Hurricane 2021: Gear up — and mask up — before the storm hits

The coronavirus pandemic isn’t over yet. You should still mask up inside an evacuation shelter.
The pandemic still affects hurricane preparations across Florida.
The pandemic still affects hurricane preparations across Florida. [ Photo illustration by BERNADETTE BERDYCHOWSKI | Times and Shutterstock ]
Published May 24, 2021|Updated Aug. 25, 2021

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Floridians have spent the past 15 months getting ready — for the pandemic, for hurricane season, and for a hurricane during the pandemic.

Hopefully that means there isn’t much left to do to get ready for this hurricane season.

Make no mistake, however, the pandemic still affects hurricane preparations across Florida.

Here’s a list of things you should have handy to stay safe from the storm and the virus at home, if you have to evacuate to someone else’s home, or the worst-case scenario: You need to go to an evacuation shelter.

Related: The first of Florida’s three tax-free holidays starts this week

Masks still needed

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that two masks per person (ages 2 and above) be added to every household’s hurricane kit. Even those who have been vaccinated should wear masks if they have to crowd into an evacuation shelter.

That’s because many are still not yet vaccinated, especially children, even though federal officials recently approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for ages 12 to 15.

There’s also the 3 percent of the U.S. population with compromised immune systems who, whether vaccinated or not, remain vulnerable. So wearing a mask protects them.

Related: DeSantis suspended mask mandates. But what about hurricane season?

Hopefully more Floridians will continue to get vaccinated by the time storm season peaks in mid-August. But every shelter will likely see the vaccinated and unvaccinated huddling together. That’s risky, even with social distancing, so don’t take a chance.

There’s also a psychological benefit: During a crisis, masks can help convey a sense of safety to others during what will undoubtedly be a tense time trapped indoors during a major storm.

Hurricane kit basics

Every hurricane kit from now on will need pandemic supplies. That includes hand sanitizer made with at least 60 percent alcohol, bar or liquid soap for vigorous hand-washing and disinfectant wipes. Your shelter may already have these supplies, but why take a chance? And why wait in line? Help others by helping yourself.

Related: NOAA is latest to forecast an active hurricane season in 2021

The time to buy pandemic supplies — and everything else a hurricane kit needs — is now, before a storm approaches. Use the checklists released by your county’s emergency management team.

The Florida Division of Emergency Management (, the Department of Homeland Security (, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency ( also offer checklists.

Hurricane kits should be designed to help those hunkering down in a shelter or evacuating to someone else’s home.

Seven days survival

The state recommends that every Floridian have enough food, water, medicine and supplies to last seven days. That’s how long it might take for your area to be resupplied after a major storm. The state used to recommend keeping three to five days of supplies per person, but that’s no longer enough.

When it comes to water, the general rule is that every person needs one gallon a day. Anything that holds and purifies water will come in handy: Plastic water bottles, plastic pitchers and personal straws that come with filtration systems will be useful, along with water purification tablets.

Everyone should also keep a two-week supply of prescription or needed medications with them. In Florida, doctors can provide a 90-day emergency supply of most medications.

Related: The first of Florida’s three tax-free holidays starts this week

Try to have enough freeze-dried or canned food to last each person for seven days. Look for high–calorie, non–refrigerated food items like peanut butter, powdered sports drinks high in electrolytes and protein bars. Infants will also need seven days of formula, and those with special dietary needs also need to be ready.

Keep supplies in portable coolers and waterproof bins. If you go to a shelter, everyone will need clothes, pillows, inflatable mattresses or sleeping bags, and anything else needed to stay comfortable. Board games and books can help pass the time. Tablets and handheld game consoles could run out of power.

Power up

You’re going to rely on your smartphones, tablets and laptops even more during an evacuation. Charge up your power banks and don’t forget the cables you’ll need to keep everything powered: lightning cables, USB-C and mini-USB cables.

Bring a surge protector with multiple outlets to the evacuation shelter to charge your devices and the devices of those you’re sharing space with. No one should be fighting for the two outlets on the wall. You should also bring the right cables and gadgets you’ll need to charge your wearable tech like an Apple Watch.

Related: 2021 hurricane forecast: 17 storms, 8 hurricanes, 4 major ones

The little things

The little things are so important. There’s no point in stocking up on canned goods if you don’t have any manual can openers. Have several on hand, just in case.

Think about keeping a wrench or pliers handy, so you can turn utilities off when you evacuate and turn them back on when you return home.

Related: It was a record hurricane season. How did they all miss Florida?

Remember that items like batteries and certain foods should be refreshed every year. Emergency food stores, including pet food, baby food, infant formula and other dietary items should be replaced every six months.

And, yes, buy more toilet paper while it’s still on store shelves.

Go bags

Go bags are pre-assembled kits kept in backpacks that you can grab if you have just minutes to leave your home because of an emergency.

These kits should contain the absolute essentials you’ll need: Medications, important papers, a back-up hard drive of your data and photos, necessary dietary provisions, wipes, spare glasses, everything you and your family or group will need if you have mere minutes to prepare to leave the home for several days.

If you have older relatives, help prepare their go bags so they can leave at a moment’s notice as well.

• • •

Tax-free hurricane supplies

Florida’s 2021 disaster-preparedness sales tax holiday runs runs from May 28 through June 6. During that period, these hurricane supplies will be tax-exempt:

  • Coolers and ice chests under $30; powered coolers are not exempt.
  • Dry-cell batteries such as AA, AAA, C, D and 9-volt batteries under $30 a package. Auto and boat batteries are not exempt.
  • Flashlights, lanterns and other portable light sources for under $20.
  • Fuel cans for $25 or less.
  • Ground-anchor systems and tie-down kits under $50.
  • Portable generators for $750 or less.
  • Radios, two-way radios and weather radios for $50 or less.
  • Reusable ice products for $10 or less.
  • Tarps and waterproof sheeting under $50.
• • •

Hurricane kit: Assembly required

Here are some suggestions for building your hurricane kit. Buy an item or two each week during hurricane season and keep them organized and ready to go in case of an emergency. In a few years, your household will have a robust kit. Batteries, perishables and water should be replaced every year.

  • Air horn, to call for help
  • Assorted batteries, including for hearing aids
  • Bleach to clean up mold
  • Camping gear
  • Can opener (manual, not electric)
  • Cash
  • Dust mask
  • Fire extinguisher
  • First aid kit
  • Fix–a–Flat tire sealant and similar products, in case storm debris shreds your tires
  • Hand sanitizer; personal wipes (disinfecting wipes, to be safe)
  • Hand soap
  • Local maps (physical, not digital maps)
  • Long-handle squeegees for scraping mud out of a flooded home
  • Laundry detergent, bucket for washing clothes
  • NOAA Weather Radio
  • Pandemic masks
  • Paper cups, plates and plastic utensils
  • Paper towels (better than sponges if there’s no water)
  • Pens and paper (don’t run down phone batteries writing stuff down)
  • Plastic sheeting
  • Portable air-conditioner that can be plugged into a generator
  • Portable camping stove
  • Portable power banks for smartphones and tablets
  • Powerful flashlight, laser pointer to attract help in the dark (Remember: aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft is a federal crime)
  • Radio, battery or hand-crank
  • Rain jacket and pants/poncho
  • Rags, sponges, mops for cleanup
  • Rubber boots
  • Seasonal clothing (in case of cold weather)
  • Several pairs of dry socks and backup shoes
  • Spare contacts and eyeglasses (also eyedrops)
  • Spare keys to homes, businesses and vehicles
  • Spray paint to paint address, insurance carrier on house
  • Sunscreen, lip balm, insect repellent
  • Termite bait and ant poison
  • Toilet paper
  • Toothbrushing pads (when water is in short supply)
  • Seven gallons of water per person (at least)
  • Sleeping bags
  • Water purification tablets
  • Waterproof matches and lighter
  • Work gloves and rubber gloves
  • Wrench or pliers, to turn utilities on and off

• • •

2021 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide

IT’S STORM SEASON: Get ready and stay informed at

THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: Seven hurricane myths that need to go away

BACK-UP YOUR DATA: Protect your data, documents and photos

BUILD YOUR HURRICANE KIT: Gear up — and mask up — before the storm hits

PROTECT YOUR PETS: Here’s how to keep your pets as safe as you

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