Top Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Hurricane Preparedness

Jeff Byard

The 12 things FEMA’s former Associate Administrator for the Office of Response and Recovery wishes everyone knew about hurricanes.

hurricane preparedness guru Jeff Byard

I’ve made my career around disasters. I had already spent 15 years in emergency response when I joined FEMA in 2017—right after Hurricane Harvey and before Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit. Now, as Team Rubicon’s Vice President of Operations, I’m responsible for making sure our volunteers are among the first on the ground after a disaster. As someone who has seen firsthand the devastation wrought by hurricanes, I’ve gathered a wealth of knowledge on what truly makes a difference in preparing for such potentially catastrophic events. Here are the top things I wish everyone knew about hurricanes and hurricane preparedness.

Hurricanes Are Not Just a Coastal Problem

Hurricane risks aren’t contained to the coastline communities alone—they can affect almost anyone. As hurricanes move ashore, they can cause flooding far inland. Everyone should be prepared for hurricanes and their aftermath as well as other disasters, no matter where they live. 

Size Doesn’t Matter

There is no such thing as “it’s just a Cat 1 hurricane.” All hurricanes—and many tropical storms—damage and destroy property and lives. 

Worst of all, the people most affected are some of our most vulnerable populations. Team Rubicon’s goal, with the support of our partners, is to help as many of those impacted by the upcoming hurricane season as possible. Hurricanes don’t care about schedules, frequency, disaster fatigue, status, or any of the many labels we use today.

Hurricane Preparedness Starts Long Before the Season Begins

Hurricane season may peak from June to November, but preparation should start well in advance. This includes understanding your insurance coverage, safeguarding your home, and knowing your community’s evacuation routes. Early preparation can be the difference between a manageable situation and a disaster.

If You Don’t Know Your Risks, You’re At Greater Risk

Every area has its unique risks associated with hurricanes. Whether it’s storm surges for coastal communities, inland flooding, or high winds, knowing what is likely to affect your area can guide you in strengthening your preparedness measures. Use resources like FEMA’s flood maps and local weather advisories to understand and prepare for your specific risks.

An Emergency Kit is Crucial

In the event of a hurricane, having a hurricane preparedness or emergency kit can be a lifesaver. Your kit should include essentials like water—1 gallon per person per day for several days—non-perishable food, a flashlight, batteries, a first aid kit, medications, and important documents in waterproof containers. Think about the needs of all family members, including pets.

Communication Plans are Key

During hurricanes, communication networks—phone lines, the internet, even social media—can be disrupted. Have a family communication plan in place that includes evacuation routes and a meeting point if you get separated. Also, ensure that everyone knows how to send updates via text, which can be more reliable than voice calls during emergencies.

Stay Informed Through Reliable Sources

Keeping informed through reliable sources is critical during hurricane season. This includes monitoring local news, weather apps, and official websites like the National Hurricane Center for real-time updates. Misinformation can spread quickly, and during a hurricane, having the right information can save lives.

Understand Evacuation Orders

When local authorities issue evacuation orders, they do so with your safety in mind. Understand the difference between a voluntary and a mandatory evacuation order. If you’re instructed to evacuate, do so without delay. Ignoring such orders can not only endanger your life but also the lives of emergency responders.

Protecting Your Home is More Than Just Boarding Up Windows

While boarding up windows is a visible and vital aspect of hurricane preparedness, other home preparations should not be overlooked. This includes clearing gutters, securing loose items that could become projectiles, and reinforcing garage doors. Additionally, consider retrofitting your home to improve its resilience against high winds and flooding. 

I know that major repairs and retrofits aren’t feasible for many living in hurricane-prone areas. For that reason, removing as many potential projectiles from the area around your home before winds kick up can reduce the amount of damage coming your way. One big tip is to ask community service groups—such as the Scouts or a local football team—to spend a day doing volunteer clean up and preparedness for your entire neighborhood. 

Community Cooperation Enhances Safety

Preparing for a hurricane is a community effort. Check on neighbors, especially the elderly and those who may require additional assistance. Sharing resources and information can help ensure that everyone is prepared. Community preparedness programs can provide additional support and resources.

Recovery is Part of Preparedness

Understanding that recovery begins the moment you start preparing for a hurricane is crucial. This means keeping receipts for expenses related to hurricane preparation and repairs, as they may be necessary for insurance claims and tax deductions. Also, familiarize yourself with FEMA and other disaster relief programs that can assist in recovery.

Commit to Continuous Learning and Adaptation

Finally, each hurricane season provides lessons that can improve our hurricane preparedness for the next. By reviewing what worked and what didn’t, updating emergency plans, and adapting home protections, we become more resilient. Continuous learning and adaptation are fundamental to effective disaster preparedness.

Hurricanes are powerful forces of nature, but with the right preparation, their impact can be mitigated. By taking these steps seriously and preparing thoroughly, you can safeguard your family, home, and community against the unpredictable nature of hurricanes.

Jeff Byard is a Greyshirt and Marine Corps veteran who serves as Vice President of Operations for Team Rubicon. Prior to joining Team Rubicon, he served as the Associate Administrator, Office of Response and Recovery at FEMA, and Executive Operations Officer at the Alabama Emergency Management Agency (AEMA).

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