Having lived through the craziness of the 2005 hurricane season in South Florida, we’ve become very adept at preparing for a hurricane. Each year, prior to each hurricane we see the long lines at the grocery and home improvement stores. The people rushing to get those last minute supplies because they weren’t prepared ahead of time for what was coming. We’ve learned the hard way that getting prepared before a threat is much easier than waiting until the last minute.
Prior to the start of each hurricane season, make sure you have all your homeowner’s insurance information at hand and up to date. Take pictures of your property yearly. A camera with a date stamp, or digital photos with date stamps are the best. Make sure you keep the updated photos with your insurance information. If you have damage, you’ll need it all. Place this information in a waterproof box or bag and keep it, along with other important documents, in an easily accessible location if you have to evacuate.
In addition to the regular supplies that you need like batteries, food, water, and prescription medications, get cash before the threat of a storm hits. If the power goes out the ATM’s won’t work. Keep your vehicle filled with gas and safely store additional full gas cans at your residence to run a generator, if you have one, and fill your gas tank should you find you have to evacuate. If you don’t have gas stashed away, you might find yourself sitting in lines for hours after a storm only to find out that the station is rationing gas, if they’re pumping at all. Extra gas is also handy if you have a neighbor with a generator and you don’t have one. Offer them fuel in exchange for running that extension cord over to your house to keep the refrigerator running.
Ok, you’re prepared and ready for the storm. You watch the news intently and try to remember if you’ve forgotten anything you might need. This is a good time to go over your list one last time. Batten down the hatches and get ready to ride out the storm, unless of course you have to evacuate your area. If you have to evacuate your home, turn off all the electrical breakers in the house prior to leaving. If there’s no power coming to your home there is less likelihood that the home could catch fire from a power surge. Grab your important documents and hit the road. You won’t be the only one out there so packing a cooler with water and food is a necessity.
Once the storm has cleared, the very first thing you need to do is check for damage. If your power is out, first check your electrical breakers. If all your breakers are on and you still don’t have power, turn the breakers off. A power surge could end up frying every piece of electrical equipment in your home and be a fire hazard. Even if you have power after the storm go outside and check your electrical service coming to your home. If your service is underground and there are no overhead wires, just check to make sure the meter box is still firmly affixed to your home. If it all looks fine, then don’t worry. If your meter or any other pipe or box is hanging off your home, immediately call an electrician to make the repair.
If your electrical service runs over your head, meaning if you stand at your house and look up and you see electrical wires running from a pole at the street to the roof of your house in the same general vicinity of your meter, look to see if the wires are still where they were prior to the storm. Look at your roof where the wires come into your house. Is the metal pipe in place? Or bent and hanging? Is your electrical box and meter affixed firmly to the house, or have they fallen? If the pipe on your roof is bent or hanging, the pipe coming down from the roof to the meter is bent, the meter is hanging or off the wall or the electrical panel has come lose, the power company will not restore your power until the damage is fixed by a licensed electrician. In 2005, I know of at least a dozen people that waited for the power company to come turn their power back on, only to find out they needed to hire an electrician, pull a permit for repairs and get the repairs inspected prior to restoring power. These poor folks went for at least 2 months with no power when, had they just looked outside and called an electrician, could have had their power restored at the same time as everyone else. If you’re in doubt of your damage, call the electrical companies and get on their lists as soon as possible. Most electrical companies are working as soon as a storm passes and may be able to restore your power before the power company can. Please do not put yourself in danger. If you have hanging or downed wires, do not attempt repairs on your own. Walk away and place a phone call to as many electricians as you need to in order to get a professional out to address the problem.
Once your power issues are addressed you can start checking for other damage to your home. Take pictures, call your insurance agency and get on the list for an adjuster to come out. This is no easy task. Expect at least six months of waiting for an adjuster and even longer for the money to make the necessary repairs. Once you have photo documented the damage you can either have the repairs made yourself and wait or you can temporarily repair damage until the insurance company issues you the check that you’re entitled to. Many insurance companies are requiring recent photos of your property prior to the storm damage. Documentation is key and knowing who to call before a crisis is very important.
Use common sense in all crisis situations. Don’t put yourself or your family at risk by staying in an unsafe place during or after a storm. Don’t let children run the streets before or after the storm. Make sure the area is safe before they are allowed outside. If you have a generator, make sure it is placed outside the home in an area that will be well ventilated and where fumes will not travel into the home. Too many people have lost their lives by using generators in an unsafe way. Whatever you do, don’t wait until you see the blip on the radar to start your preparations. It’s much easier to do preparations ahead of time, before impending threat, than it is when the storm is on the way.