1. Local Weather

2017 Hurricane Season: Could you survive a storm? Time to freshen up your hurricane kit

Published May 13, 2017

Floridians had 11 hurricane-free years to stock up on canned goods, batteries and first aid kits before Hurricane Hermine struck the west coast in September.

Then a more powerful Hurricane Matthew hammered the east coast of Florida in October.

Those two storms wreaked havoc on homemade "hurricane kits" throughout the state in 2016. That's why experts said it's even more important that Floridians restock their emergency supplies well before blue skies turn to a menacing gray.

"You never know when a hurricane or any disaster will force you to leave your home at a moment's notice," said Brady Smith, principal planner with the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council. "But if that time comes, you don't want to be scrambling to pack up everything you need."

Smith said each household should keep a durable cooler or other portable container stocked with enough supplies to sustain each family member for up to seven days after a storm strikes.

Start with seven gallons of water per person — enough for one gallon of water a day for each person for up a week should water supplies become contaminated. Also be sure to take out plenty of cash well before any potential storms knock out power.

Stock up on powdered sports drinks high in electrolytes and high-calorie, nonrefrigerated food items like protein bars, peanut butter and canned goods that will help maintain energy in humid conditions. Keep in mind, though, that emergency food supplies should be replaced every six months, as should any pet food, baby food, infant formula and other dietary items.

"And make sure you have a manual can opener, not one that requires electricity," Smith said. "It sounds silly, but especially if you've had a hurricane kit for years, you need to double- and triple-check that you have enough batteries, you've got the can opener, your food isn't all expired."

At the start of hurricane season, make sure you have an ample supply of any prescriptions and keep an updated list of all medicines and dosages for each family member.

In Florida, doctors can provide a 90-day supply for most medications, and the planning council recommends storing enough to last two weeks.

Also stock up on common household items and first aid supplies, such as hand sanitizer, toilet paper, garbage bags, insect repellent and sunscreen.

Camping and survivalist items such as waterproof matches, hand-crank radios, external cellphone chargers, solar chargers and waterproof gadget cases could become necessities when riding out a storm at home.

• Fill up extra gallons of gasoline to take the guesswork out of getting out of town when gas stations are closed. Make sure any containers used to store gasoline are approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation and hold no more than 5 gallons, are secured at least 50 feet away from any ignition sources with a tightly fitting cap and are kept at room temperature out of direct sunlight. Tampa Fire Rescue warns against leaving small amounts of gasoline in a gas can, or filling a can to more than 95 percent capacity to allow expansion.

If you have to drive with a gas can, securely fasten it in an upright position on the top of your car or car rack if possible to avoid the possibility of fumes accumulating inside the car. Tampa Fire officials say gas cans should always be placed on the ground a safe distance away from people and vehicles when being filled, never inside the bed of a truck or car trunk.

And remember that deadly carbon monoxide gas created by generators and other gasoline-powered appliances accumulates quickly. Never run a generator inside, or even in an attached structure such as a garage or barn. Generators should sit at least 15 feet away from your house in a dry, cool location with the exhaust pointing away from any windows, doors or vents.

If you do evacuate, make sure to prepare to take your pets with you well in advance of a storm. Keep in mind that pet-friendly shelters require documentation showing all vaccinations are up to date, and most require pet owners to provide their own crate and food. Prepare instructions for any dietary or medical needs and register and microchip your pet in case you become separated. Smith also suggests carrying a picture of you with your pet for identification purposes should they wander off.

Smartphone photos of your home can also come in handy if you need to provide an inventory of damaged valuables for an insurance claim. But if you lose power, keeping printed photos helps in a pinch.

Keep all essential documents with you as you seek shelter, including Social Security cards, drivers' licenses, birth certificates, passports, immigration documents, and a copy of your insurance policy with your agent's name and contact information. You should also scan and store documents to portable hard drives and cloud services like Google Drive, iCloud and Dropbox.

Be sure to have a bag packed with clothes, pillows, sleeping bags and any other comfort items that you would need to make your stay in a hurricane shelter more comfortable.

Above all, every household should have a portable radio to receive emergency communications broadcast from local officials and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Weather Radio All Hazards (NWR) radio network, said Tampa Fire Rescue emergency planner John Antapasis.

You may also want to keep some old-fashioned entertainment around, something that doesn't require a Wi-Fi signal and an iPad.

"A lot of these items are already laying around the house, but taking a few minutes to get them organized into one kit will take a lot of worry out of hurricane season," Antapasis said. "Then, once you get the basics, stock up on board games like Monopoly to keep everyone entertained if you end up trapped in a house without power."