Hurricane 2020: Protect your home, business, documents and photos

Start inside by organizing your documents and photos. Then go outside and trim the yard and fix things like your leaky roof.
A defiant message was written on a plywood board covering the window of a West Tampa house as Hurricane Irma approached in 2017: "I am ready for Irma."
A defiant message was written on a plywood board covering the window of a West Tampa house as Hurricane Irma approached in 2017: "I am ready for Irma." [ ALESSANDRA DA PRA | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published May 28, 2020|Updated Nov. 11, 2020

Think of hurricane season preparation this way: Start inside, then go outside.

When you’re rushing to finalize preparations for a major storm, one of the last things on your mind might be all the important documents inside your home. But those will become vital if anything goes wrong. Your post-storm recovery depends on them.

So this year get a jump start by starting your hurricane prep indoors: Get the most important documents for your home, business, family and finances ready before a storm hits.

That way, should your home fall into the cone of uncertainty, you can focus on preparing the outside, securing your property before the storm arrives.

Related: Hurricane 2020: Seven things to know about a hurricane season like no other

A head start is even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic. This hurricane season would be a terrible time to wait until the last minute to rush into big box stores with hundreds of other people to buy generators, plywood, storage bins and everything else you’ll need.

Start shopping now, using curbside pick-up or visiting stores at off-peak hours. This is not the year for panic-buying.

Protect your documents

Start with your most fragile possessions: What’s on paper. Create a checklist for the important documents and photos you need to preserve and protect.

Physical copies of documents and photos should be stored in waterproof containers or bags. If possible, don’t just use any plastic container. Consider using bags and bins that are specifically designed to be waterproof. Ziploc bags work but they’re cheap and disposable. There are sturdier — but more expensive — options such as dry bags used by divers and campers. There are also waterproof and fireproof document organizers, folders or pouches you can buy.

If you already have a waterproof, fireproof safe, think about how hard it would be to move if you have to evacuate. Giving everyone in your family a waterproof pouch for their cell phones could also come in handy.

You don’t want to waste time during an emergency going through your most important documents. Organize them ahead of time so you can easily locate insurance policies, medical documents, financial records, checkbooks, Social Security cards and birth certificates you should preserve. You’ll need your Florida driver’s license or identification card after a storm, but don’t forget other forms of ID, such as passports. And medical records and prescriptions will become even more important during the pandemic.

Why keep paper copies on hand? Online storage won’t be available until power and internet are restored. What if there’s a document you need immediately after a storm?

Related: Latest hurricane season forecast: ‘It’s expected to be a busy one’

Protect your data and photographs

Online storage is still a key aspect of hurricane preparation. You should already have copies of those documents scanned and stored online and in external hard drives. You can use services such as Apple’s iCloud, DropBox, Google Drive, Microsoft’s OneDrive, or Amazon Cloud Drive. You don’t need a scanner to digitize them, either. There are plenty of iOS and Android apps that can take a photo of documents and turn them into PDFs.

Don’t forget about family photos. Again, choose a sturdy waterproof option. You can identify and store the physical photos, videos and old home movies you want to preserve in advance and make a list of the photos hanging around your home that you’ll need to grab in case of a storm. While most of your photos may already be stored online, some older ones may exist physically only. Those can be scanned, but losing the originals would hurt right?

One more word about cloud storage: Don’t just rely on one service. Backup your backup — it’s not expensive. You could buy an extra external hard drive (or two.) You could also use a second cloud service, and most offer free but limited storage. Don’t take a chance and rely on just one backup or provider.

Protect your home

You took care of your affairs inside the house. Now go outside to protect your property itself. First, think about what you need to protect it from during a storm: water and wind. Prepare and reinforce the parts of your home that are most likely to let those in: doors, windows and the roof.

Doors and windows need to be tightly sealed. If that’s a problem, get it fixed. If your roof is damaged or leaking, waiting for a storm to start churning toward you is a bad time to fix those problems. Make any necessary repairs before the throes of hurricane season ensures you’re not scrambling to get a contractor out to your house at the last second.

Once again, taping your windows doesn’t protect them. Cover your windows with plywood that is at least ⅝ of an inch thick, or install hurricane shutters. Google will help show you how to hang plywood. Keeps some tarps around, too, to help cover up any damaged areas.

Another way to protect your windows is to make sure there’s nothing loose in your yard that the storm-force winds could launch at your home. Check for any trees or foliage that may need trimming or cutting down, too, to reduce flying debris. The same goes for loose objects. Powerful winds could turn items such as flower pots or lawn decorations into projectiles.

Examine your garage door, too. Depending on how old the door is, it could be vulnerable to a storm with significant winds. Consider bracing or reinforcing your garage door with a kit from a home improvement store. Again, Google can show you how.

And don’t forget to take fresh photos of your home and possessions beforehand. That definitely needs to be stored on the cloud.

Related: Florida’s hurricane prep sales tax holiday starts Friday

Protect your business

If you need to protect your business, the game plan is basically the same as protecting your home — especially cleaning up the trees, foliage and debris around it.

But don’t forget to power down any computers and machines before you leave, and shut off the electricity to your business ahead of a storm. When electricity is restored, that could cause power surges that could damage your electronics. If you have a fridge in the office, make sure not to leave any food in it.

Backing up your data and documents is even more crucial at work. You may want to spend the money on waterproof bags and containers to preserve work papers. You’ll definitely want to save multiple copies of your documents and data in different cloud services.

And as the pandemic has shown, you don’t know when you can reopen again. Take whatever you’ll need to work remotely. And photograph everything in advance.

One more thing

In the aftermath of a severe storm, cash is king. Don’t forget to withdraw cash ahead of a storm. When power and cell service is down, you can’t Venmo. Credit cards, ATMs and mobile payment apps like Apple Pay will be useless.

2020 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide

HURRICANE SEASON IS HERE: Get ready and stay informed at

PREPARE YOUR STUFF: Get your documents and your data ready for a storm

BUILD YOUR KIT: The stuff you’ll need to stay safe — and comfortable — for the storm

PROTECT YOUR PETS: Your pets can’t get ready for a storm. That’s your job

NEED TO KNOW: Click here to find your evacuation zone and shelter

Lessons from Hurricane Michael

What the Panhandle’s top emergency officials learned from Michael

‘We’re not going to give up.’ What a school superintendent learned from Michael

What Tampa Bay school leaders fear most from a storm

Tampa Bay’s top cops fear for those who stay behind