The most important time to prepare for a hurricane is before a storm has formed.
The Tampa Bay Times spoke with 14 experts working in fields related to storm preparation, response and recovery, about how to prepare for natural disaster — and where people go wrong.
Here’s what they said.
Evacuation behavioral studies have found that people who have a plan in place before a storm is forecast are more likely to evacuate when orders are called, said hazard geographer Chris Emrich.
Emrich, who is a founding member of the National Center for Integrated Coastal Research at the University of Central Florida, studies people’s really bad days. His job is to look at disasters and understand how to make them less devastating.
People often make the mistake of being reactive, he said, instead of proactive when it comes to hurricane preparation. The latter is dangerous.
The threat of an oncoming storm is stressful, he said, and evacuating can be resource intensive. If you live in an evacuation zone, Emrich said, it’s important to prepare before pressure compounds.
“That will really reduce the amount of stress when it comes time to evacuate because you’ve already thought about it,” Emrich said.
A plan should include details on housing, transportation and the resources needed to stay safe.
If you live in an evacuation zone, will you be able to stay with friends or family nearby who don’t — or, will you plan to go to a shelter? If you’re not in an evacuation zone, do you have room for friends or family to stay with you? Communicate with them.
Learn about more your evacuation zone by using the county-specific links below.
Stay close, but leave the flood zones
Emergency managers said misconceptions about evacuation can affect response during storms.
You don’t need to leave your city to ensure you’re safe during a storm. You just need to get out of flood and evacuation zones.
In fact, staying closer to home, in an area you’re familiar with, can better position you to return once a storm passes.
What emergency managers don’t want to see is people leaving one flood zone for another in a different coastal city.
Storm paths can change, as was evident during Ian. Make sure when you evacuate, you’re planning to exit evacuation zones and risk of storm surge rather than leaving a specific city or region.
Transportation is available
Manatee, Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco Counties each provide transportation to shelters during evacuations for people who need it, but they require residents to register in advance.
In addition to door-to-door transit, each county’s public transportation lines are free to all in the lead-up to a hurricane.
If you or someone you know has a medical condition that qualifies for a spot at a special-needs shelter during a hurricane — which caters to the medically vulnerable — sign up in advance.
Resources are available, but only if you plan ahead using the county-specific links below.
Lean into community
Preparing for a storm must be a community effort.
If you know somebody who is especially vulnerable, help connect them with resources. If you work for a nonprofit that serves elderly or low-income populations who may need help evacuating during storms, or communities that may have difficulty accessing information, reach out to your county’s department of emergency management services to request support.
“Neighbors need to help neighbors,” Emrich said.
Talk with your friends
Dispelling misinformation that undermines the potential danger of storms is crucial.
Remind those closest to you about the risks of hurricanes and importance of having a plan.
People tend to gravitate toward information that lessens their fears, but downplaying the severity of a natural disaster will only result in harm.
Direct the people you care about to your county’s evacuation zone map, and remember to listen to emergency managers as storms near.
You don’t have to be scared as long as you’re prepared.
If you need a hand getting started on hurricane preparation, here are a few additional resources to check out.
Get a Plan Tool — https://apps.floridadisaster.org/getaplan/
This tool from FloridaDisaster.Org helps residents develop emergency plans for personal or business purposes.
Vulnerability Map: https://www.vulnerabilitymap.org/
Learn more about the factors that make your neighborhood vulnerable to storms by entering your zip code at this site from researchers at the University of Central Florida.
Hazard Aware Map: https://hazardaware.org/
Get information about the hazard risk of a specific home, as well as information about how to make it more storm resistant at this site from researchers at the University of Central Florida.
Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Ian coverage
FEMA: Floridians hurt by Ian can now apply for FEMA assistance. Here’s how.
THE STORM HAS PASSED: Now what? Safety tips for returning home.
POST-STORM QUESTIONS: After Hurricane Ian, how to get help with fallen trees, food, damaged shelter.
WEATHER EFFECTS: Hurricane Ian was supposed to slam Tampa Bay head on. What happened?
MORE STORM COVERAGE: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane.