Here’s the Proper Way to Plan for a Hurricane

Year after year, we’ve prepared and helped our clients prepare for hurricane season. Each time, we learn more no matter what the season brings. Last year, Hurricane Irma brought us new challenges and lessons. So, as we prepare for 2018’s Florida hurricane season we’ll share the proper way to plan based on these most recent lessons. You’ll also find plenty of resources here for you and your family to put together a proper safety plan.

If you have loved ones in the Tampa Bay area, our team can help assess needs, discuss the dangers, and do all the necessary preparations (including when and how to evacuate the area). Contact us for the peace of mind that comes with having a proper plan in place.

How to Properly Plan for Hurricane Season

Understand the baseline situation to get a realistic picture of what life will be like for you before, during and after the hurricane.

When we assess a client to build a hurricane plan, we need to know their current situation and needs. What services are they reliant on? Do they need oxygen or medical equipment? And, how long can they go without/what alternatives are available? How frail are they? Do they have cognitive impairments? This is only a partial list to give you an idea, but the assessment needs to fully evaluate functioning.

Next in the assessment process is understanding logistics. What evacuation zone are they in? How well is the home secured? And, what help would they need to get the home ready when a storm comes, such as putting up hurricane shutters? We dig into their support network to see what resources and options are available. Most importantly, we help everyone understand the realities of what that network may or may not be able to do.

Even in minor storms, the situation can become really unpleasant really fast. And, for frail elders, it can quickly turn deadly. We highly recommend leaving the area if at all possible. Many young, healthy people fall ill and get injured even after minor storms. It is just not a situation you want your elderly loved ones to face. If you’re having trouble convincing them or figuring out logistics, we’re here to help.

Plan early and move fast.

During Hurricane Irma, those who didn’t move fast and plan well in advance found themselves stuck with few options. In Pinellas County, the average home went without power for a full week. Day 1 and 2 aren’t so bad, but by day 5 things start to deteriorate even for the strongest among us. We saw a three-hour line for Taco Bell, the only food spot that was open.

After people’s experiences, they’ll likely step up their planning with earlier preparations. This means if you’re not making decisions in advance, you’ll struggle even more. Gas will run out, motels will book up early, food will be gone from store shelves. Hurricane predictions come early, so there’s no need (or time) to wait until three days before. You won’t find flights out by then. You’ll be stuck in horrible traffic. The decision will be made for you, because there won’t be any choices.

We were contacted by one family last year to help at the last minute. With our connections and a great deal of work, we were finally able to get him a spot in an ALF. It was a stressful situation for all involved. But, without that move he might not be here today. And, we wouldn’t count on that space being available like that in the future.

Overplan for supplies and lack of services.

Now is the time to get those supplies in order. Buy a battery-operated fan. Get new coolers. Purchase more flashlights/battery-powered lights and batteries. Buy battery backups and/or hand-crank chargers for your phone. Communication can be especially problematic. It’s terrifying not to be able to reach your elder loved ones after the storm. Be prepared with enough cash. Many people who had a couple hundred dollars run out fast. Credit card machines and ATMs may be out for a week or more.

Be realistic and overcautious about your food and water supply. Buy food you will actually eat. Think about what tastes good cold and won’t smell when trash piles up. Canned tuna is great for protein but the odor might get to you if you don’t have a way to dispose of it. For anyone with health issues, they’ll likely be exacerbated by the heat and stress. You will need more water than during normal times, so double the recommendations you hear. The situation gets desperate fast when you’re running out of water or food.

Many basic services won’t be available. This is why step one is so essential in creating a proper plan. You need to evaluate your ability to survive (to say nothing of comfort) without electricity, running water, and other municipal services. At some point, even emergency services stop during the height of a storm. And, of course, your usual service providers who help with day-to-day life (and health) may have service interruptions that go into the weeks.

Learn more: Top Five Hurricane Planning Mistakes for Florida Seniors

Plan for things not to work out as expected (or even required).

During Irma, Florida took decisive protective actions with mandatory evacuations and early school closings. While that’s great, it means services/businesses quickly lose access to workers. With each additional closure or evacuation level, we might see 30% of our workforce unavailable. You have to be prepared for the repercussions as residents leave the area or do their own preparations. Most of the businesses and services you rely on will have closures. There will be waits for everything. A proper plan needs to be conservative and have alternatives for the unexpected. Sticking around the area means putting one’s self in harm’s way. It’s likely everyone will go without all the things we’ve come to count on in our daily lives.

Even in care facilities…

Similarly, we’ve heard a lot of horror stories in recent years from care facilities during storms. A tragic situation unfolded last year when 12 elders overheated and died in a Hollywood nursing home. The state healthcare agency, AHCA, plans to inspect nursing homes’ generators but the process may not happen before hurricane season. The generators typically have gas to run 3-4 days, but electricity can be cut off for a week even in an indirect hit.

We all want to believe everything will be okay and our loved ones will be looked after. But, it’s clear you can’t assume that. Healthcare providers work hard and care deeply, but it’s important to be realistic about what they’ll be able to do. Just as with loved ones living at home, think about what the situation will be like during and following a storm. Will your loved one be suffering in the heat with only minimal lighting or do they have a fan and flashlights?

So, what can you do? Find out as much information as possible, get expert input. Ask lots of questions. And, if you don’t feel comfortable with the answers, make alternative arrangements in advance. Consider hiring a care manager to go through this process and determine alternatives. Also, set up a communications plan and method for evaluating with sufficient time to have options.

Resources for Hurricane Planning

Nine Tips for Seniors at Home to Prepare for Hurricane Season

Disaster Management for Alzheimer’s Caregivers

Pinellas County Emergency Management: Hurricane Info

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