEASON
• Perhaps even more important than your food supply is an ample supply of prescription medications for each family member, said John Antapasis, Deputy Emergency Coordinator. In Florida, doctors can provide a 90-day supply for most medications, Antapasis said. The planning council recommends storing enough to last two weeks, along with a list of all medications and dosages.
• Every hurricane kit should contain basic first aid supplies and other necessities such as hand sanitizer, toilet paper, garbage bags, insect repellent and sunscreen. Hand-crank radios, external cell phone charges, solar chargers, and other waterproof gadgets could become necessities if storms knock out communication lines.
• Above all else, every household should get a portable radio, ideally one with a NOAA Weather Radio option, to stay alert on emergency communications, Antapasis said. Also look for the "Ready Pinellas" and "Alert Pasco" apps in the Apple and Android stores. Every city and county also offers push alerts for your cell phone.
When sweating the major details, Smith said, it’s important to sweat the small stuff, too. When it comes to getting through a hurricane, the basics never go out of style:
"It’s the things that seem obvious, like a can opener or tons of batteries that people forget to check," Smith said, "especially if they’ve had a hurricane kit for years."
Contact Anastasia Dawson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.