Jacksonville families went through Hurricane Matthew last year, we've watched and helped the families of Houston and other areas of Texas go through Hurricane Harvey in 2017, and now, again, we are preparing for Hurricane Irma and the possibility of her heading north and coming our way. Families must watch storm tracking and determine what is best for their families to determine whether to evacuate or not. Being second generation Jacksonville natives, we've been through many hurricanes and our grandparents went through Hurricane Andrew in Miami. We've put together this blog to help families prepare for evacuation if they do decide to go voluntarily or if mandatory evacuation becomes the only option. Scroll down below for these tips for evacuating before a hurricane.
At the Beginning of Hurricane Season, Or A Week Before the Storm
1. Research the Ready.gov/hurricanes website to prepare your home and a safety kit.
4. Find your closest hurricane shelters and if you have pets, locate the shelters that take pets HERE.
5. Purchase pet carriers to have on hand.
6. Develop a family communication plan.
A Few Days Before the Storm
7. Be sure you have gas before the lines get long and prices increase.
8. Determine whether you will evacuate or not. Per number 2 above, monitor the evacuation schedules. This means that some areas will be asked to evacuate because they are in a deeper flood zone. If the storm intensity increases or we are in a more direct path, zones further out will be asked to evacuate. During Hurricane Matthew, many of the beaches and coastal areas were put under mandatory evacuation. In this case, water and sewer were turned off to many homes to encourage them to leave. If you plan to leave or if you are required to leave, be prepared and then leave EARLY, about 72 - 48 hours before the projected time of the direct impact. At this time there will hopefully be less traffic and more open hotel space. Plan to leave early in the morning or late at night so you don't have to spend extra hours in traffic with kids at times when everyone else is planning to leave or during 5 o'clock traffic.
9. Designate someone to be the leader of the evacuation plan in your family. Have them make the ultimate decision on where you will stay, what you will bring, what food you will purchase, and what you will pack. They can designate family to purchase these various items and help pack. During times of evacuation, families can be very nervous and not think clearly and be too scared to make decisions. Many go out and purchase things that aren't necessary, like milk and items that need to be refrigerated, when those things would require coolers, etc. Having a clear leader will help everyone feel secure and help the family follow the plan.
10. Determine who will be evacuating with you and what items they will need. If you have older family members, they may want to come with you so they are not alone, because they don't know how to check flood zones and evacuation routes, or because they have special needs. Some of those members may have pets so you will need to make decisions based on whether animals can stay in your hotel, how many hotel rooms you need and if the hotel has that amount of space, how far they can drive or whether you need to make space in your vehicle. The hurricane caravan can be tricky to maneuver so be sure to have your plan up front.
11. Watch the hurricane tracker news stations and websites to determine the path of the storm. If it is coming from the Atlantic, attempt to book a hotel that is interior Florida, such as Ocala or Gainesville, west to Tallahassee and further into the Panhandle, or head northwest to Georgia. The earlier you book or plan to leave, the closer you will get a hotel room. The longer you wait when a big storm is coming, the farther you will have to drive to find open space. In the wake of Hurricane Matthew in 2016, many had to drive as far as Alabama and Tennessee to find open rooms. Beware of college football schedules and avoid cities like Tallahassee or Gainesville if there will be home games as hotels will be sold out. VRBO can be an option for open rooms as is Air B and B. Call early for your hotel and ask for cancellation policy. If you can cancel within 24 hours, book a week out, especially with animals or special needs, and that way you can cancel if the storm tracking changes.
12. Purchase food you need for the drive and anything you may need for the hotel. You'll need snacks for the car, you can make sandwiches and picnic food to eat at rest areas, bring drinks, formula or extra stored breast milk for babies. If you have space, bring meals for the hotel to save money, or plan to purchase items at the grocery store when you get there or plan to go out to eat. Having continental breakfast foods on hand for breakfast and sandwich meats can go a long way in saving money. Evacuating is like a mini vacation and many don't have extra funds for this extra, unplanned trip, so saving money could be a priority.
13. Purchase and pack supplies. You will need pet food, diapers, any supplies for kids. Have plenty of doses of medicines ready for immediate family and those that are coming with you. Pack toiletries. Be sure to bring cards, games, and books as you don't know how long the evacuation drive will be or if there will be activities available at the hotel. Be sure to pack bathing suits as the hotel may have a pool and you won't want to go shopping for new suits. Bring many changes of clothes in case there are no laundry facilities in the hotel. If you are heading to an evacuation facility, like a school, be sure to bring sheets, blankets, and pillows and extra games and toys for the children.
14. Pack all homeowners insurance paperwork, flooding insurance, contacts and any relevant items related to your home that is not backed up on the cloud.
15. Prepare your technology. Turn your phone to low energy usage. Be sure to have weather apps installed and set the apps to, "get notifications." Set your smart phones to "get emergency alerts. Be sure to follow accounts on Twitter and Facebook locally and nationally to be able to follow. Make sure you purchase a car charger that has multiple usb cords to charge multiple phones. Someone could be using the phone to make phone calls, track the GPS route, check traffic and track the storm so you will want to be able to have multiple pieces of technology charged at all times.
16. Prepare your home - move chairs, plants, and anything that could fly away and harm homes inside your house. Prepare trees by cutting loose limbs, secure loose gutters and clean them so debris won't fly. Consider sandbags if you are in a flood zone as well as hurricane shutters for windows.
17. Contact neighbors and determine who is staying and who is going. If anyone is staying, be sure to have their phone numbers on hand so they can provide updates on the storm and the condition of your home. They may need your permission to help with home damage if you can't get back quickly. If they are evacuating, it will be helpful to keep in contact for post storm damage and communicating on when you can return.
18. Whereas it seems trivial, start following your moms group to see what other families are doing during evacuation and to see any tips and tricks they are sharing.
19. Involve kids in hurricane prep and tracking, watching the radar maps and videos so they will understand what is going on and be less afraid. Don't show your own fear. Be prepared as possible so you can be relaxed for them and make scary parts of the storm fun.
20. Be sure to check our Facebook page and family calendar to find events and restaurants that are open post storm when you return. Many will have fared well and will invite the public in for some fun or to help those in need. We will have an updated list of activities to share with local families.
21. Be sure to follow your communication outlets to know when you can get back to your home. Many areas were closed many days post Hurricane Matthew to clear debris and make areas safe for travel and to return power back to areas. Police will block roads and not let families back to their homes to keep workers and residents safe. You don't want to return too early and be turned away so keep in contact with local authorities to know when you can return.
22. And finally, be extra safe. This goes without saying, however families can be extremely worried, have crying kids and babies in the car along with animals. With long waits in traffic or stress over not finding a hotel, many can be on high stress levels. Be safe and know we are all in this together and we all need to get to safety. Be safe and work together to help others in need and do the best you can for your family.