Article

Technical Advisory Bulletin: Hurricane preparedness

June 15, 2017
| United States

Hurricanes

The Atlantic hurricane season officially begins on June 1 and runs through November 30. Although the peak time of the season is usually during August, September and October, preparation is strongly advised at all times no matter how many storms are forecast. For example, Andrew, a Category 5 hurricane, roared ashore on August 24, 1992 and devastated South Florida. That year, only seven named storms appeared in the Atlantic basin the entire hurricane season.

Clear, concise and well-practiced hurricane plans have the following advantages:

  • Personnel respond quicker and more effectively than if no planning has occurred.
  • Needed information, supplies and equipment are identified before disaster strikes.
  • Advance preparations once a hurricane or tropical storm watch is issued will be understood and implemented.
  • A clear assignment of tasks and responsibilities can be made.
  • Training and other resource needs can be identified.

In the Atlantic Basin during 2016, there were 15 named storms of which seven became hurricanes. In addition, there were five named storms (hurricanes or tropical storms) that made landfall in the United States. Hurricane Mathew reached maximum sustained surface winds of 160 miles per hour and lasted as a major hurricane for eight days. Furthermore, late-season Hurricane Otto set several historical records. When Otto became a hurricane on November 23, it surpassed by one day Hurricane Martha of 1969 as the latest hurricane formation in a calendar year in the Caribbean Sea. Otto became the strongest hurricane on record so late in the year, the latest hurricane on record to be located in the Caribbean Sea, and Otto’s landfall on November 24 is the latest hurricane landfall in the Atlantic basin within a calendar year. Otto’s landfall is also the southernmost hurricane landfall in Central America, surpassing Hurricane Irene (1971), which also made landfall in southern Nicaragua but about 25-30 nautical miles (or approximately 29-35 statute miles) north of where Otto crossed the coast. Otto is also the only known hurricane to move over Costa Rica. As a result, both Mathew and Otto have been retired from the official list of names.

In 1953, the U.S. began using female names for storms and in 1979, male and female names were included in lists for storms originating in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. Since then, the names of 82 storms have been retired — 33 (or 40% of the total) since 2000 alone. This includes several hurricanes that had catastrophic effects on the U.S., such as Ike, Katrina, Charley, Irene and Sandy.

The chart below shows the total number of named storms and hurricanes that have occurred between 2006 and 2016:

Named storms and hurricanes, 2006 – 2016

This paper provides information to help you prepare for, protect against and respond to the effects of a hurricane. Fortunately, the property loss prevention guidelines we offer apply to both your places of business and your personal properties. For properties you own, you will want to assemble your emergency response team to discuss the availability of personnel and the procedures you will take in the event of a tropical storm or hurricane warning. For locations you lease, you will want to work with the landlord to ensure they have the proper materials and procedures to adequately prepare for the storm. Serving on their emergency response team is a good idea.

It is important to keep in mind that the effects of a hurricane or tropical storm can be felt for hundreds of miles inland, not just along the coast. For example, inland flooding can be a huge concern, even if you are not physically located in a flood zone. In addition, tornadoes are frequently spawned from hurricanes and tropical storms making landfall, so precautions are needed to protect structures and personnel from these events as well.

When a tropical storm or hurricane watch is issued, follow local weather and news reports closely to determine the path of the storm and learn about any advisory or mandatory evacuation order from public emergency management authorities.

The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale is a 1 to 5 rating based on a hurricane’s sustained wind speed. This scale estimates potential property damage. Hurricanes reaching Category 3 and higher are considered major hurricanes because of their potential for significant loss of life and damage.

Category 1 and 2 storms are still dangerous, however, and require preventative measures.

The scale was updated in early 2010 and no longer ties specific storm surge and flooding effects to each category.

Effective May 15, 2012, the scale was adjusted slightly to resolve issues associated with the conversion of units used for wind speed. To resolve these rounding issues, Category 4 on the scale was broadened by one mph at each end of the range, yielding a new range of 130 – 156 mph. This will also result in a minor modification of the Category 3 and 5 wind speed thresholds. There are no changes to the wind speeds currently assigned to Categories 1 and 2. The table you see here reflects these changes.

Category Sustained winds Types of damage due to hurricane winds
1 74-95 mph Very dangerous winds will produce some damage
2 96-110 mph Extremely dangerous winds will cause extensive damage
3 (major hurricane) 111-129 mph Devastating damage will occur
4 (major hurricane) 130-156 mph Catastrophic damage will occur
5 (major hurricane) 157 mph or higher Catastrophic damage will occur

To identify the hurricane hazard, you should familiarize yourself with the following terms. A cyclone is classified as a tropical storm and receives a name when winds reach 39 miles per hour or greater. When wind speed reaches 74 miles per hour or greater, it is classified as a hurricane. Watches are issued when tropical storm or hurricane conditions are possible within a specified area within 48 hours. Warnings are issued when tropical storm or hurricane conditions are expected within a specified area within 36 hours.

Once the storm has passed, secure the facility and survey for damage, taking pictures or video. Review and document any damage to both the buildings and their contents.

Assume that all downed power lines are fully energized under all circumstances and avoid them. Before utilities are returned to service, check for gas leaks, look for electrical system damage and check for sewage and water line damage.

Personnel walking through areas covered with glass and other debris should wear proper personal protective equipment, including such items as steel-toed work boots, thick gloves, eye protection, dust masks and other safety equipment.

During any restoration or repair period, make sure that property conservation programs and procedures are explicitly followed. Should you need to shut down a fire sprinkler system, follow the proper impairment procedures. Follow proper permit procedure for any hot work that you may need to perform. Hot work includes the use of any flame or heat producing device used for welding, brazing, grinding and soldering.

Preparedness activities for your home

Windows and doors

Approximately 80% of residential hurricane wind damage starts with wind entry through garage doors.

Protecting your windows is perhaps one of the most important factors in securing your home from total destruction in a hurricane or severe storm. Make sure all windows and doors are properly caulked and/or weather stripped. Replace gravel or rock landscaping material with fire treated, shredded bark to reduce damage. Cover all windows and glass doors with securely fastened, impact-resistant shutters or other approved window protection systems with proper mounting fixtures. The ideal situation is to install impact resistant laminated window and door systems.

Approximately 80% of residential hurricane wind damage starts with wind entry through garage doors. Garage doors should be able to withstand hurricane wind loads and impacts of flying debris. Entry doors should be bolted closed with bolts at least one inch long.

Safe rooms

During a hurricane, do not stay in a room that does not have shielded windows/glass doors. A safe room is a fortified room installed in a private residence or business that provides safe shelter. A bathroom, hallway or closet that can buffer you from the storm’s winds is recommended. Make sure to take your disaster supply kit into the safe room when a storm threatens.

Tropical storm watch

An announcement that tropical storm conditions (sustained winds of 39 to 73 mph) are possible within the specified area within 48 hours.

Tropical storm warning

An announcement that tropical storm conditions (sustained winds of 39 to 73 mph) are expected somewhere within the specified area within 36 hours

Hurricane watch

An announcement that hurricane conditions (sustained winds of 74 mph or higher) are possible within the specified area (because hurricane preparedness activities become difficult once winds reach tropical storm force, the hurricane watch is issued 48 hours in advance of the anticipated onset of tropical-storm-force winds).

Hurricane warning

An announcement that hurricane conditions (sustained winds of 74 mph or higher) are expected somewhere within the specified area (because hurricane preparedness activities become difficult once winds reach tropical storm force, the hurricane warning is issued 36 hours in advance of the anticipated onset of tropical storm-force winds).

Preparedness activities for your workplace

At the beginning of every hurricane season, review any existing emergency response plans you have developed. These plans detail the actions you will take in the event of an emergency. Generally speaking, these plans include up-to-date contact information of employees, business partners and vendors; a pre-determined group of employees who will perform specific tasks in order to prepare for an event; communication procedures; and a list of needed items and materials.

In order to prepare a specific property or structure for a hurricane, keep in mind that buildings located next to open terrain, where the wind can blow unobstructed, such as near fields, large bodies of water, parking lots and airport runways, are likely to be damaged when the wind strikes with full force.

The roof covering and building envelope is your first line of defense. A building’s envelope consists of foundation, roof, walls, doors and windows which provide a physical barrier between the interior and exterior areas of the building. Now is the time to check the roof drains to ensure they are not clogged with debris and that water can flow properly. The roof covering should be in good condition and free from blisters and other signs of physical damage. Also, the roof flashing should be tightly secured at the edge of the roof where the roof and building walls meet. Rain entering the building, not wind striking it, can account for significant damage to equipment, furnishings and interior finish. In addition, unreinforced parapets, decorative facades and unsecured mechanical equipment can blow over and damage the rooftop.

Glass wall panels and plate glass windows are vulnerable to damage by windborne debris and the direct force of wind. Before the storm, remove outdoor furniture, trash cans and other lightweight objects that could become windborne missiles.

Indoors, relocate equipment away from windows or cover it with waterproof tarps. In offices, remove items from the windowsill and place papers and files in cabinets or other waterproof containers.

Outside trailers should be tied down to the ground or building to prevent movement. Back-up electrical equipment, such as uninterruptable power supplies (UPS systems) and generators, as well as sump pumps and other water removal systems, should be tested to ensure proper operation.

Once the hurricane warning is issued, it is time to finalize all preparations as it may quickly become too dangerous to finish all the items you want to complete.

Depending on the operation being performed, an orderly shutdown of equipment and utilities is required. Simply turning a piece of equipment to the off position may not be recommended until other steps are taken first. Since it may be several days before the building can be occupied, make sure all fire protection equipment is in ready and working condition. Since electric power will probably not be available, ensure all fuel fired equipment is full. Finally, if deemed necessary, you may want to shut down critical utilities, such as natural gas and electrical systems to prevent possible sources of ignition.

Further, close and latch exterior doors and windows, and brace large doors at shipping and receiving docks. Now is the time to close hurricane shutters or cover windows with plywood.

Disaster supply kit

A crucial part of your hurricane plan is a disaster supply kit. This is simply a collection of basic items your household may need in the event of an emergency. Prepare to be self-sufficient for at least three days to two weeks.

Try to assemble your kit well in advance of an emergency. You may have to evacuate at a moment’s notice and take essentials with you. You will probably not have time to search for the supplies you need or shop for them.

So what should your disaster supply kit include? Generally speaking, store at least a week’s supply of food and water; a first aid kit with medicines, especially any prescription drugs; special items for babies, the elderly and pets; flashlights; a battery-powered radio with extra batteries; and a NOAA Weather Radio.

Store at least one gallon of water per person per day. A normally active person needs at least one gallon of water daily just for drinking; however, individual needs vary, depending on age, physical condition, activity, diet and climate.

Following a disaster, there may be power outages that could last for several days. Stock canned foods, dry mixes and other staples that do not require refrigeration, cooking, water or special preparation. Be sure to include a manual can opener and eating utensils.

Make sure enough medication is on hand. Some prescriptions require refrigeration so make sure ice or means of keeping them cool are available. ATMs will not work without electricity so make sure you have some cash on hand.

Just as important as putting your supplies together is maintaining them so they are safe to use when needed. Here are some tips to keep your supplies ready and in good condition:

  • Keep canned food in a cool, dry place.
  • Store boxed food in tightly closed plastic or metal containers to protect from pests and to extend its shelf life.
  • Throw out any canned item that is swollen, dented or corroded.
  • Use foods before they go bad and replace them with fresh supplies.
  • Place new items at the back of the storage area and older ones in the front.
  • Change stored food and water supplies every six months. Be sure to write the date you store it on all containers.
  • Re-think your needs every year and update your kit as your family’s needs change.
  • Keep items in airtight plastic bags and put your entire disaster supplies kit in one or two easy-to-carry containers, such as an unused trashcan, camping backpack or duffel bag.

Evacuation and power outages

In case you must evacuate, keep your gas tank full, and if, once en route, you find yourself stranded, be safe and stay in your car, put on your flashers, call for help and wait until it arrives.

Take important papers and copies of personal documents with you, such as medication list and pertinent medical information, proof of address, deed/lease to home, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies, warranties, driver’s license and pet vaccination records.

Friends and relatives should know where you are going.

Turn the refrigerator and freezer to the coldest setting and keep them closed as much as possible so that food will last longer if the power goes out. If you are instructed to turn off electric and gas, locate your electrical circuit box and always shut off all the individual circuits before shutting off the main circuit.

Shutting off the gas

Natural gas leaks and explosions are responsible for a significant number of fires following disasters. It is vital that all household members know how to shut off natural gas.

Because there are different gas shut-off procedures for different gas meter configurations, contact your local gas company for any guidance on preparations and response regarding gas appliances and gas service to your home.

When you learn the proper shut-off procedure for your meter, share the information with everyone in your household. (Be sure not to actually turn off the gas when practicing the proper gas shut-off procedures.)

If you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, open a window and get everyone out quickly. Turn off the gas, using the outside main valve, if you can, and call the gas company from a neighbor’s home.

If you turn off the gas for any reason, a qualified professional must turn it back on. NEVER attempt to turn the gas back on yourself.

Pets

Don’t forget to make special arrangements and plans for a place that will safely house, feed and care for your pets. If you evacuate, and the pets are going with you, don’t forget to include food and water in your family disaster supply kit. You will not be allowed to bring your pets to public shelters. Make arrangements with your veterinarian, humane society or private pet shelter outside the normal hurricane impact areas. Make sure your pets have had all their shots within the past 12–months. Pet shelters and boarding facilities will require proof of vaccinations.

Be prepared

When dealing with hurricanes or any threat, the bottom line is: be prepared. Have ready both an emergency preparation and a response strategy through which immediate, effective action can be taken. A tremendous amount of resources, booklets, checklists, planning kits and other material are available on the web. The following is a list of the most common websites covering emergency response and disaster preparedness — some of which have served as references for this paper:

References and information websites

We encourage you to visit our website to access prior publications on topics that may be of interest.